Monday, March 31, 2008

The Waste of War

How on earth must it feel when you accidentally kill a favourite author? When Alan Wong told me this strange story about what may have happened to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (whose The Little Prince I really loved when I read it in French at school), I told him he had to guest blog it for us. Many thanks for this Alan! :
4,000 dead US soldiers in Iraq. 4,000 potentially bright futures and glorious lives tragically cut short.

It's depressing to read about people getting killed in wars. Thanks to Andrew Olmsted, you can even read what people (about to be) killed in wars have to say. The only thing supporters and detractors of war have to say is that it sucks - big time.

The story behind the fate of French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry should serves as one of the loudest ever anti-war statements. His disappearance during WW2 was one of the biggest war-time mysteries, probably after Glenn Miller's.

de Saint-Exupéry, whose works included The Little Prince, was also an aviator with a Corsican air corps, and was among those missing in action.

Historian Lino von Gartzen's investigation on the author turned up an unexpected piece of the puzzle. WW2 German ace Host Rippert put forth the possibility that he may have downed the French author's plane.
French newspaper Le Figaro has published extracts of a book in which the former Messerschmitt pilot describes spotting a twin-tailed Lightning P-38 plane flying below him. He went in pursuit and shot him down.
Compounding the tragedy was the fact that Rippert had been a fan of his books even before the war.
... Mr Rippert describes being a fan of de Saint-Exupery's work. "In our youth, at school, we had all read him. We loved his books," he said.
Now, imagine accidentally running over somebody in the middle of a darkrainy night, only to discover the next day you had cut short the Harry Potter series. According to von Gartzen :
He feels guilty and very, very sorry about it. He was very scared that the cheap press would massacre him.
Such is the awful price of war. What would de Saint-Exupéry have written had he survived? How would he have changed the French literary scene? Too bad these are questions no amount of research could uncover.

France one wielded considerable clout in terms of culture and the arts; today the only kind of French-lit I recognise are the Asterix comic series. "Tragic" doesn't even come close.

de Saint-Exupéry's untimely end begs the question: How many more potential peace-time talents must be sacrificed to serve the selfish interests of a few?


Anonymous said...

"4,000 dead US soldiers in Iraq. 4,000 potentially bright futures and glorious lives tragically cut short."

taking it by itself I may be reading this out of context but it surprised and sadden me deeply to think that this is the concern whereas the more than half a million innocent lives that have been snuffed is ignored.


Anonymous said...

I think that as a soldier, de Saint-Exupery might have been prepared for the eventuality of death. I say might, because as much as supporters of war and as much as soldiers say (before they go to war) that they are prepared, no one really is prepared to have their life cut short.

But it must have been terrible to have known that you killed the creator of a book that you loved. :(. The Harry Potter analogy does not quite work in this case.

Sad :(

Anonymous said...

Great guest post -- I never knew about this. But I must disagree with the claim that France's only recognisable cultural product today is the Asterix series! Come on -- France has one of the world's most developed literary cultures. Granted, it's an insular culture. They don't export or import a whole lot, and people outside France may therefore not have heard of the country's most important writers, but they're no less important for it. Serious literature is a part of everyday life here in a way it isn't anywhere else in the world, with the possible exception of Germany. And you can see how greatly writing is valued for its own sake from the precious little "marketing" literary fiction needs in this country. No cover illustrations, no cover design, no author photos. Serious literature sells here without any of that -- that alone is impressive, no?

-- Preeta

asiansinema said...

The 4,000 loss is only on the American side, what about the Iraqis? - for every American life lost, 250 Iraqis lost theirs..When the conflict first began, I remember reading about an old man losing two of his daughters, both scholars in English, killed as collateral damage.

Another thing is that during the previous wars - World War 2 for instance- enlisting was compulsory. That meant, men from all stratas - including talented ones such as Saint-Exupery had to serve.

Not so with current wars including the Iraq war... Policy makers have gotten shrewd. The soldiers are mainly made up of the economically disadvantaged segment of the society (including opportunists - hoping to expedite US citizenship process and mercenaries), not likely to have literary stalwarts on the list.

Terribly sad all around..

bibliobibuli said...

rajan - tho' Olmstead was a pretty good chronicler of the war ...

you're so right about the iraqi losses (which is pong's point too)... and there are also their literary losses to take into account

catalina - i'm sure you're right about expecting death ...

preeta - And you can see how greatly writing is valued for its own sake from the precious little "marketing" literary fiction needs in this country. No cover illustrations, no cover design, no author photos.

am greatly impressed by that. knew france had a thriving literary culture but did not know this.

Anonymous said...

Sharon -- to be fair, there are exceptions. There are some publishers that do cover design, and cover design/illustration is much more common for works in translation (I assume this is because work in translation is generally harder to sell in France). But many major publishers do without, and author photos are almost non-existent.

-- PS

bibliobibuli said...

i find that really refreshing. would you have prefered it that way for your novel?

actually the celebritisation of the author is a fairly recent phenomena even in the US and UK ...

Anonymous said...

As much as I regret the loss of lives, I think it's a false correlation. I mean you might as well say "4,000 dead US soldiers in Iraq. 4,000 potential child rapists and murderer's lives tragically cut short."

What's a writer doing flying a warplane anyway ? James Herrriot was scheduled to fly a plane too but he was saved because of something I can't remember :P

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 7:15 -- you must've missed Rajan's comment. Enlisting was compulsory. That's what a writer was doing flying a warplane. There were lots of other writers and artists flying warplanes, too.

I don't quite understand your point about child rapists -- are you suggesting all US soldiers are potential child rapists? If so, wow. Your lack of empathy is almost impressive.

Sharon -- in answer to your question: I dunno, I'm not one for too much wishful thinking. I figure, this is the way things work in the world I inhabit, and it works this way because of a million factors beyond my control. So I just deal with it, and to be honest I'm more grateful than resentful of all the people who're doing everything they can to promote the book, so why shouldn't I make their jobs easier? It sometimes seems more fashionable or "cool" to act all diva-like and reclusive -- I'm thinking, for example, of Jonathan Franzen when he refused to appear on Oprah -- but really, what's the point? My parents raised me to be polite as far as possible, unless faced with a compelling reason to be impolite :-) . I can see how the publicity might get old after a while, and I respect famous people's right to privacy, but there are graceful and not-so-graceful ways to claim that right, no? And anyway I'm not there yet -- at this point I need all the publicity I can get -- so I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. But in the best of all possible worlds, yes, it would be awfully nice if appearances didn't count.

-- Preeta

Li Qien said...

yeah, i read that article over Yahoo! and kind of wondering the same thing if de Saint-Exupery survive, what would he have written?
his 'the little prince' was so simple, yet truthful. too bad, that's his last piece too.
maybe he would write about his experience as a soldier. i bet that would be briliant too.

Anonymous said...


What I'm saying is this -- there's no accounting for potential. If you say there were 4000 writers, then tath's saying something. If you say there were 4000 _potential_ writers, that's saying nothing at all. Everyone has as much potential of being a child rapist as being a writer correct ? the possibilities are the same either way. Every child born has unlimited potential, and that means potential to be anything. I believe a child has as much of a potential to be the first to find the cure for cancer as of being the worst criminal the world has ever seen. The possibility of him (or her) being at either extreme is equal, don;t you think ?

Anonymous said...

Ah, I see what you're saying now. I'm sorry I completely misunderstood your point! Thanks for coming back to clarify.

-- Preeta