Ypresian Dreams

I love war.

This might seem a controversial statement.  But before you Lefties scream “Warmongerrrr!” and make a move for my entrails, allow me to qualify that statement.

I love war; provided that the war in question has the following noble characteristics:

1. Clearly malevolent antagonist, e.g.

  • Hitler
  • Ho Chi Minh
  • Lin Zexu
  • Emperor Palpatine

2. Obvious threat to the good guys should they be defeated, e.g.

  • Rule by Nazis
  • Rule by Commies
  • Slightly decreased opium trade revenues
  • Rule by Sith

3. Use of innovative weapons that come to define that war, e.g.

  • Fighter planes
  • Hueys
  • Gunboats
  • Lightsabers

4. Use of spectacular tactics that come to define that war, e.g.

  • Vengeful carpet-bombings of major civilian areas
  • Napalm strikes on rice paddies
  • Gunboat massacres of riverside peasant communities
  • One-shot annihilations of peaceful planets

When someone asks me “did you love [insert particular war]”, as they frequently do, I quickly assess said war using the above list of criteria.  If all characteristics are present, then yes, it is very likely I loved that war.  If not, then it is less likely I loved that war, and it might even be the case that I didn’t much care for that war.

So using my stated criteria, it should be obvious that I loved World War II, and that I loved most of the Napoleonic Wars.  It should also be apparent that I did not love the Crimean War, nor did I much care for the Falklands War.

I particularly did not love WWI. But I am completely, utterly fascinated by it.

35 million people dead – and why?  Because some inter-related rich men with enormous moustaches couldn’t get along on the international stage, deeply furrowing their ridiculous eyebrows at each other in response to some perceived slight.  Endless, pointless trench warfare between millions of armed automatons in boring Belgian fields. Relentless slaughter of conglomerates in which individual acts of bravery or courage were rendered totally ineffectual.

When I watch a World War II movie I can really get behind the Tommies or the Yanks as they give Fritz a good booting. Germans are evil – no one has ever argued with that fact – and they deserve to be defeated.  I actually cheered my way through The Dirty Dozen when I saw it at a special screening.

But what is there to get behind in World War I?  “Oh look, another ten thousand young British men have been gunned down in no-man’s land as they attempt to retake a ten-meter stretch of cratered marshland, their bullet-riddled, scurvy corpses lying entangled in barbed wire. No matter – here come fifteen thousand of their French allies to help! – oh wait, no – no, they’ve been completely annihilated by artillery fire.  Look how their mangled limbs are strewn across the boggy shell-holes.”

I just can’t believe that at no point did a high-ranking general stop to make an objective analysis of what was happening.  “My God, Tomkins – did you just say we lost fifteen thousand men in one hour?!  That is terrible!  That’s one hundred thousand dead this month!  What is going on?! Do you think it has anything to do with sending wave after wave of them towards fortified positions across continually-shelled wastelands devoid of effective cover?”

Grim.

But no, the elderly inbred aristocrats just continued to feed more meat into the grinder.  (This utter contempt for those of lower station in life is one of the many reasons I loathe those who have inherited wealth.  Other reasons include their stupid accents; their stealing of vast swathes of land for selfish purposes; and their continual refusal to move me up the waiting list for membership of Carrickfergus Sailing Club).

In an attempt to express my disgust at the supremely wasteful and pointless farce that was WWI, I am currently writing a novel set during that conflict.  It is called Ypresian Dreams, and it basically expands upon the disingenuous/mocking tone I have demonstrated above.

Here is an excerpt:

INT – British Army field headquarters, Ypres, Belgium, 1915

“Confirmation has just come through on the wireless, Field Marshall” announced Major-General Rupert St John, a trace of trepidation in his voice. “Four thousand of our men went over the top this morning… and, well, I am sorry to say that only eight have returned.”

“Eight, you say?” exclaimed the Field Marshall, tugging on one side of his giant moustache. “Rotten bally luck!”

“Indeed, sir.”

“How fared the Frenchies on the flank?”

“Not well, sir” replied St John.  “Few returned. They’ve lost fifteen thousand men this week, sir.”

“The feckless blighters. Damn them!”  Field Marshall D’Umfreville arose abruptly from his chair and walked over to the large campaign map, which was spread out on a table in the midst of the plush tent.  He contemplated the map for several moments, swilling a goblet of fine brandy as he thought.

“We have had a minor setback, Sinjun,” he said after some time, in a voice so posh that just the sound of it could make junior officers debase themselves in ways a pig would find ignominious. “However it is of little consequence, for  I have devised a master plan to reverse our fortunes.”

“I would be glad to hear your plan, sir, if I may be so bold,” replied St John.

“Then hear it you shall, dear boy!”  The elderly Field Marshall took up an ornate pipe stuffed with expensive tobacco.  He lit it and began to puff on it from the corner of his mouth.  “It’s really very simple, you see.  We will send ten thousand of our chaps over this eastern rise at first light tomorrow. They’ll give Jerry what-for.”

There was a moment of silence as St John contemplated what had been said.

“Er – ten thousand of our lightly-armed infantry, would that be, sir?”

“It would indeed.”

“I see.  Sent over that decidedly boggy and heavily-shelled eastern rise, do you mean, sir?”

“The very same.”

“Understood, sir.  Er – the boggy eastern rise that leads to a row of fortified enemy pillboxes with an unobstructed field of fire, is it, sir?”

“Precisely, Sinjun. But really, enough with your blasted questions!  Relay my orders at once or I’ll have you whipped, you impertinent serf!”

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