Friday, May 25, 2007

WWI

I was stuck at work late this week and had nothing to do. So I start exploring Wikipedia and end up spending an hour reading about World War I. It was amazing. Seems strange that what was once called "The War to End All Wars" is now a footnote to WWII. I think there are 2 reasons for this.

One, WWII had clear-cut morality. The Allies were the good guy and the Nazis were the bad guys. Doesn't seem like anyone disputes this. WWI, on the other hand, there was no Holocaust or other great atrocity that sticks out in our collective memory to make the distinction as easy. Two, the media was much more advanced for WWII and was able to better document the fighting. I've seen a zillion things about WWII, but I can count on 1 hand how much I've seen about WWI. Apart from some fuzzy pictures, the vividness of the fighting just isnt there.

It's just such an amazing story. The political aspect alone is unreal. Technology allowed the entire world to communicate on a global level for the first time and it all goes to shit. Trench warfare. First use of an air force. First use of toxic gas. By some accounts, a soldier’s most important piece of equipment was his gas mask. They would find soldiers abandoning their rifles, but none would leave the mask behind. Huge amounts of casualties for very little gain on a regular basis. The numbers are staggering.

For example, the Battle of Somme was one of the bloodiest fights of the war and was hugely impactful on the British people. The first day of fighting alone had 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 dead. But that whole battle was just a diversion created to draw the German army away from the Battle of Verdun, which was as devastating for the French as Somme was for Britain.

The hero of that battle, Philippe P├ętain (who coined the phrase "they shall not pass" from Lord of thee Rings fame) was in charge of free France during the Nazi occupation and eventually impisoned for collaborating with the enemy. A hero disgraced; how much more epic can you get!

If you’re not bored to tears yet (by now, I’m guessing Brian is the only one still paying attention), check out a great website: www.worldwar1.com. Start with the timelines and then go to battle plans. You can see the plan each country wanted to follow, and how that usually never worked out.

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