Unbecoming American: Bombs of August

The idea that the Anglo-American Empire wages war by mistake is not new. Nor are the kinds of mistake novel. There appears to be an entire school of historical literature based on the premise that when the paragons of benevolence among the English-speaking peoples go forth to war then it is almost entirely unintentional. Apologist from down under, Christopher Clark, made a great impression with his slightly Germanophilic addition to the literature ten years ago. Belligerence is conceded occasionally, like when some functionary pronounces that the mainly brown people on the planet need to be regularly instructed in obedience. However, all the really messy wars are attributed to miscalculation. In other words, failing in subterfuge, the regime(s) are compelled to slaughter millions to adjust for their errors of judgement.

I was a high school student when an Anglophone South African, on whose daughter I had a crush at the time, recommended to me The Guns of August, a historical novel by Barbara Tuchman. Subsequently I read her The Zimmermann Telegram too. Tuchman was a good writer, in the sense that it was a pleasure to read her books. Probably she was also a good historian in the sense of propagandist for national stories. A daughter of the Wertheim and Morgenthau banking dynasty, one need not cast aspersions to contemplate a particular bias in recounting an epoch of immense importance to family fortunes.  In any event, both accounts present the Great War (WWI) in the style of British pageantry, a blood-drenched coronation for the world to come. It is not enough that the history of the twentieth century is told by the victors, a careful genealogy indicates that it is also narrated with the greatest literary skill by the merchant-adventurers (aka bankers) that have funded or plundered along the way.

Summer approaches. This August 110 years will have lapsed since the general mobilization with which four years of murderous class war commenced. The Great War was not the end of an era of peace. It was the regurgitation of the blood splashed by the Maxim and Hotchkiss guns throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America. This August 79 years ago, the US Empire incinerated two Japanese cities with atomic bombs— other cities, including Tokyo, had already been burned to the ground with conventional incendiaries. In February of 1945, more than 3,900 tons of HE and incendiary were dropped on civilians in the city of Dresden before the one-bomb solution had been perfected. Summer approaches with rumours of F-16 V “Fighting Falcons”, atomic bomb platforms, to be delivered to the Ukraine theatre of the Empire’s barely undeclared war against the Russian Federation. The triggers are already being shrink-wrapped in the polystyrene of official apology. With the forward deployment of Pfizer, Moderna, and the regiments of the medical-pharmament in 2020, the decks have been cleared. If “the big one” comes, nearly a billion people will not be able to tell whether they are dying from genetic-engineering injections or radioactive force projection.

In 2016, a good friend of mine joined me for a nine-hour performance of The Last Days of Humanity (Die letzten Tage der Menschheit) by Karl Kraus, on the stage of Teatro Nacional de São João in Porto. Kraus called it a “Mars play”. Written between 1915 and 1922, this play is some five-hundred pages long. It dramatizes all the insidious and infuriating aspects of the war — including especially the mendacity and perversion of language — that began in August 1914 (also the title of a 1971 Solzhenitsyn novel). When we left the theatre, I said to my friend essentially, “they know not what they do”. Of course I meant the theatre company that had prepared and performed this marathon drama. Last year, I met the theatre director in the rua Santa Catarina and repeated to him those very words. He smiled and acknowledged my appreciation of the grand performance. However it was clear he did not understand my reference to prophesy.

We wait irradiated by the mirages of the “phony war” in our partially personal digital devices for the moment when violent fantasies are no longer virtual. Satiated by malignant narcissism and stimulated by transhuman lust, the switches and circuits inflame as we anticipate August infame.

Dr T.P. Wilkinson writes, teaches History and English, directs theatre and coaches cricket between the cradles of Heine and Saramago. He is author of Unbecoming American: A War Memoir and also Church Clothes, Land, Mission and the End of Apartheid in South Africa. Read other articles by T.P..