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I have posted a lot on the First World War era, and in some literary and artistic works of that time. With one book in particular, I am constantly amazed when people interested in history don’t know it. Apart from being one of the really great books on war, it is also riotously funny. And no, the two parts of that sentence are not in contradiction. It also provides a nice context for our recent centennial of the end of that war.
I am referring to The Good Soldier Švejk (1923) by the Czech Jaroslav Hašek, a true bohemian and anarchist. It tells the story of a soldier in the Great War, who is, shall we say, beyond simple. The picture is of course founded on Hašek’s own experiences in the service, and as a POW of the Russians. Švejk is basically an idiot, and we see the war through his twisted eyes, which despise all authority, and in the process we see many acute visions of war and society. Everything you think you know about war, or heroism, or nationalism, or the military, is turned radically upside down. The book portrays the military experience in term of pervasive absurdity, and of comic incompetence, coupled with sadistic brutality: which is why it remains such a firm favorite with so many present and former soldiers. It makes Catch-22 or M*A*S*H look like recruiting posters sponsored by the Pentagon. The book portrays a gallery of officers, who are variously described as bullies, bigots, morons, perverts, careerists, or sots: all are closely modeled on the actual officers under whom Hašek served. Clergy and military chaplains come in for special contempt.
Švejk - Idiot - World - Lunatics - Person
Švejk is an idiot in a world run by lunatics. And maybe the sanest person in a world at war.
Although a lengthy work, it remains...
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