That was the war known at the time as "the war to end all wars. As we know all too well, it didn't. Approximately 16 million people died in that war, and then 21 years later war broke out again. Estimates of World War II deaths range from 50 to 78 million.
Choules's son, Adrian, told reporters that
his father refused to glorify war.... In later life Choules refused to be interviewed about the wars in which he served. "He always said that the old men make the decisions that send the young men into war," Adrian said. "He used to say, if it was the other way around, and the old pollies were off fighting, then there would never be any wars."I read about Choules's death right after watching Stanley Kubrick's 1957 film, Paths of Glory, about French officers, troops, and an impossible assignment in 1916. If ever a film illustrated Claude Choules's words, this is it. Self-deception, pride, cynicism, arrogance, injustice, hypocrisy, mendacity - Kubrick explores all these themes in a mere 88 minutes in a film that will incite you to shake your fist and roar at your TV screen.
There are plenty of decent human beings in the film, and some of them are officers. Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), for example, who defends the three hapless scapegoats, is appealingly earnest. The villains range from the oily Général Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) to the miserable Lieutenant Roget (Wayne Morris), all managing to be despicable without turning into caricatures. Best performance in my book was Ralph Meeker's portrayal of Corporal Philippe Paris, a dutiful soldier who suffers for other men's sins. Nobody won any Academy Awards, however, and the film was so controversial that it was banned in France and Switzerland for nearly 20 years.
OK, it's probably not a date night film, but it's gripping, provocative, and brilliant - will that do? Preview it here, or read this excellent review and summary, or read the book it was based on ("a chilling portrait of injustice, this novel offers insight into the tragedies of war in any age"), or ask Netflix to send you the DVD.
In case you're wondering about the title: It comes from Thomas Gray's poem "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," line 36:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.