May

29

 "If those newspaper correspondents who take so much pains to vilify men who are engaged in fighting the battles would shoulder a musket and go into the field themselves I think they would do more to advance the cause, than in pitching in undiscriminately as they do." - W.R. Rowley, Head Quarters Army in the Field Near Pittsburg, Tenn. April 19th 1862.

It is truly wishful thinking to believe that newsies will ever "advance the cause". It is simply not in the nature of the beast. The news of war is almost invariably wrong because it comes from one of two sources: (1) those far away from the battle and (2) those who ran. Rowley himself knew this. In the same letter he writes,"(M)ost of our troops behaved well but some of the raw regiments broke and run and among them their officers. (Hence) (t)hese stories you hear emanate. (I)t is necessary that they should have some excuse for their cowardice and the best way to direct public attention from themselves is to direct it in some other course."

In less than a decade it will be the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. It is unlikely that the battle will be seen as anything other than dreadful, wasteful, and horribly sad. What is certain is that no one will celebrate the battle for being, like Shiloh, the beginning of the defeat of a brave but wrongful enemy. Both the Imperial German and British troops who did the fighting thought that the battle was the turning point of the war: that, for the first time since the end of the Battle of the Marne, the Germans had lost.

When the commemorative speeches are made in 2016 the verdict of the soldiers themselves will once again be irrelevant. Everyone except for the people who were there will know that the battle was a completely unmitigated disaster just as the news accounts and the histories written from them have always said. That will be, as it always is, the ultimate insult from the survivors. Those who did not fight will get to teach and preach the lessons of war.


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