While watching the documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” directed by Peter Jackson my feelings and thoughts were mixed. They were emotions a majority would feel when mentioning war, sadness, anger, and horror. During the classes we spent watching the documentary I felt all these emotions, however, another emotion struck me, that of pity. Pity like an outsider, pity of those who could not relate.
Throughout the documentary, I felt like the civilians after the war had ended, pitying but not fully understanding the experiences of the survivors, “However nice and sympathetic they were, attempts of well-meaning people to sympathize reflected the fact that they didn’t really understand at all”. In modern-day times it would be like reading about the war online or watching it on the news. You feel pity towards the people and the situation they are in but nonetheless, you go on with your day. Although the civilians had felt the pain of having their family and friends sent out to war, they could not truly fathom the horrifying feeling of surviving in the trenches, charging across no man’s land, the impending doom of getting shot or blown up. This frightened me, the horrors a soldier had to experience would go unnoticed by family and friends.
Perhaps, it is because I can not relate to the world of 1914-18 especially since the zeitgeist was different more than 100 years ago. The normalization of war is a very foreign idea to me. At the start of the war, the excitement moving through the young men in Europe shocked me. I was horrified at the thought that some of these young men lied about their age just to join, many not being more than two years older than me. I was in disbelief at how casually these people thought of war. After thinking about it, it makes sense, all they had ever thought about war was that it was a glorious thing that brought your nation power and wealth. They believed as a quote from the documentary, “The empire was strong, we weren’t afraid of anyone. Everybody bought little buttons and white flags and sang songs, there was no feeling of despair about it at all”. What civilians in 1914 to 1918 were made aware of through newspaper articles and photos was very different from the horrifying images, videos, and writings of the Great War we all have access to today. I could easily search for any information I wanted, even the original black and white film in this documentary is now colourized. The closest they could get to any graphics or descriptions of war life was from the newspaper’s blurry black-and-white photos and idealized writings of the war.
Anger was a prominent emotion I felt while they described the treatment of the soldiers and the recruiting of the guards. I asked myself why they were letting such young boys sign up. Why weren’t their parents stopping them? Why isn’t the Sargent stopping them? Why isn’t anyone stopping them? It filled me with a useless rage. Nearing the end of the war after millions of soldiers had been injured and killed the old soldiers were retelling how nice it felt to sip tea, a smoke, or a shot of rum. Again, it made me mad that just the absolute basic pleasures in life were so uncommon to them. It made me mad that the civilians didn’t understand, “People didn’t seem to realize what a terrible thing war was…They hadn’t any conception – how could they?”. It is not the civilian’s fault that they couldn’t comprehend. But it still makes me mad. The government and media outlets that made the war seem as if it would be over in two weeks made me mad. It makes me mad that the trauma the young men experienced went untreated and their mental well-being was ignored. I felt sad about the men both young and old who had to suffer the horror of the war. It made me sad to think of the families that suffered the loss of close family and friends, and it made me sad to think of the lasting repercussions for this generation and the next.