Monday, July 29, 2013

21. World War One

I've decided to dispense with chronological order from now on and just write whatever comes to mind. It's my blog, I'm allowed to do that.

So - First World War.  The name refers to the fact that it was the first of a series of world wars, not a war that only concerned the First World, as in 'First World problems'. If that's what you understood it to mean, you probably think it was a lot less serious than it actually was. Even so the name is a bit deceiving - the geographical area most associated with the First World War was about a hundred miles long, a hundred yards wide, and (with tragic symbolism) six feet deep.

It's often been said - probably - that there would be fewer wars if those who went round starting them were made to fight them themselves, instead of recruiting legions of less fortunate and less empowered individuals to do it for them. Though kings had to go off and fight in the old days and things were just as bloody then, so perhaps that's just a hollow platitude. Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine a well-groomed general with a waxed moustache and a cultivated taste in sherry sticking it out for long in a cold muddy trench, rats scampering between his feet and bullets whizzing over his head, for much more than a week, without thinking 'why are we doing this again?'
It's well documented that those who were stuck with the job would have been quite happy to settle the whole thing over a game of football, even on a freezing cold day in December. Letting people run the show when they don't have to participate is a bit like gambling with someone else's money. These days the losing generals would probably get million pound bonuses.
Perhaps that's unfair to the generals, who after all were under the orders of their respective governments, who in turn were honour-bound to side with each other on account of treaties written up in another age, when wars between European nations meant a fairly swift series of colourful cavalry charges and a lot of stirring tales to inspire the kiddies with in later years. Nobody expected the long-drawn-out misery and factory-like slaughter that they got... which just goes to show how careful you need to be about starting things that might turn out to be hard to finish.      

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