September 2015 Readers' Letters | HistoryNet MENU

September 2015 Readers’ Letters

By HistoryNet Staff
8/10/2015 • Military History Magazine

Too Low Caliber?
If the photo on P. 80 [“April in Paris?” Captured] of your July 2015 issue is actually of the 210mm (8.3-inch) barrel of the Paris Gun, then that’s the world’s smallest soldier, smoking the world’s smallest cigarette. More likely it’s the 380mm (15-inch) barrel of an SK L/45 “Long Max” siege gun. If so, that German soldier would have flown only 29 miles not 80.

Paul J. Madden
SeaTac, Wash.

One reader wonders about the caliber of the World War I German Paris Gun in the photo above (Imperial War Museums, Q 87407), while another speculates about the "human cannonball's" branch of service.
One reader wonders about the caliber of the World War I German Paris Gun in the photo above (Imperial War Museums, Q 87407), while another speculates about the "human cannonball's" branch of service.

Editor responds: Good eye! But you must have missed David T. Zabecki’s article “Paris Under the Gun,” in the May issue. In it he explains, “Krupp assembled the barrel of each Paris Gun by inserting a 210mm liner tube into a bored-out 56-foot 380mm SK L/45 ‘Long Max’ naval gun barrel.” The photo shows a young man perched in the barrel of the “Long Max” prior to insertion of the Paris Gun liner tube. Either way, in his position we’re not sure we’d have lit up!

Re. your photograph of a member of the imperial German military: You are incorrect in identifying the individual as a “soldier.”

The military personnel who manned those high-caliber guns were Imperial German Navy sailors, who were more familiar with the operations of such guns, which required a considerable amount of expertise.

Michael Hitchens
Santa Ana, Calif.

Editor responds: You may have us there—”sailor” he likely is.

Great War Films
[Re. “Great War Films,” by Richard Farmer, July:] Farmer has presented a fine survey of World War I films, though I would make mention of three notable omissions.

Regeneration/Behind the Lines (1997) is the film version of Pat Barker’s literary trilogy, which tells the story of British officers being treated for “war neurosis” at Scotland’s Craiglockhart hospital in 1917. It stars Jonathan Pryce as Dr. William Rivers, the pioneering British psychiatrist who developed “gentle” treatments for the men whose scars were internal but no less crippling. Although not a “battlefield” movie per se, it is notable for some of the gruesome PTSD-inducing experiences and symptoms of Rivers’ patients and the brutal treatments practiced by Rivers’ contemporaries, which involved, among other things, electrifying a patient’s vocal cords to cure his mutism.

Another excellent British contribution, The Wipers Times (2013), tells the story of the first true soldiers’ paper (1916–18) by the same name. After discovering a printing press in a ruined village in Flanders, a unit of British sappers begins publication of an underground newspaper loved by the men and hated by the brass for mocking the decisions of the general staff and the general absurdity of the war.

Finally, Bertrand Tavernier’s Capitaine Conan (1996) covers the Salonika Front from the perspective of a unit of French Chasseurs Alpins who conduct raids behind Bulgarian lines and “forget” to take prisoners. An incredibly gritty film, its spot-on depiction of what happens in the vacuum created by the end of hostilities and in the absence of orders is unsettling, as is the hard-hitting reality of what happens to a professional warrior when there is no more war to fight and his service and sense of usefulness ends.

To my mind, though, no single film has yet captured the full breadth and scope of the Hell-on-Earth so unique to that conflict.

Robert F. Reynolds
Georgetown, Texas

One could take from your selection of Great War films that the United Kingdom played only a minor part in the war. British participation on the Western Front (at the end of the war the largest army, air force and navy) is virtually ignored. Consider Regeneration (1997), one of the best films ever about the effects of war; The Trench (1999), a modern classic; Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), a film with whose conclusions I largely disagree, but recognized as a landmark in film production; Aces High (1976), perhaps the best film about the war in the air; and who can ignore War Horse (2011)? It doesn’t end there, but I have to mention the BBC production The Great War (1964), widely recognized as the best documentary series on the war.

David Betts
Bilston, England

Editor responds: Thank you for drawing our attention to these classic British films about the Great War. They were missing from the recent article only due to space limitations and not an overt decision on our part to redact the Tommies’ crucial role in the conflict.

I enjoyed Richard Farmer’s article on World War I films. The only one that stands out for me as missing is The Lost Battalion (2001), starring Rick Schroder as Major Charles Whittlesey, a Medal of Honor recipient for action in the Argonne Forest in October 1918. His unit, the 308th Infantry Regiment of the 77th Division, held off the Germans single-handedly for six days. This A&E movie is well made and well acted. It is also one of my modern favorite depictions of World War I, along with Flyboys (2006).

Mark DuBail
Derby, Conn.

Civil War Matters
[Re. Interview, May:] In answering the question, Was the Civil War a “total war”? historian James McPherson said, “Because Civil War armies did not deliberately target civilian lives, as did both Axis and Allied armies and air forces in World War II, the Civil War could not be called a total war.” In the March 2008 issue of North & South historian Michael R. Bradley wrote of Southern civilians targeted by the U.S. Army. The Civil War bred a hatred so great, shared by both sides, that Union soldiers committed acts of vengeance against Southern civilians. Bradley wrote, “The sources for the historians researching the findings of these unlawful killings are the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion and the Provost Marshal Records of the United States Army.” In that respect I would say the Civil War was indeed a total war.

Claude Ingrassia
Rockford, Ill.

Necessary Wars
I notice in recent articles from Military History you have quietly begun to include editorial comment that damns war, even as a last resort instrument of policy—or as Carl von Clausewitz put it, “the continuation of politics by other means.” That was certainly the case in the Falklands War piece “Crags of Tumbledown” [by Ron Soodalter, May] and the Russian intervention article “First Shots of the Cold War” [by Anthony Brandt, May].

In the first case, what was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to do? Force British subjects to leave their ancestral farms and homes or, alternatively, allow British subjects to fall under the rule of what all concede to have been one of the most tyrannical and brutal fascist regimes that has ever stained the Western Hemisphere?

Surely Soodalter wasn’t swayed by the mutterings of a young wounded British soldier who joined up to look spiffy on parade in front of the queen’s residence but suddenly found himself at war, the real purpose and mission of the army and regiment in which he volunteered?

As for Western opposition to the Bolsheviks: Had the failure of those military expeditions been reversed, might not Russia and the world been spared the rule of Joseph Stalin, a dictator whose mass murders make Adolf Hitler’s crimes look like child’s play? Was that not worth a try?

As soldiers know better than anyone, war is a hateful and awful thing, brutal and pitiless. It must not be undertaken by democracies unless their security is threatened and no other viable options exist. And then it must be prosecuted in such a way as to come to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible, ending the misery. But, given national or international security and the nature of man, it unfortunately becomes necessary and unavoidable at times.

Your role should be to portray military history as it actually happened so that more can be learned from that unpleasantness. If you see your mission as one aimed at damning war as an instrument of policy, then maybe you should alter the name of your magazine.

Colonel Wayne E. Long
U.S. Army (Ret.)
Chester, Md.

Send letters to Editor, Military History, World History Group, 19300 Promenade Drive, Leesburg, VA 20176 or via e-mail to militaryhistory@historynet.com. Please include name, address and phone number.

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