Thursday, April 23, 2009

Goodbye to All That

One of my favorite book titles is Robert Graves' GOODBYE TO ALL THAT. It's his autobiography dealing mainly with his days as a British soldier during WWI. It's a pretty horrifying account of that struggle, but is a book of many facets. He caught a lot of flack from his fellow countrymen over his blunt admissions about the conduct of his fellow Allied soldiers and of the insanity of the war itself. It was, in many ways, taking leave not only of the grief of those memories, but also of the grief of having to bear up under the weight of his British identity. With that book, he seemed to cut a lot of baggage loose.

I've always been able to identify with people going through such turmoil. In a nutshell, I don't know the advantages of weird concepts like tribal loyalty. They had their day, I reckon, but it seems so strange and counter-productive in these modern times to hold fast to such primitive ideas. I cast my contempt on pretty much every kind of so-called patriotism.

For a long time I had not much but admiration for Graves. For his courage and his clarity of thought to be able to throw off the chains and move on, improved by freedom. Alas, though, I continued to read his work and soon found that he was, like all of my other idols, cursed with feet of clay.

Before WWII he was living in a kind of happiness on the island of Mallorca off the coast of Spain. Both the Spanish Civil War which pitted the filthy murdering bastard Francisco Franco against the Socialist Republican Loyalists in a bloodbath of almost unimaginable savagery, and the threat of Nazi capture caused Graves to leave his idyllic home on the island and go into temporary exile. So he boarded a British rescue ship and ended up in, among other places, the USA for the duration of the hostilities.

Eventually, though, he did return to his home in Mallorca. It was, though, the Spain of that Fascist sack of shit, Francisco Franco. He could have gone somewhere else. But he didn't. He went back to his island farm, ruled now by one of the most murderous tyrants of modern European history. I could have forgiven him that--going back to the embrace of a land ruled by a vicious monster. But he did something that forever colored my impression of Mr. Graves.

He wrote a story to excuse himself of this act. Now, he didn't have to do that. He could have just returned to his old Mallorcan haunt and held his mouth shut, or uttered an occasional "no comment" about going back to a place now administered by one of the most evil regimes to ever hold sway in the western world. They weren't going to molest a man of such reputation. Not at that point. All he had to do was go about his business, write his fiction and his poetry and tend to his orchards and his wife and children.

But there was that excuse he felt he had to pen.

It was in the form of a short story in which the reader is left to conclude that the Loyalist Republicans were no better than Franco's Falangists. Anyone who understands what went on during the Spanish Civil War is left to be astounded by the scandal of such an argument. It was then that my respect for Graves as a person drained forever away.

I still hold him in high regard as a writer. I admire some of his ideas about the nature of the social standing between men and women. He was brilliant.

But I had to say goodbye to my respect for him as a person.

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