One hundred years ago today marked the onset of what was then known only as “The Great War.” As Philip Jenkins’ new book The Great and Holy War shows, however, perhaps we ought still to dignify it with that awful title. Although WWII looms vastly larger in our cultural consciousness, this is due partly to its greater proximity in time, and to the much greater role that America played in the hostilities. Yet most people would be surprised to learn that the bloodiest battle in US military history remains the Battle of Meuse-Argonne, which took place over the final 47 days of WWI, in which 26,277 perished. And the toll suffered by US troops is immeasurably dwarfed by that of the European nations. Jenkins puts things in perspective for us:
“The full horror of the war was obvious in its opening weeks. . . . On one single day, August 22, the French lost twenty-seven thousand men killed in battles in the Ardennes and at Charleroi, in what became known as the Battle of the Frontiers. . . . To put these casualty figures in context, the French suffered more fatalities on that one sultry day than U.S. forces lost in the two 1945 battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa combined, although these later engagements were spread over a period of four months. One single August day cost half as many lives as the United States lost in the whole Vietnam War.
During August and September 1914, four hundred thousand French soldiers perished, and already by year’s end, the war had in all claimed two million lives on both sides. The former chapel of the elite French military academy of Saint-Cyr systematically listed its dead for various wars, but for 1914 it offered only one brief entry: ‘The Class of 1914”—all of it.” (pp. 29-31)Read More