Being Generous: Thoughts On All’s Quiet On The Western Front

Two things had me thinking today. The one year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine and watching the much lauded film, All’s Quiet On The Western Front.

I read the book at school and it was too heavy going then. I would have understood it better with more years under my belt. The same is true of reading Sassoon and Owen’s poetry.

It’s a terrifically well made, horrific film that captures the futility, inhumanity and mental degradation that war engenders. At the end, there are several scenes around the negotiations for an armistice. In the book and here the Germans are portrayed as desperate to end the conflict, the chief negotiator wanting to stop the killing. The French, opposite the Germans but undoubtedly supported by British and Americans wanted the Germans to agree to the harshest terms and held out. More dying ensued. I don’t know my First World War history well enough to know if this was the dynamic and, any way a rogue German general forces exhausted troops for one final piece of carnage before the 11am ceasefire.

To the Victor, the Spoils. So they say. And in the context of WW1 the victors certainly took the spoils during the Versailles negotiations that led to the ball-busting treaty of the same name. They ruptured German economic strength, took its lands and reparations and demanded it demilitarise. Famously a British MP, Eric Geddes said he wanted to see the German lemon squeezed until the pips squeaked. Revenge, a dish served cold is also best if comprehensive. At least to the Victor.

I don’t necessarily blame the politicians at the time; given the anger at the war and its consequences they wouldn’t have seen any other way and therein lies a recurrent problem with large conflicts.

It’s easy and right to abhor what the Germans did during the 30s and 40s but creating the environment in which they could was at least in part down to Anglo-French retribution in 1919. A more magnanimous peace and how likely is it that far right governments would have arisen?

This famous cartoon appeared in the Daily Herald in May 1919. It’s difficult to see clearly but the crying baby is a 1940 child.

After WW2, it is possible we might have gone the same way, but a combination of the divvying up of central and Eastern Europe at Yalta and Potsdam and the stagnation of the Cold War coupled with the regenerating impact of the Marshall Plan and that same outcome didn’t happen. Not so obviously, at least.

What did was the abrasive tensions across Europe that led, some might say with the same prescience as above to the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989 and 1990.

So many peoples rejoiced. Understandably. So much help was offered to nations, now independent who were incorporated into NATO, the EU and the broad church of western democracies.

The one obvious example where that didn’t happen was Russia. It was left to its own devices, the creator of its own demise as many who’d suffered from the controls imposed by Moscow saw it. So what if get rich quick oligarchs dissipated its natural wealth? Why shouldn’t we – I’m looking at you, City of London – have a slice or two of that pie?

Whose pie was it? Ordinary Russians, not the exploiters, of course but who cares, eh?

I’ve bugger all sympathy for anyone in any sort of position of power in Russia and the reactions are entirely understandable. But, and this is the thought process I’ve been going through what if we’d been more generous, more understanding? Really sought to help, to shore up the best influences in Russia and not encourage the exploitation. Would the context for Putin’s rise have existed?

To the Victor the Spoils, only history suggests the Victors always spoil things. When, one day, soon I hope, Ukraine kicks some serious Russian arse and takes back control of its borders and we all rejoice and start planning how we are going to help rebuild Ukraine, can we not repeat the past? Can we be generous to the vanquished too? After all, it might just be in our best interests.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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42 Responses to Being Generous: Thoughts On All’s Quiet On The Western Front

  1. Profound thoughts, Geoff

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hindsight, though… After 4 years of grinding warfare and nearly all because of aggression by the Kaiser, I don’t think it’s surprising that the Allies set out harsh terms. The wartime mindset is something we can’t imagine (luckily). They called it the war to end all wars and that was the hope for the future. You also have to think of how the general public would have felt if any sign of being soft on the losers was evident.
    I tend to call WWII Germans ‘Nazis’ because I feel it’s not fair on today’s Germans, all of whom I’ve met seem just like anybody else! And ditto for all Russians I’ve ever met (quite a few, working where I do).
    I’m not sure that the Ukrainian people will be feeling particularly generously disposed towards Russia when and however this ends.
    Anyway, as usual a well-expressed, thoughtful and prescient piece!

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      Yes, i get the need for revenge, the political imperative to meet the public’s wants but now we’ve seen the consequences of a lack of leadership in these situations so one would like to think there might be a little learning from history. There’s always a first time!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well said Geoff! So long as we seek to emulate the USA and have more and more professional politicians seeking glory and wealth, rather than to serve the country and people, we, who are now just Britain, will become Little Britain. Globally, while we are all looking to Russia, there are myriad other areas of conflict and power building that will, sooner rather than later, bite us on the bum! That is my positive thoughts on the matter!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. noelleg44 says:

    A good argument, Geoff. I, too, read All’s Quiet on the Western Front in high school. I have deliberately avoided watching the movie because the book was so emotionally hard to read. Man’s inhumanity never seems to stop, does it?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pam Lazos says:

    Very insightful post, Geoff. 🙏💜

    Liked by 1 person

  6. HI Geoff, the world could be kind to the loser in the current war, but it won’t be, because that is not the nature of men. I don’t recall there being much discussion about peace negotiations in All Quiet on the Western Front. Paul dies before the end of the war and Kat, of course, dies before Paul.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. tootlepedal says:

    Good question but with no clear answer.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. JT Twissel says:

    Great essay. I couldn’t make it through All’s Quiet. Perhaps because of the slaughters taking place in Ukraine. There’s a great line in the movie Churchill about young men dying for old men’s wars.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Mick Canning says:

    Unfortunately, it’s not in the human DNA to be generous to the vanquished. I was trying to think of an example of it happening, and can’t come up with one.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Well said, Geoff. In the case of Ukraine if they do kick some serious Russian ass it will be to liberate the rest of their country. No one in the world will do anything to punish the Russians. There is a big co-dependency that will naturally given the post-Ukraine situation.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Suzanne says:

    Agreed with others regarding this post. We couldn’t finish watching the movie; maybe the viewer has to be in the right frame of mind to digest it. As with Ukraine, it is heart-wrenching and always the ordinary person who pays the highest price in any war.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. gordon759 says:

    I was curious about what you said about the film, as it seems to have completely rewritten the ending, to ignore the title of the book! He gets shot by a sniper, and his death is so unregarded by his own side that the military communique for the day reads, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’.

    The end too seems to have rewritten the armistice, not the end of the war. There was very little decided at the armistice, the Germans withdrew to their own borders and stopped fighting. The rest of the decisions were to come later.

    The time and date was chosen for the end of the fighting as this was as soon as word could be got to all units along the front, also 11 am on the eleventh of the eleventh was easy to remember and difficult to mix up in any message.

    The only nation who kept on fighting right up to the end were Americans, who charged German machine guns, despite the Germans shouting at them to stop as the war was ending.

    Finally a real curiosity. Coincidentally, just after ‘All Quiet’ was first published, the authors and publishers of the satirical magazine ‘The Wipers Times’ were asked to produce a facsimile edition of their magazines. In the introduction the editors mock ‘All Quiet’, ‘Goodbye to All That’ and similar anti-war publications that had recently been published as giving an unreal view of the war – And this was from men who had written and printed their magazine just behind the lines during the battle of the Somme!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Elizabeth says:

    Someone like Putin seems to come along with some regularity with his own ideal of how the world should be. And that person is willing to let thousands die so he can get his way. If Trump had been any smarter he could have wreaked real damage around the globe. Fortunately he was basically lazy!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Jennie says:

    Very thought provoking, Geoff. You make some excellent arguments/points.

    Liked by 1 person

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