Parker, Peter. The Old Lie: The Great War and the Public School Ethos. 1987. London: Hambledon Continuum, n.d.
Home sick with a nasty hacking cough (and good LORD the prescription cough syrup is nasty--it's like drinking a teaspoon's worth of cough-syrup flavored honey), and finished reading Peter Parker's The Old Lie.
The Old Lie is about World War I and British public schools, more specifically about the way in which the public schools created an officer caste that believed the greatest achievement possible for them was to die young in battle. (Apply the words "glory" and "heroism" and "chivalry" to taste.) Parker goes into great detail, with seemingly endless primary sources, to show that not only were the young men of Britain being told that that was what they should want, but for many of them, it was true. They internalized this ethos, interpolated themselves into its systm, and participated enthusiastically in the indoctrination of their younger brothers (both literal and metaphorical).
And they died. Horribly. Unheroically. Unromantically. For reasons that had nothing at all to do with the reasons they were willing to die. "Poppies for young men," as Sting says, "death's bitter trade."
This is a fascinating book, and an appalling one. The alien lunacy of the primary sources belies the fact of their historical proximity. Although it trivializes Parker's project to reduce it to merely a useful secondary source, it is true that The Old Lie helped me understand the undercurrents of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club.
Parker is so steeped in his subject, that I suspect some of his argument was actually lost to me because I'm not familiar enough with either the British public school system or the poetry of WWI. Or World War I itself. (I could seriously have used an apparatus of annotations.) But despite that, this was an illuminating read on a subject I find difficult to get my head around.