I was admittedly skeptical of this whole experience at the start, but the WWI simulation provided a clarity and perspective that I did not expect. There was no attempting to add extra “zest,” romanticized ideals or noble patriotism. I felt this world sought to capture the bleak, demoralized, exhausted spirit of the place and the soldiers there. I particularly appreciated the scurrying rats that darted about – you can actually click on them and it provides a little fact snippet about how terrible and prevalent the rats really were.
The poetry exhibits scattered about in the relevant locations also demonstrated the bleak conditions and worn out morals of the soldiers – the tellingly-titled “Does it matter?” by Sigfreid Sasson, for instance. Wilfred Owens’ “Dulce et Decorum est” especially brought this weariness of heart home to me. The first lines of the poem powerfully convey the defeated, bitter feelings and total mental and physical fatigue of the troops simply trying to do their job and survive another day:
“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge.”
Finally, it ends in an utterly disillusioned, cynical declaration:
“If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
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.”
This is no picnic of glory-hunting and honor-winning. The spoon-fed idealism of patriotism and glory of being able to die for one’s country ring suddenly hallow when the unspeakable death, suffering, and traumatic experiences destroy the sense of youth and adventure you once had.