Heading Out

Seeking the winds that help to sail on Shakespeare's tide.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Not what I planned on writing

It got worse you know. On page 106 "a beautifully formed WHITE crystal rose - symbolic of the old Terran royal house after which the LANCASTER was named."

(Oh not again !!!)
"The Barons have vanished,
The knights are all dead,
The old orders banished,
Ye-et the rose still is RED."

So there! (That is the second part of the chorus).

The New Yorker had a piece on the First World War last week, and I disagreed with a lot of it. I have long believed that Smith-Dorrien was a good early example of a competent general removed by his politically better connected rivals. It is, unfortunately a fate of many armies that competence in battle is no match for politics.

The piece included a discussion of divisions being led into battle by a German lieutenant and being wiped out. While not familiar with that event I am familiar with a similar situation in the Second Battle of Ypres. In the major histories the fresh battalions of the Northumbrian Brigade were slaughtered in lines as they moved forward. The number who returned out of battalions of around a thousand men each, were on the order of 300. Yet if you read the actual death and casualty lists (not to consider that they were not dreadful) over the course of the next few days a very significant number of men came back into the lines and the numbers that died were reduced quite markedly. A plot of deaths as a function of date for a couple of battalions over the course of the war showed that there were about two days a year where there were severe (as in more than 30) deaths, but for the rest of the time it was in one's and two's that they usually died. And while that is tragic in itself it is no more than some of the troops in Iraq currently see. My point being that the contemporary writings of a considerable number of participants at the time do not convey the hopelessness that the writers suggest. But in the end it is the comment that the generals "did the best they could" which most irritates. Telling the troops to walk forward into uncut wire at the Somme does not prove "the best." Unfortunately too often it was the generals who had risen to power politically, rather than on competence, who ran things then (have things changed ?).

And I would dispute that memorable anti-war literature was "written only in the 1920's". There was contemporary literature that was antiwar and memorable - Wilfred Owen and Sassoon's poems spring immediately to mind.


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