November 03, 2007

Failing to Seize the High Ground

BLDGBLOG has just posted about the the crazy, and highly depressing, architecture created by the Italian and Austro-Hungarian armies for their trench warfare in the Alps during WWI, with the trenches running as far up the mountains as they could get. The post is, as usual, excellent, with great photos and contemporary reportage by (of all people) H. G. Wells. I commend it to your attention. (I have long wondered whether some of Gramsci's remarks about "wars of position" vs. "wars of maneuver" were not colored by news of this conflict.)

This gives me the occasion to plug the best book I've read on the Alpine front, and one of the the best memoirs of the Great War I've encountered period, Emilio Lussu's Sardinian Brigade (in the original, Un anno sull'altipiano). Lussu's real achievement here is to movingly evoke the proverbial "long stretches of boredom, punctuated by brief moments of terror" — and he is very good at conjuring both futility and terror — without histrionics. His auctorial voice remains cool, lucid, rational, slightly detached — to mangle Wells, in a different connection, the voice is that of an intellect vast, cool, and not wholly sympathetic, though the story the voice tells is one of what it was like to be a dirty, bloody, suffering soldier in a palpably idiotic war. Writing at a literal remove — twenty years later, and in exile owing to his outspoken opposition to Fascism — may have helped achieve this effect. It deserves a wide audience.

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Posted at November 03, 2007 22:00 | permanent link

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