‘Headless pines‘, Meanjin, 73, 2, June 2014
Review by a Meanjin intern of the ‘War Popular Penguins‘ (Patsy Adam-Smith, The Anzacs; Ernst Jünger, Storm of Steel; George Walter, The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry; Frederic Manning, The Middle Parts of Fortune; Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That; Charles Yale Harrison, Generals Die in Bed; Leonard Mann, Flesh in Armour; Phillip Schuler, Australia in Arms; CEW Bean, Anzac to Amiens; Roy Kyle, An Anzac’s Story) reissued at $9.95 each to mark the centenary of World War I.
Some of the books, like those by Adam-Smith, Manning, Graves and Bean, are well-known classics, the others not so much. The list even includes a German, Junger.
Gardiner notes the apparent contradiction between the horror expressed by some of these writers and their fascination with combat or, perhaps, with the companionship that went with it. He has a thoughtful conclusion:
This year a colossal amount of public funding has been given over to commemorations: around $325 million. With that kind of commitment in mind, it’s worth taking these texts as provocations towards Australia’s ongoing relationship with war and history. Commemoration can be time for questioning once again whether Gallipoli deserves totemic reverence as the forging-place of our nation’s consciousness, if Lone Pine really was a break with our nation’s colonial past, and whether an attitude of unswerving devotion to the Anzacs’ mythology honours or diminishes their sacrifices. Faith to that legacy means not just avoiding fruitless death in the future, but also attempting to understand why men like Sassoon, Schuler and Kipling’s son, men of enormous potential and intelligence, were compelled to return to the front line.