[December 19, 2016] Yesterday was World War One’s 100th anniversary of the last day of the Battle of Verdun; December 18, 1916. Most folks will have little interest about this particular battle but at the time it was the longest, largest, and most destructive battle in human history and also part of the first global war. We should care and more importantly we should learn those hard-earned lessons of history; paid for by the millions who died there.
Often referred to as the “lost generation” … those Europeans born in the years prior to WWI, were either lost in battle or were part of a struggling, battered generation that survived. Earnest Hemingway, the great American novelist, popularized the term and it served as an epigraph to his works in literature.1
A century ago, Europe was willingly killing itself in the nightmare of World War One. When the guns fell silent around the wrecked fortress of Verdun in northeastern France after 10 months of unending violence, there was little strategically that had changed between the Entente Alliance and the Central Powers. This battle was one of the first recorded that was begun as a war of attrition or so the Central Power leadership had hope for.
The strategy was simple, the Central Powers led by Germany would capture the fortress-city of Verdun, hold it while holding off France of the Entente Alliance to “bleed them white.” The Germans had been the first to figure out that victory in this war would come to the army that endured the brutal struggle the longest.2 Germany’s Chief of the German General Staff Falkenhayn was correct in his horrific logic.
The aftermath of the battle would set Europe and the rest of the world on a different path than anyone could have foreseen. Leaders in future militaries learned a great deal and it has been said that the Battle of Verdun echoes today throughout Western military strategy and tactics. But the world has forgotten the real lessons of World War One; that a strong social nationalism mixed with an over simplistic ideology is a deadly mix, that war is very unpredictable, and history should be remembered.
World War Two was to show us how quickly these lessons were forgotten after the last shot was fired on November 11, 1918 to end WWI. The rise of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperialist Japan were to again renew the struggles against a world utterly unprepared for another great war.
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- Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and mid-1950s and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature. The Sun Also Rises in 1926 was his debut novel and where the term “lost generation” first appears.