Of Mud, Massacre and Madness

Thursday, 1 December 2022 — The van says…

The cold hard reality of living in the hell that trenches invariably are

Preamble

As well as watching happenings in Eastern Europe, the author frequently sees parallels between events of the past and those of today. A post on Intel Republic caused a pause for thought, this reflection comparing the misery suffered by the Ukrainians in the trenches today with the same scenario seen in France a little over a century ago. This article will examine the likenesses between the two conflicts and investigate what advances, if any, have been made over the last hundred years.

A Century ago, a World Away

Before drawing comparisons between the War to End All Wars and the current conflict, we must first establish what was going on all those years ago.

The Trenches

A century ago and a world away, yet conditions such as these are becoming familiar to an increasing number of Ukrainians

Whilst the use of terrain developed over the eons, using trenches as a form of defense was nothing new, and in the First World War, they came not only to be a strategic part of military planning, but the lynchpin around which huge operations hinged. Stretching for hundreds of miles if linked together, these excavations became the epitome for many of the First World War, those fortunate enough to return never forgetting the time they had spent in them. It was from here that the bloodiest conflict to date was waged, and a century later, the pain has not been forgotten.

Rotten Leadership and Tactics

The conditions in the trenches were as bad as the tactics employed by many of the officers who never even went near the trenches

Whilst the average infantryman lived a miserable existence surrounded by earthen walls, the same could not be said of the officers of the era. These had been trained whilst colonial empires were still in their heyday, and an élite of well-connected individuals had never prior to the war considered fighting a peer opponent. Not only did they have little idea how to plan operations in a conflict such as this, they were aloof to the men and were typically stationed at a safe distance from the frontline. In practice, this meant that tens of thousands were sent to their deaths by leaders who had no intention of putting themselves in any danger, the carnage of battle merely being a means to gain a few hundred years of territory from enemy forces.

Rotten Health and Foot Rot
As horrible as it might seem, foot rot is no worse that any number of ailments that befall soldiers living in trenches

If living up to your ears in filth whilst led by officers billeted in hotels was not depressing enough, the effect on soldiers’ health was also dreadful, shell shock and injuries made worse by the diseases that were prevalent in the damp dingy conditions found underground. In time, the trenches became infested with rats, these turning an already insalubrious environment into a nightmare.

Poor Bloody Infantry

It’s always the guys on the frontlines that suffer the worst

This was the moniker given to the average infantryman sat in a trench during the Great War of 1914-18, pictures of the era showing smiling faces (as was the custom at the time), yet the misery of the situation is palpable to this day. A hundred years ago however, the soldiers were very ill-informed of the battle plan, believing more in king and country rather than the realities which surrounded them. That was then. This is now.

The Ukrainians Today

A century after the Somme, yet it’s no different to the misery of a hundred years ago

The times have changed immeasurably since the Great War, yet many videos coming from the war in the Ukraine today show us the same miserable story. In the wet and cold of Northern Europe, trenches became home to millions of unwilling soldiers; cold, mud and disease were constant companions for nearly four years, and in spite of the century that has passed, we see the same picture again today.

Poor Blooded Ukrainians

This is no place for a soldier to be when he should be recovering

As the fortunes of Ukrainian servicemen have steadily gotten worse over recent months, with not only soldiers required to constantly dig new trenches as they retreat, but many are having to do so carrying the injuries they have sustained in combat. This has meant that the sick are not receiving the treatment they need, and are also living in conditions that do not allow them to recover. With every day, the situation for Kiev becomes worse, yet many of those who are still fighting for the Ukraine are also battling previous injuries.

Rotten Luck for Foot Soldiers

Foot rot and a rotten view

Although tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are living in the filth of the trenches, there is nothing to date which tells us that this is going to end any time soon. Poorly paid and treated even worse, Zelenskiy’s men are sent to the frontline with no hope of rotation, the chances of them ever returning alive to their homes and families dwindling by the day. The no man’s land of the Great War may be no more, but living under the land like this is no man’s wish.

More Rotten Leadership and Tactics

The war has now been in the headlines for nearly a year, the shipments of arms and other aid being advertised daily on every Western news site. In spite of the glut weapons now in-theater, it is the leadership that has meant that they have not had the effect that their donors intended. The officer corps of the Ukrainian army has undergone dramatic changes over the last eight years, both officers and their tactics much removed from those of a decade ago. After the Maidan coup, Western governments used their leverage in Kiev in order to mold the Ukraine’s military doctrine into that of the West as well as ensuring that only those who were judged politically suitable were considered for senior command roles. Just as in France at the time of the Big Push, it’s who you are rather than what you can do, this in turn meaning that the Ukrainian infantry can do even less than would be normally expected under the circumstances.

Cannon Fodder

Imagine this hellhole being the only option other than being shot

Rather than Russia being hammered by overwhelming firepower, the principal weapon of the Ukrainians has been its non-commissioned personnel, their officers throwing them towards the opposing forces with the same disregard as troops were sent to their deaths back on the Somme. The advances of 1916 were for the alleged glory of the British Empire, yet today Ukrainians are dying for a most inglorious Western empire that is in itself dying, they being used as nothing more than cannon fodder by their superiors.

Summary

The mistakes of a century ago are being repeated today, yet the current conflict is being managed with the full knowledge of hindsight. An overwhelmed army is being led by underwhelming leaders, the stench of death being as prevalent on the Ukrainian frontlines today as it was in the Somme during the First World War.

The misinformation of yesteryear is today supplanted by the disinformation of the modern era, senseless sufferings being supported by equally senseless support from Western peoples. Until the leaders in the West and the Ukraine wake up to the mud, the massacre and the madness of it all, just as a century ago, countless lives will be needlessly lost.

Again we see soldiers dying for an empire, yet with the passing of the current war, the very empires that engineered both this conflict and the Great War of 1914-18 will themselves start to die. We can only hope that the losses being suffered today will create a better world, and that the misery seen in Eastern Europe today shall not be in vain…

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