Phillip Gibbs on The Gallow's Humor of Soldiers Coping with WWI

"It was astonishing how loudly one laughed at tales of gruesome things, of war's brutality -- I, with the rest of them. I think at the bottom of it was a sense of the ironical contrast between the normal ways of civilian life, and this hark back to the caveman code. It made all of our old philosophy of life monstrously ridiculous. It played the hat trick with the gentility of modern manners -- men who had been brought up to christian virtues, who had prattled their little prayers at their mothers' knees, who had grown up to love poetry, painting, music, the gentle arts, over-sensitized to the subtleties of half-tones, delicate scales of emotion, fastidious in their sense of words, in their sense of beauty, found themselves compelled to live and act like ape-men. And it was abominably funny. They laughed at the most frightful episodes, which revealed this contrast between civilized ethics and the old beast law, the more revolting it was, the more sometimes they shouted with laughter, especially in reminiscence, when the tale was told at the gilded salon of the french chateau, or at the mess table. It was the laughter of mortals at the trick which had been played on them by an ironical fate. They had been taught to believe that the whole object of life was to reach out to beauty and love. And that mankind in its progress to perfection had killed the beast instinct: cruelty, blood-lust, the primitive, savage laws of survival by tooth and claw and club and axe. All poetry, all art, all religion had preached this gospel and this promise. Now that ideal had broken like a china vase, dashed to hard ground. The contrast between that and this was devastating." -Phillip Gibbs
Recited by Dan Carlin on his podcast Hardcore History. It's a pretty important series in which Carlin illuminates historical engagements for the lay-person, with the approachability of an off-duty professor at the pub. Check out his entire series on World War One, entitled "Blueprint For Armageddon".

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