The 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month

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Yesterday, I was standing in my backyard and heard what I thought was artillery fire from the nearby army base. After a few moments, I realized that no, it wasn’t from the base. Instead, it was probably a 21 gun salute at Arlington National Cemetery, probably a memorial for Veteran’s Day.

I thought I’d introduce a new feature, in which I recommend books, movies and other things on a particular topic. What better topic to start off with than WWI? November 11th is remembered all over the Western world as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, or Veteran’s Day. All over large portions of the world, we wear red poppies to remember Flander’s Field. But, in the US, WWI is so often overlooked.


For an in-depth look at how the war started, nothing beats Barbara Tuchman’s classic, The Guns of August. For fiction classics that many of us read in high school, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front tells of trench warfare from the perspective of a young German soldier. Ernest Hemginway’s Farewell to Arms (is it horrible to admit I haven’t actually read this?) is a classic love story on the battlefield between an American soldier and a British nurse. Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago looks at WWI and Russia’s experience and how that led to the revolution. (One of the most moving images from the original film version is how the Russian soldiers met the German forces with pitchforks.)

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Geert Spillebeen’s most wonderful Kipling’s Choice imagines the final moments of John Kipling (Rudyard’s son) and tells the story of the sons of Britain’s elite as they were sent off to die. Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful looks at how lower class boys and men were used as cannon fodder. (See full reviews of bothhere.)

Kirby Lawson’s Newberry honor book, Hattie Big Sky (review here) deals with the American home front during the war. Penelope Farmer’s Charlotte Sometimes (review here) is more about time travel, but also deals with the British home front. Another book I haven’t read (but really should) is L. M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside which deals with the Canadian home front.

And who can talk about the literature of WWI without mentioning the poetry? Most notably, the works of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon.

If you’d rather watch something, both the 1965 version, and the 2002 mini-series of Dr. Zhivago are fantastic. The high schooler in me still cries at the WWI mustard gas scene of Legends of the Fall. The film version of Farewell to Arms starring Chris O’Donnell and Sandra Bullock is kinda crappy. Blackadder Goes Forth uses WWI as the setting for the fourth season of the popular British Comedy. The final episode, when they go over the top and the last scene fades to a field of poppies is beautiful and heartbreaking. Speaking of British television, there’s always the classic series Upstairs, Downstairs which covers British life from multiple class stand points in the years for 1903-1930.

Last night, the British television channel showed the drama My Boy Jack, about Jack Kipling’s death and his parents unsuccessful search for his body (the same story covered in Kipling’s Choice). Starring Daniel Radcliffe (aka Harry Potter) you can watch it online for free here.

Be sure to leave any of your WWI recommendations in the comments, also, let me know what you think of anything I’ve mentioned here!

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12 Responses to The 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month

  1. Kevin says:

    Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun was one of the most powerful anti-war books I have ever read. It’s the story of a man trapped in his body after taking a hit from a shell at the end of WWI. He can’t hear, can’t see, can’t speak, has lost both arms and both legs, and the medical staff think he’s a vegetable – but he has full consciousness of the entire ordeal, and is constantly wishing for death – he’s “like a piece of meat that just keeps on living,” to quote the 1971 movie of the same name.

    Also, not to be a broken record, but Metallica’s “One” is a fantastic tribute to the 1971 movie, and one of the best songs of all time in any genre. I’ve also just discovered that a new version of the film will be coming out in 2008, based on the stage version of the book. It stars the lead from “The OC”. I anticipate that it will be awesome.

  2. TheGnat says:

    completely unrelated, but 11/11 is apparently Pocky Day in Korea (well, ppaeppaero day, don’t ask me how it’s romanized….), on which couples give each other Pocky, and they really do celebrate it!

    It isn’t a veteran’s story or anything, but The Little Princess was my first introduction to WWI, and it really doesn’t sugar coat the consequences of that war (well, except that it has an happy ending).

  3. kidsilkhaze says:

    Kevin–this sounds similar to Kipling’s Choice in that the frame of the story is as Jack is slowly dying, half of his face blown off, and remembering how he got there. I’ll have to check it out.

    TheGnat–Pocky Day? Is there some significance to Pocky, or do they just sponsor it? Which Little Princess are you referring to? The only one I know of is by Frances Hodgson Burnett, but that’s pre-WWI.

  4. Dana says:

    What Wikipedia has to tell us about Pepero Day, aka Pocky Day.

    And I think you’re right, Jennie, about A Little Princess. The internets reveal unto me that the book was written in 1905. The 1939 Shirley Temple movie version, which I saw perhaps an unhealthy number of times in my youth, has the father going off to the Second Boer War and being shot, rather than simply investing in diamond mines and reportedly dying of jungle fever. The 1995 movie version apparently moved the princess to New York, and moved the father to WWI.

    (There was also apparently a famous anime series, and then another one that moved the whole thing into a mecha universe.)

    It is kind of strange how WWI has disappeared from the American conciousness.

  5. kidsilkhaze says:

    Dana– the US was rather reluctant to enter WWI and only did so at the very end. We didn’t enter the war until April of 1917, and a year and a half later it was done. I have often seen it listed as the “European War” in sources written during the inter-war era.

    I think that, in the States, WWI has been greatly overshadowed by WWII. We were involved for much longer and lost many more American lives (according to World Book, 116,516 Americans were killed in WWI compared to 405,399 killed in WWII.)

    I also think some of the non-battlefield , civilian horrors of WWII, namely the Holocaust, have placed it much more in the forefront of our minds.

  6. TheGnat says:

    Then I’m probably thinking of the 1995 movie, which I actually have a copy of, although I’ve seen the Shirley Temple movie and read the book, but the those were both after the 1995 movie, so I guess that must have stuck in my mind better!

    It’s too bad that WWI has dropped from the the American consciousness, especially since a lot of what happened during and immediately after set the world up for WWII.

  7. Wheels says:

    I haven’t read Johnny Got his Gun but did see the movie. I found it very moving. Some of the most powerful scenes include the nurses realization and when Jesus tells the other soldiers on the train to let him (the protagonist) be, as his was a special case.

    I just might have to put that one on the watch list. ’71 was a long time ago.

    Wheels

  8. B Barron says:

    I suggest Gallipoli, the 1981 film whose story is losely connected to the events of the 1915 Gallipoli campaign in Turkey. Mel Gibson, fresh from his first Mad Max role, is very good in this film, which has a VERY antipodean point of view (i.e., that the British Command used enlisted men from Australia and New Zealand as cannon fodder to save British soldiers’ lives). And it is true that in one famous battle, the Nek on April 25, 1915, 711 of 730 men in the New Zealand 3rd Brigade were killed.

  9. kidsilkhaze says:

    Oooo… I had forgotten about Gallipoli. Thanks for reminding me!

    And interesting side note–Dan and I went to Istanbul for Thanksgiving last year. There was a shop in the Grand Bazaar that was selling chess sets of famous Turkish battles– including on of Gallipoli with the British Imperial forces against those of Turkey. (Ataturk, the father of Modern Turkey was a commander during the campaign.) The shop keeper’s comment was “Ah, Turkey. Always on the wrong side.”

  10. Cecilia says:

    I saw My Boy Jack last night and loved it. I have been doing a lot of reading about WW 1 lately. I just read a fascinating book called “Foreshadowings,’ by Marcus Sedgwick. It is a work of fiction, but the young protagonist can see the future, and she can tell when people will die. She gets a vision of her older brother being killed in France and sets out to find him in order to prevent his death. Just when you think you have it all figured out, there are surprises. It’s a quick read, riveting. How riveting? I skived off work the next day–something even Harry Potter couldn’t accomplish!

    I am disappointed that we seem to “blow off” WW 1. Will we do this for WW 2 when the last survivor cashes in? I hope not! We must never forget and always be grateful for the sacrifices of these men and women who have fought, and continue to fight. I am no lover of war, but those who are in the thick of it deserve our respect.

  11. kidsilkhaze says:

    I think we tend to blow of WWI, because the US wasn’t that involved and that WWII actually overshadows it. It doesn’t get blown off (as much) in Europe, but it still overshadowed by the war that followed.

    I also LOVED My Boy Jack last night on Masterpiece Theatre. It was excellent. I must also take this opportunity to plug “Kipling’s Choice” by Spillebeen, which is a different take on the same story and an excellent read. I’ll have to check out Foreshadowings!

  12. Best novels on WWI ever: The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker. Regeneration was also made into an outstanding movie.
    Great WWI movie: Merry Christmas aka Joyeux Nol.
    The Trench starring Daniel Craig is not bad either.
    I liked My Boy Jack but think that Radcliffe wasn’t the right person for it 8upcoming review on my Blog http:/allaboutwarmovies.com . Can’t imagine him in the remake of All Quiet on the Western Front
    Looking forward to Passchendaele.

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