Oh What a Lovely War

Up to your waist in water,

Up to your eyes in slush,

Using the kind of language,

That makes the sergeant blush.

Who wouldn’t join the army?

That’s what we all inquire;

Don’t we pity the poor civilian,

Sitting beside the fire.

Oh, oh, oh, it’s a lovely war,

Who wouldn’t be a soldier, eh?

It’s still around and still worth watching on DVD- Richard Attenborough’s adaptation of Joan Littlewood’s Oh What a Lovely War, a savage send up over the stupidity of war. Made in 1969 and featuring la creme de la creme of British cinema (Olivier, John Mills, the Redgraves,  Gielgud etc) it is at the same time very funny and extremely sad. The same attitudes are still with us. War as adventure, sport, us vs them, patriotism the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Only the Brits could have made this savage satire. They saw the cream of Great Britain sacrificed for nothing in the mud of France and Belgium. The contrast between the grunts in the field with their bitterly ironic songs and the true believers sending them off to war is painful to watch.

Using all those music hall songs of the period plus the shocking jingoism and sentimentality which always surrounds the tribe and the homeland, OH hits all the right historical notes. Loos, Verdun, Ypres, Somme, Paschendaele and all the stale rhetoric—home by Christmas, it’ll soon be over, King and Country—as Wilfrid Owen said—”the old lies, it is sweet and lovely to die for your your native land.” We even see the heartbreaking Christmas truce of 1916 where the Ger mans and the Brits sang silent Night, exchanged gifts—and then started firing on each other. Like a Greek chorus a silent nurse keeps adding to the mortality scoreboard throughout the film while John Mills as General Haig tries to convince us that one more push should do it. You’ll want to scream.

This is a DVD rental which should be seen in every high school in  Acadie, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Pembroke and all those places where the Canadian army now promotes war to our everlasting shame and embarrassment. All these kids, many  who have failed to launch by their mid 20s, served up by the Harperites and Rick “Kill the scumbags” Hillier—for what? To appease Uncle Sam for not going into Iraq.

Where we could have made difference was Haiti but that was too close to Canada, too much like real peacekeeping instead of this fruitless war we are now engaged in.

Add to this the failure of the Canadian Bishops to make a strong statement on the way our country has exchanged peace for war.

Oh What a Lovely War? Best movie you’ll see this month—maybe next to the latest Rambo.


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