The Machine’s Long Shadow

Today is Remembrance Day. It’s also St Martin of Tour’s Feast Day, and has been long before the First World War was even a remotely imaginable possibility.

St Martin of Tours lived and died in the 4th century. He was the son of a solider, became a Christian as a teenager, served in the Cavalry for 25 years before becoming a priest and, reluctantly, a bishop of Tours. It is entirely fitting that he shares his feast day with the end of the most devastating war that swallowed an entire generation of young men from the whole of Europe and left it shattered.

Australians tend to have a bit of a myopic perspective on the Great War thanks to our woefully inadequate history curriculum that focuses on the Gallipoli campaign. What changed my entire perspective on the Great War began first,

by reading some of the work of Wilfred Owen. He was a young British soldier who was killed in action days before the Armistice. Then my brother recommended a podcast series by Dan Carlin called Blueprint for Armageddon that shone a floodlight on the woeful inadequacy of my understanding of just how long the shadow of this war has cast on the psyche of the Western world.

If you do nothing else today, go and listen to that podcast. It’s long, but Carlin has a way of drawing you in to this compelling story that will leave you wanting more. He is sensitive to the horror and tragedy of this conflict without descending into tragedy porn. He humanises soldiers and Field Marshalls alike whilst knitting a complex story together coherently and comprehensively.

Today is a day for soldiers, past and present, ancient and modern. Lest we forget their joys and sufferings on the battlefield where life and death are never closer together. Lest we forget that, this side of eternity, peace is but a brief respite before conflict and death come to us all.

Well, the first War of the Machines seems to be drawing to its final inconclusive chapter — leaving, alas, everyone the poorer, many bereaved or maimed and millions dead, and only one thing triumphant: the Machines. As the servants of the Machine are becoming a privileged class, the Machines are going to be enormously more powerful. What’s their next move?

J.R.R. Tolkien writing to his son, Christopher, serving on the front (30 January 1945);
published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1981), Letter 96

Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum collection Q 40404
Battle of Pozieres Ridge. Troops of the 1st Australian Division (1st ANZAC Corps), some wearing German helmets, photographed between La Boisselle and Pozieres on their return from the taking of Pozieres, 23 July 1916.

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