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The book avoids any historical or political depth,
This review is from: Charley's War: 1 August-17 October 1916 (Hardcover)
The sliced up story continues of course with small episodes of three or four pages. To make us lose our balance in the story even more the book does not have page numbers so that we do not know where we are, how much has already been read and how much is left.
We have to be clear about this book. It does not reach history. The story is sliced up too thin for one and we never - I say never in spite of what the author may think - deal with the real political questions behind the war and not even the real economic questions. Understand me well, you may think they do and yet they don't. They show you in this volume the great industrial inventions this war brought up, tanks and planes, and yet the book does not question the industrial capitalism that stands behind, far from it. In fact the war appears rather either like a game, a wartime monopoly, or as a tremendous heroic human achievement to achieve some kind of killing efficiency in such awful technical and human conditions.
That's the first thing I want to insist on. No matter how horrible the technical inventions the very existence of such technical inventions is seen as some kind of human achievement that is only possible because human beings are able to serve the machines, to use the machines, to command the machines, to dominate the machines. These men are in a way monsters since they bring death to thousands of other people just because these others are "huns" and yet they are shown as tremendous geniuses who are able to achieve some heroic deed which is nothing but to make this machine work, hence make it kill people and this very simple "working" option erases the horror that this "working" actually means. I don't even think the author is conscious of this contradictory effect of its comic book. Some people in the audience might reject the war but it will not be based on the technical level, on even the scientific level but on the human consequences. They will not condemn industrial progress, industry and not even industrial capitalism, which is not actually named or identified, but the horrible consequences of the practical use of these isolated inventions. The discourse leads to a plain condemnation of war but not to any discussion of the hijacked industrial revolution, and I just wonder if it would be an immediate feeling among the readers that could identify this "hijacking." It seems to be living on the assumption that the industrial revolution and industrial capitalism mean war by definition and thus they do not have to speak of it, either not to fall in a cliché, or not to break through an open door. In other words they do not see that this war is "hijacking" industrial and scientific progress.
The second remark is that some episodes are actually showing the human horror of this war. The court-martialing of a lieutenant and his subsequent shooting by his own men and the subsequent refusal of this shooting by a couple of soldiers and the subsequent punishment of these men show how a war is beyond logic. It is based on the simple line of command that goes from the top to the bottom and in no other direction, and no one at any level has any autonomy on obeying orders or even giving an order that could even simply appear as contradictory to the orders coming from higher up. There is no possible choice in the sentence. It is always the firing squad. And it is even specified it can be a good firing squad that causes a quick death or a bad firing squad that causes a long slow and painful death with or without a final liberating shot.
The third remark is the extreme cruelty of all physical or psychological punishment used in this war. Particularly "field punishment number one." In fact it shouldn't exist, but it did, and you can be sure that in many armed forces and conflicts here and there in the world such cruelty and torture is commonly used. You will find the detail in the book. But let me say it is worst than what slavery in the USA meant for the Black slaves. The objective of such a punishment is to break the psyche of the soldier and hence to break his possible resistance. It is amazing because that should destroy the morale of the soldier and yet the book says it does not. And yet we know that the slaves in the USA were very poor workers which made the plantation little competitive and even around the second half of the 19th century absolutely non-competitive at all with even the slackest sharecropping policy. Strangely enough those who are trying by all means to escape even by maiming themselves or having themselves maimed in a way or another are identified as cowards, frightened under-men. The best example is Charley's brother in law. He is shown as unacceptable at any possible level. He is nothing but an under-human frightened animal that is also identified as rich and trying to buy with hefty sums of money the protection he needs to survive and when he does not get it he just has himself maimed by an accidental hazard that was perfectly calculated and planned.
That too is typical and the real culprits in this war or for this suffering are officers who do not venture at the front, never take part in the fighting, make sure discipline is perfectly respected, court-martial those who do not respect it and finally are highly incompetent, like in their misuse of the tanks that could have shortened the war by two years, though the comic book also insinuates that this half failure was calculated so that the war could go on because they (Who is they? Officers only?) wanted it to go on and yet we are not explained why they could want it to go on.
The comic book is probably best when the main character, Charley, is reacting to the loss and death of his closer friends since he loses the two of them and comes up to the conclusion that it is so hard to lose a friend that it is better to become a loner and have no friends whatsoever in this war. That kind of human reaction, because it is deeply human, is probably the best aspect of the book, but it concerns at the most five percent of the book. The rest is unexplained, unjustified and totally unclear barbarity.
The MP sergeant nicknamed the Beast is not even a good character because he is idiotic. He should know that over-punishing destroys the morale of the punished one but also of the people around him. It does not bring heroism and can only bring hatred and rejection, unrest even. He is typical of a foreman in a slave plantation who used that kind of torturing to keep the slaves down but he had the power to kill the rowdy ones when they became uncontrollable, and that right of life and death over the soldiers an MP sergeant does not have it. Not to speak of the husband or wife of the slave and his or her children that could be used as blackmailing weapons.
The conclusion I would give here is that this unsatisfying ideologically unclear and politically unspecified flying object, sorry comic book, does not bring any other feeling than that of discomfort and dissatisfaction. We are still expecting a comic book that would create a real perspective within and over or clearly identifiable behind the story, hence a comic book that would reach history beyond the story.
But there are still eight volumes to go.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU