Sunday, July 3, 2016

War in numbers

I previously blogged about The Battle Of The Somme's 100th Anniversary, and have been binge watching episodes of The Great War since.

This episode really struck a chord with me, it echoes "our love of numbers", but played out from a historical perspective.  In talking about The Great War, one of the deadliest wars ever fought, we often get lost in the numbers ...

Indiana Neidell's speech starts at about 6:30, and I've copied it below,

We don't seem to talk about this war on an individual level.  We don't seem to do that so often because that's not how this war works, this World War.

Think - when I tell a tale of heroism or an everyday tale of the trenches that may inspire or entertain. what of the ones I don’t tell.  They have their stories too.

Whether it’s the brief tale of the 19 year old being killed by a sniper his first day of battle because he peeked over the trench.  Or the 40 year old veteran of countless tropical colonial battles, freezing to death in the mountain snows far from home.

We’ll never hear those stories and mostly never think of them because we get fooled by the numbers.  Look at this week (February 1915), three huge offensives.  Soldiers in the millions fighting all over Europe.  Tens of thousands being captured at once.  Just imagine how that even looks.  Fifty thousand men dying in a single week in a single army.

We get fooled by those numbers, because we can’t really conceive of them in terms of horror.  So go back to the individual, try to think of those men one at a time.

The Russian solider captured by the Germans, unable to speak the language, doomed to spend what remains of his life in a prison.  The Hungarian soldier who’s never even been to the mountains before, but is now fighting in temperatures of -20C, in boots with cardboard soles.  The wounded stuck in No Man’s Land and finally being eaten by wolves at night, because that really happened.

Every single one of these men involved in campaigns had a story, so think of them, and think of this.  Three great offensives were being fought this week – there was nothing great about any of them

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