[Water-stained, illegible] …had flooded a broad marsh on the outskirts of the city, such as it was. And on the call to “Charge!”, the hordes were duly unleashed, and so they charged, in their crisp blue greatcoats with white leather crossbelts and white breeches and plumed shakos, sabers drawn and raised ear-high on awkward, timorous arms (for not a one among that sickly battalion would have known the pommel from the fuller of the useless tool they wielded), their muskets shifting on shoulders crimped by the sudden, frigid water funneling into their knee-high leather boots, as they waded into the dismal expanse of muddy water (the term “wade,” here, used with euphemistic constraint to describe what was in fact the altogether anemic execution of this maneuver). As recollection has it, they all seemed somewhat extravagantly unnerved by the reverberation of canon blanks all about them on the autumn morning breeze.
It occurred to me, on witnessing that absurdist diorama, that simulacrum of bygone warfare, just how very often the “real” fighting in progress on the nearby front achieved commensurate, if not superior levels of banality. I was impressed, indeed, by the notion that our “real” war would surely be more suitable to the depiction of such “pretend” war in the motion pictures, not for any supposed claim it might make to “authenticity,” but rather precisely for the spectacular triviality of all combat, that is to say, the sensational crudity, both visual and visceral, that constitutes the fundament of war. These men in their ridiculous costumes waddling through thigh-deep, near-frozen water across a Prussian morning waste—a flood contrived to intensify the “impact” of the “scene”—were they not more mundanely credible, more concretely circumscribed by the logic of the scenario, than any group of actors in that, other, more fantastical tableaux of “genuine” warfare to behold on any given day along our ever-receding, ever-crumbling vanguard, the “representation” of which grew more abstract with every passing day of battle? If the aim of the motion picture is to astonish, to overawe, what could one hope to gain by these merely realistic emulations of 19th-century warfare? Go to the battlefield itself instead, film the soldiers playing in their true war there, the millions of little men veritably praying neither to see nor be seen by their real enemies, scattering their futile ammunition and their feckless cries indiscriminately into the slate-chill wind, hoping and not hoping to kill anything, anything at all… It is this tedium, this dreary, relentless pageant of ordinary fear and impotence, I thought that day, that no movie production, however lavish, could ever deign to recreate. (III, 12b)