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What was life like for soldiers in World War 1?

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βˆ™ 2011-02-27 20:07:10

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As Bad As It Gets
  • Mechanization and technology brought forth horrible and deadly new weapons such as submarines, tanks, machine guns, poison gas, very powerful bombs and projectiles, long-range artillery (Big Bertha, i.e.) and airplanes. Tanks were tightly cramped for space, submarines were not at all perfected and were very dangerous duty as were planes. In short, the art of killing was raised to a new level of efficiency by the introduction of these new weapons.
  • Infantrymen used bolt-action rifles with dreaded bayonets fixed on the end of the barrel, pistols and hand grenades. Some light machine guns were also used by the infantry. Uniforms were woolen and the soldier's only protection was a helmet that was more ornamental than protective.
  • The cavalry with its dashingly magnificent horses and riders, colorful uniforms and beautifully crafted swords was essentially useless. Despite the heavy mechanization, a great percentage of war goods were moved by horse, mules etcetera on mostly unpaved roads, so the steeds of the cavalry were reduced to draught horses and beasts-of-burden.

Shell-shock, also known as battle fatigue or combat fatigue and other war related psychological trauma ruined brave souls for life just as badly as the mutilation from wounds and injuries.

  • The use of trench warfare stalemated the opponents to survive the deadly 1,2,3 combination of war-disease-pestilence by their own rather limited devices. There were no antibiotics or medical techniques to properly deal with the types of casualty WW 1 produced in addition to The Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. The Spanish flu actually killed more people (50 million) than weapons did and it was not confined to the battlefields of Europe but affected the entire world with 400 million people infected.

There are several good books and movies about the life of soldiers in World War I.

  • Erich Maria Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front" provides a German viewpoint and is one of the best anti-war books and movies of all time. Lewis Milestone's original version won the 1930 Best Picture Oscar. The redux in 1979 features Richard("John Boy" Walton)Thomas as the youthful German protagonist, Paul Baumer. The "sub story" about the fine pair of boots that were worn in succession by soldier after soldier and the film's poignant ending when Paul is killed by a single whistling bullet as he reaches for a butterfly, are quite unforgettable. The film holds the #217 spot in IMDb's Top 250 Films of All Time, as voted by its members. Not too shabby for a black and white movie that is 75 years old.
  • Humphrey Cobb's "Paths of Glory" is told from a French perspective and is interpreted on film in 1957 by Stanley Kubrick. In particular, it emphasizes the murderous effect of modern machine gun versus the mind set of Generals still using logic and tactics of the past that should have been revised after the experiences of The Crimean War with its infamous "Charge of The Light Brigade" and the US Civil War. In essence,if an order to advance was given by a General and not successfully carried out by the soldiers in the trenches, the fault was with the soldiers rather than the General. No matter that anyone who attempted to follow the order was mowed down within a few yards of the trenches-the men were deemed cowards. No matter that a soldier was wounded while attempting to carry out the order-he was a coward. Kirk Douglas starred as the protagonist and considers the movie as one of his best efforts. Another black and white movie, it is ranked #39 in IMDb's Top 250 Films of All Time, as voted by its members.

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