World War I, Vietnam: chilling symmetry

I have just watched a chilling, remarkable and utterly jaw-dropping film. New Zealand director/producer Peter Jackson’s documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old” hit me like a punch in the gut.

It is a film pulled together with many hours of archived film taken from World War I. Jackson colorized the raw film, restored its quality to a stunning level and then added narration taken from audio recordings made at the time.

The documentary takes us through British soldiers’ combat along The Western Front, how they confronted the Germans, fought them hand-to-hand. How they endured the most deplorable living conditions imaginable.

Then at the end of the film, we learn about the Armistice, which was proclaimed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The narrative tells how the guns just stopped firing. The battlefield fell strangely silent after years of constant bombardment.

There was no celebration among the British ranks. They packed up their gear and boarded boats for the ride home across the Channel.

And then they were greeted by — you guessed it — raging indifference. Indeed, many of the men who returned home from the War to End All Wars wondered: Why were we fighting? What was the point? What was the mission?

To those of us who had some exposure to another war, the one in Vietnam, the baffling reasons for fighting World War I among the British warriors seems to ring so very true.

I had a brief exposure to the Vietnam War. I didn’t suffer the hideous conditions experienced by the men I just witnessed on film. I did come home to what I have referred to as “raging indifference.” Make no mistake, either: I, too, wondered about what in the world I had just experienced and to what end was this war going to conclude.

I haven’t given away too much of the film. Just take my word for it: Peter Jackson has worked a technological miracle with this documentary.

It’s a classic!

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