In case there is someone reading this who has still not heard the one about Woody Allen and Rapid Reading : When he said he had, thanks to Rapid Reading, read Tolstoï ‘s novel in thirty minutes, and was asked what he thought of it, Woody replied : “It’s about Russia.” For the rest of my readers, let me begin by saying that this post is not (about Russia).
I have just finished reading Ken Follett’s 900-page “Fall of Giants”. It took me a little longer than half an hour. It is, as one of its heroes, Welsh sergeant Billy Twice (his name was William Williams) would have said, “a bloody good read”. To quote Mr Allen – who never said it – it’s about the First World War. Right now I am not only impressed by the literary talent, historical erudition and creative originality of the author. I am staggering from being immersed over this last week in the absurdity and horror of war – and the fragility of the short-lived peace that followed the disastrous Treaty of Versailles in 1918, exactly one hundred years ago.
No one alive today ever experienced the hostilities or the suffering of the tens of millions of that war’s victims. And the rare surviving veterans of the Second World War that was its sequel, its second chapter, are all in their nineties. The rest of us have seen, however, a slew of Hollywood movies about both wars, as well as filmed coverage of real battles and their aftermath, their multitudinous casualties and the devastating material destruction they wrought. We have seen war in the comfort of our living rooms. Most of us have managed to escape participating in the many other wars that have continued to happen since 1945 and to enjoy seven decades of “peace”.
Everything worth saying about war and peace has already been said, and though much of it deserves to be repeated and never forgotten, I will content myself here with a single reflection, in keeping with the objective of this Blog.
“Gott mit uns”, “God is with us”, “God is on our side” : wars’ most ludicrous lies (“There are no atheists in fox-holes” is not far behind). This year’s centenary commemorations of the Armistice of 1918, like the annual versions of that event and the many others dedicated to victims of the multiple wars that followed it – “lest we forget” – will honor the dead with another lie, when participants pray that they may “rest in heavenly peace” and that we ourselves may enjoy “peace on earth”. Mouthing such nonsense may continue to bring solace and hope to some. But surely the absurdity of war is enough, without adding that of addressing a deity totally indifferent to our fratricide, for the simple reason that S/He/It does not exist, any more than the peace promised in an imaginary after-life, or the one so difficult for us to achieve and maintain here and now.