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The Missing of the Somme

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“The young men queuing up to enlist in 1914 have the look of ghosts,” Dyer writes. “They are queuing up to be slaughtered: they are already dead…. [T]he Great War urges us to write the opposite of history: the story of effects generating their cause.”

One must ask: Is this bunk? If not, what does it mean? While cranky academics are too quick to dismiss experimental, edgy critical theorists like Jean Baudrillard – whose 1991 essay “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place” playfully dissects how Westerners think about wars they watch on television – you don’t have to be reactionary to call Dyer’s postmodern bluff. For a book that tries to add value to libraries filled with worthy writing about World War I, "The Missing of the Somme"’s diaphanous swipes at lyricism seem immaterial. Even worse, Dyer admits as much.

“My own reading of general histories of the war is characterized by a headlong impatience,” he writes. “There are parts of these histories I try hard to concentrate on but whose details I can never absorb: the network of treaties, the flurry of telegrams and diplomatic maneuvers that lead up to the actual outbreak of war. Consequently everything between the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the lamps going out over Europe is a blur.”

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