Ludwig Wittgenstein. Genius. Child prodigy. Heir to one of the wealthiest men in Europe. He goes off to fight in World War One. As Sebastian Marshall describes in a recent essay, called The Great and the Sublime, he performs well. He’s promoted multiple times and:
“…repeatedly presses for more dangerous assignments.”
The artillery observer was responsible for guiding the fire of the artillery. To do so, he would have to elevate himself high enough to get a good view of the battlefield and the enemy lines. Naturally, this position makes you a prime target for snipers and artillery fire from the enemy.
“Wittgenstein is in this dangerous role during Russia’s greatest success of the war – the Brusilov Offensive, which leaves 440,000 of the victorious Russians dead or wounded – and 567,000 Austrians dead or wounded, with another 408,000 taken prisoner.
That passage left me awestruck. Deep in thought. Both inspired and ashamed. Inspired because of Wittgenstein’s courage and relentless dedication to his work. Ashamed because I allow the smallest thing to distract and hinder my own.
I took out my notebook and wrote one sentence, followed by a question I have no answer for.
Wittgenstein finished his Tractatus whilst fighting in the Great War.
WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE?