Magazine | November 3, 2014, Issue


Heroic Drudgery

Regarding the otherwise excellent article by Charles C. W. Cooke in the September 8 issue (“A Gruesome Drudgery”), I must take exception in one matter. Cooke asserts that in the battles of 1914–18 there was little room for “chivalry or skill or heroism” (italics mine). This is quite mistaken. In the 1920s, veterans of the Great War such as J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis noticed a depressing revisionist trend in the literature of that conflict, one that stressed the irony of thousands of lives’ being wasted for small plots of shell-torn land. After the always-optimistic wartime propaganda, such revision was perhaps necessary, but as John Garth points out in Tolkien and the Great War, “it tends to be forgotten that many veterans resented the way their story was being told from 1926 onward, as a succession of disasters and discomforts with no gleam of achievement.” Tolkien wondered: “Are the prose and poetry of this age to be charged with disillusion and despair?”

Such a disenchanted view of war strips meaning from what many soldiers — then and now — see as the defining experience of their lives. This is why Tolkien’s later literary depiction of war consciously avoided the extremes of propaganda’s facile optimism or the wailing pessimism of protest, and it is why our writers today should consider that there is honor, and indeed majesty, in a just war won. If we’re not careful, a war literature that stresses only the tragedy and horror of war could someday produce a nation with a reflexive distaste for any war that might actually require placing “boots on the ground.”

Lieutenant Colonel Jason R. Zimmerman

Via e-mail

Charles C. W. Cooke Responds: By  suggesting that there was little room within the Great War for “chivalry or skill or heroism,” I intended to describe the deleterious effect that machine guns and heavy artillery had upon the battlefield, not to imply that there were no heroes of the conflict. When reading about the waves of men who were cut down the moment that they emerged above the lip of the trench, I was struck that one could be the finest soldier who had ever lived and still have no chance of survival. So many combatants were armed with little more than an Enfield rifle, and yet they were sent out to face the full might of the Industrial Revolution. That many men  derived a sense of great pride and purpose from the war is clear from their testimony. I was merely lamenting that the conditions were so brutal.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

In This Issue


Politics & Policy

A Senate to Come

Don’t expect the results of the Senate elections to change the policies of the federal government very much over the next two years. Overthrowing Harry Reid isn’t going to yield ...
Politics & Policy

Two Iraq Choices

Just as George W. Bush’s foreign-policy legacy will be defined by his decision to invade Iraq in 2003, Barack Obama’s is rapidly being defined by his decision to abandon Iraq ...
Politics & Policy

The Joys of Vaping

Second chances at happiness do not come along every day. But for this former cigarette slave, who once enjoyed every single moment of breathing in a cool, mentholated hit of ...


Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy


America needs a good history of the Republican party; unfortunately, this isn’t it. A good history would, for example, look to explain the amazing reemergence of the GOP from World War ...
Politics & Policy

Odd Lot

The pattern with David Fincher has been that only his even-numbered films are truly great. The odd-numbered ones are usually worth seeing, always technically proficient, but ultimately a little messier, ...


Politics & Policy


Heroic Drudgery Regarding the otherwise excellent article by Charles C. W. Cooke in the September 8 issue (“A Gruesome Drudgery”), I must take exception in one matter. Cooke asserts that in ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ The Secret Service let a crazy man be alone with President Obama for an hour. Luckily Tom Friedman isn’t due for another interview for a while. ‐ Leon Panetta’s memoir, ...

Keep Calm and Conspire On

‘UFO Refuels in Jet Chemtrail over Amsterdam,” said the headline on the website. Given the location, you could translate that as “Pothead Sees Things in the Sky, and, Whoa, Man,” ...
Politics & Policy


A REVERIE Some days in August there’s a summer hum Of distant outboard motors, or a plane Relentlessly pursuing a puffed cloud, Echoes of past revelers, and then some More silent moments, full of what’s ...

Most Popular


Jussie Smollett Jokes Declared Off-Limits

The Jussie Smollett story has been declared not fit for jokes. "It's a straight-up tragedy," declares the co-creator of a Comedy Central show, South Side, set in Chicago. Bashir Salahuddin, a former Jimmy Fallon writer, says “The whole situation is unfortunate. Particularly for the city, there’s bigger ... Read More

What The 1619 Project Leaves Out

“The goal of The 1619 Project, a major initiative from The New York Times that this issue of the magazine inaugurates, is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year,” The New York Times Magazine editors declare. “Doing so requires us to place ... Read More
PC Culture

Courage Is the Cure for Political Correctness

This might come as some surprise to observers of our campus culture wars, but there was a time, not long ago, when the situation in American higher education was much worse. There a wave of vicious campus activism aimed at silencing heterodox speakers, and it was typically empowered by a comprehensive regime of ... Read More

Trump and the Black Vote

"Donald Trump is a racist, white supremacist, white nationalist. So are his supporters." Some version of that refrain is heard almost hourly somewhere in mainstream media. Democratic politicians seem to proclaim it more often than that. Listening only to the Left, you'd conclude that more than half a ... Read More