Armistice day -- lessons from "Kanzler" Bismarck and General Monash
The 11th day of the 11th month (also known as Remembrance Day and Veterans Day) was originally made memorable because it marked the end of WWI. And well might it be commemorated. The war it ended was unbelievably grisly. It has often been compared to a meat grinder. And it was pretty much that. Strong and healthy young men were marched forward ("over the top") into withering machine gun fire. Most died instantly. It was if their lives did not matter. They were deliberately killed by their own generals. Both sides did it but Britain's general Haig was most known for it. He became known as the "Butcher of the Somme"
This strange behaviour was because they could think of no other way of waging war. An outright charge on the enemy was how wars had been conducted since time immemorial. That was what you did in a war. But it was madness in the era of the machine gun and rapid firing field artillery.
One would have thought that manpower would be seen as the ultimate resource in a war and that it should therefore be conserved and carefuly used. It should not be squandered as in the disastrous Somme Offensive.
There was one General who did work to conserve his men: Australia's General Monash, a son of emigrant German Jews. As a Jew he might well have been horrified by the mass deaths Jews had experienced and wanted no more of that. A small excerpt about him:
"In July 1916 he took charge of the newly raised 3rd Division in northwestern France and in May 1918 became commander of the Australian Corps, at the time the largest corps on the Western Front. The successful Allied attack at the Battle of Amiens on 8 August 1918, which expedited the end of the war, was planned by Monash and spearheaded by British forces including the Australian and Canadian Corps under Monash and Arthur Currie. Monash is considered one of the best Allied generals of the First World War and the most famous commander in Australian history"
It's an irony that he spoke, read, and wrote German fluently.
And there is another very eminent German who might well have been horrified by mass deaths. Prussia's "Iron Chancellor" and founder of united Germany, Otto von Bismarck.
One of Bismarck's better known remarks (misquoted by Churchill) was: "Der ganze Balkan ist nicht die gesunden Knochen eines einzigen pommerschen Grenadiers wert" (The whole of the Balkans is not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier). You can't get more conserving of manpower than that.
Bismarck died in 1898. Had he lived and ruled a few years longer, World War I might have been fought very differently, if it was fought at all. Monash showed what could be done in the field.
I can't resist a few more quotes from Bismarck:
What we learn from history is that no one learns from history.
The most significant event of the 20th century will be that the fact that the North Americans speak English.
The secret of politics? Make a good treaty with Russia.
The Americans are truly a lucky people. They are bordered to the north and south by weak neighbors and to the east and west by fish.
Whoever speaks of Europe is wrong: it is a geographical expression.