Friday, July 01, 2016

The Sum of All Parts: First Battle of the Somme, 1916-2016

I.
     The Sum of All Parts
You are interested in the arc of your life, your history
In how you are now, why you are here
Where you are going, how you came to this place
What to put on, what to take off
What to cover and what to bare
What to forget and how to bear witness
You are interested in history.

You are interested in family, in friends,
In those who came before you
And in those who will come after.

You are interested in what was, in what is, 
And in what is to come
You are interested in history
You are interested in history because
You are interested in life.

II. 
A hundred years ago today, July 1, 1916, there began in Northern France the First Battle of the Somme amidst what we often now call the First World War. Among the participating troops of the British Empire, and those of France and Germany, casualties came to some 94,000 -- in one day.  

From around the British Empire, some 19,240 men were killed on that day. For Americans, one might want to consider the bloodiest of American wars of the past fifty years, the US-Vietnam War. Fifty years ago, for the entire year of 1966, the US lost 6,350* killed in Vietnam, or about 18 men per day. In Iraq (2003-2010), the US lost 4,489 killed and in Afghanistan since 2001, the US has lost some 2,346 troops. Total casualties at the First Battle of the Somme amounted by its end to perhaps 1.3 million, or closer to the total of Vietnamese deaths (on both sides, North and South) suffered between 1964 and 1975. 

Think of the impact of each and all of these casualties, individually and collectively, still reverberating, everywhere on this earth. 

III. 
A touch of poetry: "Guerre" / "War" (1918) by Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), who before he died could see well into the future.

Rameau central de combat
    Contact par l’écoute
On tire dans la direction «des bruis entendus»
Les jeunes de la classe 1915
Et ces fils de fer électrisés
Ne pleurez donc pas sur les horreurs de la guerre
Avant elle nous n’avions que la surface
De la terre et des mers
Après elle nous aurons les abîmes
Le sous-sol et l’espace aviatique
Maîtres du timon
Après après
Nous prendrons toutes les joies
Des vainqueurs qui se délassent
Femmes Jeux Usines Commerce
Industrie Agriculture Métal
Feu Cristal Vitesse
Voix Regard Tact à part
Et ensemble dans le tact venu de loin
De plus loin encore
De l’Au-delà de cette terre


With great ambivalence and irony, perhaps. A snippet from Roger Shattuck's translation in Selected Writings of Guillaume Apollinaire. New York: New Directions, 1971, page 175:

Yet don't cry about these horrors of war
Before it we only had the surface
Of the earth and of the sea
After it we shall have the depths [i.e. with submarines]
The underground [deep bunkers] and free space overhead [aeroplanes, zeppelins, etc.]
Men at the tiller . . .

Voice Light Touch . . .
And together in the touch of distant things
Of the great distances
Beyond this earth even.

Today's Rune: Harvest. *A host of information about US casualties during the US-Vietnam War is here. 

2 comments:

the walking man said...

It would seem that most generals of all armies for more than 4000 years never quite grasped that open field combat with opposing forces shooting each other down, was not truly a definition of honor. Fucking idiots.

Charles Gramlich said...

that battle really brought home the horrors possible for modern warfare. How incredibly wasteful