(AA) ++ The Battle of the Somme

esperanto (lingvoj@lds.co.uk)
Sun, 28 Jul 1996 02:09:47 +0200

"The war in Bosnia was
caused, like any other
modern war, by politicians
with telephones on their
desks and armies at their

Noel Malcolm

Extract from FREEDOM
Sample edition available on request:


The transmission of the following
article was delayed by weather
conditions in Dorset, England.


The Just and the Incompetent
Arthur Moyse

A wise man has said - I think it was myself
- that the stress of emotions and of physical
pain by the sufferer cannot be communicated
to another individual, be it speech, prose or the
visual arts, be they fair or foul. If this was not
so then most of our literature, from the Greek
epics to the daily Sun tabloid, would have us
weeping into our morning cornflakcs, all
actors would have to return their knighthoods
and the visual arts from 'Tom and Jerry' to
Leonardo' s 'Crucifixion ' would end up as
video prime-time viewing for only the S and
M granny-knot brigade. Through the wonders
of television we can choose to view the
heartaches of Coronation Street or listen and
view the weeping women mourning their dead
in some newsworthy minor slaughter area, but
never can we share the anguish or the pain for,
with a turn of the switch or a page, it is a tut,
tut, tut and back to the MCD-free eggs and
This is the eightieth sad anniversary of the
1916 Battle of the Somme when 72,094
British soldiers marched in orderly fashion to
their deaths to a stuttering chorus of German
machine-guns, the advice of politicians and a
British General Staff clueless in a world war,
mud and machine-guns and a logistical
situation beyond their understanding. Up to
1914 war had always been fought as a theatre
of pain. Bright uniforms, squares and lines of
armies, bugles and hright flags with spectators
sharing the view of the battles with the general
staff and defeat no more than an exchange of
swords, and to their shame the British General
Staff had never learned the lessons of the
American Civil War that it is vulgar carnage
and mass slaughter that wins wars for, to quote
the Concise Oxford Dictionary, "attrition ...
gradual wearing out ... one whose outcome
depends on which side can last longer" and
72,094 was the sum that the BGS paid for 'one
small step' towards 19l8 victory by way of the
mud of the Somme.
1914 saw the red pantaloons of the French
uniforms, bands and banners and, on the
British side, the cavalry in all their galloping
pride, for the War Office training book on the
art of war stated that the artillery would first
hammer the enemy defences, the infantry
would then advance in orderly fashion to
bayonet in hand-to-hand fighting a gap in the
enemy's defence, and then the cavalry in full
glory, banners flying and Errol Flynn 'kiss my
lips before I die Olivia de Havilland' would
lead the charge through the enemy gap to open
ground beyond.
And in that 1914 war this was still the
textbook order of battle, and in 1916 the
cavalry were still watering their horses ready
for the charge into open ground. And the
machine guns were there.
All decisions relating to the mass
movements of animals and humans are
political decisions. Slice the salami where
thou wilt, no matter how we debase the
language, the slaughter on the Somme was a
political decision. The German staff in the war
of attrition decided to attack Verdun knowing
that this would offend French national pride
and would have to be defended no matter what
the cost in human lives, so the political order
was 'defend Verdun' and French soldiers paid
the cost with their lives. The political matter
was that the French, bearing the brunt of the
German attack as with the Russians in the
1939-45 war, demanded a second front by the
British, for the French had the smcll of mutiny
in the stench of their trenches and the British
right-flank on the left-flank of the French -
love the military jargon - agreed, so for
political reasons 150,000 went 'over the top'
and 72,094 to their political deaths. The
popular historians of the period have always
laid the blame for the carnage on General
Douglas Haig, or Earlboy as we always callcd
him in the White Hart pub, but a new breed of
historians has surfaced who argue that Haig
was Jack the Lad and that the slaughter of the
Somme was a victory in that it upset the
German army and was a signpost to victory.
Those who attack and those who defend Haig
are both wrong, for though Haig was a public
menace even if left alone on a raft in the
middle of the Atlantic Ocean, he was
appointed to his overall command of the
British army by politicians in office and while
Haig should never have been left alone with a
pig's bladder on a stick, the offence - and
'twas a most grievous offence - lay with the
politicians who gave him his office as Chief
Butcher Extraordinarius. But then, as people
of logic, we must ask who gave the politicians
their jobs, who gave Haig his job, and who
gave them theirs, for we are in Dante' s circles
in Hell for name me a villain or a fool in of fice
and we must ask who gave them that office,
plus the name on the door.
There is the new school of revisionist
historians and, writes Peter Simkins the senior
historian at the Imperial War Museum, "the
myth that all generals were incompetent
butchers is being exploded by a number of
scholars throughout the world". While
Malcolm Brown, in his just-published book
The Imperial WarMuseum Book of the Somme
(Sidgwick & Jackson, =A320), wlites that "the
Somme took a lot of the fight out of the
German army; it cracked the German citadel
for the first time. The campaign cannot be
judged solely on the horrific first day". It may
have taken a lot of the fight out of the German
army, but it took all the fight and the life out
of the 72,094 British soldiers who marched
slowly to their deaths. There are around the
White Hart pub tables those of us who believe
in a 'Just War' and this is a view long held by
the Catholic Church Militant, but the nuclear
warhead long-range missiles have long gutted
the White Hart libertarian view of a 'Just War'
and friendly debatable tactics with or without
uniforms. Only the Church Militant can now
support a 'Just War' in that nuclear warhead
missiles can be used if sterilised with Holy
Water and used as a purge of eternal
damnation by those foolish enough to reject
Mother Church. It was the American
politicians who, probably with the best of
intentions, triggered off thc Vietnam War and
it was the American politicians who, for
political reasons, ended it. Without the
American media of print and television and
the nationwide pressure to end that shameful
war, it would in all probability still continue
to be a sump of human carnage both peasant
and American gun-fodder. But no matter how
just the cause, how noble the battle, one
always has this fearful thought, that there will
appear another General Douglas Haig or
Comrade Douglas.
Easy on the mouth with the right ideology,
or garbed in front-line uniform, gloriously
be-medalled and the ol' six-gun and
hand-grenade dangling from the right parts of
the body, and the call to advance, comrades,
for the bunting or the cause, and one knows
that when the corpses have rotted away there
will be revisionism of history - Stalin and
Hitler, your time is due.