Bloody Good: Chivalry, Sacrifice, and the Great War Hardcover – Dec 1 2003
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From the Inside Flap
Here for the first time, Allen J. Frantzen traces these chivalric ideals from the Great War back to their origins in the Middle Ages and shows how they resulted in highly influential models of behavior for men in combat. Drawing on a wide selection of literature and images from the medieval period, along with photographs, memorials, postcards, war posters, and film from both sides of the front, Frantzen shows how such media shaped a chivalric ideal of male sacrifice based on the Passion of Jesus Christ. He demonstrates, for instance, how the wounded body of Christ became the inspiration for heroic male suffering in battle. For some men, the Crucifixion inspired a culture of revenge, one in which Christ's bleeding wounds were venerated as badges of valor and honor. For others, Christ's sacrifice inspired action more in line with his teachings—a daring stay of hands or reason not to visit death upon one's enemies.
Lavishly illustrated and eloquently written, Bloody Good will be must reading for anyone interested in World War I and the influence of Christian ideas on modern life.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
If that was all Frantzen set out to prove, all would be well. He makes a good case. Unfortunately, there is a second thesis, that the works of art he discusses display either `sacrifice' or `anti-sacrifice' (by which he means, the desire for revenge). In particular the German war-memorial at plate 26 supposedly shows a Bavarian soldier who is feeling despair, doubt and anger rather than mere sorrow. This is said to be typical, and the author states (at page 6) that it is this anti-sacrificial response which led to the Second World War: `after he grieved he would remember the sacrifice by preparing Germany for another war.'
This is simplistic. The thesis assumes a dichotomy of response - sacrifice or anti-sacrifice, sorrow or revenge, which I do not find in the artwork displayed, or in human nature. Why shouldn't we feel both emotions? It is also unhistorical. It speculates and generalises, in the most alarming way. It entirely ignores the politics, and in particular the history of Germany, between 1918 and 1933, in favour of a concentration on a supposed aesthetic response.
Frantzen explains his own reactions and assumes that everyone else feels the same way, and felt the same way at the time. For example, on page 29, he says `millions of foot soldiers in World War I believed that the violence of war brought them into a very special relationship with Christ.' I doubt that. My grandfather was a British soldier, killed in Flanders during the German Spring Offensive of 1918. I cannot know what went on in his mind during the two weeks he was in France, though I know that he was nominally a Christian; but I would think he probably spent his last days missing home, and worrying about his wife and three small children, as well as about his own safety, rather than thinking about theology. Anglicanism was the official religion in England in 1918, and my grandfather was said (on his identity disc) to be `C of E'; but I have documents to show that he attended a Congregational Church in 1910. How can one be sure what his relationship to Christ was? Many people must have gone along with a religion they did not really believe in, as they have always done. In any event it is dangerous to extrapolate from one individual to millions.
The author is a professor of English rather than history; and, from time to time, this shows very clearly. For example, on page 24 he says that Geoffroi de Charny was a knight at the court of Charles VI of France. In fact, Charny was killed in 1356, whereas Charles VI did not come to the throne until 1384. No historian of the Middle Ages would make that mistake.
But to claim this is a "bloody good," that is a gigantic leap. People do die for their ideas and ideals, but the nature of these ideals vary. Millions died for Hitler and Nazism, and for Stalin and communism. And one million men died in the name of Abraham Lincoln's ideal of "preserving the union."
Just because one believes in an ideal or idea, that doesn't mean that dying for it is "bloody good." On the contrary, as I demonstrate in my recently published book, Nations Have the Right to Kill: Hitler, the Holocaust and War, dying for an ideal--however passionate the believers believe--usually is ugly and disgusting.
This is what Hitler was trying to show us--a kind of latent anti-war message that was contained within the horrors that he created--that "dying for a country" is not sweet and beautiful. His soldiers died "for Hitler and Germany," but Jews also died in the name of "Hitler and Germany." Yet no one would claim that the death of Jews was sweet and beautiful.
Frantzen idealizes dying for a cause. But who remembers, for example, the ideas for which nine-million soldiers died in the First World War? What a wastage of human lives. What a delusion to believe that cutting off your existence in the prime of life represents something that is good.
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