Let Us Not Be Quiet

Revisiting Remarque before peace eludes

My copy of All Quiet on the Western Front is a tattered thing. The cover, already coming apart in brittle pieces, fell off entirely as I read. It was appropriate to the fate of narrator Paul Baumer to see that cover come away.

It is the father of all modern war writing (though it disdains fathers).

It gives us the Lost Generation in its rawest form. It came out about the same time as A Farewell to Arms (1929) and Remarque seems to have tapped the same narrative vein as Hemingway. Is it the standard voice of those who witnessed firsthand the horrors of WWI; or is it the standard voice of all warrior-writers? Mailer, Heller, Tim O’Brien, Kevin Powers write with the same wry tension when they write of the Second World War, Vietnam, the most recent war in Iraq.

Heller is far windier than the others, so it surprises me to think that so much of Catch-22‘s invective can be found in Remarque. It is invective born of rage at the military as an institution, at institutional blindness writ-large.

Continue reading Let Us Not Be Quiet

Arsenal of Democracy

Dear Grandpa,

Today a couple dozen World War II aircraft buzzed the National Mall. They flew in honor of the 70th anniversary of VE Day.

You can picture the scene: you worked in DC for three decades after leaving the Pacific behind. They flew from the west over the Lincoln Memorial, past your old worksite at the White House, looking solid as they flew on towards the capitol dome.

Bigweek-posterssmall

It started just past noon. A lone airplane, crucifix-shaped, circled in advance, a herald of the formations to come. At ground level tourists and federal workers filled the humidity with their chattery lunchtime bustle. They turned their heads to the sky.

The aircraft growled low and healthy across the sky, still-powerful reminders of what your generation built, a legacy of strength, endurance, sacrifice. Ordinarily, nowadays, this airspace is restricted. Just a few weeks ago, a Florida postal worker was taken away in cuffs for landing his gyrocopter on the lawn of the capitol to deliver a letter protesting campaign finance. It’s a real shame, the restriction and the finance both.

Formation after formation flew past: More