Military History

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Posts Tagged ‘conflict’

Some thoughts on They Shall Not Grow Old

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on December 18, 2018

I took in the special screening in Bismarck on December 17 of Peter Jackson’s documentary film They Shall Not Grow Old that covers the experience of soldiers during the war, focusing on the British. It was a project that was designed and developed during the centennial commemoration of the war and was released in Britain in time for Remembrance Day 2018. There is another special showing on December 27 at selected theaters in the United States and I must encourage everyone to go and see it.

Jackson utilized the film holdings at the Imperial War Museum, as well as hundreds of hours of oral history interviews with veterans to create a masterful work that brought the 100-year-old film to life in an exciting way. The veterans’ voices were dubbed to the film, capturing the overall story of the war within a couple of hours.

Viewers are taken on a journey, as the outbreak of war is noted, followed by the men choosing to enlist, with several noting how they lied about their age to serve. Early enthusiastic days of basic training are recounted, with the air of the unknown and feeling that the war will be quick.

Life in the trenches and at the front in general is an important subject of the film. However, the sequence dealing with combat was intense and the aftermath was harrowing. Finally, the end of the war and the post-war experiences illustrated the hardships and camaraderie shared by the veterans on the front by their collective experience of the horrors of the conflict, as well as the division between those who served and the rest of society that seemed to carry on as if nothing had happened.

What truly stood out to me was the humility and dedication of the men. They experienced the horrors of trench warfare for years and reflected on it years later as a job they had to do and that they did it. Further, they expressed a willingness to go through it again, that their service made them the men they were. Listening to the voices of men that have been silenced by death for years made me question if we have left a legacy worthy of such sacrifice.

The other thing that came across in the oral histories employed in the film was the psychological effects of the war on the veterans. While a few segments included men choking up when reflecting on lost friends and combat experiences, all had the air of trauma to them, just under the surface. The interviewees were middle-age or older when interviewed and you could sense that the invisible wounds and scars of the war were present. The film certainly represents a wonderful example to study the psychological impact of World War I on its veterans and broader society.

As an archivist, I was amazed with the ability to use technology to alter and restore archival material used in the film. While I do not work directly with film resources in my work, I am aware of some of the issues present in working with the medium, especially material as old as the film created in World War I. Seeing how Jackson was able to sharpen, restore, and colorize such film was amazing. Further, his use of sound and the colorization of the film gave it a much more life-like quality.

While the 100th anniversary of the end of the war has passed, there is still much to learn and be written on this conflict. The war altered our world in ways we still are unable to comprehend and shaped history to such a degree that we still deal with the consequences today.

They Shall Not Grow Old is a film worth seeing. It presents the war in a gripping, raw, and real fashion that no other documentary has been able to. It will hopefully cause you to reflect on the sacrifices of past generations and want to learn more about your connections to the war, but most importantly, it will hopefully keep the memories of a now-deceased generation alive a little longer in our hearts and minds so that we might remember them.

Posted in 20th Century Military History, Conflict, World War I | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Review of Armies of the War of the Triple Alliance, 1864-70

Posted by Daniel Sauerwein on May 21, 2015

Gabriele Esposito, Armies of the War of the Triple Alliance, 1864-70: Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay & Argentina (Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2015). Maps, Illustrations, Photographs, Index. 48pp. $17.95.

This book provides a succinct overview of one of the bloodiest conflicts in South American history, a war that devastated the population of Paraguay. Gabriele Esposito did an outstanding job of illustrating the significance of the War of the Triple Alliance to military history in Latin America. Esposito’s text on the various phases and forces of the war was aided by illustrator Giuseppe Rava, who provided the artistic talent to the work. Part of Osprey Publishing’s Men at Arms series, this work represents an important contribution to Latin American history for those interested in a brief overview of this historical event.

Esposito examined all aspects of the conflict, including its background. He noted its unusual origins, as Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano Lopez sought to cement his place as the Napoleon of Latin America and conquer neighboring territory to allow his landlocked nation access to the Atlantic. Having served as commander of the Paraguayan army for the previous twenty years, Lopez’s ambition caused him to lead his nation into a disastrous conflict.

After brief overviews of the major campaigns and battles of the war, the work then turns to the specifics of the opposing forces, including equipment, leadership, and organization. The text was aided by rich drawings, period photographs, and beautiful artwork that demonstrated the overwhelming influence of the French military tradition that was prevalent in the Western Hemisphere armies, as evidenced by the similarities between the uniforms of Paraguay and Triple Alliance (Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina), and those of the Union and Confederate armies. While the war began as the American Civil War was concluding, the descriptions provided of the arms and uniforms used by the belligerents indicate significant contributions from European powers, especially Britain, as well as the United States. Esposito noted that the Argentinian Army used sky blue cloth exported by the US for its trousers, similar to what Union troops used, as well as Uruguay’s use of the 1853 Enfield rifle musket, which was used by both Union and Confederate forces (40, 42).

One thing that is important to note with this conflict is the profound influence of other modern wars that occurred approximately at the same time, including the Crimean War, Austro-Prussian War, and the Civil War, on the War of the Triple Alliance. Esposito stressed the important distinctions of this conflict, being the first modern war in South American military history, utilizing telegraph communications, weaponry, use of railroads, and balloon observation (4). This war was a bloody affair, with the population of Paraguay suffering immensely. Esposito noted that the country lost between 65-70 percent of its population as a result of the war, taking decades to recover (3). Paraguay fought a long and bloody guerrilla war until 1876 and Brazil and Argentina annexed roughly half of the nation’s territory. Not only was Paraguay utterly humiliated, it suffered a demographic shock, as less than 30,00o of the 160,000 Paraguayans left alive after the war were male, with the ratio of females to males averaging 4 to 1, with some particularly devastated areas having a ratio of 20 to 1 (22). The people of Paraguay suffered because its foolhardy dictator, with a Napoleonic complex, led it into a war it was unprepared for, a war that claimed his own life.

Esposito’s brief study of this war is a wonderful examination of a major conflict that had profound consequences for the development of South America, but has largely faded from the larger historical memory of the world. Through outstanding research and great artwork, the various forces that fought for control over the Platine region of South America appear as a mix of professionally-trained soldiers and untrained militia, thrust into a major conflagration that proved bloodier (in proportion) that the larger American Civil War. Osprey did an outstanding job of providing information on the men who fought in the War of the Triple Alliance and this is a fine contribution to the larger Men at Arms series that will prove useful to those seeking general knowledge on the war, as well as those who may be interested in wargaming the conflict in miniature and want to know how to paint the forces.

If you have a passing interest in Latin American military history, Armies of the War of the Triple Alliance should be on your list of books to read and acquire, as it will provide a great introduction and lead you towards further reading and exploration on this pivotal conflict.

Posted in 19th Century Military History, Book Reviews, Other military history, World Military History (1700-1900) | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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