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Georges Duhamel and the Martyrs of the Great War


 André Fabre                                         2013

Georges Duhamel (1884-1966) was born in Paris of a Norman family. Just as he graduated in medicine, arrived the Great War and he enlisted  as ambulance surgeon in the front.

This terrible experience was brought back by him in  a very moving book "Life of martyrs", a pathetic testimony to the immense physical and human tragedy of war, and also to the suffering and heroism of thousands and thousands soldiers.

"Life of martyrs" should be read as an hymn to compassion but in our times, this word has no more reference, as etymology would suggest, to "passion" but to a vague feeling of depreciating pity. The Great War was lived by the soldiers as an immense tragedy.

It is interesting to compare the work of Georges Duhamel other contemporary accounts:

Romain Rolland 

Romain Rolland was in Switzerland at the outbreak of the WW1. When he hear dthe news, his first thought was towards a suicide of Old Europe In a series of pamphlets entitled "Above the fray", published in" Journal de Geneve" where he denounced the fatal illusion of such thing as " total victory". He was immediately seen as a traitor. After the war, Romain Rolland became a prominent pacifist. In April 1917, Lenin asked him to go with him in Russia to attend the Revolution, but  Rolland wanted to stay above all parties. However, in 1919, he wrote a Declaration of Intellectual Independence .

Henri Barbusse

Henri Barbusse, at age 41 years and despite his pacifist convictions, voluntarily enlisted in 1914 in the 231st Infantry Regiment taking part to all actions until 19163. From that experience, he brought a book "Fire", which, although heavily criticized by all nationalist parties,  won the Goncourt Prize. In 1918, Barbusse left France to settle in Moscow, where he married a Russian woman and joined the Bolshevik Party.

Roland Dorgelès

Roland Dorgelès obtained for his main work "Les Croix de bois" the great Femina Prize in 1919. It is the story of the daily life of soldiers at the front, lie in the trenches  death or return alive of soldiers comrades.

Erich Maria Remarque

Erich Maria Remarque was Incorporated in 1916 and sent to the Western Front. A severe wound in his hands broke his projects of  musical career. He wauted ten years to publish In 1929 an autobiographical novel "In the West, nothing new". The last words in the bookbecame legend : ""He fell in October 1918, a day when everything was so peaceful and quiet all along the front as the ratio of staff standing in one sentence," in the West, nothing new. "

Ernest Hemingway,

Ernest Hemingway, waited 1929 to write . "Farewell to Arms",  story Frederic Henry, an American Red Cross ambulance driver Catherine Barkley, English nurse during 1917 Italian campaign .In a cold and laconic style, Hemingway depicts a futile and destructive war, cynicism of officers and  indifference among populations.

Ernst Junger

Ernst Junger pubished in 1920 "Storm of Steel" a book relatibg his experience of the First World War whichhe lived as a soldier from beginning to end ..

Blaise Cendrars

Blaise Cendrars wrote a book with a branding title  "I killed" published in 1918), one of the strongest and most disturbing lines ever written on wars: "I jump on the other. I give him a terrible blow. The head is almost detached. I killed my "Boche". I was more agile than him. More direct. I hit first. I had a sense of reality, I, a poet. who acted andI killed. As one who wants to live. '"

Arnold Zweig

Arnold Zweig left also a moving ", heroic Education before Verdun "(1935)

Maurice Genevoix

Maurice Genevoix was only 24 years old when he took command of a company in August 1914. Day after day, he faced the targedies of battle, the utilated corpses, the unimaginable horrors until three bullets gave an end to the nightmare.

 While some researchers see the war as an integral side of human nature, others argue that war is only inevitable under certain socio-cultural or ecological circumstances. The question is still arising , "is  the practice of war  tied to a single type of political organization or society."

Another argument suggests that since there are human societies in which warfare does not exist, humans may not be naturally disposed to war, which emerges under particular circumstances. [

The deadliest war in history in terms of cumulative number of deaths since the beginning is the Second World War, with 60 to 85 million deaths.



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Date de dernière mise à jour : 30/07/2013

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