Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Review of The ROAD BACK by Erich Maria Remarque

This incredible starkly vivid realistic novel of the return home of defeated German soldiers at the end of the Great War is the most powerful anti-war novel I’ve ever read. Centrally this is so because seldom does Remarque get on his author’s soap box and preach or lecture and definitely doesn’t harangue (like some anti-war books do).

Add to that Remarque’s realistic sharp poetic prose and many short vignettes about individual soldiers’ horrific experiences, sharp daggers into readers’ emotions.

Often, I felt I was there—the descriptions of the landscape, nature, comrades—in that terrible time. What is so strange is that those German soldiers’ experiences (who supposedly were the bad Huns according to American interpretation such as Billy Sunday’s) are almost exactly like many Americans’ war experiences.

That is a central theme in The Road Back that war itself, and the pro-war lies and propaganda is the evil, not individual soldiers on any side! The latter go off to war convinced they are on the Right side, and that they are doing their patriotic duty, are honorable, and just.

However, after being in the war all of those false claims and promises and hopes are shell-holed obscenities. What is real are the tragic, needless, excruciating deaths of their comrades, and that they ruthlessly shot, bayoneted, hand-grenaded strangers, like unto themselves, who had done nothing against them but just happened to be born in a different nation.

It is qualities such as those for why I give Road Back a 9/A. Then why the 2nd grade, an 8/B? Because for one, there really is no plot, no narrative, no beginning to end story in this famous novel published in 1930.

Rather, as mentioned already, its key feature are vivid real vignettes (most likely that happened to actual individuals that Remarque fictionalized).

These many vignettes describe many different situations, results, activities, etc. of soldiers in the Great War and their alienations when they return at the end. Many of them are exactly the same ones that occur in all wars—loss of loved comrades,
bogus government propaganda (“For the Fatherland”),
the objectification of women, brothels (I was shocked that the German government provided such evils), V.D.,
the brutalization of idealistic naïve young men,
their descent into regularly violating all of the 10 Commandments, especially killing with gusto and stealing constantly,
the lack of food and equipment, the government failing to provide what is necessary,
the blithe ignorance and delusion of civilians back home about what is really like,
cynicism and loss of hope, direction, and purpose for many soldiers, etc.

But where is there a plot and story? Not there.

Repeatedly, while listening to the great audio interpretation by Graham Halstead, I found myself restless to get to the end of the book.

And since Germany for hundreds of years had been very religious, the center of Christianty, theological study, etc., it is vey weird that Remarque never mentions God, Jesus, going to the Lutheran, Reformed, or Roman Catholic services--none at all except to identify a cathedral in a description or to mention he taught his elementary students their catechism!
The novel is entirely secular in theme. The only focus of the characters are on the most superficial of things in life. Constantly women, marriage, values are ignored, mistreated, or objectified!

Lastly, the weakest part of the novel is its poor conclusion (in the last 75 pages or so). Suddenly Remarque leaves off his hundreds of pages of stark, vivid prose of dark realism and tries to pass off a weak romanticism/nature mysticism as a positive answer for the main character and the others as to how they can find direction again. For that reason, the last evaluation is a 2.5/D.

What the book has done for me is to give me a deep philosophical and political desire to understand on a personal level (not the famous leaders’ historical tomes) why and how the brilliant, highly educated Germans came to such horrible, tragic ends in the 20th century.

Of course, one central factor is that after the war, when there was so much suffering, resentment, hatred, brutalization, loss of moral values, etc., many didn’t choose the ways of Ernst and his comrades, but in that empty/noting chaos, they opted for false utopian visions—many to the Bolsheviks, and many to the National Socialists.

What’s scary is that in many ways—though of course to a far lesser extent—I see the same things occurring in the U.S. now—cultism, propaganda of right and left-wing extremism, injustice, massive lying, superficial media values, the loss of moral vision and civil behavior, etc.

Evaluation: A/B/D

In the Light,
Dan Wilcox

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

In my much younger unusual days, an intriguing true tale from the late 60's

Here’s the old mutant in my much younger unusual days, an intriguing true tale from the late 60’s in Trevose, Pennsylvania, just a skip, hop, and jump over the river at Washington’s Crossing, next to Trenton, New Jersey.

This is late December 1967, a few months before I began living on an island near New Hope, crossing the shallow stream to the highway to get to my job as a mental health worker in a mental hospital for emotionally disturbed teens and children.

But that’s getting a head of a number of unusual stories. Only a brief one today. How did I get such short hair, the only time in my life that I had a crew cut?

How did I end up in a mental hospital in PA, on the opposite coast? Why wasn’t I still at university, at Long Beach State, and before that at the University of Nebraska? Blah, blah, blah:-)

Start at the beginning:-) I grew up, a very fervent Christian, in a moderate fundamentalist family in southeast Nebraska, in Adams, a little town of 250 about 100 miles to Iowa and Kansas. My dad was a Baptist minister; and we were a promilitary very conservative Republican family, against Kennedy for president in 1960 (‘NO, we don’t want to be ruled by the Pope’ fallacious beliefs).

In 1964, when at a Youth for Christ rally in Lincoln, Nebraska, I happened to get in a life-changing discussion with a girl at the rally (imagine that;-). However, I got shocked when I stated my family had been for Goldwater, that we ought to bomb the Vietnamese, she became very serious and said that a Christian shouldn’t want to do that! Why not?! In a number of long discussions, she explained how I ought to study the Sermon on the Mount, etc.

So, I did for over a year, as well as talk in depth to many Christians. Thus came a drastic change—me who earlier that year had had out various military recruiters to our house to decide which branch of the service I would choose after graduation (though, of course, I would probably go Navy like my dad and 2 of my uncles) made a drastic life change, convinced that as a follower of Christ, I ought to oppose the war in Vietnam!

I applied to my Selective Service Board, was interviewed, etc. and classified I-O (conscientious objector). I also had a student deferment as a college student. But, being the fervent believer that I was, I saw the huge hypocrisy of the fact that many students I knew who were safe in their student deferments actually were strongly for the war!

Thus, it was mostly non-college students who were getting shipped to Vietnam to kill. This upset me so much that I wrote my draft board that student deferment ought to be ended! And I refused my own deferment, left Long Beach State for a semester.

The Nebraska draft board promptly drafted me:-) As a conscientious objector I was ordered to do my service at a mental hospital in Pennsylvania beginning in September 1967. I drove my hippie van across country; I was a spiritual hippie, had never tasted even beer when I was 18.

My hair was about Beatles' length; only since it was naturally curly, I looked like a honky Jimi Hendrix;-)

In December, working at the mental hospital, I decided on a lark to cut it off. Voila! The girl I happened to be casually dating, responded when she saw me next—“What did you do to your hair?!”

There you have it.

Well, what about, the Cody fringe jacket? That true tale will have to wait until my next story, including how I was a missions worker on the Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana in 1966:-).

Dan Wilcox 8/17/22

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Are Humans what they deeply feel they are or what the facts of biology show?

HELP me out here, IF you are interested in controversial topics.

For a number of years, I have studied a particular controversy--that is HUGE these days.


Let's say that I deeply feel I am Native American, Navajo, even though my DNA test shows that I am not.

I have read both totally opposite sides of the controversy, and some in the middle, etc. Studied what medical doctors and biologists have to say about the facts, etc.

And I am frustrated that both opposite extremes--like so much of politics--exaggerates, distorts, lacks empathy, and misuses language (George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm) changing the common definition of words into their opposite meanings.

I will try and be silent, and will LISTEN to what you think and have to say on this topic if you are willing to jump off the cliff with your hang-glider;-)
I am going to use the real situation of ancestry so as to avoid censorship issues.

TRUE STORY of MY YOUTH: For most of my teen years, for many reasons, I very deeply wanted to be a Native American. I suppose this fascination, almost
obsession began from studying Native Americans as a young Boy Scout and buying authentic moccasins on a trip when young, and from later studying American history.

Then recently came the huge controversy related to one politician stating she was of Native American heritage (because her family had told her so).
Many of the opposite political party claimed she was lying. ETC.
Later it was proven by DNA testing that she actually does have partial Native American ancestry. But that didn't solve the controversy because then it became a question of other things!

HOWEVER, what IF the DNA test has shownn that she doesn't have Native American ancestry?

Can she still be Native American?!

What IF I claim that I am really Indigenous, Navajo, because I deeply feel that I am Native American, even though DNA shows that I am actually Scottish and
Northwestern European?

In the Light,
Dan Wilcox