Words of Advice:

"Never Feel Sorry For Anyone Who Owns an Airplane."-- Tina Marie

"
If Something Seems To Be Too Good To Be True, It's Best To Shoot It, Just In Case." -- Fiona Glenanne

"
Flying the Airplane is More Important than Radioing Your Plight to a Person on the Ground
Who is Incapable of Understanding or Doing Anything About It.
" -- Unknown

"There seems to be almost no problem that Congress cannot,
by diligent efforts and careful legislative drafting, make ten times worse.
" -- Me

"Eck!" -- George the Cat

Monday, August 12, 2013

99 Years

99 years ago, the western front in the First World War was still in its brief maneuver phase, before settling into four years of trench warfare.

I suspect that the further that war recedes in time, the more incomprehensible the whole thing is. Imperial Europe destroyed itself over the question of who got to exercise influence in Serbia and the rest of the Balkans. Old Europe was at the height of its global power and influence at the beginning of 1914. But then some minor bit of royalty in central Europe was killed by a fanatic and they all went to war.

Once the western front was in trench warfare, the combatants fed troops and matériel into the fight as though they were feeding a perpetual meatgrinder. Two years into the war, the leaders of the British Army knew full well that assault tactics involving interlocking groups which charged and then dove for cover in No Man's Land offered a better chance for the troops. But the British officers could not be bothered to train their troops, so they slow-marched their soldiers into the teeth of German machine guns.

Nobody took a mental step back, contemplated the costs they were incurring and said: "Whoa. Can't we stop this thing?" The machinery of death cranked on, probably because every nation felt its honor was at stake. In particular, the French had their own butthurt to avenge from the Franco-Prussian War. (And, 21 years after the guns fell silent on Armistice Day, the Germans moved to avenge their butthurt from the Great War.)

Imperial Russia. The Second Reich. The Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Ottoman Empire, all of them, washed away in the tide of blood.  France, a first-rank world power for centuries, began its slide towards relative military irrelevance. (It took a second war to begin the bankruptcy of the British Empire.) The United States played its first act as "the Arsenal of Democracy", which involved a very large transfer of wealth from Great Britain and France to the US for armaments and supplies, which, as some have posited, made the United States the only real victor in the war.

It all seems so insane a century later. And yet, have we learned all that much since then? We still go to war with grandiose plans and when those plans fail, as they have for us in three wars over the last fifty years, there is no plan of what to do next other than gut it out, feed troops and matériel into the war in the hope the other side blinks first. The big lesson of the Great War wasn't "avoid trench warfare", it was "don't go to war over small shit, you morons. And don't go to war thinking that it'll be a lovely short four week or six month war."