Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Opinion (Adam Hochschild): Lessons from the trenches of history

If we needed more evidence that those surrounding President George W. Bush have a tin ear for the lessons of history, it came ten days ago when National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley referred to increasing the number of American troops in Iraq as "the big push" that would bring victory closer.

"The Big Push" is a phrase that came into the language with another troop surge that was supposed to bring another war to victory. For months beforehand, the Big Push was how British cabinet ministers, propagandists, generals, and foot soldiers talked about the 1916 Battle of the Somme. (It is even the title of a later book on the subject.)

The First World War had been in a deadly stalemate for the better part of two years. A string of horrific battles had revealed the huge toll of trench warfare: Defenders could partially protect themselves by building deeper trenches, concrete pillboxes, and reinforced dugouts far underground. But when you went "over the top" of the trench to attack, you were disastrously vulnerable -- out in the open, exposed to deadly, sweeping machine-gun fire as you clambered slowly across barbed wire and bypassed water-filled artillery-shell craters.

So, what did the Allies do? They attacked. At the time, in numbers of men involved, it was history's largest battle. The plan was to break open the German defense line, send the cavalry gloriously charging through the gap, and turn the tide of the war. The result was a catastrophe.

Read the rest at Middle East Online