Friday, 1 July 2016

The Battle of the Somme: Dress Rehearsal for Brexit

The Battle of the Somme, the bloodiest battle of World War I, produced 300,000 dead and one million casualties, with virtually no change in the battle lines. The Somme came hard on the heels of the second worst battle of the war, the Verdun, and preceded the third worst, the Battle of Passchendaele. For people suffering through the current Brexit mess, it is a reminder that things could, after all, be worse. Much worse. The politicians and generals responsible for the Somme battle were perhaps even more incompetent, myopic, and dishonest than the leaders now in charge of the Battle of Brexit. Let that sink in.

The Somme battle began on July 1, 1916 and continued futilely until December of the same year, pitting British and French armies against the evil Huns (AKA, Germans). The attack on German lines that day was preceded by a three day artillery barrage, the biggest in history, involving the launching of 1.5 million shells. High command assured the British soldiers that the barrage would make their job as easy as beating Iceland in the Euros. "You will be able to walk to Berlin. The Germans will all be dead." Sounds like "the EU will give us our cake and let us eat it, too."

Not quite. The barrage alerted the Germans that an attack was coming. They rushed up reserves. Most of them stayed safe in deep underground dugouts, ready to cut down the advancing British. And mow them down they did, with machine guns, rifles, artillery, and gas. Even a new British weapon, the tank, did not help much. Most of them quickly broke down and no one knew how to use them anyway. 

On the first day of the battle, a massive British attack across No Mans Land resulted in 20,000 dead and 40,000 wounded: the worst day in the history of the British Army.

In northern France, at Thiepval, there rests a ponderous monument to the 72,000 Allied dead whose bodies were never recovered, mainly because they were blown to bits or buried under soil thrown up by exploding shells. I like to think at least a few ran away and lived in caves. (Image: Thiepval)

Lots of talk about "sacrifice" at commemorations. Did the sacrifice accomplish anything beyond piles of dead and mutilated men, and have we learned the lessons of the Somme? The answers are sadly obvious.


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