The whole sprawling narrative of World War Two is probably too massive for anyone but historians and fanatical hobbyists to say with real credit that they get it: that they get the whole big picture of plot, characters, the hows and whys of each battle and political move. And so while the vastly generalized phrase “World War Two” has been up there at the top of my intellectual bucket list since I was a kid, and would always see my dad watching documentaries about it with such focus, I’ve also got a tempered idea of, like, how much of the war I can reasonably expect to comprehend at first, when the day finally comes that I’m like, “OK, time to know this shit.”
I’m thinking that the WWII learning period might be now, thanks to this coronavirus quarantine.
The historian Sir Max Hastings, who also did some firsthand reporting in Vietnam during the US invasion back int he ’60s, has written a single-volume history of the War, called Inferno, which is propulsive and relatively thorough, very reader-friendly, and which I’ve just bought and plan to read, slowly and carefully, over the next dozen days or so. It’s close to a thousand pages, so it might take longer than that, but I’m gonna try to clear my plate and just focus on that for an hour or two each day.
And then at the end of it I figure I’ll have a good glossing understanding of the War. The broad strokes of it.
Anyway: I read the book’s Introduction back on Sunday after I was cut from the restaurant in just the second hour of my shift (we’d had no guests the whole day) and was struck by Hastings’ remarks about all of these people around the world being tangled up in the sweep of history. The fact that 27,000 people around the world were dying every day as a direct result of the war.
It’s putting a spin on how I look at this coronavirus quarantine. The way that the sweep of life comes to a sudden halt. Like when the Grim Reaper is about to take the life of a jester in Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal: “What about my performance?” asks the Jester. “Cancelled,” replies the Reaper.
It opens one’s eyes to the ways in which the events of the larger world can reverberate into our lives and disrupt shit.
Prediction: movies in late 2021 and throughout 2022 will be obsessed with the idea of an average person caught up int he sweep of global action and conspiracies.
I’m wondering how the quarantine might manifest in my own work.