During our Christmas vacation in Maine, we hit up a few antique malls for things that only the East Coast can provide. Though I didn't have a whole lot of luck overall, I did leave the state with a book, Over the Top. Written by Arthur Guy Empey, an American that enlisted with the British army during World War I, Over the Top provides a first hand account of trench warfare as a Yankee fighting side by side with British 'Tommies'. Some reviews call it propaganda, though I think that classification was inspired more by how the book was used to recruit more soldiers than the original intent of the author.
Frustrated by America's inaction after the sinking of the Lusitania, Sergeant Empey goes to England in order to answer the call to war which America had not yet agreed to. His approach to sharing the trials and atrocities of trench warfare is blunt and matter of fact, yet with a certain lighthearted delivery which comes across as the attitude required to keep from losing all hope in horrible circumstances. From the frankness of the British Quartermaster issuing him his equipment to the almost flippant way of referring to all the ways that a Tommy could get killed or injured by 'Fritz', their German counterparts in this struggle, Empey paints a vivid and very real picture of what a trench soldier's life was all about.
Some of the book gets pretty grim and at some points almost unbelievable, yet at no time did I feel that Empey was exaggerating the facts of his war. The struggle he and his fellow soldiers endured was honestly shared with an openess I assume comes from being witness to such atrocities without going insane.
Not only do I have a new perspective of how people are able to deal with violence and fear, but also how they have the will to do what they believe is right regardless of the possible consequences. Though Over the Top is almost 100 years old, it can still teach a lesson about the human spirit.