Marcel Proust. (via madeofglass-
The Americans who fell in Normandy in 1944 were tall men measuring 173 centimeters on average, and if they were laid head to foot they would measure 38 kilometers. The Germans were tall too, while the tallest of all were the Senegalese fusiliers in the First World War who measured 176 centimeters, and so they were sent into battle on the front lines in order to scare the Germans. It was said of the First World War that people in it fell like seeds and the Russian Communists later calculated how much fertilizer a square kilometer of corpses would yield and how much they would save on expensive foreign fertilizers if they used the corpses of traitors and criminals instead of manure. And the English invented the tank and the Germans invented gas, which was known as yperite because the Germans first used it near the town of Ypres, although apparently that was not true, and it was also called mustard because it stung the nose like Dijon mustard, and that was apparently true, and some soldiers who returned home after the war did not want to eat Dijon mustard again. The First World War was known as an imperialist war because the Germans felt that other countries were prejudiced against them and did not want to let them become a world power and fulfill some historical mission. And most people in Europe, Germany, Austria, France, Serbia, Bulgaria, etc., believed it to be a necessary and just war which would bring peace to the world. And many people believed that the war would revive those virtues that the modern industrial world has forced into the background, such as love of one’s country, courage, and self-sacrifice. And poor people looked forward to riding in the train and country folk looked forward to seeing big cities and phoning the district post office to dictate a telegram to their wives, I’M FINE, HOPE YOU ARE TOO. The generals looked forward to being in the newspapers, and people from national minorities were pleased that they would be sharing the war with people who spoke without an accent and that they would be singing marching songs and jolly popular ditties with them. And everyone thought they’d be home in time for the grape harvest or at least by Christmas.
Some historians subsequently said that the twentieth century actually started in 1914, when war broke out, because it was the first war in history in which so many countries took part, in which so many people died and in which airships and airplanes flew and bombarded the rear and town and civilians, and submarines sunk ships and artillery could lob shells ten or twelve kilometers. And the Germans invented gas and the English invented tanks and scientists discovered isotopes and the general theory of relativity, according to which nothing was metaphysical but relative. And when the Senegalese fusiliers first saw an airplane they thought it was a tame bird and one of the Senegalese soldiers cut a lump of flesh from a dead horse and threw it as far as he could in order to lure it away. And the soldiers wore green and camouflage uniforms because they did not want the enemy to see them, which was modern at the time because in previous wars soldiers had worn brightly-colored uniforms in order to be visible from afar. And airships and airplanes flew through the sky and the horses were terribly frightened. And writers and poets endeavored to find ways of expressing it best and in 1916 they invented Dadaism because everything seemed crazy to them. And in Russia they invented a revolution. And the soldiers wore around their neck or wrist a tag with their name and number and regiment to indicate who was who, and where to send a telegram of condolences, but if the explosion tore off their head or arm and the tag was lost, the military command would announce that they were unknown soldiers, and in most capital cities they instituted an eternal flame lest they be forgotten, because fire preserves the memory of something long past. And the fallen French measured 2,681 kilometers, the fallen English, 1,547 kilometers, and the fallen Germans, 3,010 kilometers, taking the average length of a corpse as 172 centimeters. And a total of 15,508 kilometers of soldiers fell worldwide. And in 1918 an influenza known as Spanish Flu spread throughout the world killing over twenty million people. Pacifists and anti-militarists subsequently said that these had also been victims of the war because the soldiers and civilian populations lived in poor conditions of hygiene, but the epidemiologists said that the disease killed more people in countries where there was no war, such as in Oceania, India, or the United States, and the Anarchists said that it was a good thing because the world was corrupt and heading for destruction.