What we can learn from the First World War.
Sunday, 16 November 2014
Those that fought in the First World War are no longer with us. A million died in a strip of mud called the Somme, for what I’m not quite sure. Common-wealth flowed upwards from the common working man to the aristocracy, the landed gentry, and the rentier class at levels never before seen - until now. Gas, the bomb and bullet has no moral compass. It does not distinguish between rich and poor. The clichéd phrase ‘all in it together’ had however some justification.
The common German soldier cost more to kill than the British equivalent. They bunkered in. We know from books, films and commemorative television programmes wave after wave of British soldiers hung from barbed wire on the Siegfried Line and were gassed, machine gunned and shelled. The commonality of war, however, is the first rung on the officer class, hovering around that of Second Lieutenant, the green shoots we could perhaps call them, were unlikely to mature. For example, 17 out of 18 junior Allied officers died on 29th June 1916 in the offensive to take Mansel Copse. But if we spool further forward to what could be termed the just war against fascism, The Second World War, junior officers also led from the front. In the Korean War, William Styron noted, it would have been quicker and more efficient to ship those boys out with a name tag on their toes. The Vietnam War ditto. Phil Klay even suggests much the same forces at work in the Marine Corp in relatively bloodless modern wars (if there is such a beast). It’s an expensive process educating somebody to blow them up. But it seems to be a price worth paying. If Eton-educated politicians are going to use phrases like ‘all in it together’ a spot on the front line -any front line- as a Second Lieutenant would be simply spiffing.
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