Saturday, August 02, 2014


So many happy events prevent Charley and his brother from ending badly!


The title of this volume is totally misleading. First it does not concern Hitler’s Youth but only his period in the German army on the West front when opposed to Charley’s corps. The only mention of his youth is an allusion to his brother who spent some time in Liverpool and who he visited for a short while which supposedly explains why he would know English. In fact the first third of the book concerns this pre-Christmas and Christmas period on the West front with Charley on one side and Hitler on the other side. Hitler is a runner and he has a demoniacal luck that prevents him from getting killed in any way. This vision of a lucky Hitler is the greatest absurdity you can imagine. He is in no way protected by anything, fate or predestination. One is not today because he will be this or that in ten years. One will be this or that in ten years because he is what he is and he experiences what he experiences now and has experienced before.

Charley is a marksman first class and as such is a sniper. A difficult position due to te presence of snipers on both sides of the front. We get a couple of hints on how to hide your position by varying it, by using oblique shooting, or by hiding in a very effective way. The most difficult position is not when a sniper is in his dug-out because he can’t move the dug-out around, but when he is moving around in no man’s land because as soon as he is located he becomes the target of heavy fire. It is extremely difficult to remain invisible in no man’s land but once you have been located there is no way you can run away without being shot.

But all that is a little technical and anyway it does not build a plot.

For once, in this first third of the volume, we cross the lines and consider the Germans with Hitler as a corporal. Hitler is depicted as a war-crazy man entirely focused on winning and violent at that when he meets on his side with anything he calls defeatism and pacifism. Here is some of his discourse:

“We must make these sacrifices for the fatherland.”
“I will not listen to defeatism! Germany will be victorious.”
“You stinking pacifist!”

And that’s only the first page of the volume followed by two thirds of a page depicting the fight between, Hitler and one we imagine is Klausener. But there is a lot more discourse of that time, among others, the following declarations:

“My dear Bruno – that’s what young men are there for [end up like Franz – blown to pieces]!”
“My home is the regiment!”
“Sorry, Max. . . We have strict orders not to fraternise with the enemy. We must obey orders.”
“I’ve no time for trash, Gregor. I read educational works to improve my mind.” [He reads Bismarck]
“You will hear much about me. Just wait until the time comes.”
[Author’s caption] Adolf Hitler was poison-gassed, october 1918. Committed suicide, 1945.

The last remark is a caricature especially with the expression Hitler has on his face at that moment in the drawing. The caption is simply ridiculous, absurd and understanding that corporal in this comic strip is just impossible. Either he is a normal man and then you don’t need this name. Or he is a crazy lunatic visionary and then you need a lot more. But we have a caricature as if he had been injected with his future ideology at birth by some fairy. Hitler was also and probably mainly a normal young man in his youth, even in these highly abnormal conditions.

The only important moment in this opening third of the volume is the short fraternizing between the German soldiers and the British soldiers. It is strictly forbidden but tolerated, on both sides. But the author makes it tense, stressed and essentially centered on a regular fist fight between two soldiers. That’s not what we could expect. It is not realistic. And we can’t even rely on the memory of the people who lived such events because memory is selective and one can forget what one’s memory considers as unacceptable because it was forbidden. Memory is a tremendous censor that unifies a vision or a recollection for it to be acceptable by normal people (in a normal case) or for it to justify and support a discontentment that can go as far as neurosis, psychosis or schizophrenia, but that memory, censored in one way or the other, will always be active in its censored elements and create Post Traumatic Stress in the people who will not consciously remember. What is not remembered is the foundation of the PTS Syndrome.

Of course the author cannot avoid attacking officers who are celebrating Christmas in style with a Gargantuan menu of all kinds of goodies.

A last remark about the poor German language of the author who translates: “Helft uns siegen” as meaning “Help us conquer.” Sorry, mister author, but “siegen” = “vanquish” or simply “win [the war of course].” Actually I am not sure the First World War was a conquest war on the German side, but the mistranslation shows that there is a political idea behind that is not explored because the politicians of the time are nicely kept out of the comic strip. The author seems to favor the idea that the German objectives in 1914-1918 were the same as the German objectives in 1939-1945. That’s why Hitler is important. He is the missing link in the author’s vision of history. But we have to be more cautious: it is not so much the German defeat that caused the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany, but the incredibly absurd terms of the Versailles Treaty that reduced Germany to borrowing money on the American financial market, causing indirectly the Great Crisis of 1929 because Germany could not pay back when it was needed since the banks in America had over-loaned, and causing directly the fall of Germany into total deprivation, misery, begging and even probably lower than that, the total loss of any pride.

The depicting of Hitler the way he is depicted by this author is an attempt to reduce the Second World War to the craziness and lunacy of one single man, once again because the folly of the politicians on both sides, and on the three sides if we add the Russians, is not depicted, is not even alluded to, is in a way exonerated. And that’s most regrettable. This comic strip was intended to reach a young and mostly little educated audience and instead of widening their reflection it locked them up in a bunch of clichés. Or is it still taboo in England to question the motivations of politicians in this First World War?

We then shift to Charley’s brother who volunteered to be an observer-gunner on a plane. The first surprise is that Wilfred Bourne who managed to get into the armed forces under a fake identity is called from the start here Wil Bourne which is absolutely impossible since it would mean he had revealed his real identity and his assuming the identify of a deserter would have caused him and his brother-in-law great trouble. The author is here sloppy. Wilfred Bourne cannot be called Wil or Bourne by the men he is fighting with. In fact he could be considered as the accomplice of the deserter and that is a court martial case and the death penalty is at stake. That’s sloppy elements like this one that shows the comic strip is fictitious more than plainly fictional, but it is not the real thing, real story, real anything. That makes captions like the following, just on the previous page sound like camouflage:

“Bruno Bruening had his leave cancelled for starting the truce. Killed, February 1918.”
“Gregor Olson was wounded, June 1918. Legs paralysed. Died 1971.”
“Adolf Hitler was poison-gassed, October 1918. Committed suicide, 1945.”
“Len Southgate was shot dead by a German sniper, July 1918.”
“1918 would be the last and most terrible year of the war.”

There is some action in this section, but this action  is once again split up into smithereens and sliced up into salami sandwich filling and the general idea that survives is the fact that the Royal Flying Corps is a tremendous basket in which spiders are competing at devouring one another.

Everyday contacts are based on a purely mental hierarchy imposed by the top layers, the pilots. It starts with Charley speaking of the Pour Blinking Infantry (PBI) on his section of the trenches followed by an immediate shift to Charley’s brother who is a gunner-observer on a Bristol F2B Fighter.

At the bottom of the hierarchy you have the smoke blokes who keep open air fires going to be able to determine the direction of the wind with the smoke. That’s a punishment. Then you have the pioneers or riff raff who are operating as observers and gunners on the planes but have not been commissioned (or certified) as such. Then you have the air mechanics who take care of the planes when on the ground with Ack Emmas at the top of them as skilled air-mechanics. Then you have the commissioned single wingers who are the observers-gunners on the plane. They have one wing instead of two like the top level who are the pilots.

In fact that’s about all we get out of this big second third of the volume. One incident is important: an air mechanic is sloppy on a repair job because he is in a hurry to go out downtown for entertainment and the plane on its next flight crashes killing a pilot and an observer. The air mechanic had “forgotten” to sign up on the register so that no one knows about the identity of the culprit except Charley’s brother who decides not to be a grass and tell, though he is reminded, like everyone else, that not speaking if you know is equivalent to accompliceship, quite more than a plain accessory to a murder, because a sloppy repair work on a plane is murder. At the end of this section an officer, Morgan, overhears Charley’s brother and the culprit, Janker Reed, exchanging some words about the incident, just after Charley’s brother got his single wing. The promised punishment for covering Reed will be no flying any more. And Morgan takes off with Charley’s brother as his observer-gunner.

The other air mechanics who suspected Reed, take care of him and by accident push him into a turning propeller. During their mission, Morgan gets killed and Charley’s brother manages to take the control of the plane and to land it not exactly safely but at least without killing himself and on the proper side of the front. In other words Charley’s brother is saved by the gong, some Deus ex Machina that is overlooking the fate of observers-gunners. This again makes the comic strip fictitious but it is slightly too easy for Charley’s brother to escape his punishment. We can see here how this younger brother is in fact mistreated by the author. He is given his name back without any justification and in spite of the fact that it would have meant a court martial if the disguise had been discovered, and now he is taken out of another difficult situation that would have meant a court martial again by some mishap in the sky that he, the happy beneficiary of this mishap, manages to bring to a close without killing himself.

The last two episodes are taking us back to Charley himself. Some mis-delivered package makes Charley discover the mail order the Scholar had had delivered to his post: a “securi-vest” against bullets, the ancestor of the bulletproof vest and the descendant of the old armor of the knights of older times. The Scholar decides to get rid of Charley. During the next German attack, Charley leaves his post to free a soldier who was being punished by being tied up to the trench in full reachability for the bullets of the “silent susies” dropped by the Germans and then he fails to recuperate a dead German who might have carried some important information since the Germans are trying to recuperate him too from no man’s land. The Scholar announces he is putting Charley on a charge:

“You deserted yor post. . . Freed a man doing field punishment. . . and lost us valuable information!”

But the Major had seen everything and brings the Scholar back to reason:

[Major] “Nonsense, lieutenant. I saw the whole thing. If he hadn’t acted, that chapdoing field punishment would have been killed for sure.”
[Scholar] “Er. . . yes, Major, quite. . . in that case I withdraw the charge.”
[Charley] “Phew! The Scholar’s really got it in for me! From now on, I’ll have to watch my step!”

And that’s the suspense for the next volume.


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