When I was a student at The Indiana Academy for the last two years of high school, I was fortunate enough to be a student of Mark Watson – an extremely gifted instructor of History. My junior year he taught American History – my senior year he taught Government – or maybe it was the other way around, I don’t recall exactly – it was eleven years ago afterall.
But I do remember my senior year Mr. Watson handing out a cartoon from World War I that showed the grim reaper stretching his scythe across a field of two opposing armies at the Somme – we had some discussion about our feelings about that cartoon – and the word that I recall saying was “useless”.
Fast forward to just a few years ago, I scored tickets to an open rehearsal of theBoston Symphony of a War Requiem. There were two fabulous soloists, a choir, and of course – the outstanding Boston Symphony. The writer, a soldier later killed in the war, had seen the carnage at several of the battles of World War I… but still I knew little of that war. The piece was hauntingly moving… and still I knew little…
Move forward to the present – this afternoon, just after retreating from lunch at the oceanside bar here, I reached page 260 of The Guns of August and read of the first major clash in World War I between the French and German armies.
It would be known as the “Battle of the Frontier”. It was a fight that stretched over hundreds of miles involving more than seventy divisions on each side – more than 1.2 million troops on each side – fighting over one huge stretch of land across the Ardennes Forest. In the four day fight, more than 160,000 soldiers fell – killed or wounded – more than twice the size of the British Expeditionary Force that had just landed in France.
That’s more men killed or wounded in one battle than we have in the entire Middle East right now — all fallen in the span of four days.
And, from what I do remember about the Great War, this was only the beginning of what was to come.