Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Orwell At War

George Orwell (looming head and shoulders above his comrades and in the rear), prepares to march to the Aragon Front.

"It was an extraordinary life that we were living—an extraordinary way to be at war, if you could call it war. The whole militia chafed against the inaction and clamoured constantly to know why we were not allowed to attack. But it was perfectly obvious that there would be no battle for a long while yet, unless the enemy started it. Georges Kopp, on his periodical tours of inspection, was quite frank with us. ‘This is not a war,’ he used to say, ‘it is a comic opera with an occasional death.’ As a matter of fact the stagnation on the Aragon front had political causes of which I knew nothing at that time; but the purely military difficulties—quite apart from the lack of reserves of men—were obvious to anybody.
To begin with, there was the nature of the country. The front line, ours and the Fascists’, lay in positions of immense natural strength, which as a rule could only be approached from one side. Provided a few trenches have been dug, such places cannot be taken by infantry, except in overwhelming numbers. In our own position or most of those round us a dozen men with two machine-guns could have held off a battalion. Perched on the hill-tops as we were, we should have made lovely marks for artillery; but there was no artillery. Sometimes I used to gaze round the landscape and long—oh, how passionately!—for a couple of batteries of guns. One could have destroyed the enemy positions one after another as easily as smashing nuts with a hammer. But on our side the guns simply did not exist. The Fascists did occasionally manage to bring a gun or two from Zaragoza and fire a very few shells, so few that they never even found the range and the shells plunged harmlessly into the empty ravines. Against machine-guns and without artillery there are only three things you can do: dig yourself in at a safe distance—four hundred yards, say—advance across the open and be massacred, or make small-scale night-attacks that will not alter the general situation. Practically the alternatives are stagnation or suicide.

There were about thirty of ourselves, including one Spaniard (Ramón, Williams’s brother-in-law), and there were a dozen Spanish machine-gunners. Apart from the one or two inevitable nuisances—for, as everyone knows, war attracts riff-raff—the English were an exceptionally good crowd, both physically and mentally. Perhaps the best of the bunch was Bob Smillie—the grandson of the famous miners’ leader—who afterwards died such an evil and meaningless death in Valencia. It says a lot for the Spanish character that the English and the Spaniards always got on well together, in spite of the language difficulty. All Spaniards, we discovered, knew two English expressions. One was ‘O.K., baby’, the other was a word used by the Barcelona whores in their dealings with English sailors, and I am afraid the compositors would not print it. "


Anonymous WhattheH said...

I read it, didn't absorb it because I'm exhausted. After a year off, this working for a living is tiring and I want to make sure I give your posts the attention they deserve. I didn't want to leave without letting you know I was here...I don't want you to stop, so there is plenty of encouragement from this quarter. Be back!

5:50 PM  
Blogger durrati said...

Thanks, What, take yer time, i'm at the grind too and sorta slow; funny stuff in the previous post's comments...

Jackie and Bakelite, amke sure you revisit there also...

6:35 PM  
Anonymous Jackie_O said...

Orwell's first published work, correct me if I'm wrong, were his war diaries, which went largely ignored.
That is a shame, because his war experience clearly shaped his body of work.
I find this fasinating. The names HG Wells, Orson Welles, and George Orwell should be so easily confused, and yet their lasting impressions and even their common themes of oppression, whether it be through writing or, in Welles' case, bringing to life in too real a sense, HG Well's War of the Worlds through a radio broadcast.
I found a link that provides the mercury theater original. I hope it works.
Thanks for the reminder of Orwell's war service. It was the gateway to his writing genius, as harsh as that may sound.

6:57 AM  
Blogger durrati said...

Thanks for the link Jacq, I'll give a listen. What is it with the "Well" thing? Maybe as simple as "well". Also I left you and MzNick a link at the end of the "Rabbi Rabbit" post at the General's. It's all the Lampoon covers if you wish to browse them, lots of funny stuff...

7:07 AM  
Anonymous Bakelite Lung said...

Jackie O, following up on the thread in the comments to the previous post: I too was born of a family with an unpronounceable name. The first time I heard it pronounced correctly by a stranger I was in my 20s and happened to run into someone who had gone to school with one of my distant relatives.

When giving our name in restaurants we never bothered with our real name and just shortened it to "Rice." One day someone proposed that one would get better service in a restaurant if one were a doctor so as a joke my dad, an engineer, started giving his name as "Dr. Rice." Eventually my mom started calling him that in family gatherings.

My mom began to suffer from dementia in her last months (actually, I'm not sure she suffered from it since I believe she enjoyed it a bit, but WE suffered from it) and she started to refer to my dad as Dr. Rice to the nursing home staff, which caused a fair amount of confusion.

8:32 AM  
Anonymous Jackie_O said...

My sympathies for what you endured with your mother. My father liked to "self medicate" after the war. He died in 1998 and his anniversary was the 15th. Even more weird, his middle name was Julius. I miss him very much. I took care of him the last 8 months of his life as he died of cancer.

I must say, the Dr. Rice caper was brilliant. I would have hoped, at the very least, that your mother enjoyed more attention for having a husband who was a doctor.

Seriously, your father was an engineer? What a coincidence. Mine too! Purdue class of 1930. He was a civil engineer.

2:50 PM  
Blogger durrati said...

Jacq and Bake,

Both my folks died in their late sixties and so never suffered beyond normal human dementia. As my father was dying, from a heart defect caused by scarlet fever in his you, he insisted on "gettin' up!". We convinced the nurses to help us get him sitting up in a chair. Once seated he began motioning like he was driving a wagon and saying things like "Haw Mule!" and "Up Ginny!"
I asked him if he was gettin' in wood.
"None of your Goddamn business!" he yelled.
My sisters have never forgiven me that I got dad's last ass chewing, which was completely in character.

3:01 PM  
Anonymous Bakelite Lung said...

Jac: my sympathies for the loss of your father. Calling my dad "Dr. Rice" was always quite amusing to us since he is neither a doctor nor is his name "Rice." That's what confused the staff. They had no clue what my mom was talking about.

All those of the generation who called my dad "Dr. Rice" are gone, which is rather sad. There's hardly anyone left who's even in on the joke.

My mother wasn't particularly witty, but she had a couple of very funny phrases she used. She idolized Sammy Davis, Jr. almost beyond all reason, but she was a real liberal and she despised Richard Nixon.

Mom once saw Davis hug Nixon and this enraged her. Thenceforth she referred to Davis as "that Nixon-hugger." She never used his name again, he was just "that Nixon-hugger."

6:40 PM  
Blogger Sgt Marks-a-lot said...

Mr. D,

I liked that story about your Dad.

My wife's Grandmother, in her last years was confined to a nursing home in New Jersey. One day she was apprehended leading a group of 10 disciples prepared for a long journey. They all had bags with food and clothing and were walking across the grounds towards the NJ Turnpike.

When asked where they were going she rather haughtily informed the nursing home director that they were walking to Walla Walla, WA where the weather and food were better.

Keep the wind at your back,

6:48 PM  
Blogger durrati said...

Hey Marks!,

The Garden State to Walla Walla; dedicated discipiles indeed!

6:53 PM  
Blogger durrati said...


I never forgave Sammy either, and I loved the little dwarf..

6:55 PM  
Anonymous Bakelite Lung said...

Jac, I forgot to mention in my last comment that DH's father was an engineering graduate of Purdue. We're not sure what year, but we think it was about 1949. Mechanical.

7:00 AM  
Anonymous Jackie_O said...

Your wife's Grandmother, what an adventurous spirit!
My first job was working in a nursing home. I was a nurses aid and I felt so bad for some of the people who had no one to visit them on the holidays. So, one Easter I asked my mother if she minded if I brought home one of the residents. I assured her she was of sound mind and that I really thought the family would like her. Imagine their shock when they saw me (all 100#) lifting this lady out of my car. She was a double amputee due to complications of diabetes. It never occurred to me to mention it. My sister still laughs about my poor mother's reaction to this day.
We did have a very nice time.
Is there any school other than Purdue? I think we are on our 4th generation. My youngest is a turncoat. He's about to finish his degree from Indiana University.
My oldest son did his undergrad at Purdue, then went to Georgia Tech for his masters. He had a research assistance scholarship with a dissertation. Said it was the worst year and a half of his life.
On the lower thread, happy to give you a chuckle.
Speaking as an underachiever among overachievers, and to be clear, I'm speaking about my family, I'm always happy to know I've done something pleasing. BTW, I'm just cranky because my Mom-in-law is moving in in 2 weeks for, what was that movie? "The Money Pit" 2 weeks, 2 weeks! I think I may end up sounding like a canary, throwing birdseed in my face if it goes on any longer. Stay tuned.

OT, but under the heading of stupid stuff that happens in Chicago, the Illinois Dept of Transportation is getting ready to start a 2 year road project on the Dan Ryan exprwy. This will be extremely disruptive to the entire population in the Chi-town region. The local newscasters are counting down the days and we're at 7.5 right now. Anyway, I'm not clear where this phone number appeared. I'm assuming the web, but IDOT had a helpline set up for alternate routes thoughout the city. Complaints started coming in when the helpline was, not only a wrong number, but a sex chatline.
Needless to say, they have corrected this. You kinda have to wonder if some disgruntled employee was getting a little prairie justice for some slight on behalf of IDOT, but we'll never know.

3:45 PM  
Anonymous Jackie_O said...

Sorry for the typo. That had to be corrected.

3:48 PM  

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