Wars are difficult topics to study. They reveal a lot of bad stuff about humanity and the details are typically not all that pleasant. World War I was a particularly brutal war. It was the first truly modern war. The Industrial Revolution had equipped the manufacturing centers of Europe with infrastructures capable of belching out huge amounts of horrible new weapons. Many of the rules of war had not been altered to account for the new technologies available so things like poison gas were used indiscriminately by both sides of the conflict with gruesome results. The war also introduced a new type of battle strategy which insured this would not be the quick and glorious war as advertised. Instead, trench warfare resulted in a virtual stalemate at the fronts and guaranteed a long and tedious war. But studying the war does shed light on human nature and some truly unique and special moments can be gleaned from what is generally an unpleasant part of our history.
Before delving into details of the conflict and some of the “diamonds in the rough” that came out of the war, it is important to understand the conflict in its time and space. An analogy of a football game works quite well for parts of the war, sometimes. WWI was actually the first half of a monster global conflict that covered the first half of the 20th century. The second half was WWII and the 20’s and 30’s can be considered an extended halftime. WWI ended with no clear winners – everyone was pretty beat up. It was like the Rocky movie (switch to Hollywood boxing analogy mode) where he and Apollo, after pounding each other relentlessly, both go down in the 15th round. Rocky grabs the ropes and begins to get up but falls as the ref counts 5, Apollo climbs the ropes and is almost to his feet but collapses as the count reaches 7, 8, then Rocky with one final super human effort manages to stand unassisted just as the ref finishes the 10 count. Both fighters were a mess but the rules defined Rocky as the winner.
WWI was supposed to be a neat and tidy German jaunt through Europe establishing the relatively new state as a major player in European and global affairs. Instead both sides dug in, literally, and traded punches for four years. Late in the first half (back to the football analogy) after both sides were battered and bloodied, the Allies called on a fresh young rookie with a lot of potential. Nervous to enter the fray but also excited to help out its illustrious team and experience some of the glory of competition it had missed out on in all the epic games of eras gone by, the US stepped on the pitch in 1917, all spit and vinegar (there’s and idiom for you). They proceeded to score a crucial goal for the Allies bringing the first half of the conflict to a close. Score: Allies 1 and Central Powers 0.
Leaders of both teams played the blame game during the halftime demanding that the other side take responsibility for unfair play and such. But for the most part the two sides rested and tried to nurse their broken and bruised minds and bodies back into some semblance of working order. Eventually they recovered enough to consider the reality that there was still a second half to be played out in this competition. The German team found inspiration in a fired up assistant coach, who, it was obvious, had replaced the worn out staff from the first part of the competition. So the Germans stormed the field, all spit and vinegar, even before the Allies were out of the locker room. The Allies asked for just a bit more time as the Germans took the opportunity to warm up and run a few drills by taking bits and pieces of Czechoslovakia and Austria. Finally, when it was obvious the Germans would not wait any longer before calling a forfeit and claiming victory and the spoils (a good chunk of Europe), the Allies took to the pitch. The fired up Germans scored early and often but eventually the Allies fought back – and with the help of a timely substitute, managed to claim a rather crushing victory. But that’s all another story.