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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 22, No. 1, 2023
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
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Nick Catalano
Chris Barry
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Diane Gordon
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Nayan Chanda
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Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

the armistice and the artists



Nick Catalano is a TV writer/producer and Professor of Literature and Music at Pace University. He reviews books and music for several journals and is the author of Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter, New York Nights: Performing, Producing and Writing in Gotham , A New Yorker at Sea,, Tales of a Hamptons Sailor and his most recent book, Scribble from the Apple. For Nick's reviews, visit his website:

Those who cannot remember the
past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana

Santayana’s famous quote is a particularly dark statement at the moment. Even more ominous is the following: what is the fate of those who never learned about the past in the first place? The study of history in school has become a relic, lost in the curricula of practical courses needed for the job market. Millennials are in real trouble here. There are many reports that can be quoted (i.e. Chicago Tribune). “History departments are downsizing drastically because of lower enrollment . . . the University of Wisconsin ( Stevens) is shutting down its history department.” Inside Higher Ed reports on the “Vanishing History Major” . . . there are dozens of analogous alarms.

Another particularly insidious development is the politicalization of teaching history. CAP analyzes “Book Banning, Curriculum Restrictions, and the Polticalizations of U.S. Schools.” It notes, for example, that in Texas 713 books have been banned from public schools.

Add to these developments the popularity of dubious media figures who utilize references to “alternate facts,” “fake news” claims of election fraud, and lies about documented Congressional revelations to gain ratings and you have the virtual disappearance of historical truth. In October, a Gallup survey found that just 34 percent of Americans trusted respected media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly with much of the remainder relying on preposterous, inane, and often slanderous social media to obtain ‘reliable’ information.

What then are populations to do to obtain deeper knowledge, meaningful insight and increased wisdom in their lives? Eons ago, Aristotle questioned even accurate history as a means capable of revealing total awareness of difficult societal problems, and mysteries of human behaviour. Even super-accurate history could not account for the total psychological, imaginative, sensual, and spiritual elements of human behaviour. But all was not lost.

In his Poetica, the legendary philosopher showed that great art from geniuses could communicate huge depth and insight into the aforementioned societal and human behavioural enigmas. And he was lucky because he could turn to the titanic achievements of Greek dramatists -- Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes -- to illustrate his argument. Ever since, we have turned to the great artists of the world -- Dante, Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Mozart, and many others -- to learn about ourselves and have enjoyed doing it.

In our own time we have an art form that can communicate in the most dramatic way -- film.
Often, talented filmmakers will use their medium to deepen and sometimes correct significant historical accounts of human events.

A current example of how a film artist can look back at history and reveal truth is a movie about WW l. Because of the sketchy history courses in schools that I spoke about above, few young and even middle aged people have any significant knowledge of events surrounding that horrific war. Few understand that feuds among ancient European families were responsible for escalating argument into violent carnage. Many ironies abound here. Historical study reveals that Germany could have easily fought alongside England in opposing France and last minute posturing among the ruling families was responsible for setting up the axis vs. allies structure of England, France, Italy, Russia and eventually America against Germany, Austria- Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire. Less understood is the introduction of chemical weaponry to wreak unimaginable havoc on both sides who, incredibly, fought most of the war in trenches so that neither side advanced and tens of millions of soldiers died for nothing. When an armistice was put forth to end the conflict at 11 o’clock on November 11th, generals on both sides (including U.S. general Pershing) could not resist last minute glory, ordered their armies to battle and 10,000 soldiers died on that last day.

Even though both sides bore responsibility for causing the war, the Allies led by the French, exacted cruel unjust punishment on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles. They carved up Germany and created new countries ( Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia) on territory populated largely by Germans. (When Hitler invaded the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia decades later his action was nervously tolerated by the English who realized he was essentially taking back part of his country). Among other items in the Treaty was the ordering of Germany to pay France 33 billions in reparation (some of this money is still being paid today 100 years after the Treaty) and give up all its overseas colonies.

A decade after the war German novelist Erich Maria Remarque captured some of the horror and injustice in All Quiet on the Western Front but despite initial notoriety, all was forgotten with the rise of Hitler. The book was made into a movie in 1930, and again into a TV film in 1979 but, predictably, much of the history of the war eventually disappeared from the front pages and became forgotten.

Last year, however, the story was again filmed, this time by a German director Edward Berger. This latest film has received many plaudits during the present award season. Berger advertises his film as “based on the literary masterpiece” ( Remarque’s novel) indicating that the whole story of the war still hasn’t been told, and much of the action of his film revivifies the suffering of Germany and amplifies insight into historical fact.

In addition to scenes depicting the horror and insanity of the trench battlefield, Berger includes the cruel madness of the 10,000 soldiers dying on the last day, and also inserts a scene in a railroad car where the French uncompromisingly dictate and humiliate the German armistice negotiators. Years later Hitler exacted revenge, in the same railroad car, by forcing the French to unconditional surrender after his invasion in 1940.

Thus Berger’s creation, as Aristotle predicated long ago, deepens the old historical accounts which, of course, have been long forgotten.

Another work of art that challenges the ‘lies’ of history is a poem by Wilfred Owen entitled "Dulce et Decorum est." This Latin phrase, loosely translated, is a slogan adopted by the proud glory-seeking soldiers of the conquering Roman armies who wished only to bravely die in battle and totally shunned the human sacrifice and the misery that all war brings.

Owen is a British soldier suffering in a trench alongside comrades who are victims of the ‘mustard’ chlorine gas introduced in WW l . . . and he writes:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen, this talented writer dedicated to revealing the truth of war, died in a trench a week before the armistice.



By Nick Catalano:
The Masters: Standup Comedy pt. II
On Standup Comedy pt. I
My Times with Benny Goodman
Higher Education and the Future of Democracy
Faith, Emotion and Superstition versus Reason, Logic and Science
Thinking: A Lost Art
Alternative Approaches to Learning
Aesthetic History and Chronicled Fact
Terror in China: Cultural Erasure and Computer Genocide
The Roller Coaster of Democracy
And Justice for All
Costly Failures in American Higher Education
Trump and the Dumbing Down of the American Presidency
Language as the Enemy of Truth
Opportunity in Quarantine
French Music: Impressionism & Beyond
D-Day at Normandy: A Recollection Pt. II
D-Day at Normandy: A Recollection Pt. I
Kenneth Branagh & Shakespeare
Remembering Maynard Ferguson
Reviewers & Reviewing
The Vagaries of Democracy
Racism Debunked
The Truth Writer
#Me Too Cognizance in Ancient Greece
Above the Drowning Sea
A New York Singing Salon
Rockers Retreading
Polish Jewry-Importance of Historical Museums
Sexual Relativity and Gender Revolution
Inquiry into Constitutional Originalism
Aristotle: Film Critic
The Maw of Deregulated Capitalism
Demagogues: The Rhetoric of Barbarism
The Guns of August
Miles Ahead and Born to Be Blue
Manon Lescaut @The Met
An American in Paris
What We Don't Know about Eastern Culture
Black Earth (book review)
Cuban Jazz
HD Opera - Game Changer
Film Treatment of Stolen Art
Stains and Blemishes in Democracy
Intersteller (film review)
Shakespeare, Shelley & Woody Allen
Mystery and Human Sacrifice at the Parthenon
Carol Fredette (Jazz)
Amsterdam (book review)
Vermeer Nation
The Case for Da Vinci's Demons


Comedy Podcast with Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini
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Montreal Guitar Show July 2-4th (Sylvain Luc etc.). border=
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