War

Pierre Bourdelle

Albert Carman, Printer

American Studio Books
New York and London

1945

Commentary

The second World War is ended. But though men are no longer killing each other, the smoke of battle has not yet lifted and the air we breathe will long carry the rank fragrance of the gutted towns and the stink of rolling human flesh.

Every one of us was involved in this war. At the front there were not only fighting men, but whole populations of women and children whom, in a single night of bombing, death came to harvest. There was no clean separation, as in earlier wars, between the battlefront and the rear. Never before had there been such a jumble of civilians and soldiers as in this universal bloodshed. In the thick of the fighting we saw children playing; babies being born; women washing their laundry and praying; farmers plowing their fields; wanderers, on that endless pilgrimage that began with the world's creation, going their way without a glance backwards; tradesmen carrying on their business; even diplomats bargaining, God knows for what.

This war was the sum of all wars. Few escaped the fire, the mud, the carnage. It was a civil war, an international war, even a holy war. It was fought in every country in the world, and in all climates. The deserts of Africa knew the din of battle, the arctic snows, all of Europe, and all Asia.

It was a total war; no quarter was given. At one stroke it discharged all that man's genius had conceived in the machine, in stratagem, in brutality. It was the unquestioned masterpiece of all wars, and it gutted itself on the fullest store of hatred that men could feel against men. It was colossal in scale, inexhaustible in its resources of men and materials, immeasurable in its effects. But monstrous as it was, apocalyptic as it justly appeared to us, it was a war no less like those which preceded it and brought it to birth. It remained essentially WAR, and if its outlines were changed its nature was not.

Until in the very heart of America the atom was exploded.

In that spectral light, in the awfulness of that "experiment," some ask us to salute the dawn of a new era. Let us have done with saluting and turn to the work that lies before us if this new era is to be a world in which men and nations can live. They can live only if they live together. That we know now as our history has proven we refused to know it before. We must have done with the endless cycle of anguish which seeks relief and solace only in still greater anguish, or it will have done with us. There is no other choice.

It is to the ending of war as the world has known it in these years that these drawings of Pierre Bourdelle are dedicated. That war has been unchanging in its hideousness; but it was a war which was still among men, men who even in war, by a cruel paradox, reveal that they are brothers. In newsreels and photographs that came to us straight from the front, we have seen many of the terrible aspects of war. In these pages we look over the shoulder of an artist who, in uniform, looked into the fire of war itself. At Tobruk, in Tunisia, in Sicily, at Naples, at Cassino, he shows us what this war meant. He tells the story of war as he saw it, in action and at rest, as it tried to hide itself under a camouflage net or as it bared itself to him in the full terror of its nakedness.

He does not flatter war, nor make it uglier than it is. He draws its outlines faithfully, leaving little out, not even the nails in the army shoes. With a few pencils, a tripod, and a drawing board, stowed wherever there was space among his ambulance equipment, he mixed with soldiers from all over the world. He warmed himself at their campfires, shared their discomforts, their weariness, their bread. He never forgot the lob he had to do---the job which I am honored to acknowledge here---a job made more imperative by his inheritance, the lob not only of caring for the wounded, war's immediate victims, but of bringing back to us here a record of war in its true colors, in the full, harsh light of reality.

Today we can leaf through this record. We can look, in these drawings whose manner and detail remind us of Dürer, at many of the faces of war. We are there. We are a part of it. On this hillside three or four nations feed an apparatus of death, just the sort of tool needed to destroy the comrade whose camp lies across the valley. Here a modern Heracles in tight-fitting pants grasps a grenade, tensing his body in a superhuman windup. Close-by, tended by a third soldier, a companion bleeds. On every page, man attacks man; man leaps at the throat of his fellows. Or we see that other face of war, man helping man, though he be his sworn enemy, questioning him, feeling his pulse, searching his heart and his conscience. A group presses anxiously around their chaplain. Another gathers at the knees of a cluster of nuns. These are the people whom Paul Claudel described as pervaded with that perfume which entitles us to say 'we.'

Here is a plowman whom death's hand has laid forever between the handles of his plow. A boy, spewn out by his burning ambulance, lies sprawling, his final agony plainly written. In a crowded tent, a Caesarean is performed on a native woman with the few crude tools at hand. Everywhere a tortured humanity, struggling like this desert camel, running screaming under the hot weight and the ripping claws of a lion.

Then we are in Italy with that beautiful countryside that two or three cleverly concealed artillery pieces will turn into a no man's land, battlefields for tomorrow's tourists to visit. Vesuvius vomits forth his disgust.

Finally, we come to this mysterious personage, this philosopher lying by the roadside, who silently proffers an egg as f it were a pearl: the egg which we succeeded in plucking from our own bellies and which we now wish we could return to the womb. The terrible legacy of a future which may stilt have been sealed at Hiroshima and at Nagasaki.

That is all. Pierre Bourdelle has said what he wanted to say. He has nothing to add. It is for us to understand and to draw the inevitable conclusion. It is for us to learn the lesson. It is a lesson of love, of working with one another, of charity in its highest form, among men and among nations of men.

To the call of this war, the men of Britain, of America, of Russia, of France, of China, of many other lands-these soldiers whom the artist has caught with their boots off, lying at the bottom of the same ditch, before being lowered still deeper into the same pit, testing each other's strength in the grave's shadow---to the call of this war all these men answered. In the fullness of their suffering in the blackness of their night, they knew the meaning of sharing, of understanding and helping one another. To the call of this war they answered as with one voice the commandment which must be the core of our lives, who are children of the same Father: Love ye one another.

October 1945          
PIERRE CLAUDE

 

In writing this foreword to Pierre Bourdelle's work, I can speak of the spirit of the man whose work it is.

The scenes depicted in this volume are authentic. They are scenes that Bourdelle, as a volunteer ambulance driver of the American Field Service, saw at the North African and Italian fronts. Of all the men who volunteered for this service, he can perhaps be considered to claim the term in the strictest sense of the word. He knew that in going, he would not only completely forego his career for a period of eighteen months or longer, but that he was risking a loss of the faculties that made that career, his means of support, possible.

Overseas Pierre Bourdelle saw suffering. He did his best to alleviate suffering, driving the wounded soldiers of many Allied armies. Helping staunch and bind their wounds in the field dressing stations. He knows the agony of war. He has no fear of showing war at its useless worst. He is not only a personally brave man who volunteered to go, and went, wherever the wounded were. He is an intellectually brave man, who makes no pretense at hiding the bare hideousness of warfare.

You have only to turn the following pages to FEEL war. These are not pretty pictures. They show nothing but reality, a deep reality that the eye of the camera, the words of the pen are unable to catch. You will see the bared soul of war, through the eyes and hand of a truly sensitive man, who has not only seen but felt the effect of war.

STEPHEN GALATTI                              
Director General, American Field Service.

Listing

I -
SCOUT

XXVII -
EGG PEDDLER

II -
FIELD TELEPHONE POST

XXVIII -
GAMBUT (CYRENAICA)

III -
HAND-GRENADES PITCHING

XXIX -
JACKAL

IV -
MULES AND MULEDRIVERS

XXX -
MAHARES (TUNISIA)

V -
OBSERVER

XXXI -
CESAREAN DELIVERY AT TOBRUK DWAR

VI -
TRENCH MORTAR CREW

XXXII -
DROMEDARIES AT PLAY

VII -
POST OF COMMAND

XXXIII -
IN THE "BLED" (TCHAD)

VIII -
PRISONERS

XXXIV -
BEACH PARTY

IX -
MESSENGER

XXXV -
STEVEDORES (WHIP-DRIVEN)

X -
STRETCHER-BEARERS

XXXVI -
S. S. "EL NIL"

XI -
FIRST AID STATION

XXXVII -
POLLUTRI (ABRUZZI)

XII -
EMERGENCY OPERATION (CM.)

XXXVIII -
FOX-HOLE (ORTONA)

XIII -
«..AND LET PERPETUAL LIGHT SHINE UPON HIM.»

XXXIX -
CHRISTMAS EVE PARTY

XIV -
«REQUIESCAT IN PACE.»

XL -
THE LITTLE VICTIM

XV -
«ET QUARE TRISTIS INCEDO.»

XLI -
LAND MINE

XVI -
CHOW

XLII -
STRAFING

XVII -
NIGHT-LIFE

XLIII -
THE SANGRO VALLEY

XVIII -
TREASURE-TROVE

XLIV -
CALVARY

XIX -
"TOBO"- (MY DOG)

XLV -
PREZENZZANO

XX -
«LE COUP DE GRACE.»

XLVI -
MUD

XXI -
"OVER THE TOP"

XLVII -
"CASUALTIES CLEARING STATION"

XXII -
DIRECT HIT

XLVIII -
ZERO HOUR

XXIII -
THE VOLUNTEER (T.R.)

IL -
THE GHURKA OF CASSINO

XXIV -
EXODUS, 1

L -
"SPIES DIE UNSUNG"

XXV -
EXODUS, 2

LI -
DESERT GLORY BHIR-HAKHEIM)

XXVI -
EXODUS, 3

LII -
VESUVIUS


Addendum

Illustrations