WW1 French gas and flame attack

WW1 French gas and flame attack



“If a man consults whether he is to fight, when he has the power in his own hands, it is certain that his opinion is against fighting.”

Horatio Nelson




“There are 40,000,000 men under arms in the world today, and our statesmen and diplomats have the temerity to say that war is not in the making.

Hell’s bells! Are these 40,000,000 men being trained to be dancers?”

Major General Smedley Butler <written after World War 1>


“No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.”

Horatio Nelson






This year <and these current days> is the anniversary marking 100 years since the beginning of World War 1 <in 1914>.


It was soon after these dates that men & women from dozens of countries began to leave their homes for the hell of the Western Front and other battlefields around the world <note: Americans will not commemorate until 1917 when their soldiers entered into the battle in late 1917 … almost 2 ½ years of battles had already been fought>.





I purposefully began this with the quotes I did … in the order that I did.



Despite what people may say … no one really wants war.


Even generals and admirals.



Their opinion is ‘not to fight’ if it is within their power.


Even Sun Tzu, in the Art of War written around 500BC, says “preferably do not wage war at all.”



However … soldiers are not trained to be dancers.


They are trained to be soldiers.



Once a decision is made to enter into a war … people bearing arms fight … and they fight to kill or destroy the enemy.



It is the only way to win.


Half measures or ‘limiting exposure of force’ really doesn’t work.

Or maybe better said it is not only not effective but will not achieve the objective … which is to enable the end of war as one side succumbs to the other.

<note: I didn’t say anyone ‘wins’>


And how do you make ‘the one side succumb’?



ww1 french gas masksAs Lord Nelson reminds us … ‘put yourself a close to the enemy as possible’ and you can do no wrong.


Unfortunately … war is not about avoiding each other … it is about seeking the other out, eliminating them until they want to stop being eliminated.



Let me be clear.


War is a terrible thing.


There are no ‘good wars’ <although there can be war fought for ‘good’>.


And wars are not necessary … but I believe they are inevitable.


I believe this because … well … wars inevitably include two sides:


–          each of which are unequivocally fighting for what they believe is right


–          each of which is composed of well trained <for the most part> individuals who mainly seek to survive



–          each side will display alternating admirable moments of courage … and frightening moments of savagery



–          each side will make an unending amount of terrible moral choices in the attempt to ‘win’ <or survive>.






I do believe sometimes war is necessary.

Words and ‘policy’ sometimes can’t stem the tide of evil. Evil is pretty relentless.




“War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.”


Jimmy Carter




And although war is always evil, sometimes it is the lesser evil, meaning that in some cases it is inevitable.





I don’t believe that war is inevitable in a socio-economical sense, i.e., that war is the engine for accelerated progress.

I believe it becomes inevitable as a conflict of interests and state <and, no, we will never be a ‘one world/one nation’>.



And this inevitable conflict translates into the fact that war may be offensive and defensive and, just like in the case of self-defense. In the event of armed attack from another country any kind of violence used in retaliation is acceptable.

Acceptable?  Yup. Because any other course of action will mean suicide.





A lot of war ‘mythology’ would have us believe that war kills evil people who need to be killed to protect us and our freedoms.




A reality.


Wars have a tendency to slaughter more nonmilitary citizens then military.






While “freedom” has served as a justification for war … many wars have served as a justification for curbing if not eliminating actual freedoms <and freedom of choice within a specific culture or country>.





Wars tend to be fought by people who believe in what they are fighting for … uhm … both sides.

Unfortunately ‘right’ tends to be written by the victor.


And sometimes ‘right’ is not so obvious at the onset <to someone viewing ‘right’ from their perspective>.






Before anyone sends me an angry email attacking my ‘war is inevitable’ statement … I think you would have to examine the circumstances of each war and discuss them individually.


I think it is too easy to say “I do not believe in going to war” or that “war is never necessary” because history tells us otherwise.


There is always conflict between people … personally, ideologically, culturally, etc.

So long as the pursuit of wealth, land, political power, and religious intolerance exist … wars will inevitably arise when words <or diplomacy> are no longer effective.





Back to World War 1.

Douaumont war memorial


While we discuss ‘wars’ in today’s world as Afghanistan or even Vietnam … World War 1 memorials are shocking because of the sheer numbers.



Even in comparison to World War 2 memorials <excepting the ones in Russia and Eastern European countries … of which all are mind numbingly expansive>.


I can guarantee you will be numbed to silence if you ever visit one of these memorials.



For some perspective.



The British casualties in the battle of Loos in 1915 almost exactly equaled the 50,000 infantry that Wellington fielded at Waterloo almost 100 years prior.



Great Britain lost almost a million lives in WW1 <one in every 50 people>.



France lost 1,700,000 <one person in 25>.


In addition Great Britain had an additional 1,600,000 wounded <1 in 25>.


France had 4,250,000 wounded <1 in 10>.



By the way … those are total population numbers … for the impact on the male population … think about almost doubling those ratios … and then redouble again for men of military age.



On the other side.


Germany had millions of casualties.


Austria had millions of casualties.


Turkey <or the Ottoman Republic at that time> had millions of casualties.



Russia had 1,650,000 men killed, 3,850,000 wounded and 2,410,000 prisoners before the 1917 revolution.



Just a side note <because I found it interesting> … in World War 1 the German ww1 horse vet hospitalarmy had 8 million horses killed in battle between 1914 and 1918.


As a corollary … over 2½ million of the German horses were treated at the front in German veterinary hospitals and returned to duty.






There are a few hard truths about war … and maybe first, and most important, was said by Major General Sixsmith in The British Generalship in the Twentieth Century:




There can be no greater fallacy than to suppose that battles can be won painlessly.

However brilliant the plan, in the end the soldier must advance, cost what it may, and destroy the enemy.

When the enemy is prepared to fight, as the Germans always were, this means bloody battle and heavy casualties.”




In addition … one can plan for a war … but wars & battles evolve and morph … at an exponential pace … and the cost of instruction within the moment is extremely high.



Battle plans rarely go exactly as planned and adapting means taking advantage of moments of opportunity.


And then there is the natural tendency to press on with an attack … especially one that appears to be hanging in balance. The tendency is driven by the hope that one more try will tip the balance … thereby justifying the losses suffered up to that point.



It’s silly to not understand that warfare is not easy.


And battles are immensely complicated <and simplistically blaming a leader is not really fruitful>.


History tends to suggest plans as set in stone and if they go wrong it was the leader’s fault.






ww1 ypres line

Problems on a battlefield are inevitable. Changes occur almost from the beginning.



Men will be frightened <and with a right to be so> and communications will be uneven if not break down and the enemy will inevitably do the unexpected.


Confusion and chaos are the norm.



I think we tend to forget … even for trained soldiers … fighting battles is not a normal activity … and when men are scared or confused things go awry.




Brigadier James Hill before D-day to his men:

“Gentlemen, do not be daunted if chaos reigns; it undoubtedly will.”




I say this because it is easy to play general after the fact … and easy to assess blame in hindsight.

I would like to note that while managing people is never easy … and managing people in war is exponentially not easier.


Managing chaos?


Unfathomably difficult.



And then there is the fact that each side believes they are in the right.


Each side fights with a sense of purpose … and I imagine … some spirit.



“Who fought the tide, and fell, still never swayed from purpose.”





And, remember,  it is difficult to kill spirit <and just because ‘your side’ has spirit doesn’t mean the other side does not>.






A sociological thought. A thought on war and enemies.


War has a long term effect on culture & society.


And maybe not in the way that you think.


We get in the habit of having enemies and that is a hard habit to break.



And it seems after a while … you don’t know any other way to think.


And then one day the war is over and they tell everyone to go home and expect everything to go back to the way it was and the way they were … but nobody knows how to stop.


Because they are so used to it.


So they have to find new enemies.




Night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.

And some of our men who have just returned from the border say

there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?

Those people were a kind of solution.


Constantine P. Cavafy






A retrospective on World War 1. <and this link has a vast array of photography from World War 1>:


WW1 in Pictures:

http://disqus.club/goto.php?url=http://www.theatlantic.com/static/infocus/wwi/ >


And then some dates and timeline background:

ww1 british soldiers



August 1              Outbreak of war – Germany declares war on Russia

August 3              Germany declares war on France

August 4              Germany invades neutral Belgium

August 4              Britain declares war on Germany

August 4              US President Woodrow Wilson declares policy of US neutrality

August 14            Battle of the Frontiers begins

August 17            Russia invades East Prussia

August 23            Japan declares war on Germany

August 23            Austria-Hungary invades Russian Poland (Galicia)


April 6 1917        USA declares war

October 1917     one division of US soldiers enter western front lines

And some Little big things we forget.

September 19, 1918        Start of British offensive in Palestine with the Battle of Megiddo

September 26, 1918        Battle of the Vardar pits Serb, Czech, Italian, French and British forces against Bulgarian forces


May/June            USA soldiers fight major battle for first time on western front

November 11    War ends





War doesn’t end.


It really just moves to a different time and place.


In World War 1’s case … it evolved into the Russian revolution and ultimately World War 2 less than 20 years later.



“The 1930s ‘taught us a clear lesson; aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged, ultimately leads to war.”


John F. Kennedy




In the end.


I wrote to remind everyone about World War 1 <because we so often are so focused on our own ‘wars’ and conflicts we forget some important things and lessons>.


In addition … it gave me an opportunity to share something written after World War 1.


A marine general wrote a war manifesto … well … an anti war manifesto that I find interesting.



Please note.


Knowing and respecting a number of very knowledgeable people in the military myself … I do not agree with everything <conclusions> but the foundational think about itfacts are unequivocally truth. And, most importantly, if you keep an open mind … it will make you think.



And that is all I ever ask of my readers.




And think.



The manifesto is called:




War is a Racket:



The World War, rather our brief participation in it, has cost the United States some $52,000,000,000. Figure it out. That means $400 to every American man, woman, and child. And we haven’t paid the debt yet. We are paying it, our children will pay it, and our children’s children probably still will be paying the cost of that war.

 who is getting fired money_down_toilet

The normal profits of a business concern in the United States are six, eight, ten, and sometimes twelve percent. But war-time profits — ah! that is another matter — twenty, sixty, one hundred, three hundred, and even eighteen hundred per cent — the sky is the limit. All that traffic will bear. Uncle Sam has the money. Let’s get it.


Of course, it isn’t put that crudely in war time. It is dressed into speeches about patriotism, love of country, and “we must all put our shoulders to the wheel,” but the profits jump and leap and skyrocket — and are safely pocketed.



It has been estimated by statisticians and economists and researchers that the war cost your Uncle Sam $52,000,000,000.

Of this sum, $39,000,000,000 was expended in the actual war itself. This expenditure yielded $16,000,000,000 in profits. That is how the 21,000 billionaires and millionaires got that way. This $16,000,000,000 profits is not to be sneezed at. It is quite a tidy sum. And it went to a very few.


Take our friends the du Ponts, the powder people — didn’t one of them testify before a Senate committee recently that their powder won the war?

Or saved the world for democracy?

Or something?

How did they do in the war?

They were a patriotic corporation. Well, the average earnings of the du Ponts for the period 1910 to 1914 were $6,000,000 a year. It wasn’t much, but the du Ponts managed to get along on it. Now let’s look at their average yearly profit during the war years, 1914 to 1918. Fifty-eight million dollars a year profit we find!

Nearly ten times that of normal times, and the profits of normal times were pretty good. An increase in profits of more than 950 per cent.


Take one of our little steel companies that patriotically shunted aside the making of rails and girders and bridges to manufacture war materials.

Well, their 1910-1914 yearly earnings averaged $6,000,000. Then came the war. And, like loyal citizens, Bethlehem Steel promptly turned to munitions making. Did their profits jump — or did they let Uncle Sam in for a bargain?

Well, their 1914-1918 average was $49,000,000 a year!


Or, let’s take United States Steel.

The normal earnings during the five-year period prior to the war were $105,000,000 a year. Not bad. Then along came the war and up went the profits. The average yearly profit for the period 1914-1918 was $240,000,000.

Not bad.


There you have some of the steel and powder earnings. Let’s look at something else. A little copper, perhaps. That always does well in war times.


Anaconda, for instance. Average yearly earnings during the pre-war years 1910-1914 of $10,000,000. During the war years 1914-1918 profits leaped to $34,000,000 per year.


Or Utah Copper. Average of $5,000,000 per year during the 1910-1914 period. Jumped to an average of $21,000,000 yearly profits for the war period.


Let’s group these five, with three smaller companies. The total yearly average profits of the pre-war period 1910-1914 were $137,480,000. Then along came the war. The average yearly profits for this group skyrocketed to $408,300,000.


A little increase in profits of approximately 200 per cent.


Does war pay? It paid them. But they aren’t the only ones. There are still others. Let’s take leather.


For the three-year period before the war the total profits of Central Leather Company were $3,500,000. That was approximately $1,167,000 a year.

Well, in 1916 Central Leather returned a profit of $15,000,000, a small increase of 1,100 per cent. That’s all. The General Chemical Company averaged a profit for the three years before the war of a little over $800,000 a year. Came the war, and the profits jumped to $12,000,000. a leap of 1,400 per cent.


International Nickel Company — and you can’t have a war without nickel — showed an increase in profits from a mere average of $4,000,000 a year to $73,000,000 yearly. Not bad? An increase of more than 1,700 per cent.


American Sugar Refining Company averaged $2,000,000 a year for the three years before the war. In 1916 a profit of $6,000,000 was recorded.


Listen to Senate Document No. 259. The Sixty-Fifth Congress, reporting on corporate earnings and government revenues. Considering the profits of 122 meat packers, 153 cotton manufacturers, 299 garment makers, 49 steel plants, and 340 coal producers during the war. Profits under 25 per cent were exceptional. For instance the coal companies made between 100 per cent and 7,856 per cent on their capital stock during the war. The Chicago packers doubled and tripled their earnings.


And let us not forget the bankers who financed the great war. If anyone had the cream of the profits it was the bankers. Being partnerships rather than incorporated organizations, they do not have to report to stockholders. And their profits were as secret as they were immense. How the bankers made their millions and their billions I do not know, because those little secrets never become public — even before a Senate investigatory body.


But here’s how some of the other patriotic industrialists and speculators chiseled their way into war profits.


Take the shoe people. They like war.

laws profit versus ethicalIt brings business with abnormal profits. They made huge profits on sales abroad to our allies. Perhaps, like the munitions manufacturers and armament makers, they also sold to the enemy. For a dollar is a dollar whether it comes from Germany or from France. But they did well by Uncle Sam too. For instance, they sold Uncle Sam 35,000,000 pairs of hobnailed service shoes. There were 4,000,000 soldiers. Eight pairs, and more, to a soldier. My regiment during the war had only one pair to a soldier. Some of these shoes probably are still in existence. They were good shoes. But when the war was over Uncle Sam has a matter of 25,000,000 pairs left over. Bought — and paid for. Profits recorded and pocketed.


There was still lots of leather left. So the leather people sold your Uncle Sam hundreds of thousands of McClellan saddles for the cavalry. But there wasn’t any American cavalry overseas! Somebody had to get rid of this leather, however. Somebody had to make a profit in it — so we had a lot of McClellan saddles. And we probably have those yet.


Also somebody had a lot of mosquito netting. They sold your Uncle Sam 20,000,000 mosquito nets for the use of the soldiers overseas. I suppose the boys were expected to put it over them as they tried to sleep in muddy trenches — one hand scratching cooties on their backs and the other making passes at scurrying rats. Well, not one of these mosquito nets ever got to France!


Anyhow, these thoughtful manufacturers wanted to make sure that no soldier would be without his mosquito net, so 40,000,000 additional yards of mosquito netting were sold to Uncle Sam.


There were pretty good profits in mosquito netting in those days, even if there were no mosquitoes in France. I suppose, if the war had lasted just a little longer, the enterprising mosquito netting manufacturers would have sold your Uncle Sam a couple of consignments of mosquitoes to plant in France so that more mosquito netting would be in order.


Airplane and engine manufacturers felt they, too, should get their just profits out of this war. Why not? Everybody else was getting theirs. So $1,000,000,000 — count them if you live long enough — was spent by Uncle Sam in building airplane engines that never left the ground! Not one plane, or motor, out of the billion dollars worth ordered, ever got into a battle in France. Just the same the manufacturers made their little profit of 30, 100, or perhaps 300 per cent.


Undershirts for soldiers cost 14¢ [cents] to make and uncle Sam paid 30¢ to 40¢ each for them — a nice little profit for the undershirt manufacturer. And the stocking manufacturer and the uniform manufacturers and the cap manufacturers and the steel helmet manufacturers — all got theirs.


Why, when the war was over some 4,000,000 sets of equipment — knapsacks and the things that go to fill them — crammed warehouses on this side. Now they are being scrapped because the regulations have changed the contents. But the manufacturers collected their wartime profits on them — and they will do it all over again the next time.


There were lots of brilliant ideas for profit making during the war.


hope and money handOne very versatile patriot sold Uncle Sam twelve dozen 48-inch wrenches. Oh, they were very nice wrenches. The only trouble was that there was only one nut ever made that was large enough for these wrenches. That is the one that holds the turbines at Niagara Falls. Well, after Uncle Sam had bought them and the manufacturer had pocketed the profit, the wrenches were put on freight cars and shunted all around the United States in an effort to find a use for them. When the Armistice was signed it was indeed a sad blow to the wrench manufacturer. He was just about to make some nuts to fit the wrenches. Then he planned to sell these, too, to your Uncle Sam.


Still another had the brilliant idea that colonels shouldn’t ride in automobiles, nor should they even ride on horseback. One has probably seen a picture of Andy Jackson riding in a buckboard. Well, some 6,000 buckboards were sold to Uncle Sam for the use of colonels! Not one of them was used. But the buckboard manufacturer got his war profit.


The shipbuilders felt they should come in on some of it, too. They built a lot of ships that made a lot of profit. More than $3,000,000,000 worth. Some of the ships were all right. But $635,000,000 worth of them were made of wood and wouldn’t float! The seams opened up — and they sank.

We paid for them, though.

And somebody pocketed the profits.


thinking Dont-Believe-Think

That’s it.

My first post on World War 1.

Originally called “the war to end all wars.”

It didn’t.

And it wasn’t.

Historical perspective is always worth thinking about.

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Written by Bruce