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Monday, January 19, 2015

Remember the horror of World War One- even while world is consumed with 21st century terrorism

World War One was an absolutely horrific period in world history. Millions of people were killed in this European war that most historians say was really the beginning of World War Two.  

In other words, many historians believe World War One never really ended with the November 11, 1918 armistice.  

Rather, the German surrender was more or less a cease fire, because the end of World War One fueled the anger that permitted Adolf Hitler to rise to power.

My husband's 19 year old uncle Napoleon Morin from Biddeford, Maine was among those killed in World War One, at the Battle of Chateau-Thierry.  This particularly beautiful area of rural France still holds the relics of World War One on walking paths in the sacred countryside.  Richard Rubin describes his experience visiting these 100 year old battle fields in an article in The New York Times, and a synopsis of his article in the January 23, 2015 The Week.

The First World War seems like distant history except in places like the forests of northeastern France, said Richard Rubin in The New York Times
Memorial to Quentin Roosevelt, son of President Teddy Roosevelt, a victim of World War One, memorial in Chamery France

"Hike around these woods and you quickly come to understand that this was a war unlike any other, when it came to murderous ingenuity." When the fighting began,in the summer of 1914, German troops moved quickly into the strategically important Argonne Forest and the lowland west of it, and they riddled the land with "some of the more formidable defenses ever created by man."

The French built trenches, too, primitive by comparison. The logs bolstering the walls "have since rotted to splinters." The German defense remain "something else entirely."

Walking amid the Germans' strongholds, "you can't help but wonder: How did they lose?" In Bois Brule, the "burnt woods" scorched by the fighting, the trenches are built of concrete and equipped with sophisticated drainage systems. You come across snipers galleries and machine-gun shelters, and you start to understand how 15 million to 20 million men could have died fighting in the four year conflict.

But how the Germans lost is really no mystery: Locals all credit the 500,000 American soilders who stormed the German line in 1918, then pushed into the Argonne.

The Argonne, where the fighting continued, is "a place of great natural beauty," crisscrossed with popular walking trails.

But the 47 day Muese-Argonne offensive remains the deadliest battle in American history, and "its terrible magnitude is apparent everywhere." Besides memorials both large and small, the ground of the forest is still littered with bullets, uniform buttons and many, many bottles. Trying to find a particular monument in Chaumontdevant-Damvillers, I became lost and had to ask for help outside a village tavern. A women in her 70s, kindly offered to lead the way, through several turns and along an overgrown farm road that ended at a spot with "a view as lovely as any in France." Nearby, stood "an unassuming marker, a stone just a few feet high."

It commemorates, Pvt. Henry Nicholas Gunther of Baltimore - the last man killed in the Great War. (Julie's note: Baltimore is where I was born, didn't know about this sad connection.)

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