Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life

The Miracle at Verdun, discussed by Eli Siegel

          Then, we see another aspect of contempt--how a war can make for good business prospects.  Vernier explains that the area, surrounding the historic cemetery, now has a hotel which "is equipped with the most modern conveniences.  It has an excellent jazz band, golf courses and tennis courts."  There is satire here, as Chlumberg deals with opposites in every person: nobility and cheapness, large and small, life and death, the ordinary and the strange.  In his writing, he both informs and criticizes us.  The dialog continues: 
    JACKSON.  Wait a minute.  How many graves do you have...? 

    VERNIER.   About two thousand, sir. 

    JACKSON.   ...Well I'll be damned. Ten thousand killed and two thousand graves--but it costs us two hundred French francs to see them. 

    VERNIER.   What's that, sir?.. 

    JACKSON.   [vexed]  I mean your company is damned expensive, charging so much and showing so little.... 

Commenting on World War I, Mr. Siegel noted, "Americans didn't see how much Europe suffered.  "Of course America suffered somewhat herself but not the way Europe did."  As the scene goes on, contempt is building: the Americans and English have it for the French, the French for the English and Americans--all this going on in a cemetery with persons visiting, seemingly, to honor soldiers lost in battle. 
    MISS GREELEY. [an English woman]  ...there was one cemetery that had twenty thousand graves of unknown German soldiers, and they gave us lunch and dinner.... Well, that's France for you!  France! 

     [The French Tourists turn around almost simultaneously].... 

    LARAT.  Who the Devil sent for you?  Why don't you stay  home and visit your own battlefields, if you don't like ours! 

    SHARPE [Englishman...with appearance of great dignity].  These are our battlefields, gentlemen. 

    MARSHALL [old Englishman].  We won this soil back for you with English and American blood--because you couldn't do it alone.... 

    JACKSON.  Yes!  If we hadn't bled for you, you would have been lost! 

    FRENCH [with an angry laugh].  You--bled for us? You---? 

    REMUSAT.  You bled for your business!...You entered the war after your ships were sunk, and, of course, you didn't care about your war credits, your war profits? 

      Shortly after this exchange, Vernier explains that the French and German trenches "ran parallel to each other and hardly more than 100 meters apart" and here in a mass grave they "lie side by side." 
    MISS GREELEY [indignant].  ...Why, they were enemies! 

    VERNIER.  ...That was only in the beginning, I believe.  But then ...we lay...they lay so close together in the same trench.  They were being fired at from both sides.  They had to press close together for protection.  The same shells killed or wounded them.  They had to bind one another's wounds, share their drinking water, their provisions, their cigarettes, their gas masks....[In the end]...Neither army wanted to leave the trench in possession of the enemy, so they blew it to pieces from behind the lines. 

      Vernier mentions that the next day there will be ceremonies commemorating the soldiers, and "divine services" and prayers for the dead.  Government delegates will be visiting and speeches will be given.  A German tourist asked "What do they want, for those fellows down there?...What will they ask for, in their prayers...? 
    VERNIER.  You ask strange questions, sir...For the peace of their souls, I suppose.  For their comfort...[Pause.] And most of all, for their glorious resurrection!  That especially, I should imagine! 

    Conclusion of The Miracle at Verdun on page 3

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