lunedì, novembre 10, 2008

You've got to think, oh geez, would I do that?

Got the papers for my provisional license yesterday. Took them to the maison communale so as to get my actual provisional license - this thing is a Byzantine complex of complexity. But the maison communale was closed. Not because yesterday was a holiday - because today is a holiday, and they do the 'bridge' here to get four day weekends. And you know what? It didn't piss me off one little bit. I shrugged and walked on. It's like my boss told me once upon a time: when something in Belgium goes right (qualifying for the provisional license), celebrate it; when something goes wrong (incompetent, bloated civil service not showing up for work because nobody feels like it) accept it as the status quo, and walk on . . .

Today isn't any old holiday, but Remembrance Day. Actually, Armistice Day is what they call it here. Commemorating the end of the first world war, rather than the war itself, which is reasonable. In German (which is an official language here, as well as French and Flemish/Dutch - little known fact to help you at your trivia nights), it's Waffenstillstand. Isn't that adorable? Waffenstillstand. Hee hee hee. Who knew people who talk a language that adorable could murder millions of ethnic types so soon after the waffenstillstand of the first world war. Waffenstillstand. Precious. I guess it didn't stand still for long.

Anyways, I'm not doing much to celebrate. I keep thinking, living in Belgium as I do, that I should visit some of the nearby killing fields, get devastatingly high, and spend an hour or so mourning those millions of young men who were maimed and slaughtered in the interests of their ruling classes. Today's certainly not the day for that, though. It's raining, I'm working, and the killing fields will be choked to the gills with visitors.

But last night, we did watch some more Australian television, Four Corners this time, doing a special on how the first world war has been used and abused by politicians and different kinds of historians. I recommend it if you have a spare hour or so. One thing I like a lot about Four Corners is that the documentaries have an arc . . . 20, 25 minutes of the proceedings, and then around minute 30 there's some sort of fucking punch to the gut that alters the entire philosophy of the thing at hand. In this case, it comes from Garth Patten, an Australian teacher at UK's Sandhurst military academy, who after more than half an hour of war historians making more or less wanky arses of themselves - acting like the scarier kind of nerdy child who gets really excited over toy soldiers - sketches out why the first world war continues to be important in the training of the officer class. And it's fucking devastating, what he says.

The whole extended interview with him was fascinating. It was interesting to hear what all the interviewees had to say in the context of a discussion about how the first world war has been used, wankers included, but I would have liked to just listen to Garth Patten talk for the full hour. Whenever anybody asks me from now on why I went into the military strategy concentration for my international relations degree, I'm going to send them to that interview. Military strategy and its history tell you the horrible secrets about humans' relationships with each other. My undergrad, with all that literature, music, philosophy, language and art, was about the romantic secrets of how people relate to each other; the grad degree was about the ghastly, ugly, irredeemable secrets. And you know, it's the grad degree that prepared me for business journalism. Sigh. Off to the wars now.

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