Top critical review
Impossible imperialistic dream
on 4 August 2014
At first the author liquidates the end of the First World War (as we know it in France, the USA and the entire world) with some twists in the fabric to put Charley everywhere the author needs him, even if it is incredible to have him transferred from here to there in one stroke of his pencil.
Charley is making friends with the black American soldiers who have a pet raccoon. Snell comes in and shoots the raccoon as if it were a rat. Then the Blacks are sent unprepared against a machine gun nest alone. Charley joins and manages to save their lives and get the machine gun nest destroyed. Snell is furious, so in the evening when they are coming out of a bar in which Charley and his new Black friend, Pig Iron, had been obliged to flatten a pair of white Americans who wanted to kick the Black soldier and his friend Charley out in the name of white precedence, Snell tries to kill Charley - so he says - but kills Pig Iron. He pretends in his mind it was a mistake. In fact it was not because he does not want to kill Charley as we are going to see, but to kill everything and everyone Charley may be attached to. But we have to note the author DOES NOT MENTION the race issue which is obvious in 1918 in the American armed forces, and will still be for at least three decades.
Later on Snell sends Charley's group in a city that he knows is a German trap while he goes around to enter the city from behind while Charley and his men are occupying the Germans in front. Charley falls in the trap but manages to save the situation in extremis. In the process of this operation he is blown into the river and he is taken by the current to the German zone where he is made into a Prisoner of War, which means working like a slave in coal mines to provide the German army with the coal they need. He finds his cousin Jack there who had taken part in the secret Zeebrugge operation and had ended up the same way as Charley, a Prisoner of War. They meet when the two of them are punished with "sticky step," the arms tied up to a pole so that you only reach the ground with your toes and they, the Germans, can add some more physical abuse in that very defenseless position. They try to escape three times and each time they are recaptured. The last time, they are recaptured on a train but they manage to jump off the train when it was slowing down in a curve. Just before entering a tunnel. That was really a last chance before hell.
The two of them go back to their units and Charley goes back to Captain Snell who is still as crazy as a bat. The advance of the British army is fast but Snell has a tendency to send Charley on the most difficult missions, often practically suicide mission, and to refuse to take prisoners: more or less he shoots them after surrender. We are introduced with a fast glimpse at the "civil" war in Russia then.
"IN RUSSIA, A SAVAGE CIVIL WAR HAD BROKEN OUT BETWEEN COMMUNISTS (THE REDS) AND CZARISTS (THE WHITES). BRITAIN AND AMERICA SUPPORTED THE WHITES AND HAD SEND EXPEDITIONARY FORCES TO HELP THEM."
We finally come to political concepts and politicians and that's only the beginning. For example the following remarks on the German side:
THE KAISER CALLED THOSE FIRST BRITISH SOLDIERS "A CONTEMPTIBLE LITTLE ARMY" AND THE NAME HAD STUCK."
Or this time in the mouth of Sergeant "Old Bill":
OI! FRITZ-FACE! GET THIS THROUGH YOUR THICK HUN HEAD! THE FATHERLAND'S KAPUT! MAYBE YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND ENGLISH! WE'LL MAKE YOU LEARN IT WHEN WE OCCUPY GERMANY AND THE UNION JACK'S FLYING OVER BERLIN."
That's pure contempt. That's what was going to produce Hitler and the Second World War: the decision to colonize and crush down Germany. And the very same Sergeant "Old Bill" declares when it is really finished here in Belgium and France:
[OLD BILL] "DON'T WORRY, LAD! WE'LL SOON SORT THE RUSSKIES OUT!
[CHARLEY] YOU'VE VOLUNTEERED TOO? WHY?
[OLD BILL] BECAUSE IT'S OUR PATRIOTIC DUTY TO DEAL WITH THE RED MENACE, LAD! THE HORRORS OF BOLSHEVISM!"
And here the spirit is that of the Cold War, but one World War earlier. It is also this idea that the West has the duty to sort out all problems and to colonize all those who resist. The ideology that is starting to be developed is the most clearly imperialistic ideology imaginable and the Russian episode is nothing but the development of this ideology.
After Valenciennes, Snell wants to reach Mons, the place where the first shots of the war were heard. So in the last hour before the cease-fire he sends Charley and his group against a non-shooting machine gun nest. Most members of Charley's group are hit and only Charley survives long enough to eliminate the Germans and their machine gun. But that's the end of this war though a die-hard German sends some poison gas and Snell meets Charley man-to-man at that moment and Snell reveals his vengeance: he has volunteered Charley for the Russian front. The die hard German saves Charley the effort of killing Snell. He doses him with some liquid fire and Charley let Snell die his own fiery death. And we directly move to Russia.
But before doing that let me make a remark. It is from any democratic point of view impossible, I repeat absolutely impossible, for some one to volunteer to some military operation without saying it with one's own words and signing some kind of paper. No one can do it in your place. At this moment the comic strip becomes absurd.
I will not enter many details about the sorry Russian campaign that is shown as the direct continuation of the First World War by reducing the celebration of the victory to one big box on one page. I will just give a few indications about the political discourse that is now present from beginning to end: it is nothing but a political manifesto.
The first image of Russia is the whites shown as extremely violent and untrustworthy people and at the end of this Russian episode it will be shown they are only interested in recuperating the gold of the Czar that had been stored away at the beginning of WWI. They are greedy and extremely condescending and brutal with people under them and civilians.
The Russian Bolshevists are shown as fanatics who only dream of power and of violence. They are killing machines that do not consider their death as an issue, but as a normal and banal event that has to come sooner or later. Note ONE and only one woman is integrated in this Red Army that is only mentioned once. The name of Lenin is pronounced a couple of times but the name of Trotsky is never uttered, which is pure rewriting of history since the red Army is Trotsky's invention. The comic strip makes fun of Trotsky's principles: the red Army had to be extremely flexible and the soldiers of all ranks, all ranks being equal in a way, had to be conscious of the political objectives of the fight, hence the commanding officers were doubled with political officers. This principle is what made all anti-colonial armies effective. No one has the right to make fun of it. It was and still is the most efficient way to wage a war of liberation. The comic strip just ridicules it by having the military officer, Colonel Spirodonov, reported up and exposed to the political higher ups by a local political officer, which puts Spirodonov on the defensive since he is under arrest and he has to force his way through and reveals himself as a self-minded, self-centered social climber who just wants revenge and vengeance. What is leveled against Spirodonov is what he said about Lenin:
"TO BLAZES WITH LENIN! WE'RE FIGHTING HALF THE WORLD. . . THE BRITISH! AMERICANS! JAPANESE! THERE'LL BE TIME FOR TALKING WHEN WE'VE DRIVEN THEM FROM OUR SOIL!
"YOU CAN'T TALK LIKE THAT ABOUT LENIN!"
TALKING'S ALL HE'S GOOD FOR! WHEN IT COMES TO FIGHTING, I AM THE ONE RUSSIA NEEDS!"
Technically the war is centered on shielded trains that transport all that is needed in a war. The trains are fundamental and then the main strategy or tactic is to block the train of the opponents. Spirodonov has a train that is impregnable and the British have a train that is not as good as for its shielding, but lighter and more mobile, and of course the British are so much more intelligent, etc. But basically the Reds are shown as essentially relying on "German mercenaries." The comic strip author forgets to say that the whites are just relying on British, American and Japanese mercenaries paid by the concerned foreign governments. It is easy to be biased in this world, and the readers are just the fools who will bring the whole world down if they have their last fool's words.
Along the way a monastery is met with among the monks those who are realists:
"OH, NO, YOU CANNOT STAY HERE! THE REDS WOULD SEND A RETRIBUTION SQUAD TO DESTROY US. THE MONASTERY WOULD BE DISSOLVED AS A NEST OF COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARIES! TO SURVIVE, WE MUST BE LOYAL SERVANTS OF THE NEW ORDER!"
Then the slightly deranged fundamentalists:
"WITHOUT A CZAR, MAN KIND WILL BE DESTROYED! WE ARE AT THE MERCY OF RUTHLESS MEN!"
And then the fools:
"HOW DARE YOU TURN THESE MEN [Charley and his band] AWAY, BROTHER VASSYA? THEY ARE OUR ALLIES!"
"BUT WHAT ABOUT THE BOLSHEVISTS? THEY WILL KILL US!"
"WE WILL NOT BOW TO THOSE DOGS!"
"BUT WE MUST BE REALISTIC. . . "
"ENOUGH GO AND WAIT IN MY OFFICE! I APOLOGUZE FOR BROTHER VASSYA! HE IS IN CHARGE OF OUR ACCOUNTS! A LIFETIME LOOKING AT FIGURES HAS MADE HIM VERY WORLDLY! PLEASE. . . ENTER!"
They will get the help they need to escape but the monastery will be burned to the ground. It is hard to be a realist in a changing political world, and it is easy to be a fool. Unluckily the fools are bringing everyone down.
The communist propaganda is reflected in the comic strip several times and one British soldier is more or less influenced by it up to the point of trying to pass to Spirodonov's side. But when he arrives in front of the man and tries to get his communist flier out of his pocket he is shot dead by him. That's another way of being a fool: to trust the propaganda of the other side and that is true on both sides. If you do not know propaganda is just made-up embellished lies to mesmerize your critical mind into believing anything, then you are a fool and then the last word will not be the fool's last word but the propaganda-master's last word.
After a last episode around a railway bridge that is temporary and hence can be detached and re-attached at will, the British finally understand the real motivations of the whites and they just take a speedy escape.
[White officer] "WHEN THE REVOLUTION BEGAN, THE IMPERIAL GOLD RESERVE. . . SOME FIVE HUNDRED TONS. . . WAS TRANSFERRED FROM SAINT PETERSBURG TO SIBERIA FOR SAFE-KEEPING! BUT A SMALL AMOUNT WAS LEFT BEHIND TO BRIBE LEADING BOLSHEVISTS!"
[One English soldier] "HOW SMALL?"
[White officer] "OH JUST TEN TONS! . . ."
[OLD BILL] "LISTEN TOVARICH. . . IT'S OBVIOUS THAT BOLSHE SPIRODONOV KNOWS ABOUT THE GOLD! THAT'S WHY HE WANTS THIS TRAIN SO FLIPPING BAD!
[Charley] "NOW HE'LL CHASE US ALL THE WAY BACK TO MURMANSK TO GET HIS THIEVING HANDS ON IT."
[White officer] "THE GOLD IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE LIVES OF A FEW PEASANTS! IT CAN BUY ARMS FOR THE WHITE RUSSIAN CAUSE."
You can get the general picture now. And the conclusion is easy to understand:
"A FEW DAYS LATER, THE BRITISH LEFT NORTH RUSSIA. THE ALLIED HAD WASHED THEIR HANDS OF THE WHITE RUSSIAN CAUSE AND SOON THE ENTIRE COUNTRY WAS OVERRUN BY THE BOLSHEVISTS. CHARLEY BOURNE AND HIS COMRADES RETURNED TO BRITAIN TO BE DEMOBBED. THE FINAL ACT OF THE GREAT WAR WAS OVER. . . A WAR THAT COST SEVENTY BILLION POUNDS AND IN WHICH TEN MILLION SOLDIERS DIED."
This comment is entirely political. The British invading troops were withdrawn because politically and militarily the civil war was a lost cause. But this conclusion from the comic strip author is outrageous because it considers the Russian civil war and the direct military intervention of Great Britain, the USA and Japan, with France and Italy who pulled out as soon as they arrived in Russia, as justified in itself and the ethical continuation of the butchery of WWI.
We must keep in mind the the Russian campaign was the invasion of a country that was at war with no one. This is a political decision. Who took it and who should be held responsible for it? It is meddling with the inner political affairs of a country that is no danger to anyone since it is at war with no one. The west should know by now this is unacceptable, though the west has had the tendency to practice this type of political action quite a lot over the last twenty years. This Russian campaign was political and nothing else: it was directed against the Bolshevists, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union itself. We must also recall that the comic strip is disguising the real history of that time. The main leader of the Red Army was not a war lord like Spirodonov but was Trotsky, whose name is never pronounced. This is purely rewriting history and that has a name: it is called revisionism. In the West as long as the revisionists do not consider the Shoah, they can rewrite the history of the whole world if they want, why not the universe? Finally the campaign on the British side is not seriously depicted, particularly in its horror. It is a sort of touristic adventure in military disguise and the Reds are like wild animals in the jungle. Shoot them first and peal off their hide second before discarding their pealed bodies to the vultures and hyenas of life.
The last episode is going directly to 1933 when Charley is on the dole and has been for a long time due to the 1929 crisis. He is still married and has a son. It is the year when King Kong came out. And the last box of the comic strip gets us a clear picture of the ideology of this comic strip on the whole. We get in giant letters: NAZI PARTY and the newspaper vendor says:
"EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! HITLER ELECTED CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY!"
And Charley can conclude in a silent bubble:
"NO. . . WE FOUGHT THE WAR TO END ALL WARS. . . SO OUR KIDS WON'T HAVE TO GO THROUGH THE SAME THING. . . THAT'S WHAT MAKES IT ALL WORTHWHILE. . . "
This bubble is meaningless because even if they thought at the beginning it was the last ever war in the world, they lost their illusion very fast, "they" being the rank and file soldiers, and most of them lost their illusions at the same time as they lost their life. But the last sentence should have been in the past: that's what MADE it worthwhile. In the present it implies that Charley is ready to fight another war. Luckily he is too old. But then he is ready to let his own son fight that other war? And we can even wonder if the author does not mean that we are supposed to fight all the wars our dear governments who are never named may decide.
This final volume of the collection is in many ways the revealing volume about the ideology of the whole comic strip, an ideology that is most of the time subliminally injected into the minds of the young people who read the comic strip. The drawing of it is great IN BLACK AND WHITE. It would be a catastrophe in color though it is said the color version was, at least for some pages, the original shape of it, but the drawing is nothing but the emphasizing element and it multiplies a hundred time the horror we are shown: the monsters are the Germans and the Red Bolshevists. All the others are suffering nice people, even Snell after all in his crazy state. Never did I find a clear-cut expression of the reverse: the Scholar was never counter-balanced by any other intellectual who would not be a selfish egotistic social climber. The Germans do not have one single positive character. The Bolshevists do not have one single positive character. The Russians in general do not have one single positive character and the most positive monk is a fool. Only the Kaiser is mentioned two or there times and only the Czar and the Russian whites and reds are mentioned as politicians. English and British and even American politicians are NEVER mentioned in the comic strip. The horror is the result of the attacks the British have been submitted to and of the extremely bad management of the war by the generals and it is then that Winston Churchill, a Bitish politician indeed, is quoted: to reinforce and nail down this idea that the horror of this war was the result of bad military management. British politicians are pure, virginal, innocent and maybe even angelic. Note by the way that we only have here the British side of things. The French and the Americans are hardly mentioned.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU