Taken together, the massiveness of the operation, the force of the technology, the persistent ineptitude of the commanders, and the long-running aftereffects seemed to me to furnish a compelling metaphor for the meaning to this war, called by whichever name.
What I wish to do is bring this war home to America.
When I first read this book I felt the way John Keats did when he first looked at Chapman’s translation of Homer: Just as Chapman enabled Keats to overcome his lack of knowledge of Greek, Fussell enabled me to see World War I and how it has resonated through people’s consciousness ever since in ways that I could not have done before.
In all honesty, I have to confess that Fussell’s lengthy treatments of British poets, fascinating as they are, did not capture my fancy as much as other things in the book.
I have no pretensions to being anywhere near the literary scholar that Fussell is, so I shall not even try to relate this war to American literature.
Others have done that well, especially with such writers as Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos.One bit of discursiveness is to pose the question that Shakespeare has Juliet ask, “What’s in a name?” What lies behind the different names that the British and Americans give to the cataclysmic conflict that raged from 1914 to 1918?In the United States, Theodore Roosevelt used the term in 1915, but it really came into use in 19 when German writings about the war were translated and published here. Europeans disagree, but American intervention was what really transformed the 1914—1918 conflict into a true world war.This was not just a matter of expanded geographical scope.The ensuing havoc and confusion almost enabled the British to break through the German lines.Only their own disorganization and lack of initiative prevented them from exploiting their breakthrough.But among academics it is customary to disdain such speculation as “iffy history”—customary, that is, unless the practice goes under the fashionable rubric of “counterfactualism.” Another favorite academic term is “discursive,” which usually means rambling or meandering.Called by any name, this is the best way to approach the subject of what World War I has meant in American memory.Right after World War I such journalist biographers as Ray Stannard on Woodrow Wilson and Burton J.Hendrick on Walter Hines Page did those things without thinking twice about them.