Friday, July 20, 2007

Bleak colours

The Daily Mail has published retouched photos of the battle at Passchendaele. Even the drab colours imagined by those who altered the original black and white pictures serve to make the subject matter all the more real to the modern viewer. What a nightmare that must have been to survive in, let alone fight through. (ht:sda)

Lieutenant-General Currie inspected the muddy battlefield and protested that the operation was impossible without heavy cost; and that he would not fight under the command of Fifth Army. He was overruled (but came under Second Army), and so began careful and painstaking preparations for the assault. In a series of attacks beginning on October 26, 20,000 men under heavy fire inched their way from shell-crater to shell-crater. Then on October 30, with two British divisions, the Canadians began the assault on Passchendaele itself. They gained the ruined outskirts of the village during a violent rainstorm and for five days they held on grimly, often waist-deep in mud and exposed to a hail of jagged iron from German shelling. The total of attackers killed came to 4,028 by November 11. Currie's estimate of 16,000 casualties proved frighteningly accurate; in fact there were 15,654 for this period in the Salient. Passchendaele had become a Canadian Calvary. [Babbler's emphasis]

I don't mean to minimize what the individual losses mean to those touched by our current casualties, because if yours is the loved one lost, the numbers are meaningless to you. But from a national standpoint, we've gone from being undeterred by almost 16,000 in two weeks to being largely demoralized by 67 in five years. Not the soldiers doing the fighting, mind you, but the rest of us back home.

Makes you stop and think, doesn't it?


Blogger Reg said...

Incredible pictures. Thanks for the link.

10:52 a.m., July 20, 2007  
Blogger Emil Perhinschi said...

Only 75% casualties ? There were situations, both on the Eastern front and on the Western front, when the attacking troops suffered 90% casualties. I will never cease to be amazed at the idiocy of those ordering the attacks (the positions gained could not be held against counterattacks) and the utter ... words are failing me when attempting to describe the soldiers in the field. That was not heroism: going to almost certain and useless and meaningless death is not heroism.

WWI was not a war: it was a disciplined slaughter.

The only reasonable beings and the only heroes were the soldiers that revolted, and there were enough of those in all armies.

There is no comparison to be made between NATO action in Afghanistan and WWI. The right comparison is with the civil war going on in Iraq right now: mindless, useless, pointless killing that ended only when both sides were too tired to fight, the only way the Iraq Shia-Sunni conflict will end.

2:57 p.m., July 20, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

The only reasonable beings and the only heroes were the soldiers that revolted

While I agree that it was an organized slaughter - strategy and tactics hadn't caught up with the technology at that point - I would disagree that only those who mutineed were heroes.

I would also disagree that the war only ended when both sides were too tired to fight. One was too tired, which is why the Treaty of Versailles was so lopsided: the Germans lost. And part of the reason they lost is because of a Canadian reluctance to take part in the "disciplined slaughter" on the same terms as everyone else. The innovative and well-executed victory at Vimy showed that.

WWI was a bloodbath, no doubt, a great dark cloud in the history of human warfare. But ignoring the silver linings of that cloud - the heroism, the innovation, and the eventual victory - serves no purpose either.

As far as the comparison between WWI and Afghanistan is concerned, I'm only contrasting the level of public support versus the level of casualties in both conflicts, nothing more.

4:21 p.m., July 20, 2007  
Blogger Emil Perhinschi said...

> But ignoring the silver linings of that cloud - the heroism, the innovation, and the eventual victory - serves no purpose either.

Victory ? Silver lining ? WWI is not over even now: just watch for a few months TV5 (French state owned TV station) and Deutsche Welle (German state owned TV station) and you'll see that it's the US supremacy and the current inability to finance any kind of military action that's keeping the French and the German bureaucracies quiet: I did it a few years back and was amazed at the amount of resentment still present and at the amount of innuendo and oblique accusations both propaganda machines were using.

Somebody wiser than me wrote this in 1919:

A draw might have
disgusted us all with fighting. As it is, half the world is dancing at
Victory balls, exhibiting captured guns on every village green, and
hanging father's helmet above the mantelpiece; while the other half is
nursing its revenge. Young Frank only cares for life because he is
looking forward to one day driving a tank. I've made up my mind to burn
Sam's uniform; but I expect it will end in my wrapping it up in lavender
and hiding it away in a drawer. And then there will be all the books and
plays. No self-respecting heroine, for the next ten years will dream of
marrying anyone but a soldier.

Canada and US might have won WWI, but we in Europe, we all lost it, whether we ended on the "winning" site or not.

The Afghanistan mission is a police action against a cargo cult that has little in common with Islam except the recruitment base and a few rituals. Bring stories of WWI in the mix and you really risk loosing support: I have a distant relative getting ready to go there, and while I have seen the guy only a few times and spoke with him only once, the idea that there might be any conceivable comparison between WWI and Afghanistan makes me want to call him and tell him he should get out of the army NOW.

WWI started because politicians wanted to win points in the home arena, then got out of hand and was fueled by rivalries between politicos within each of the camps: while a white peace was sought by politicians on both sides, anyone who would have acted decissively for peace would have ruined his future chances to stay in the game.

Police action aimed at preventing a cargo cult from obtaining a base from which to expand ? I agree.

Military action whose only purpose is winning points (or not loosing points) for politicos at home ? Never again.

8:46 a.m., July 21, 2007  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Emil per: The only comparison between WW I and Afstan was made in a story by Doug Saunders of, natch, the Globe. See this post:

Really bogged down?


4:23 p.m., July 21, 2007  

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