Somme Valley Meditations
The Somme—Tens of thousands of visitors have flocked to the Somme Valley over the nine decades that have elapsed since the last cannon was fired on the Western Front after the armistice following World War i. Their mission has been one of remembrance—lest the world forget the massive sacrifice made by so many for so little gained. That war was billed as “the war to end all wars.” Yet all it really achieved was a 20-year “peace” that enabled preparations to be made for an even bigger and more slaughterous affair that ended with the use of man’s most fearful weapon, the nuclear bomb.
The Somme was the focus of some of the most intense battles of World War i. Even today, the numbers of lives lost on this most murderous of battlefields, the Somme, are staggering. On one day alone, July 1, 1916, 58,000 men fell, including almost 20,000 killed.
Of all the British dominions that contributed to the British Imperial Forces in the Great War, it was my home country, Australia, that provided one of the largest military contributions: 331,000 volunteers out of a population of only 4.8 million at the time. Australia suffered more than 58,000 casualties, including 16,000 dead.
We are staying in the village of Peronne, where an Australian flag flies, flanked on the right by the French tricolor and on the left by the British Union Jack. Peronne was overtaken by the Kaiser’s forces early in the war, finally to be recaptured by the Second Division of the Australian Imperial Force toward war’s end in September 1918. To this day the flag of the Aussie Second Division is kept inside Peronne’s town hall in remembrance of that event.
Pausing for a moment at a British war cemetery in Peronne, one of many such cemeteries scattered throughout the World War i battlefields in France, we counted about a thousand graves, neatly maintained on the village outskirts. That’s the equivalent of well over an entire battalion of men. What a waste. Yet that was only a small part of the great loss to the British Empire of the best of its imperial manhood at the time. Listed as having been interred here at this cemetery in Peronne were men from British regiments, others hailing from Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
What made our visit to the Somme even more poignant to me personally was the realization that somewhere out there lay the remains of one Australian private, Oscar Hart, killed in action—a great-uncle of mine.
To any keen analyst of European affairs, it is impossible to visit the Somme and meditate on the horror of the Great War without tracking forward to think more deeply about the current scenario of the dominance of the nation of Germany, risen to power once again, asserting itself militarily on the continent of Europe. It would be foolish to assume that such dominance may not tempt Germany one more time to reassert itself with military aggression. The signs are there already of this being more than just a prospect. It is now becoming a distinct possibility, and Germany is being encouraged in that drive by the very allies that defeated it in two great global wars.
As the saying goes, if the blind lead the blind, they will both fall into the ditch. Utopianists have been ever blind. Blinded to the reality of human nature, convinced as they are that human beings are essentially good at heart. They aren’t. As Jeremiah the prophet so truly declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
In the very nature of things since man’s rebellion at Eden, war has been the natural outcome of conflict between human beings. It’s also in the very nature of things that certain proclivities writ deep in the character of nations have a habit of coming to the fore given certain stimuli. The German peoples have traditionally reacted to the combination of resurgent national power and the onset of crisis in a traditional manner. War has always been the outcome. The long and bloody history of the German-dominated Holy Roman Empire attests to this.
German economic, financial and political power is once again resurgent to a point of dominance in historically strife-torn Europe, where, with crisis in the air, Germany is again calling the tune. This time it’s the euro crisis Germany is using to assert its dominance on the Continent. At the same time, public recognition of Germany’s involvement in combat in foreign theaters of war is back in the headlines.
Following 65 years of deliberate playing down of German military potential, German elites are now going out of their way to promote a positive public image of the Bundeswehr.
It all started with the appointment of Baron Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg as head of the German Ministry of Defense in October 2009. In the year that has followed, Guttenberg has done more to develop positive public relations for Germany’s military forces than has been done in all the decades following World War ii. Much of this has been achieved by his striding ahead of accepted government policy and even of the wishes of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. For instance, it took Guttenberg only eight months to turn his chancellor’s mind around 180 degrees, from refusal to support his initiative to end military conscription in Germany back in May to submitting to it and leading her whole government unanimously to support it. Thus, military conscription will end in Germany on July 1, 2011.
This is no mean achievement. For it brings to an end one of the key underpinnings of German postwar policy, that of preventing the growth of a professional military force in Germany for deployment in external theaters of warfare. For obvious reasons, this was seen by both the Allies that defeated Germany for the second time in 30 years in two great wars, and by German elites intent on playing down any hint of a repetition of German aggression in the future, as wise policy. But times change, and with them, so do attitudes.
In our politically correct, non-judgmental Western culture, we dare not think that a Germany so obviously repentant of its past national sins and so obviously democratized would ever deign to become an aggressive, imperialist military power again.
Well, think again.
Shunned in public dialogue since the war, the word “war” is again being injected into public dialogue. Even Germany’s Chancellor Merkel has cast aside her mask and finally used the term.
Having now visited the Afghanistan war zone on eight separate occasions in his first year as Germany’s defense minister, Guttenberg recently outshone all comers, including his chancellor, by becoming the first defense minister in Germany to take his wife into a combat zone. It was by no mere coincidence that inside of a week of that public relations coup, Chancellor Merkel was the next woman to accompany Guttenberg to the war zone. Nor was it coincidence that the chancellor would wrest that word “war” out of her mouth at the time.
Under the banner headline, “Merkel Says Germany at War in Afghanistan,” Agence France-Presse reported Merkel as stating to the troops: “What we have here is not just a warlike situation. You are involved in combat as in war. … This is a new experience. We have heard such things from our parents talking of World War ii, but that was different because Germany was the aggressor” (December 18).
Well, today, being right on the scene of mass carnage in the Somme Valley brought on by Germany when it was indeed the aggressor almost a century ago, it is most poignant reading of these words confirming that Germany is once again embroiled in war outside its own national borders. The question is, where will it end this time?
Read our book Nahum: An End-Time Prophecy for Germany and find out for yourself. That booklet gives a startling exposé of the end result of Germany’s present-day combat activities. It’s bound to startle you, yet at the same time it gives the reader a boundless hope in a future of boundless peace and happiness.
Tomorrow we shall report from the very scene where German troops have recently stationed themselves for the first time since the close of World War i on France’s eastern border at Alsace Lorraine.