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11-08-2015, 16:30


Both the Battle of the Somme and the Nivelle offensive (the Battle of the Chemin des Dames) illustrate the deadly dilemma of the western front. Each can represent a score of similar, if less costly and less well-known encounters, in which troops were thrown in hopeless attacks against powerful defenses manned by a determined enemy. But in a war marked by futile offensives, these two tragic encounters have come to symbolize the pain and loss of the entire war for two nations. The Battle of the Somme is the portion 6f the war's carnage that has held the British imagination most tightly during the course of the entire century. For decades after July 1 , 1916, for example, the Times of London published poignant memorial messages, placed each year on the anniversary of the battle by the loved ones of individuals who fell that awful morning. For Frenchmen, the Battle of the "Chemin des Dames remained an unbearably painful memory for decades. The futility and horror of the Nivelle offensive were captured vividly in the 1 957 American film Paths of Glory, which the French government did not permit—perhaps could not permit—to be shown to its own people four decades after the tragedy. The gripping battle scenes picture only French soldiers dying. The audience never sees the implacable and well-entrenched enemy shooting them down. In such ways is the war remembered by generations fortunate enough not to have fought in it. War had indeed become modem, terribly so, with faceless machines destroying all before them. In that way, these battles became a metaphor not only for modem war but for the bmtality and inhumanity of impersonal bureaucratic society, where, in the acid words of Georges Clemenceau, it is the privilege of great men only to stand on the terrace to observe the slaughter below.