Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Lesson In Perspectives/Excerpt of the day

Before you read this passage, you have to know two things (sorry if you already know these two things; don't mean to insult anyone's intelligence here). One, World War I was the first war which saw the widespread use of the machine gun, an excellent defensive weapon that kept advancing armies at bay. Two, the first few battles of the war were among the bloodiest in history, with hundreds of thousands of troops dying in single battles. Alright, onwards we march (no pun intended).
There can be little doubt that these men [British and French soldiers in World War I] believed in the justness of the allied cause, but after a few months at the front, the average infantryman understood that a frontal attack on German lines could not succeed and that he probably would be cut down within minutes of leaving his trench. Soldiers who may still have harbored hopes for success at the Somme [about 100km from Paris] were quickly disabused. More than twenty thousand British soldiers were killed on the first day of the battle, most in the first hour of the attack.

One British brigadier described the participation of his troops in one such advance with a perverted sense of approval:
They advanced in line after line, dressed as if on parade, and not a man shirked going through the extremely heavy barrage, or facing the machine gun and rifle fire that finally wiped them out...[I] saw the lines which advanced in such admirable order melting away under the fire. Yet not a man wavered, broke the ranks, or attempted to come back...[I] have never seen, indeed could never have imagined, such a magnificent display of gallantry, discipline and determination.

A British sergeant, on the other hand, described a similar attack in quite different terms:
This was a stupid action, because we had to make a frontal attack on bristling German guns and there was no shelter at all...We knew it was pointless, even before we went over - crossing open ground like that. But you had to go. You were between the devil and the deep blue sea. If you go forward, you'll likely be shot. If you go back, you'll be court-martialed and shot...What can you do? Even before we went over, we knew this was death...It was ridiculous. There was no need for it. It was absolute slaughter.

From Benjamin Valentino's Final Solutions: Mass Killing and Genocide in the 20th Century (great book, by the way, even if it is on somewhat of a morbid topic). Anyways, the British dude should consider himself lucky - if he turned back, at least he'd be court martialed before being shot. In World War II, Russian troops were under instruction to shoot their own men if they retreated from Hitler's army. Good times.

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