Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Somme: A New Bloodbath Begins (July 1, 1916)

'Those about to die' head over the trenches.
I'm two days late.

I have set myself the gruesome task of noting some key moments in the Centenary of Infamy. Let us return once again to France, in the year 1916.

Recall that the German army had initiated an offensive at Verdun on the Meuse river in February that turned into a six month blood-drenched stalemate. With the hell of Verdun still swallowing the young lives of French and German alike, the allied forces nonetheless decided to go ahead with their plan to open an offensive of their own to the northwest, along the Somme river.

The plan drawn up the previous year had called for the French to lead the offensive with support from the British Expeditionary Force. But since the French were too busy dying at Verdun, the majority of the offensive was given over to the British.

It began on July 1, 1916. Now it was England's turn to plow headlong into the futility of trench warfare, to hurl an entire generation of young men at the unprecedented relentless fire of machine guns far more sophisticated than the Maxim gun first pioneered by the British themselves in their own colonial wars. Now the "devil's paintbrush" turned its deadly strokes on them.

On that first day of July, one hundred years ago, the British suffered nearly 60,000 casualties, a third of them fatal. The "Battle of the Somme" would eventually draw blood from a million men on both sides before the end of the year.

Too often we must note that famous definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

Poor mad Europe in the summer of 1916. These were the same people, the same leaders, who -- two years earlier -- prided themselves on being the most advanced civilization in the history of the human race, invested with the responsibility to impose order on the whole world.

And now, a hundred years later. we think we are wiser. We think we know better. We think we are stronger and more humane.

Over what monstrous abyss might we be standing, even now, proud and blind and ready to tumble into new and unimaginable forms of madness?

A generation of unknown soldiers without tombs.