By next Veterans Day, we will be into the 100th anniversary of the war that ended with Armistice Day. As a history buff, of course, I love those sorts of anniversary events. As a dour cynical product of our dour cynical age, however, I fear what direction that commemoration will take. The First World War is a source of endless fascination and commentary by the left. They love that war, as it, in their minds, captures all that is wrong with war, especially the notions of futility and despair. It was, for the leftist historians who have dominated the telling of the event, the last hurrah of monarchies and capitalism, and the midwife of the Soviet Revolution. It is also seen as a war that ended in a way that resolved nothing, and laid the groundwork for the even bigger war to come--and all that was the fault of the Republicans. It, after all, was the Republicans who stymied the great and good Woodrow Wilson and his vision of a New International Order, and turned the USA inward. If only we had joined the League of Nations. If only we had not become so isolationist. If only, well, you've heard it all in school, and don't need me to hash it all over.
That much of this is nonsense and not supported by the historical record, does not matter much. We can go over it all some other time. In sum, the British, the French, and their allies were the good guys. It was a war about something. A Europe dominated by the Kaiser and the Hapsburgs was infinitely worse than one in which Britain and France were the dominant powers. Liberty was at stake, at least in the West; the Russian situation was much more complex, but even then a Russia ruled by a modernizing Tsar or by Kerensky was much preferable to one dominated by the Germans or to the horror that eventually resulted, i.e., the most murderous state in the history of Europe, the USSR.
The Great War is fascinating for many reasons. One that always drew my attention was how a handful of American inventions, a British one, and a German one forever changed war and society. The American inventions of barbed wire, the modern machine gun, and the airplane, the British development of the tank, and the German use of poison gas--the first weapon of mass destruction--altered everything. No army, no war, no calculation of national power would ever be the same. A small force, for example, armed with aircraft, barbed wire, machine guns, gas (or other WMD) could wreak havoc on a much larger force.
With the large scale introduction by the German Army of the American-designed Maxim machine gun, the British and the French militaries faced a challenge not only to their immediate goal, i.e., victory over the Central Powers, but to the very survival of their organizations. Although Franco-British forces outnumbered those of the Germans, simultaneously fighting Russia, the machine gun annulled that advantage. Skillful German deployment of machine gun units and the development of a doctrine for their use, for a time made successful Allied offensive infantry operations virtually impossible. The increased lethality of the Kaiser’s men demolished “business as usual” on the battlefield, and led to a questioning of the competence of the Allied hierarchy. After much hesitation, the removal of inflexible senior officers, and a redesign of the Allied approach to offensive operations--including the introduction of tanks and their own machine gun units--the French and the British managed to continue the war and cancel the initial German advantage. A similar situation developed with the German use of poison gas on the battlefield; the advantage lay with the Germans until the Allies managed to develop effective gas masks, gas use doctrine, and their own gas weapons. The brutality and lethality of war increased exponentially. (I strongly recommend John Ellis, The Social History of the Machine Gun, for a fascinating account of the impact of the machine gun on modern society.)
The First World War also left us another legacy: The veteran as victim.
Sorry. A long-winded diatribe with some ideas in there that need further exploring and refining.
Anyhow, I do not see the veterans as victims, I still hold to the old-fashioned view. They served and it was not for nothing. It was for something. A something that is now being undermined by the leftist loons who rule us.