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“In Flanders fields, where poppies grow…”
Thinking about WWI always makes me extremely sad. The sheer waste of it; so many, many good men thrown into the meat grinder, over and over again, dying in their tens of thousands, and accomplishing nothing. Soldiers shouldn’t be used up that way.
In war soldiers die, but I don’t know of any other war in history where the slaughter was so titanic and the gain so minimal. Haig and Foch should have faced a firing squad for it.
It’s hardly surprising that the French army mutineed. It’s astounding to me that the Brits/Aussies/Kiwis didn’t do the same.
In our way we did.
The Australians told Haig to cram it when he demanded that they shoot six of the their men for cowardice because they didn;t work for him by virtue of answering to the Australian parlaimant.
Benard Freyberg wrote up his charter for command of the 2nd NZEF in WWII with similar requirements including not being required to engage if he didn’t like the plan.
Didn;t save us from a crap American general at Cassino though. One of my great uncles had some very direct opinions about him. during the periods he wasn’t a gibbering wreck laying in a dark room that is.
Unfortunately, the Americans treated Italy like the bush leagues. All the best generals were in France; Italy got the second tier. Mark Clark was pretty good but any time an American general in Italy showed some talent, they pulled him out and gave him an assignment in France.
A lot of American troops in Italy suffered because of that, too. Anzio is the classic example. The general in command of the landing lost his nerve and refused to move out until more of his troops landed. That gave the Germans time to respond, and to bottle up the beachhead for weeks. 12 hours was the difference between success and failure in that case.
But the result was not even remotely the same as the kind of carnage which was considered routine in WWI. A really bad day in WWII had casualty levels considered “light” in WWI. Compare Omaha Beach or the Battle of the Bulge to Ypres, for example. Just no comparison.
I had to teach what ‘Veteran’s Day’ was to some people at work. Quite sad, though none too surprising.
(Though I disagree about shooting Foch – he was a very good officer and there was a reason why the Allies made him generalissimo in 1918.)
A lot of place in all wars tend to get the short-end of quality personnel. The Burma-India theater in Big Mistake #2 comes to mind today because I was remind of ‘For the Fallen,’ found at the Commonwealth War Cemetary at Kohima. Quite fitting.
It never ceases to amaze me what the bonds of culture will do. The Dominions in both World Wars, although subservient to the crown, operated with a large degree of autonomy, and while I don’t think they could (or would) have refused the mother country’s request for soldiers, the tenacity of those soldiers impresses me.
When someone says “fighter,” the first image that pops into my head is not an Australian, or a New Zealander. And yet, at least in WWII (not familiar with their exploits in I, although I imagine they were just as ferocious), the Aussies and the Kiwis were not to be screwed with. The Germans learned that in North Africa, and the Japanese elsewhere. The 2nd NZ and the 9th Australian were at various different times the banes of various Axis armies. Freyberg, if memory serves, had been shot multiple times in WWI, and wore each like a badge of honor.
The cultural bond that amazes me here is that, at least in the first World War, Australia and New Zealand men were fighting for nothing more than the defense of the country originally colonized their islands. They weren’t directly threatened by Germany, and Japan wasn’t a military enemy. Yet they came, and they fought and died, for men who spoke the same language and had the same values. Australia and NZ were more directly threatened in WWII, and yet their leaders and opposition politicians nearly came to blows on several occasions over keeping their men in N. Africa when the home islands were exposed to a predicted Japanese invasion. Some men were ultimately withdrawn, but again, by WWII Australia and New Zealand were nearly de facto autonomous states who could cite their own defense as a need to recall troops–and didn’t do so on numerous occasions.
I say all of this because the same is true of Americans…rarely have our own lands been threatened…and yet on two separate occasions we mobilized millions to help people whose connection to us (at least before the other side gave us a reason to enter the war) was language and values. I suppose it could be argued that those are the obvious reasons to make common cause with someone, but at the individual soldier’s level, I doubt it’s that rationalized. My point is, looking at that picture, Veteran’s day is for all the guys (even the ones whose lives were sadly wasted) from nations the world over who fought in WWI, II (and anywhere else), didn’t have to come, but did so anyway, and made sure everybody knew they weren’t to be screwed with.
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We do not agree on Mark Clark.
Jeff, as regards Aussies and Kiwis in WWI, Gallipoli was ANZAC.
Well, to that I say, brave fighting men and poor conception do not a great battle make. Gallipoli totally slipped my mind. I’m a big Churchill fan, and I tend to mentally block out his failures because, much like his successes, they could be truly amazing. Gallipoli in I, and his proposed invasion of Norway in 1942…neither were particularly well-conceived, and had the latter been executed, would have been a waste. Not a waste on the scale of the Western Front in WWI, but a waste nonetheless.
PS–incidentally, Steven, I’m a long-time reader of your stuff (your earlier political writings, mostly, but also your hilariously brutal indictments of certain technologies) and I loved all of it, even the stuff I disagreed with. Just thought I should get around to mentioning it!
Churchill had nothing to do with the failure at Galipolli. The strategic idea was fine, the tactical execution was a disaster from the start.
Its really quite tiring to see him blamed for things over which he had no control. Theres plenty he can be blamed for over which he had complete control.
I guess I’ll get around to reading his history of WWI after all, though it’s supposedly a plod, compared to his WWII history. I know he wasn’t in command of anything at an operational level, and as First Lord of the Admiralty, was merely responsible for the idea. But I guess I assumed he had more of a hand in its overall failure than that. My bad.
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