the exploitation of courage

In my last "what i'm reading" post, I wrote about Siegfried Sassoon's memoirs, and their connection to Pat Barker's "Regeneration Trilogy".

Did I forget that Sassoon was a deserter? I only remembered that he was hospitalized for what we would now call post-traumatic stress, and tortured under the guise of cure. But I didn't remember how Sassoon got to that hospital in the first place. From the back of Regeneration:
In 1917, Siegfried Sassoon, noted poet and decorated war hero, publicly refused to continue serving as a British officer in World War I. His reason: the war was a senseless slaughter. He was officially classified "mentally unsound" and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital. There a brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. William Rivers, set about restoring Sassoon's "sanity" and sending him back to the trenches.

These books have been on my shelf since Allan bought them for me in 2003. (No coincidence that it was the year the US invaded Iraq. I was reading about war all the time.) Then just as I begin to work with war resisters - also something I've wanted to do for a long time - I decide to finally pick them up. At least my subconscious mind is still working.

The memoirs are excellent. I've just finished the first in the trilogy and started the second. In Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, Sassoon relates his idyllic childhood and adolescence, seen through the lens of a wiser, but still sympathetic, adulthood. His ability to capture the feeling of youth and of a vanished England is remarkable. (I didn't understand a lot of the fox-hunting and cricket lingo, but it didn't matter.)

Through most of Fox-Hunting Man, the world outside the young man's immediate concerns never makes an appearance, as he is completely oblivious to it. Then, towards the very end, a slight mention. A war is coming. A war is here. It is far off, and no one recognizes that it will have much of an effect on anything. Then the first mention of Sassoon's later politics.
There was, however, one discordant element in life which I vaguely referred to as 'those damned socialists who want to stop us hunting'. Curiously enough, I didn't connect socialists with collieries, though there had been a long coal strike eighteen months before. Socialists, for me, began and ended in Hyde Park, which was quite a harmless place for them to function in. And I assured Denis that whatever the newspapers might say, the Germans would never be allowed to attack us. Officers at the barracks were only an ornament; war had become an impossibility. I had sometimes thought with horror of countries where they had conscription and young men like myself were forced to serve two years in the army whether they liked it or not. Two years in the army! I should have been astonished if I'd been told that socialists opposed conscription as violently as many fox-hunting men supported the convention of soldiering.

In officer's training:
Many of us believed that the Russians would occupy Berlin (and, perhaps, capture the Kaiser) before Christmas. The newspapers informed us that German soldiers crucified Belgian babies. Stories of that kind were taken for granted; to have disbelieved them would have been unpatriotic.

It is ever thus.

Then a bit later, and suddenly:
Captain Huxtable was therefore the epitome of all that was pleasant and homely in the countrified life for which I was proposing to risk my own. And so, though neither of us was aware of it, there was a grimly jocular element in the fact that it was to him that I turned for assistance. It may be inferred that he had no wish that I should be killed, and that he would have been glad if he could have gone to the Front himself, things being as they were; but he would have regarded it as a greater tragedy if he had seen me shirking my responsibility. To him, as to me, the War was inevitable and justifiable. Courage remained a virtue. And the exploitation of that courage, if I may be allowed to say a thing so obvious, was the essential tragedy of the War, which, as everyone now agrees, was a crime against humanity.

Permit me: And the exploitation of that courage, if I may be allowed to say a thing so obvious, was the essential tragedy of the War, which, as everyone now agrees, was a crime against humanity.

Then officer's training, then the Somme. He's at the front; his two dearest friends and the mentor of his youth perish. The book starts out in paradise and ends in despair, the change both sudden and seamless.

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