Historically, the first World War was a conflict spawning a monumental paradigm shift of evolution from the traditional way warfare was formerly executed. Therefore, with respect to this historical pedigree, I’ll reflect on the enlightened words of renowned general and author of The Art of War, Sun Tzu, “He who knows these things, and in fighting puts his knowledge into practice, will win his battles. He who knows them not, nor practices them, will surely be defeated.” By virtue of this wisdom, when regarding the first World War, trench warfare was a horrifying highlight. Where if one wants to avoid an inevitable demise in combat, then an unprecedented approach is necessary.
Before the first World War, machine guns handled by warfighters in a large-scale conventional war had never substantially occurred due to the early stage of military machinery. Thus, seeing the mass casualties piled up hordes of bloody carnage, flipped the socially accepted viewpoint of war. Consequently, shifting the romanticized viewpoint of battle-ready men toward the true reality of war. As a result, combat gravitated towards a more disorderly and uncivilized approach.
To historically immortalize the horrific battlefield scenery, renowned German writer & novelist Erich Maria Remarque once wrote in his international best-seller All Quiet on the Western Front, “I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.” With respect to such historical events and, therefore, as of consequence, the gruesome battlespace conditions caused an arbitrary atmosphere that introduced a new tactical doctrine: maneuver warfare.
According to retired United States Marine Core Major General Michael Myatt, “Maneuver warfare is not centralized decision making and decentralized execution. It is centralized vision and decentralized decision making.” But during the first World War, soldiers on the frontline exploited enemy weaknesses to distort or kill opposing forces, as well as capture enemy assets and critical locations.
To adapt to the changing situation, an evolution away from the traditional combat structure needed to occur. But rather than have this approach be a matter of just ideal forms, this presupposed an evolutionary methodology solidified into practice. From a combative sense, maneuver warfare could, in some instances, utilize more psychological means than physical means.
Moreover, siege warfare translated into trench warfare, which was cramped, uncomfortable, and dangerously unsanitary in its environment. In other words, through trench warfare, siege spawned many unforeseen dangers thrust upon both sides. However, many of these engagements were left in a slow, yet painful, stalemate that would only be breached by a mass wave battle charge of attacking self-sacrificing forces. Where, by inevitable consequence, it led to substantial casualties and typically suicide.
Historically, for those in the highest chain of command, this carnage of war was a necessity worth paying to achieve ultimate victory. On the other hand, lower enlisted ranks would have disagreed, since they would be fighting and sacrificing their lives on the front line, not their superiors. Nevertheless, it’s open to one’s anecdotal interpretation, but according to statesman & former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, “Battles are won by slaughter and maneuver. The greater the general, the more he contributes in maneuver, the less he demands in slaughter.” In the grand scheme of things, the overall paradigm shift during the first world war altered how battle plans were executed into fruition, consequently exposing warfare’s barbaric and dark twisted nature.
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