World War I, or the "Great War" was a trench battle. Men would dig trenches and stay there, hundreds of them, and there they would wait with their bayonets and other weapons and look over a small piece of land. Imagine that you are in the middle of a field. The field is maybe a quarter mile wide and on the other side of the field is your enemy. There are no tanks or bombers to give you cover. There are no fancy heat-seeking missiles. You are going to have to kill or be killed for a piece of earth so small and seemingly insignificant that the idea that your death will be important seems almost insane. Life for the soldiers on the Western Front was horrendous. There was no water, no proper amounts or portions enough for them to eat, your food is mold and waste, medical care seems like a myth, hygiene was basically nonexistent, and by the time this war was over the Western vision of war was changed forever. Late during the summer of 1914, train stations all over Europe echoed with the sound of leather boots and the clanging of weapons as millions of enthusiastic young soldiers prepared for one of the most intense conflicts since the Napoleonic Wars. Within weeks however, the excitement and glory dissipated into horror and death, brought on by dangerous new machines of war that took control of the old fields and turned them into desolate moonscapes littered with corpses and wreckage. Erich Maria Remarque writes:
“We wake up in the middle of the night. The Earth booms. Heavy fire is falling on us. We crouch into corners. We distinguish shells of every caliber.
Each man lays hold of his things and looks again every minute to reassure himself that they are still there. The dug-out heaves, the night roars and flashes. We look at each other in the momentary flashes of light, and with pale faces and pressed lips shake our heads.
Everyman is aware of the heavy shells tearing down the parapet, rooting up the embankment and demolishing the upper layers of concrete…Already
Bibliography: 1. Brittain, Vera. Testament of Youth (1933). New York: Penguin Books, 1989.
2. deChardin, Pierre Teilhard. Making of a Mind: Letters from a Soldier-Priest, 1914-1919. New York: Harper and Row, 1965
3. Good, John M. The Shaping of Western Society. New York: Holt, Rhinehart, Winston, 1968
4. Wiesner, Merry, et. Al. Discovering the Western Past, A Look at the Evidence Boston: Houghton, 1933