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12:07 p.m. - October 31, 2006
History - No Wait - Keep Reading!
Please, donít run in fear from this essay! I am going to talk about History, but no, itís not icky and boring. Trust me!

Iím a pacifist. I donít believe that war solves anything. Yet, Iím fascinated by battles and wars of the past, especially when they result in political intrigue and changing borders.

Iím also fascinated by the Popes and the Kings of Europe, and how, on a whim, they could force countrymen to battle and lay down their lives for a piece of dirt, or a woman, or just because they were insulted.

Not only is it intriguing, but itís important and vital that we understand these past times, because even though we have a lot more whiz-bang gizmos, human nature hasnít changed a lot. We want what we want, when we want it.

A channel that is a semi-recent addition to DirecTV is the Military Channel. And they are showing a fascinating documentary on World War I. Thatís the war that Iím most interested in, mainly because it shows how foolish war is Ė how it can start over nothing but posturing and assumptions and how it can end badly for all involved, even the alleged victors.

This documentary is quite impressive. It laid out the entire history of World War One in its many parts. Hereís a site about it.

As you may or may not know, the war started all because of some Serbian anarchists were determined to make a statement and free Bosnia and Croatia from control of the Austrian / Hungary Empire and form a pan-Slavic state, much like how Yugoslavia was formed after World War I.

So they assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria / Hungary. Ironically, Franz Ferdinand was in favor of giving a little more say in government to the various nationalities contained inside the Austrian / Hungary Empire.

Needless to say, the assassination pissed off the Austrians, and well, they declared war on Serbia. Through a series of assumptions, posturing, threats and other such nonsense, Russia, Germany, France, Italy, and ultimately Britain all got involved in the war. All of the blood and mayhem started over a small, unstable Baltic country (though Serbia has proven to still be a thorn in the side of Europe, as you know).

The irony, of course, is that many of the leaders of these countries were related to each other. The Kaiser and the Czar were cousins, and yet they went into battle against each other.

The war was bloody, ghastly, and impossible to fathom. Huge sections of France were carved up into trenches, where each side dug in, and when they decided to charge out of the trenches they were brutally attacked by the other side in the trench.

France defended its country with great honor, with a lot of help from Britain and ultimately the United States.

The Eastern Front was comical, almost, as Russia and Austria were bunglers for the most part. Some of the bloodiest action took place in the south, where Italy fought Austria in the high mountains. It seems insane to stage armed combat up over 10,000 feet in elevation, but they did, and the barbed wire is still extant in some places.

The Brits tried to take control of the Ottoman Empire, and planned an attack on the shores of Gallipoli. That was a disaster, but finally the British prevailed in Mesopotamia and protected their interests in that area. Unfortunately, they promised Palestine to both the Jews and the Arabs (anything to win the war) and set up borders of Ďstatesí that were contrary to the natural living areas of certain people (such as the Kurds), and ignored the basic differences between sects of Islam.

Thanks Britain!

The Germans had hoped to take the British colonies in Africa, but were repelled. The sad thing is that each side appropriated their colonists and conscripted them to fight. So African troops were brought to the trenches of Europe, to fight in a war they didnít declare for a nation that was exploiting them for resources and people.

The Japanese even got in the act, attacking the Germans in their stronghold of Tsingtao, China, and taking over their islands in the Pacific. This gave Japan a stronghold that they used in preparation for their dreams of a vast empire.

It goes through the familiar and the unfamiliar. It spends a lot of time on letters home from common soldiers and officers. It talks about the political heat that was on various governments. It captures the unrest in certain cities as well Ė especially in Germany and in Russia.

It shows the innovations of battle in the first tanks and the use of airplanes. It also shows the lowlights of the innovation Ė chemical weapons and flamethrowers.

It also highlights the massive carnage in this war, in somewhat graphic detail at times. The siege of Verdun is given a large chunk of a segment. That siege would make a smashing move Ė get me Hanks, quick.

The Somme is also given a big treatment, highlighting the staggering number of casualties. Thatís what people forget Ė how almost an entire generation of European men was lost because of World War I.

Whatís most impressive about this documentary is not the information that is revealed, but the archival footage they discovered.

Think about that Ė motion pictures werenít that old in the middle of the 1910ís, and the equipment was clunky and not very user friendly. But there it is - footage of the actual war itself, preserved for all time on newsreels and films.

The footage is fascinating, illuminating, and at times gory and grotesque. Most all of it was shot with a particular agenda Ė highlighting the good guys and showing them firing shells and acting all heroic Ė and then showing the carnage that they inflicted on the other side in an effort to pump up the people at home.

This documentary has given me a great understanding of this war, and the ramifications of it. Those still linger to this day. And itís for that very reason that one should understand history and its importance in our times. History isnít just a boring recitation of dates and times and locations Ė itís alive and well.

So go click on the HitlerHistory Channel, or find other documentaries about the world of the past, and get lost for an hour or two. Go read some overviews of history and find out what interests you. I can tell you, reading about the Popes makes for some smashing entertainment Ė full of political intrigue, sex, violence, gambling, and excommunication!

 

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