“These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished.”
– Wilfred Owen, ‘Mental Cases’
My intent was to write a heroic blogpost about the legendary cloak obtained on my beloved but troubled paladin Shuanna. The cloak became mine – but it is really hers – a few days ago. Due to various reasons I never found the words. Let’s blame the heat. Never mind that I cried once her wings sprouted blue and white. It’s just pixels after all. Surely it is.
There’s something more important happening today than a cloak of glowy pixels. Today, one hundred years ago, the world ended. This blogpost, part of #blaugust and inspired by Alt:Ernative Chat therefor starts in Westfall. Actually, it starts before Westfall … the progenitor first blinks the heroic eyes in a dimly lit barrack of Valliance Keep.
(“And when the summons in our ears was shrill
unshaken in our trust we rose, and then
flung but a backward glance, and care-free still
went strongly forth to do the work of men”
-W.N Hodgson, ‘the Call’)
Have you seen them? Most players rarely do. But before you’re heading out onto the beach, stick around a bit at the bunkbeds on ground floor. There’s a few scripted NPC’s there who’s quite interesting. Some are gung-ho tendershoes. Others are … well, scared. With the cold logic of fear and boredom. You see them go into the fortress in civilian clothes. You see them walk out in uniform.
The sense of elation those first weeks of 1914, when gallant knights on horseback charged machine gun nests and heavy artillery … the heroism quickly turned to dust and mud. Much like the campaign in Northrend it bogged down in a war of attrition. The civilians turned soldiers became trapped in a living hell of a multitude of problems; obsolete strategies, incompetent officers, sheer stupidity – and a militaristic imperialism that eventually doomed us all.
“I have a rendevouz with Death
at some disputed barricade,
when spring comes back with rustling shade
and apple-blossom fills the air –
I have a rendevouz with Death
when spring brings back blue days and fair.”
– Alan Seeger, killed in action, 1916
John McCrae, Alan Seeger, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and many others who lived in trenches for all those long, long years in wich life was a split second and death an eternity, didn’t know. Kipling didn’t know. No one knew. I dare say, not even Adolf Hitler knew. He still had a full moustache, you know. I seem to remember that Mr Mulliner, a creation of P.G Wodehouse, once stated (paraphrase) “Can’t trust a man with a moustache like that. Either you shave it completely off or you keep it.”
Over time, the heroic poems of 1914 took on a new edge. Two of the most prolific writers, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, both met at Craiglockhart War Hospital at wich both were treated for “neurasthenia”, or what is now commonly known as either “shell schock” or PTSD.
“-Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous,
Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses.
-Thus their hands are plucking at each other;
Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging;
Snatching after us who smote them, brother,
Pawing us who dealt them war and madness.”
-Wilfred Owen, killed in action, 1918
In the end, as we remember those who have fallen one hundred years later, and all that remains are the poems. The names of tombstones tell us nothing. It was the war to end all wars – yet the names tell us nothing. The voices that can tell us what really happened are dying out. Soon they too will be forgotten. Siegfried Sassoons question – “have you forgotten yet?” will soon be obsolete.
But the past is just the same,— and War’s a bloody game….
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.
Siegfried Sassoon, ‘Aftermath’
Perhaps World War I can be summed up in less than twenty words. Rudyard Kipling, who lost his son in 1915, wrote by the end of the war:
“If any question why we died,
tell them, because our fathers lied.”
Have you forgotten yet?