Tuesday, November 11, 2008
To End All Wars
History is a slaughterbench. - G. W. F. Hegel
In the late spring of 1918, the German General Max Ludendorff struck the last of his three massive hammerblows against the Allied lines in France. His first two had failed, in the end, to achieve the massive breakthrough he had hoped. After the separate peace the fledgling Soviet Union, about one million German troops were freed up, and everyone on both sides knew the massive offensive was coming. The German nation was starving, due to the British blockade, and while the Allied forces has been bled white the year before (especially the French, who actually mutinied; had the Germans realized that the French had abandoned their trenches, they would have walked to Paris and ended the war in a few days), the Allies resolve had stiffened not only because of their massive losses, but because of the arrival of the Americans.. At this point, with the failures of the first two offensives - despite obliterating the British lines across a miles-wide front in an artillery barrage that would not be equaled until the North Koreans started shelling across the 53rd parallel in 1950 - the best they were hoping for was forcing a negotiated settlement with the troops in their current positions (most of Belgium being left in German hands).
The last blow was even less effective than the first two, partly because, at the hinge of the British and French lines, the Americans were feeding more and more troops on to the lines. Unseasoned, prone to making mistakes (they had managed to wander in to a trap set by the Germans in the Belleau Wood, and the results were horrific), the sheer weight of American numbers was beginning to be felt. As this last desperate gamble by Ludendorff faded, and with Allied refusal to consider a negotiated settlement stiffening even as more and more American troops came forward, their last chance was to retreat in order. The plans were drawn up, and the Germans managed to set all sorts of traps for the unsuspecting Americans and British forces. Their trench-lines had been prepared, and the Germans retreated quickly, sometimes giving up miles of territory even as they moved to better positions, leaving the Allies more exposed.
Among those American units that took advantage of the quick German advance to the rear was Company M of the 30th Infantry, AEF. Finding the redoubts empty, they continued to move forward. Unfortunately, they moved faster than their artillery spotters could keep up. American shells continued to rain down on what had been, until the previous day, German forward positions. Mostly high explosive concussion and shrapnel, the shells knew no loyalty, killing and maiming those they were supposed to be supporting. A young corporal from Company M, Everett Shores, was too close to high explosive concussion shell. While his skin was relatively untouched by fragments, the shock wave and heat acted like a microwave, beating through his body, cooking his internal organs. He fell dead in the mud, along with many of his fellow Americans, another casualty of friendly fire.
Everett Shores was the only brother of my paternal grandmother. On this Veteran's Day, we should never forget the sacrifices of those so long ago. Lost too often in discussions of grand events are the various ways these grand events become deeply personal. The only way to ensure that Corporal Shores, and the hundreds of thousands like him who have died in the wars of this nation, is remembered properly is to work to keep war from happening. We owe it to his memory, to the memories of all those whose deaths have purchased our freedom, a freedom soaked in their blood, their dying voices echoing in our ears, shouting out, "No more!"