It's been many years since I read Fussell's _Great War and Modern
Memory_ -- but I think the title reverberates independently of its
detailed content. WW1 was _different_ -- different from previous wars
and different from later wars. There was one major aspect of later wars
that differentiated them from WW1 -- they all came after that war. I
think no one ever believed the ridiculous slogan of that war, that it
was a war to end war, and from that day to the present there has been
immanent in world culture the expectation of disaster. The actuality of
WW 1 was forseen by _no one_: it violated almost every conscious and
unconscious expectation not only of how the world _ought_ to work but of
how the world actually worked. In every day in every way things are
getting better and better. The guns of august destroyed that forever.
Frantic efforts to "return to normalcy" or (later) to think positively
had a hollow core.
"Tradition . . ." is dated 1917, by which time the shock of the war had
certainly sunk in -- and part of that shock was the transformation of
the past. (Henry James [from vague memory] "So this is what it all
meant.") The "new work" had indeed transformed the existing order, and
not so slightly either.
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a lmited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. . . .
Dated 1940 (before or after the fall of France?), but it evokes
primarily the shock of 1914 I think.