Review of FIPS

FIPS, the title of Werner Fürbringer’s WWI memoirs, comes from the nickname Fürbringer earned while becoming one of Germany’s greatest U-boat aces (101 ships sunk).  During the interbellum years, he was instrumental in rebuilding the German Navy.  His memoirs came out during those years and have fascinated readers by both the intimate portrayal of the U-boat service and the picture of WWI submarine warfare.

It has ever been my opinion that Germans should take pride in their U-boat service.  Their history in both WWI and WWII displays great gallantry in face of the enemy, and they carried out their duty aggressively despite appalling loss rate of 80% and 75% respectively.  These memoirs show Germans adhering closely to prize warfare in the early days of the war (capturing merchantmen before sinking their ships) despite the many more dangers this poses to submarines than to surface warships.  Even after unrestricted submarine warfare was declared, they generously helped their victims however they could.

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Thoughts on A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War

Studying World War One has been on my mind for the past while.  The Great War set the course for all the events which came after it and deeply altered Western culture.  The part this war played in shaping the fiction of Tolkien and Lewis has also aroused my curiosity.  And so, this book supplies for both of my wants, since it describes the world prior to the war, the attitudes of Tolkien and Lewis to WWI, their careers during the war, and how it shaped their lives and works.  The book contains an impressive amount of information in its short two hundred pages.

HWGW

The early chapters inform the reader of the important intellectual movements prior to the war.  These movements proposed that science, technology, and the state could build a superior society without reliance upon God.  Eugenics and Social Darwinism played a huge role in these Utopian schemes, which all crumbled in the cataclysm of 1914-1918.  World War I ushered in an era of pessimism with patriotic and religious values being suspect and often disowned.  Former soldiers often led the way in literature by sucking all the glory and meaning from war.  The book attempts to answer the question why Tolkien and Lewis defended traditional values in a world where most intellectuals were turning against them.

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A Book for Fans of Ernest Hemingway

Those of you who follow my aniblog, Medieval Otaku, know that I proposed to write an article each day for a fortnight.  Having fallen behind, consider this Friday’s article.  Deo volente, two more articles shall drop from my pen ere midnight tonight.  (Yours truly is an incurable optimist.)  Long waiting periods at NYC’s government buildings allowed me to complete a compilation of Hemingway’s essays titled A Moveable Feast.  These articles were assembled by Hemingway’s fourth wife following his death and first published in 1964.  My own 1977 edition has written over the top of it “By the author of Islands in the Stream.”  This strikes me as odd for two reasons: 1) By April 1977, Hemingway’s fame had not apparently reached such a height that the average reader would know him sans connecting him to a more popular book of his; and 2) the understanding of which works rank highest in Hemingway’s canon (For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, etc.) had not yet been established in its present form.  A Moveable Feast stands as a memoir of Hemingway’s early life in Paris following the First World War while he was still married to his first wife, Hadley.

Not my edition of A Moveable Feast.  This one has the kind of heading one would expect to see atop one of Hemingway's books.

Not my edition of A Moveable Feast. This one has the kind of heading one would expect to see atop one of Hemingway’s books.

This collection of essays strikes me as curious for a variety of reasons.  It immerses the reader in the “Lost Generation,” an appellation Hemingway himself detested, and in the lives of many important writers with whom Hemingway was associated: Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald in particular.  I was hoping that Hemingway at one point would meet Hilaire Belloc, but he seems to have mistaken Aleister Crowley for the distinguished writer.  (Actually, comparing the two side by side, I can see how easily the mistake might be made.  The two were only five years apart.)  Hemingway’s description of Ezra Pound was perhaps the most interesting.  The first thing most English students learn about Ezra Pound is that he wrote some very complicated poems called Cantos, the second is that he was a Fascist, and the third is to treat him like a leper.  But, Hemingway recalls Ezra Pound as the most saintly man he ever met.  Pound supported writers who sought his help whether he thought they had talent or not and spent many long nights talking writers down from suicide.  The portrait painted by Hemingway is very compelling.

Hemingway in Paris

Then again, many essays are dedicated to Hemingway’s relationship to F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom Hemingway describes as an excellent friend when sober.  One is shocked to learn just how much Fitzgerald’s wife went to sabotage her husband’s writing career.  Also, the frankness of Hemingway and touchiness of Fitzgerald made it a sure thing that the two would eventually clash, leading to the deterioration of their friendship in 1926.  Fortunately, Fitzgerald did not see these essays–many are hardly complimentary except for Hemingway’s praise of The Great Gatsby–as he died of a heart attack at the age of 44 in 1940.

Fitz and Hem

But, candor makes these essays great.  Some lines made me flinch, especially his remarks concerning prostitutes in Kansas.  The lack of respect toward one veteran of the French dragoons also shocked me.  The establishment where this veteran worked as a waiter forced all of its employees to shave.  This former dragoon’s service earned him no exemption, despite having won the Croix de Guerre (the French equivalent of the Medal of Honor) and the Military Medal.  How can one think to diminish the dignity of such a hero?  But, this event and others goes a long way to show the rift between those who fought in the war and those who excused themselves from the cataclysm.

But, what else can I say?  If you love Hemingway’s work and wish to know more about the man himself, you must read this work!

The Ebb and Flow of Battle

I recently picked up a British soldier’s memoirs of WWI called The Ebb & Flow of Battle.  This particular British officer was named P. J. Campbell, and these memoirs were written sixty years after the events they describe.  Yet, the descriptions of his time in an artillery battery during the last year of the war sounds vivid enough to have been written as soon as he returned home.  He gives particular attention to the Spring Offensive–the last German major offensive campaign–and to the Allied counterattack which ended the war on November 11, 1918.  Over the course of this year of the war, Campbell is promoted from lieutenant to captain and transfers to another battery.

cnp_british_artillery_01

The main virtue of this memoir is how well it describes the people who fought beside Campbell.  Most of the attention naturally goes to Campbell’s fellow officers and the NCOs serving under Campbell.  During the bitterest moments of the war, their personalities would clash–especially when new commanding officers took charge–and Campbell often served as a peacemaker in the battery.  The officers ranged from people with aristocratic sensibilities, like Major Bingley, to officers who were renown for both their brusqueness and courage, like Major John.  We learn that the majority of the men in the battery hail from Yorkshire, which gives the unit a regional flavor.  All in all, he immerses the reader perfectly in the everyday life and struggles of the men in the battery.

I cannot say that he described the fighting or even its aftermath particularly well; but, he was an artillery officer.  Therefore, the closest he got to the fighting was a short engagement where he had to direct artillery fire from an exposed position during the Spring Offensive.  (This is perhaps the most exciting part of the book.)  However, we do see how wearying the struggle is on his body, and it is interesting to read how he dealt with the peril of mustard gas.  One sees how different this kind of war is from modern warfare both in the dangers offered by chemical warfare and that officers kept servants in their employ.  One is reminded of how Dumas’ famous musketeers also went to war with their valets, which is very hard for us moderns to imagine now.

The Ebb & Flow of Battle

And so, I heartily recommend this account of WWI.  Campbell makes the soldiers he fought beside very down to earth.  The peculiarities of how modern warfare blended with older forms of war may be seen in both the use of servants by the officers and that cavalry was still employed.  The pages turn very quickly!