Showing on More4 on Wednesday night is Baghdad ER, an Emmy-winning documentary about the 86th Combat Support Hospital, a US army facility in Iraq. The 60-minute film is controversial. US army representatives refused to attend a screening because they thought it would engender negative feelings about the war. (As if any coverage of Iraq might engender a positive attitude.) The Army Surgeon General also issued a warning that if ex-combatants watched the film, they could suffer from post-traumatic stress. I have a feeling that watching this documentary might make all the 'gritty' medical and/or war dramas seem a pale shadow of reality.
I am in two-thirds through reading the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker. It is a tightly written and well-researched series of novels that focuses on the psychological treatment of soldiers in World War I. Barker uses the lives of the famous war poets, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and their relationship with psychiatrist William Rivers as the basis for her books. She brilliantly merges biography and imaginative writing to explore issues of conscience and psychosis. I particularly like the snatches of poetry intermingled in the narrative. My mother was unavoidably my English teacher at our school for a while, and I recall with pleasure her teaching us the war poets. Rediscovering them in Barker's novels is like coming across old friends and finding them changed but the same somehow.
Yet another take on the war poets is to be found in Paul Fussell's fascinating book The Great War and Modern Memory. First published in 1975, the book documents in exquisite detail the irony of how the awfulness of war gave rise to beautiful and sensistive literature. It is an amazing exposition on how metaphors, far from being 'merely' figures of speech, engender concrete actions with often tragic results. Particularly insidious was the sporting metaphor which permeated discourse about the First World War. At the Somme, a captain offered a prize to the platoon which first kicked a football up to the German front line in the interests of 'a sporting spirit'. Fussell marries word, symbol and action in attempt to explain how the First World War is still surrounded by unwarranted romanticism. I can't recommend it highly enough.