Yo-Yo and Alfonso

This is for Alfonso, a reader from Spain.
Your recommendations have always been welcome.
I think of the DVD Dear Frankie.  Excellent.

It was an oversight on my part that I didn’t read the play Journey’s End.
I checked out The Best Plays of 1928-1929
from our library last night. As you can see,
the book has spent a long time on the shelf waiting for me.

It was a worthy read.
It made me think.
How war profoundly changes people.

When Raleigh reproaches Stanhope for eating dinner after their friend has been killed, Stanhope erupts, “You think I don’t care–you think you’re the only soul that cares!”  That took me straight back to the scene in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility where Marianne confronts Elinor for her stoic posture, when we all know that Elinor’s heart has been breaking.

So thank you, Alfonso, for pressing the point when I didn’t mention this play.

~   ~   ~

I am dancing-up-and-down excited!
Curt’s folks are shopping today;
they are bringing Yo-Yo’s new CD home for me.

There are lots of videos related to Songs of Joy & Peace on YouTube.

“To me, everything is about the relationship.
Music is so intimate that, in a way,
it has to get to the heart.
So if you’re [fellow musicians] friends
you just know more ways of getting to the heart.”


Armistice Day



I always knew that the war ended in 1918 (on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month), but not until this year did I understand that Armistice meant that the warring parties just agreed to cease fire.  All fighting stops.  But conspicuously missing are the hands raised in surrender.  It is a peace without victory.

Think of a well-matched neighborhood snowball fight.  Each side has fortifications, supplies of snowballs; both sides are getting pummeled but they are both holding their ground.  Then it starts drizzling.  And it gets dark.  Fingers are numb.  No one wants to surrender but everyone wants to stop.  “What’s the point, anyway?”  is the question going through each child’s head.  They agree to stop fighting and go home.  They negotiate an armistice.  

The tide had turned in what has been called a war of exhaustion, and Germany was about to be beaten.  Since the Allies had not yet moved into German territory, the Germans sued for peace before they were forced to surrender.  Both sides fought, shooting cannons, using up their ammunition, until the minute the Armistice went into effect.  Isn’t that crazy?  Hundreds died utterly senseless deaths.  Of course, one could say that about the 9 million that died in the Great War.

Lieutenant Harry G. Rennagel, 101st Infantry wrote:

“Nothing so electrical in effect as the sudden stop that came at 11 a.m. has ever occurred to me.  It was 10:60 precisely and-the roar stopped like a motor car hitting a wall.  The resulting quiet was uncanny in comparison.  From somewhere far below ground, Germans began to appear.  They clambered to parapets and began to shout wildly.  They threw their rifles, hats, bandoliers, bayonets, and trench knives toward us.  They began to sing.  Came one bewhiskered Hun with a concertina and he began goose stepping along the parapet followed in close file by fifty others-all goose stepping…We kept the boys under restraint as long as we could.  Finally the strain was too great.  A big Yank camed Carter ran out into No Man’s Land and planted the Stars and Stripes on a signal pole in the lip of a shell hole.  Keasby, a bugler, got out in front and began playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” on a German trumpet he’d found in Thiaucourt.  And they sang–Gee, how they sang!”

U.S. 64th Regiment celebrates on November 11, 1918

Beverly Cleary gives the view from Oregon on this morning, ninety years ago, in A Girl from Yamhill

“The morning is chilly.  Mother and I wear sweaters as I follow her around the big old house.  Suddenly bells begin to ring, the bells of Yamhill’s three churches, and the fire bell.  Mother seizes my hand and begins to run, out of the house, down the steps, across the muddy barnyard toward the barn where my father is working.  My short legs, cannot keep up.  I trip, stumble, and fall, tearing holes in the knees of my long brown cotton stocking, skinning my knees.

“You must never, never forget this day as long as you live,” Mother tells me as Father comes running out of the barn to meet us.

Year later, I asked Mother what was so important about that day when all the bells in Yamhill rang, the day I was never to forget.  She looked at me in astonishment and said, “Why, that was the end of the First World War.” I was two years old at the time.”   

from the Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle

(Other posts I’ve written about WWI) 

(An absorbing group of articles on The First World War at The Guardian – thank you dear Laurie)

We began studying The Great War this summer, knowing that we would study the 20th century this year in school.  I never expected it to grab me like it did.  I’ve read a dozen or more books, seen a dozen films, discovered poets and artists, and talked my family to death.  In my mind, I’ve made this day, Armistice Day, the official cut-off of our study of WWI.  The Great War is over.  We have 80 more years of 20th century to cover.  WWII – oh. joy. 

My Boy Jack

Last night my men put a moratorium on sad (WWI) war movies.  Ain’t gonna study war no more!

In the all-or-nothing mentality that marinates in the marrow of all those born with my maiden name, I have had my guys watch a dozen movies on the Great War with me.  (psst – don’t mention it, but there are seven more in my queue – there is a delete button, I guess)  This 2007 BBC movie of a screen play written by David Haig is a top notch movie that will surely make you cry.  There is not a happy ending, my friend.

Daniel Radcliffe plays young John “Jack” Kipling, a young man whose desire to go to war is thwarted by his extreme nearsightedness.  His father uses his influence to get Jack into the Irish Guards. 

The arc of this movie about Rudyard Kipling and his family is similar to the arc in the story of C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands.  A strong speaker with large audiences makes bold, booming declarative statements.  Life intervenes; by the end of story you see a profoundly changed man struggling with his private grief. 

David Haig, who wrote the screenplay and played Kipling, looks uncannily like Rudyard Kipling.  Part of the movie was filmed at Bateman’s, Kiplings estate in Sussex.

I need to learn more about Kipling.  He’s considered controversial these days, especially his poem “The White Man’s Burden.”  His astonishing ability to tell stories is framed well in this movie.  But he was indubitably an British imperialist, a man of his time.  Here is his poem, My Boy Jack

My Boy Jack

“HAVE you news of my boy Jack?”
    Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
    Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
    Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
    Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
    None this tide,
    Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind—
    Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
    This tide,
    And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
    And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

7 Short Book Reviews

Read by request:

I have to credit Eugene Peterson for his persuasive endorsement. It propelled this book into a national bestseller.  I don’t, however, share his evaluation.
The Shack tells an emotional tale of a family hit by tragedy and the road to healing afterwards.  Many readers connect with the emotion at a deep level. That makes it dicey to criticize the book.  The problem with the book is its theology.  It is outside orthodoxy.  Here is a review worth reading.

If I wasn’t a Christian I would love Three Cups of Tea.  What Greg Mortenson accomplished in establishing dozens of schools in Pakistan is truly remarkable.  As a Christian, however, I cannot swallow the pluralism and pragmatism (and I realize that I’m not representing all Christians in this statement). 

Mortenson sings “What A Friend We Have in Jesus” one night while he fights to stay alive; later he kneels and prays to Allah.  I think he would do anything to help the poor including praying to any god(s). He is a secular savior.  A friend remarked, “It’s just a great story – it’s not a spiritual journey.”  But isn’t all of life a spiritual journey? 

World War I reading:

Each title in this series is a phrase from a WWI poem. The storyline follows an English family of four grown siblings: a mum/housewife, a chaplain, a spy, and a young woman who drives an ambulance in France.  Perry, a convicted murderer at age 15 who later became LDS, doesn’t shy from hard questions.  Where is God in all of this?  What am I capable of doing?  How do we go on?  I don’t think Perry is up to P.D. James as a mystery writer, but the books engaged my interest.

Not an easy book to process, All Quiet on the Western Front is valuable as a first person account of a German soldier.   It is hard not to become numbed by the horror in the trenches, in the hospitals, and back at home.  I’m glad I didn’t read it in high school.  I don’t think I had the maturity to handle it then.

As I was reading about WWI, I often wondered what the trenches look like today.  Stephen O’Shea, author of Back to the Front: An Accidental Historian Walks the Trenches of WWI made a walking tour of the 500 mile Western Front.  I found this opinionated travelogue and macro history an absorbing read.  O’Shea used a term new to me — war p*rn — to describe displays of  photographs of atrocities.  Quote: “Munitions are this region’s marble, a mineral resource that is available in limitless quantities.”  Word Bird find: Artesian = from Artois    

Easily the best book in today’s post, The Zimmerman Telegram displays Barbara Tuchman’s great skill as a historian and writer.  This book answers the question, Why did Woodrow Wilson lead the United States into WWI?  I never knew Pancho Villa was bankrolled by the German government.  This intrigue of diplomacy, spying, code-breaking, and politics reads better than any spy novel or thriller I’ve ever read.  Highly recommended.

Albert Marrin is an author I hold in high respect.  The Yanks Are Coming makes a great text book for studying the role of the United States in World War I.  The many pictures, maps and other illustrations are excellent complements to the prose.  The limited scope of the book doesn’t tell the whole story of WWI so I wouldn’t recommend it as the only source of info on The Great War.  My son and I both enjoyed reading it. Highly recommended.



A Soldier of the Great War

Reading Mark Helprin keeps me off balanced.  I never know what direction he will take.  His stories are intriguing, engrossing and provocative.  I’m beginning my final lap of the 860 page marathon called Soldier of the Great War.  So many quotes are 80% good chewing, with some stray bone which I just can’t swallow.  [I find this a common experience when reading Jewish authors.]  One clause of a sentence Helprin is on solid ground; before it’s finished, though, he’s out on the skinny branches.   I keep on reading because I want to and because Helprin makes me see beauty, God, relationships, art — in other words, life — from a different perspective.

        “I never took my religious instruction seriously,” Alessandro told them, “because it was delivered in the language of reason.  I asked everyone you can imagine, from the nuns when I was a child, to bishops, philosophers, and theologians later on, why do you speak of God in the language of reason?  And they said it was because God has burdened those who believe in Him with the inability to prove His existence except in the language of His enemies, which is a language in which you cannot prove His existence.  Why bother? I asked.  Their answers showed me that they believe in God no more strongly than you do.  Can you see a group of people on a beach in a storm, deafened by the surf, their hair blown back from their foreheads, their eyes tearing, trying to prove the existence of the wind and the sea?

          “I want nothing more than what I have, for what I have is enough.  I’m grateful for it.  I foresee no reward, no eternal life.  I expect only to leave further pieces of my heart in one place or another, but I love God nonetheless, with every atom of my being, and will love Him until I fall into black oblivion.”

          “You’re grateful for what you have?” they asked, their lips curling into bitter smiles.  The leader said, “You’re a piece of sh** in a dungeon.  You live on potatoes and salt, and you’re a servant to the dying scum of a dying world.  For this you’re grateful?”

          Alessandro thought for a moment, and then he said, “Yes.”


          “I know what I was, what I had, what I lack.”

A Sad Fine Art Friday

Grieving Parents
by Käthe Kollwitz  (Katie KAWL vits)
The models for these sculptures are Kollwitz and her husband.

The sculptures reside in the graveyard where their son, Peter,
a German soldier who died in 1914, is buried.

“The task is to bear it not only during these few weeks, but for a long time –
in dreary November as well, and also when spring comes again,
in March, the month of young men who wanted to live and are dead.”

Mutter mit Zwillingen

Much of her art is a response to war and death.
There are grotesque representations of death,
hollow-eyed mothers, grieving mothers.

Kollwitz featured the working class as her subjects.
In this drawing you see the weariness of mom
contrasted with the repose of baby.

Working Woman with Sleeping Child, 1927

55 drawings, article, Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köhn
(click on English at bottom)

 Seed Corn Must Not Be Ground, 1942
Käthe Kollwitz’ final lithograph,
after her grandson Peter (named after his uncle) died in WWII

Archive WWI COLOR photos

Yesterday I discovered  WWIColorPhotos; my son and I were enthralled.  I took every moment I could snatch to look at the batches of photos.  On a host of levels, I find this fascinating. 

Produced on glass plates, these autochrome pictures taken by the Lumière brothers are, according to today’s standards, primitive photos.  But, oh do they vivify my study of history!

The light, the composition, the focus, little details – and ultimately, the subjects of this nascent art form mesmerize me.  I don’t mean to obsess about WWI, but I am learning so much about this period.  While the subject is atrocious, the sense of understanding and the ability to make connections backward and forward is fulfilling.

About the pictures: they are part of the public domain.  I took them from the site, but they came originally from a French link called Gallica.  Pour yourself a cuppa and enjoy.  Passing your mouse over the picture will show you the title.

I could frame this one.

I’ve read that this destruction of the cathedral at Reims by the Germans
incensed the entire world.  This is not Reims, but the cathedral at Soissons.
Is it not painful to see the rubble?

and my favorite:

Great War Film Update

[after opinion is asked–and received–about their orders, a subordinate asks Major Whittlesey]

“Why are you here?”

“Life would be a lot simpler if we could choose our duties and obligations.  But we can’t.  We shouldn’t.  That’s why I am here.”

~  Major Charles Whittlesey in the DVD Lost Battalion

If graphic battle scenes don’t bother you, we highly recommend this DVD.  Rick Schroder’s performance is 10/10.  Based on a true story, this movie illustrates trench warfare.


My son really liked this series.  This was the first live footage of the war that we saw: it was impressive.  The color wasn’t as big of a deal to me.  Kenneth Branagh did a good job of narration.  

I appreciated the interviews with WWI veterans.   There were four or five octogenarians whose remarks were interspersed throughout the film.

After reading Guns of August it was great to see more shots of the main players.    

These eight one-hour programs have provided fodder for much discussion.  Yesterday my husband asked, “How do you think WWI would have ended if TR was president?”  

We had never before heard of the Armenian Genocide.  

Watching The Great War has been a great  though heavy companion to our reading.  Images are potent.  Reading about the horror is hard; seeing it in a soldier’s and children’s eyes, on the battlefield, in the ruined villages, is horrible.  The documentary utilizes archival footage and modern color images.  


The Guns of August

Before this summer the sum total of my knowledge of The Great War could be contained in a dozen words: assasination, Archduke, Ferdinand, Sarajevo, France, Germany, England, America, trench, doughboy, western, front. 

It was an ignorance which niggled and gnawed.  Not that I’ve had any occasion to answer the question, What was World War One about? – but I knew I didn’t know.  Now I have the opposite problem: I’m steeped in WWI and want to talk about what I’m learning, but it is a bit socially awkward to open conversations with discussions of lice in the trenches or the debacle of Gallipoli.

Reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August was my first autodidactic step.  Tuchman limited her narrative to the events surrounding August 1914, the first month of the war.  Her first paragraph was dazzling, holding promise not only for education but for delight.  The pulse of her prose was so strong that it felt like reading a current event.  The subject is wretched, but the writing is rewarding.

One rudimentary fact I learned from The Guns of August is how much the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 influenced the Great War.  Both France and Germany had been preparing for a re-match for decades.  France wanted the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine back; Germany expected France to attack and decided the best defense was to take the offense.

Here is a sparkling necklace of sentences and phrases from this superlative book.   

•   He knew how material success could gain public opinion; he forgot how moral failure could lose it, which too can be a hazard of war.

•   In the interim two men formed a trans-Channel friendship which was to serve as the first cable for the building of a bridge.

•   The new Czar, now forty-six, had learned nothing in the interval, and the impression of imperturbability he conveyed was in reality apathy – the indifference of a mind so shallow as to be all surface.

•   …with the bellicose frivolity of senile empires…

•   With their relentless talent for the tactless…

•   He must convince the present, measure up to the past, and speak to posterity.

•   Again and again the Germans returned to the assault, spending lives like bullets in the knowledge of plentiful reserves to make up the losses.

•   During August, under the terrible test of live ammunition, Joffre was to scatter generals like chaff at the first sign of what he considered imcompetence or insufficient élan. 

•   The vexing problem of war presented by the refusal of the enemy to behave as expected in his own best interest beset them.

•   In appearance a sharp, alert bantam, alive with energy…

•   With a rear commander’s contempt for a front commander’s caution…

•   Mr. Whitlock was to hear so often the story of one or another German general being shot by the son or sometimes the daughter of a burgomaster that it seemed to him the Belgians must have bred a special race of burgomasters’ children like the Assassins of Syria. 

•   Joffre arrived early in the morning … to lend him sangfroid out of his own bottomless supply.

•   Each with its burden of soldiers … the taxis drove off, as evening fell — the last gallantry of 1914, the last crusade of the old world.

Summer of the Great War

This summer I am reading through The Great War aka WWI.   I have never gotten beyond Sarajevo in my understanding and the time seems right to correct that.  My son Collin is joining me; we keep interrupting each other’s reading with a new insight just grasped.  He is currently reading Jeff Shaara’To the Last Man while I revel in Barbara Tuchman’s magnificent prose in The Guns of August.  My friend, LimboLady, getting some rest in between school sessions at our house, is engrossed in The Yanks are Coming which arrived from Amazon this morning. 

On our bookshelf, waiting to be read: 

Waiting at the library, all by the novelist Anne Perry:

World War I-related DVDs in our Netflix queue:


All Quiet on the Western Front

World War I in Color (Kenneth Branagh narrator)

Random Harvest

The Great War

Paths of Glory

The Fighting 69th

Sergeant York     

A World War I soldier’s blog:

WW1: Experiences of an English Soldier  “This blog is made up of transcripts of Harry Lamin’s letters from
the first World War. The letters will be posted exactly 90 years after
they were written.
To find out Harry’s fate, follow the blog!”