So I began with this quote from one of the great bits of American literature:
Whereasthe Congressof the united states byaconcurrentresolution-adoptedon the4thdayofmarch lastauthorizedthe Secretaryofwar to cause to be brought to theunitedstatesthe body of an Americanwhowasamemberoftheamerican expeditionaryforceineuropewholosthislifeduringtheworldwarandwhoseidentity hasnotbeenestablished for burial inthememorialamphitheatreofthenational cemeteryatarlingtonvirginia.
In the tarpaper morgue at Chalons-sur-Marne in the reek of chloride of lime and the dead, they picked out the pine box that held all that was left of
enie menie minie moe plenty other pine boxes stacked up there containing what they'd scraped up of Richard Roe
and other person or person unknown. Only one can go. How did they pick John Doe?
Make sure he ain't a dinge, boys.
make sure he ain't a guinea or a kike,
how can you tell a guy's a hunredpercent when all you've got's a gunnysack full of bones, bronze buttons stamped with the screaming eagle and a pair of roll puttees?
. . . and the gagging chloride and the puky dirtstench of the yearold dead...
The day withal was too meaningful and tragic for applause. Silence, tears, songs and prayer, muffled drums and soft music were the instrumentalities today of national approbation.
from The Body of an American, from John DosPassos 1919 (The USA Trilogy).
How do we express the horrors of war? How do we transmit those memories to generations long in the future?
Thanks to Paul Hamilton
Stanley Kubrik's Paths of Glory
and a reinterpretation...
All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque.
"We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war."
T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland.
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.
And their friends, the loitering heirs of City directors;
Departed, have left no addresses.
and, of course...
"It’s a reminder that not all “victors” experience wars in the same way, and that their citizens can have almost as much difficulty as those of the vanquished states in coping with the collective trauma of conflict." Alexander Watson says in today's Times...
and perhaps also a reminder of the many forms of literacy used by humans, the culturally-defined nature of literacy, and the many ways in which we might bring these experiences to our students.
- Ira Socol