Because there’s no such thing as too much World War I blogging.

12 11 2008

Yesterday was the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I. [Every Veteran’s Day is that anniversary, of course.] Therefore, Thomas Frank’s Wall Street Journal column today is about that conflict:

What has always fascinated me about World War I was the fundamental change that this titanic futility worked in the way English-speaking people thought. It exploded the moral certainties that had propped up the middle-class order. Leaders couldn’t lead; oppositions didn’t oppose; and patriotism itself seemed only to point to the yawning graveyards of Ypres and Verdun.

“It reversed the Idea of Progress,” writes the literary historian Paul Fussell in “The Great War and Modern Memory,” the single best account of the war’s cultural impact. No longer could people understand history as a reliable flow of improvement upon improvement. No longer would authority — civic, religious or familial — enjoy unquestioned its place in the great chain of being.

What always amazes me about Thomas Frank is how he always manages to work the very same argument about into everything he writes. What’s the Matter with Kansas?, The Wrecking Crew, even The Conquest of Cool are at base the argument about the commodification of dissent. When people focus on culture rather than class, really stupid things happen. This morning’s example is:

The treason-dreams of the Great War era have likewise changed their tone. During World War I, suspicion fell on those on the bottom of society — recent immigrants, socialists and radical labor unions. Today, though, it is the elites who are said to pose the greatest threat: the multicultural college professors and the goo-goo liberals who always seem to want to read terrorists their rights.

The funny thing is that I never get tired of that argument since it really can help you understand yesterday and today. Mainstream America may have been prejudiced during the World War I years, but at least they knew how to conduct class warfare properly.




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