Monday, June 26, 2017

American Doughboys Land in France to Join the Madness of World War One, 100 Years On

One hundred years ago today the first American troops landed in France to fight with the Allies in the Great War, as it was later called.  The Yanks were “coming, over there,” as everyone stateside would soon be singing.

They found madness, wrapped in carnage, dripping in disillusionment.  In World War One alone, says a Wikipedia entry, 17 million soldiers and civilians died from wounds and disease, including over one hundred thousand Americans.  And in the Second World War, a direct continuation of the unfinished First, many times more than that would suffer and perish.   

In his masterful treatment The First World War, historian John Keegan writes:  “…the First World War is a mystery.  Its origins are mysterious.  So is its course.  Why did a prosperous continent, at the height of its success as a source and agent of global wealth and power and at one of the peaks of its intellectual and cultural achievement, choose to risk all it had won for itself and all it offered to the world in the lottery of a vicious and local internecine conflict?  Why … did the combatants persist in their military effort … and eventually commit the totality of their young manhood [and much of their civilian populations, I would add here] to mutual and pointless slaughter? …. How did the anonymous millions, indistinguishably drab, find the resolution to sustain the struggle and to believe in [the war’s] purpose?” 

We have film.  We can see the pompous, murderously-incompetent, half-decrepit generals and the effete, smarmy, oily politicos all parading about in herky-jerky motion, full of themselves, festooned like peacocks with their gaudy European plumes and sashes, leading the world into war for their own petty, obscure, and erratic purposes.  It was all so absurd, so comical if not so unspeakably sad, so utterly infuriating, so unimaginably tragic. 

After almost three years of this madness, revealed to the world in newspapers, in film, in photographs, and in letters, in June of 1917 the Americans crossed an ocean to join in. 

R Balsamo

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