Posts Tagged ‘World War I’

Anthem for Deaf Youth

Posted in General, On This Day on November 4th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

I marvel at the popularity of rap music with suburban youth. This generation is not the first to make a fashion of self-loathing. In the sixth century Byzantine youth adopted the clothes and hairstyles of the Huns. Of course, their admiration for barbarian chic did not extend to living in tents and eating horse meat.

I have been reading some of the rap artists of an earlier generation. What a pity that there were not Grammys in 1918. I would have nominated Siegfried “Sephardic Slim” Sassoon, Robert “Klassics Kewl” Graves and Wilfred “Bonz” Owen. They were gangstas from the hoods of Oxford and Cambridge who expressed a certain resentment about being annihilated. Mind you, I wouldn’t dare to compare a week on the Somme with the horrors of a lifetime in suburbia, but let’s consider the two rap genres.

Here’s Bonz Owen:

What passing bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.

Here’s Eminem:

Starin’ at my jeans, watchin’
my genitals bulgin’ (Ooh!)
That’s my motherf***in’
balls, you’d better let go of ’em.

Perhaps we could popularize Owen by translating him into contemporary verse.

Kaiser despiser
try to outrun the Hun machine gun.
Britannia rules is jive just for fools.
I ain’t your bitchin’ her
Lord Kitchener.
Not Eton you sh*t
Pimp Minister Asquith.
Verdun We’re done.
Ergo Somme, heirs left none.

Wilfred Owen stopped rapping on November 4, 1918, one week before the Armistice.

The Best Laid Plans…

Posted in On This Day on February 19th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

It is February 19, 1915 and you are invited on an all expense paid cruise of the Mediterranean. Tour the charming shores of the Dardanelles on our way to Constantinople! (Itinerary subject to change.)

Quite a change! How should I describe Gallipoli? Imagine if Gettysburg had lasted 11 months and every day was a disaster. Of the 500,000 men in the Allied expedition, half of them were killed or wounded. The casualty rates among the Australians and New Zealanders were nearly one hundred percent; entire ANZAC battalions were wiped out in the campaign. To this day, Gallipoli–the heroism, the horrors and the futility– is seared in the history and consciousness of Australia and New Zealand. They remember Gallipoli, and the British incompetence that caused it.

Ironically, the strategy behind the campaign was brilliant. With its complete mastery of the sea, the British navy would force its way up the Dardanelle Straits, seize Constantinople, knock Turkey out of the war, open the Black Sea and supply the beleaguered Russians on the Eastern Front. Yes, the idea was brilliant, but reality was not accommodating.

When the combined British and French fleets first undertook their expedition, they found the channel had been mined and the Turkish batteries were more accurate than expected. Faced with unanticipated losses and unnerved by further uncertainties, the fleets retreated. In fact, they had already encountered the worst and would have had a comparatively mild cruise to Constantinople. The Allies did not know that, however, and the Turks did not bother to correct them.

The Allies had an alternative plan. They would land an expeditionary force on the coast along the Dardanelles, and brushing aside the surprised and sparse Turkish forces, march to Constantinople. Of course, the aborted naval expedition had made the Turks and their German advisers aware of the Allies’ intentions; and so they prepared for a second attack. The Dardanelles were no longer lightly defended.

Furthermore, there was an obvious place for the Allies to begin such an invasion: a peninsula jutting from the straits. It was called Gallipoli. Six weeks after the failed naval attack, the Allied troops began landing on Gallipoli.
But nothing seemed to go right. The troops were not transported to the right locations. Instead of disembarking on wide, gently sloping beaches, the soldiers found themselves trying to scale cliffs. As for the light, sparse Turkish resistance, there were six divisions and they fought ferociously.

The Allies did establish their beachheads but in eleven months, they never got much further than where they had originally landed. Their brilliant strategy had resulted in a irretrievable military disaster. The Allies had no hope of success and no choice but to evacuate.

It was a Turkish victory and one general, who had been distinguished for his leadership, would in a few years become the founder and first president of the Turkish Republic. Mustafa Kemal remains a hero of Turkey.

It was a British catastrophe and the Lord Admiral of the Navy, who had conceived the brilliant strategy, resigned in disgrace. He was given the rank of colonel on the Western Front and he half-hoped to be killed in action. But he survived, a heavy-drinking eccentric, an entertaining but dismissed backbencher in Parliament.

He had skill as a writer and lecturer and was able to make a living with his theatrical talents. As he aged, he became increasingly outspoken and belligerent, an imperial anachronism in a mundane, accommodating world.   But he thought of himself, not as a has-been or a relic, but as a thundering Jeremiah who foretold the gathering storm.

And he made himself heard with an eloquence that defined history. The scapegoat of 1915 would become the Prime Minister of 1940.


Posted in On This Day on December 18th, 2006 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Archduke Franz Ferdinand would have been 143 today; but he stopped counting in 1914. His assassination was, at the very least, a disaster for Sarajevo’s tourism. If only the heir to Austria-Hungary had the consideration to have been gunned elsewhere, World War I could have been averted.

The Emperor Franz Josef couldn’t stand his nephew. The archduke was crass, humorless and irritable; there was no Viennese charm about him. In fact, Franz Ferdinand hated Vienna: too intellectual, too artistic and–or is this redundant–too Jewish. The elderly Emperor may have kept living just to keep his repulsive nephew from the throne.

And if Franz Ferdinand had been killed anywhere but Bosnia-Herzegovina, the old Emperor might have chuckled and shrugged. The Hapsburgs were inured to violent deaths. His brother Maximilian had been executed in Mexico. His wife Elizabeth had been assassinated in Switzerland. Yet Austria had not declared on Mexico or Switzerland, and Franz Josef actually liked his wife.

Unfortunately, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand could not be rationalized or ignored. Bosnia-Herzegovina was Austrian territory (whether or not Bosnians liked it) and it really was a breach of etiquette for the Serbian secret service to be encouraging the murder of Hapsburgs there.

So Austria-Hungary had to declare war on Serbia, so Russia had to declare war on Austria, so Germany had to declare war on Russia, and France was only too eager to declare war on Germany, so Germany had to declare war on Belgium (poor Belgium was in the way), so Britain had to declare war on Germany. Turkey hated Russia and didn’t want to feel left out.

On the positive side, the next-in-line to the Hapsburg throne was the Archduke Karl, and the Emperor liked him.