Under Fire

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After watching a unit of Moroccan soldiers pass by—black Africans who will cut off a man’s head in combat—Henri Barbusse writes:

‘No doubt they’re a different race from us .. In fact, they’re real soldiers.”

“We are not soldiers, … we’re men.”

They are men, good fellows of all kinds, rudely torn away from the joy of life. Like any other men whom you take in the mass, they are ignorant and of narrow outloook, full of a sound common sense—which some-times gets off the rails—disposed to be led and to do as they are bid, enduring uder hardships, long suffering.

They are simple men further simplified, in whom the merely primitive instincts have been accentuated by the force of circumstances—the instinct of self-preservation, the hard-gripped hope of living through, the joy of food, of drink, and of sleep. And at intervals they are cries and dark shudders of humanity that issue from the silence and the shadows of their great hearts.

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Polite words from the rose-garden

There has been a great deal of right-wing commotion to return to a life of values and to save the United States from progressing further by turning the country around and heading backwards as fast as possible. I and others have posited that women’s right to vote is endangered and perhaps Corporate America will even reinstate a modified form of slavery to solve the problem with jobs and profits.

I expect such thoughts as these were in my mind as I read Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford. This collection of four novels published in the 1920s deals with the dissolution of an old English family and, by extension, the society they represent. It is a premier example of the novel dealing with the major changes resulting from World War I and his highly recommended. What I noticed when seeking a quotation from The Last Post (Book 4) was that I had run my hi-liter down the edge of several passages that seemed to agree with my assessment of the reactionary conservative movement in this country, but from the other end of the time period.

Just a couple of quotations:

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The Sanctity of Marriage

When public officials, religious leaders, and general zealots insist on the sanctity of marriage being supported and even included in the law of the land, they are exposed as uninformed hypocrites by the reality of the world and the history of marriage itself.

Sanctity of marriage implies some moral, religious basis for the institution. Well, in some religions it is a sacrament so marriage is considered very important. Of course this doesn’t really address the fact that a couple can be legally married totally independent from the church simply by going to a Judge, a Justice of the Peace, or the Captain of the cruise ship. Is marriage a sacrament or a legal concept? If it is a legal concept, then the State may recognize the religious marriage as if it had performed the ceremony itself. But let’s face it, the ceremony is just decoration, the signatures on a legal contract are what constitutes a marriage.

Historically, religious and civil laws have been far less separated than they are today. Marriage, as an institution, was given the sanctity of the church and the control of the civil authorities fundamentally to assure the continuance of the wealth of powerful families. If there was no strict way to tie a woman to a man, then there may be offspring that could challenge the normal inheritance path. After all, remember that marriage was fully developed in a time when women were chattel—uneducated, without any legal rights of their own.

I ran across a comment in Parade’s End that seems apropos, if a little dated:

… if it came to marriage, ninety per cent of the inhabitants of the world regarded the marriage of almost everybody else as invalid.

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No More Parades

Parade’s End is the compilation of four continuous and related novels by Ford Madox Ford. The first two novels, Some Do Not …, and No More Parades, must be read in order and together. I understand that there is a strong break going into the third novel and even a controversy whether the fourth novel belongs. As you might have guessed, I have only read the first two novels but expect to complete the entire series before too long (it’s over 800 pages so I appreciate breaking it up into chunks).

Parade’s End is about World War I and its effects on England. This war is said to have destroyed an entire generation of young men and there are some important novels that go deep into the issue but Parade’s End only speaks of the operation of the war and for the most part is not involved with giving a vivid representation of combat. In fact, one of the novel’s major characters is female—even in the second book which takes place on the continent in the midst of the war. Here is one of the conclusions she draws about the war and the general idea of violence and destruction:

“That in the end was at the bottom of male honor, of male virtue, observance of treaties, upholding of the flag. … An immense warlock’s carnival of appetites, lusts, ebrieties. … And once set in motion there was no stopping it. This state of things would never cease. … Because once they had tasted the joy—the blood—of this game, who would let it end? These men talked of these things that occupied them there with the lust of men telling dirty stories in smoking-rooms … That was the only parallel!”

Even though I am only half-way done with Parade’s End, I highly recommend it. Ford might be the best writer of prose I know and he is a delight to read. Of course, if you have never read Ford Madox Ford, his best novel, The Good Soldier,  is a much shorter introduction and an almost perfect novel.