What I have learned from studying history:
I think that a lot of people get into military history because of their childhood. Fond memories of plastic army soldiers, and jingoistic, watered down tales of derring-do. I know I certainly was drawn to it for the glory when I was a little kid. War was running around the woods with a stick going “bang”, and the most contentious issues were arguments about who got who. And many people I don’t believe move beyond that.
Military history, for many, still remains a mostly clean affair, with the good ol’GI-citizen soldier going and liberating Europe from the clutches of Nazism. We simply forget the abject horrors of war. The dying cries of “mother” or simply “water”. The smell of shit that permeates a battlefield. Widows, orphans, and parents burying their spouses, parents, or sons. And that, of course, is only in wars that are fought with close attention to the rules.
I was listening to an interview given by Shelby Foote, the author of several Civil War books, and she said something that struck me as so perfect:
“There is a general belief that war books promote a love of war, and that is true about bad war books, but every serious book about a battle or about a war, if it’s serious, is bound to be anti-war. […] Because the truth is, it’s more bloody than it is glorious, and the suffering is a far bigger part of it than the patriotism and the glory, and that will come across with an honest writer. Cheap literature hurts everybody, but decent, honest literature will always carry this anti-war message, it’s bound to be there. No matter how patriotic a man may sound, underlying it, if he has a good eye, everybody is going to see through the phony patriotism and the ephemeral glory, and to the real suffering of it and especially the absurdity of it.”
And I couldn’t agree more. War is absurd, and I now find great distaste in books that don’t present that side of the conflict alongside. It is a disservice to everyone to separate the good parts of war from the bad.
I don’t believe people are either good or bad, and studying war, really, has shown me that anyone is capable of reaching both extremes. So what I can say about how studying conflict has affected my outlook on human nature is that it has sobered it. Sure, I still enjoy reading an uplifting story about some brave soldier saving his buddies, but you can’t shake the images of the terrible human cost.
Children who were injured by the Zeppelin air raids on London during World War 1, receive treatment in hospital; ca. 1915
The campaign against England started in January 1915 using airships. From then until the end of World War I the German Navy and Army Air Services mounted over 50 bombing raids on the United Kingdom. These were generally referred to as “Zeppelin raids”: although both Zeppelin and Schütte-Lanz airships were used, the Zeppelin company was much better known and was responsible for producing the vast majority of the airships used. Weather conditions and night flying conditions made airship navigation and therefore bombing accuracy difficult. Bombs were often dropped miles off target (one raid on London actually bombed Hull) and accurate targeting of military installations was impossible. The civilian casualties made the Zeppelins an object of hatred, and they were widely dubbed “baby-killers”. With the development of effective defensive measures the airship raids became increasingly hazardous, and in 1917 the airships were largely replaced by aeroplanes. (From Wikipedia)
A very good recent documentary on this subject which was originally aired as “Attack of the Zeppelins” in Britain: Zeppelin Terror Attack – PBS Nova
A kid with an Indian headdress emerges from a coal hole, 1954
A coal hole is a hatch in the pavement (sidewalk, in US usage) above an underground coal bunker. They are sometimes found outside houses that existed during the period when coal was widely used for domestic heating from the early 19th century to the middle 20th century.
Tereska, draws a picture of “home” while living in a residence for disturbed children; Poland, 1948.
Life Magazine: “Tereska Draws Her Home”, photo by David Seymour, Vol. 25, No. 26, December 27, 1948, p. 16.
The original caption reads as follows:
Children’s wounds are not all outward. Those made in the mind by years of sorrow will take years to heal. In Warsaw, at an institute which cares for some of Europe’s thousands of “disturbed” children, a Polish girl named Tereska was asked to make a picture of her home. These terrible scratches are what she drew. (p. 17)
This photograph was taken by Chim (David Seymour) in a home for emotionally disturbed children (Warsaw, 1948). It’s generally agreed upon that the subject, Tereska, was a victim of the Holocaust.
This was part of a series on Europe’s postwar children commissioned by UNICEF.
Tereska’s family had no idea that her photo is famous around the world and used by psychologists to research what war does to children’s mind.
It turns out that Tereska – “Niuńka” as the family called her – has never been to concentration camp. Her drawing may show war, of course, but as children were ask to draw “home” it may show rubble. Tereska’s house was ruined during Warsaw uprising seconds after she and her older sister managed to run away. We don’t know exactly what she might have seen cause there are no living family member who was there with her, but it happened during Wola massacre so we can just imagine. During bombing a fragment of brick hit Niuńka. Her central nervous system was harmed and ever since she had physical and mental problems.
Tereska died tragically in 1978 in a mental hospital nearby Warsaw.