The Ultimate Cost of War

I saw the extraordinary documentary, "They Shall Not Grow Old.” It was stunning to watch as director Peter Jackson brought soldiers of World War I vividly to life.

Millions of young men died in the brutal trench warfare of the Great War, and this film manages to supply texture and layers of detail to that real Lost Generation. Jackson’s team restored badly damaged footage from Imperial War Museums archives, retooled it to the modern film speeds and then pumped life into it with color. The result is a jaw-dropping depiction of WWI Tommies.

 The soundtrack comes from hundreds of hours of interviews conducted with WWI veterans, as they described life on the Western Front. Their exhilaration at the war’s start in 1914 and their sheer horror by the end in 1918 is evident for all to hear.  

I am no fan of colorizing vintage black & white celluloid. But bringing history to life for 21st century viewers is a valiant cause. It enables you to glimpse the immense amount of youthful vitality, energy and joy lost in the quagmire of World War I -- indeed, in all wars.

It reminded me of one of the best Memorial Day opinion pieces I've read. It’s by Gardner Botsford, a legendary New Yorker editor who was a World War II vet. He was also a lovely writer, so he emphasized that the crucial loss is the lives not lived by these millions of young soldiers:

"Who knows what they would have done with themselves. Possibly nothing, probably nothing extraordinary. It doesn't matter. They are truly memorable now just as they are." 


Allison Silverwar, military