Thursday, February 25, 2016

1916: The Killing Fields of Verdun

We have another date to mark in our Centennial of Infamy: February 21, 1916 (the English newspaper reports first appeared a hundred years ago today).

I have neither the energy nor the disposition at present to say much about the German offensive that began on the Western Front in these strange days. The Germans advanced into an historic region in the valley along the Meuse river, in a place that had been one of the "crossroads" of Europe for over a thousand years.

Ten months and nearly a million casualties later, the Germans and the French had traded back and forth about five miles of territory. Today we remember this monstrous nightmare of blood, fire, and madness as "the Battle of Verdun." We must bare our heads and weep for the multitude of men and boys from both sides who were ground up by the relentless machine of death.

Eyewitness descriptions of these days, weeks, and months of chaos are terrifying even to read. Let these words from the journal of a French officer suffice: "What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible. Men are mad!"

Even after the greater and more destructive war of 1939-1945, the killing fields of Verdun remain a singular monument to the violence, futility, and stupidity of human pride.