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Old 11-06-2019, 04:13 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Food for the Crows: The Whole Bloody History of Human Conflict

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Whether it’s Hitler jack-booting his way across Europe, Genghis Khan sweeping down from the Mongolian Steppes or the invasion of Iraq, or even just that guy eyeing your girlfriend and having had one pint too many, humans have always been up for a fight. Why? At heart, though we like to pretend otherwise, we’re just animals, with instincts honed over thousands of years of trying to not only survive, but rise to be the dominant life-form on this planet, and one of those instincts is the need for combat. Whether to protect our loved ones, our land, or our homes, or to take those of another; whether to satisfy the call of duty or the bonds of friendship; whether to enrich ourselves or consolidate our power, or just for the sheer dumb hell of it, we love to fight. At heart, we all do. If men didn’t have an instinct for war, then kings and emperors would never have built and held the realms they did, and huge armies would not, for long periods of time, have held sway over vast sections of the world.

But what is it that really makes men - and many women - want to fight? What is it that makes young people enlist in the army, or sign up for kickboxing lessons? What is it that makes that guy talking loudly in the cinema a worthy recipient in your mind for a knuckle sandwich? Why do the strong prey on the weak, and the many on the few? And what part does false courage, such as alcohol or the encouragement of mates, play in our desire to inflict violence on others? There’s surely no one answer, and the possibilities I’ve outlined above may go some way towards providing reasons, but no doubt there are many others. Men and women fight because they’ve been wronged, or feel they have. They fight against oppression and tyranny, they fight for their country out of a sense of national pride, or to protect their families. And of course, without question, two of the main reasons people fight is for religion and money, the two sometimes going hand in hand.

In this new journal I’ll be looking at all instances of man’s desire for conflict, so we’ll be examining the major and minor battles of history, trying to see why they took place, if they met their goal, and what, if any, impact they had on later history. But I won’t be just checking out the battlefields of humanity, oh no: the title of this journal is The History of Human Conflict, and for there to be conflict there does not necessarily have to be battle, or war, or even physical confrontation. Man’s entire history is built on conflict. Sometimes this is a good thing, as a society without conflict can be seen to be a stagnant one, and we all know what happened to the Eloi in H.G Wells’s novel. Out of wars and empires have come some incredible advances in science and technology, agriculture and of course warfare, architecture, art and music, and education. These can be the by-products of war; they are usually not the goal. But conflict does move humanity on, and every so often, to be crude and inaccurate, the human race needs a good kick up the arse to get it going, or keep it going, in case it gets lazy and starts to atrophy.

Nobody would deny though that the main product of wars is death, loss, famine, destruction and a reduction in population. But as I said, human conflict is not limited to wars and battles, so my intention is to look into all other forms of struggle - union strikes, the vote for women, slavery, poverty, ideological battles as well as physical ones, from the smallest to the largest and from the most important to the least. Naturally, I don’t intend, nor do I have any hope of covering every conflict in our history - nobody could live that long - so I will be choosing my subjects carefully. Unlike some of my other history projects, this one will not adhere to a timeline, so we may check out a battle in Ancient Greece and then hop over to World War I for the Battle of Jutland, or maybe look in on the Bay of Pigs or the Tet Offensive, all the while stopping off to examine women’s suffrage, the plight of Palestinians or the unfair treatment meted out to the workers by heartless employers and global conglomerates.

Throughout this I will be maintaining my usual mix of wit and personal observation (shut up), while researching from multiple sources. I hope to make this an interesting, perhaps surprising tour through the many and varied confrontations man has had with his fellow man, and no doubt will continue to have as long as he exists.
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Old 11-07-2019, 12:46 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Are you going to include Chula and Frown’s beef?
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Old 11-07-2019, 11:06 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by OccultHawk View Post
Are you going to include Chula and Frown’s beef?
A historical battle, so probably yes.
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Old 11-07-2019, 11:32 AM   #4 (permalink)
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I'm just waiting for N'SYNC v. Backstreet Boys.
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Old 11-07-2019, 01:04 PM   #5 (permalink)
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I'm just waiting for N'SYNC v. Backstreet Boys.
Ah yes, the famous Battle of Whogivesafuck! Who could forget that?
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Old 11-11-2019, 04:05 PM   #6 (permalink)
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For no particular reason, let’s first check out one of the bloodiest wars in man’s history, the biggest battle and the largest loss of life ever sustained by the British Army, over a period of 141 days in 1916. When people speak of the First World War, this is the battle that most frequently comes up, not only due to the massive casualties but also the belief that, in essence, it really accomplished very little.


Timeline: 1916

The Battle of the Somme

Era: Twentieth century
Year: 1916
Campaign: The Somme Offensive
Conflict: World War I
Country: France
Region: The River Somme, Picardy, France
Combatants: Britain, France and Germany (others took part but these three were the main powers)
Commander(s): Allies side: (British) General (later Field Marshal) Douglas Haig, General Henry Rawlinson, General Sir Hubert de Poer Gough (French) Marshall Joseph Jaques Joffre, General Ferdinand Foch, General Joseph Alfred Micheler.
German side: Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, General Max von Gallwitz, General Fritz von Below
Reason: Britain and France were at war against Germany, and had been for two years at this point
Objective: Originally to push the Germans out of Belgium, where their U-Boat fleets were harrying Allied shipping, but after the Verdun offensive the Somme became more a battle of attrition to relieve pressure on the French forces (see full text for more)
Casualties* (approx): Allied total: 620,000 German: 434,000 - 600,000 (varies)
Objective Achieved? No
Victor: Neither

* Casualties refers to both those killed and those wounded

Note before we begin: Oh, seriously? Within the command structure for the battle we had a JJJ (Get me an interview with Spiderman!), a German general called Foch and another called von Below? You have to laugh, don’t you? Over a million dead did not...

By December 1915, Field Marshal (then General)l Sir Douglas Haig had been placed in charge as Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF) and with the French commander, Joseph Joffre, had agreed to mount a combined offensive at the River Somme. The Germans, however, threw a spanner in the Allied works by attacking Verdun a week later, forcing the French to commit most of their forces to that battle, leaving the British basically facing the Germans at the Somme on their own. The idea of the attack at Verdun was to defeat the French by exhausting and demoralising them, thereby leaving the British as easy pickings, and bringing the war to an end. Unfortunately for the Germans, as Hitler would discover twenty-five years later, battles don’t always go to plan, and just as would be the case at Stalingrad, the German commander overreached himself and by doing so depleted his reserves for the Somme, leaving them fighting a desperate rearguard action.

Unbelievably, the night before the battle began General Rawlinson telephoned the troops to wish them good luck; this message was intercepted by the Germans, who then knew an attack was imminent! Prior to the infantry offensive, the British and French had spent seven days shelling the German positions, the intent being to wipe out most if not all resistance, leaving their infantry nothing more than a mopping-up campaign, hence the infamous “walk, don’t run towards the enemy” instruction which cost so many British soldiers their lives when they realised that the enemy was not so badly defeated. Hardly at all, in fact: the artillery the Allies had used was not powerful enough to penetrate the German trenches, many of the shells failed even to explode and the barbed wire marking the border of their territory was not, as originally envisioned and intended, destroyed but mostly left in place. Once the shelling stopped, the Germans came out of their entrenchments and manned their machine guns, cutting down the advancing troops.

For all that, in strictly military and not human terms, the battle, which was more an offensive and was to last 141 days, began well for the Allies, as they pushed the Germans back from both the north and south banks of the Somme. However it was simultaneously the day when the British suffered their highest casualties, almost 20,000 men being killed over a twenty-four hour period. Probably due to being in retreat at the time, the Germans only had about half that number killed. Things began to go badly for the British by the middle of the month, due to a combination of inexperienced troops, bad planning and poor communication, as German strengths were underestimated. Near the end of August, meetings between the four Allied commanders failed to establish a proper strategy, and shortly thereafter the Germans launched a massive counter-attack.

In mid-September the first usage of tanks in war was seen, but, new and temperamental as these machines were, they were prone to breaking down and often got mired in the mud. The tanks of WWI were far different to those seen in war films of the Second World War, and were basically big lumbering slabs of metal with tracks wound right around them. Consensus is that they were pretty useless, but as a morale-draining tactic they must have been quite effective. Seeing one of these roll out of the smoke towards you can not have been a good way to start your day if you were a German soldier! Weather became an increasingly regular obstacle to progress, heavy rain hampering any attempts to move forward, and further miring the new tanks in deep, sucking mud.

In the end, tired, battered, losing more men every day and unable to battle the increasingly foul weather, the campaign was called off on November 19. A mere seven miles of ground had been won, none of it strategic, and between them the Allies and the Germans had sustained over a million casualties. Perhaps the most telling and succinct legacy of the Battle of the Somme can be found in the words of Friedrich Steinbrecher: “Somme. The whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word.” Or, as another, unnamed witness described it, “monotonous, mutual mass murder.”

It’s probably hard for we in the twenty-first century, with all the technology at our hands that allows us now to kill from a distance of thousands of miles, with drones and cruise missiles and a more almost understanding attitude taken by most of the world’s armies towards things like PTSD to understand and appreciate how men could crouch in trenches, wait for the signal and then literally walk to their deaths. Not against an enemy who came towards them, but right into static machine-gun fire, being cut down like stalks of wheat by a scythe. But remember, or understand, if you don’t know: any soldier who refused to go “over the top” when the whistle blew would be shot by the officer in charge, and if there was anything worse than dying in the war it was to be shot for cowardice, as those of us who’ve seen Downton Abbey know.

Your family would be disgraced, any medals you had been awarded would be rescinded, your regiment might find itself out of favour, and after the war was won your family would be remembered as the one whose son wasn’t brave enough to fight for his country. It’s possible, too, though I can’t confirm, that you might not be buried in consecrated ground. All things being equal, considering you were going to probably die anyway, might as well take your chance with your mates against the German guns. Hell, maybe you’d get lucky and make it. Small chance, but if you were shot as a coward you would definitely die.

But who couldn’t be terrified in such a war, or any war? Most of these men were young, often no more than boys, boys who thought they were going off on a great adventure, a “lark” after which they would be heroes, loved by girls and respected by men. None of them expected to die - they surely knew the possibility was there, but it lurked likely in the back of the mind, pushed away and ignored, because if you really thought about your chances of coming back, at least in one piece, from such a wholesale slaughter, you’d never enlist in the first place.

Not that that would save you, either, as during World War I conscription was in effect, and anyone who didn’t sign up would receive a letter from the war ministry advising them they had been drafted, and to report to their local army office. Only people who, for reasons of health, social standing or other factors which made them unsuitable would escape being called up, and there was no way to refuse, unless you wanted to become a “conshy”, a conscientious objector, for which you would likely be thrown in prison, and for which beliefs you would be vilified by everyone, especially the women who, not being eligible to fight, were very quick to disparage, embarrass and sneer at any man who did not join the war effort.

The Battle of the Somme would go down as not only the bloodiest in World War I, but one of the most brutal ones in all of history, and according to some commentators, one of the most mismanaged and bungled, and indeed pointless and least successful of the First World War. It would mark the first use of both tanks and sustained air power, but neither did much to sway the outcome of either the battle or the remainder of the war, and “the war to end all wars” was going to continue to be decided mostly by the boots on the ground, by the senseless slaughter of the flower of youth of England, France, Germany and their allies, until finally the war would grind to a shuddering halt, with nothing really resolved on either side, and the population of the planet severely depleted.

Why will this battle be remembered?

I’ll be putting this as a postscript to each entry, to look at the reason(s) why a battle went down in history, why it’s still talked about, what lessons can be or were learned from it, and what overall effect, if any, it had, either on the overall campaign in which it was fought, or in history, or both.

Obviously, the main thing the Somme is remembered for is the huge loss of life for what turned out to be very little gain, leading to the epithet later for Haig as “the Butcher of the Somme”. Instead of being relieved of his command or tried for war crimes (this was the real world, after all) Haig was promoted to Field Marshal in 1917. The general belief was that the commanding officers, at too far a remove from the field of battle, completely misinterpreted and misunderstood the situation, and sent their men in without the proper information, and therefore unprepared. The comedy series Blackadder Goes Forth illustrates this very well, in many scenes but in one particular one. General Melchard is looking admiringly at a small clod of earth on a table, which his adjuntant tells him is the amount of ground they have gained that day. When asked what scale the model is on, he’s told, one to one, and nods. "So this is the actual ground taken, eh?"

It’s satire, but it does serve to show how so little terrain was gained, and often, once gained quickly lost again as the Allies and the Germans moved back and forth across the lines in a murderous and insane game of capture-the-flag, or to quote Roger Waters “Generals sat and the lines on the map moved from side to side.” Indeed. Opinions vary on whether the Battle of the Somme was a victory for anyone, or just a costly exercise in how not to direct a battle. Poems were written about it, films made, and protests raised. It certainly wouldn’t have done much for the morale at home for the folks to hear that, yes, we “won” (I’m sure that was the official line) but that many towns and villages had likely lost all of their young men, and almost half a million of them would not be coming home, or would be returning badly wounded, and would never again be the same.

In military terms, the Somme allowed the British army to see how this sort of warfare was conducted (if badly) and to “bed in” their inexperienced troops - those that survived, that was. It also badly damaged the German resistance, leading to their exhausted defeat two years later. In addition, as already mentioned, it was something of a proving ground for the new weapon, the Mark I tank, which, though it failed to turn the tide of the battle or even contribute in any real meaningful way, did impress Haig so much that he ordered a thousand more.

In the end though, the Battle of the Somme will always be synonymous with pointless and wholesale slaughter of youth, the cream of England’s manhood cut down like blades of grass beneath an uncaring, out of control lawnmower, propelled by someone who had no clue how to use it and just pushed on regardless.
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