Sharpe, Matthew: Battle of the Somme and the death of martial glory

Sharpe, Matthew

Friday Essay: The Battle of the Somme and the death of martial glory‘, The Conversation, 1 July 2016

Commemorating the death today 100 years ago of over 19 000 British soldiers in a stupid venture. The generals learnt lessons, too late for the men who had been slaughtered.

After what occurred in places like the Somme, ideals like King and country, liberty, equality, nobility, progress, perhaps even God, seemed empty to many. As the old empires collapsed, the much-touted civilised superiority of the white races was profoundly compromised for all but the most conservative, and “imperialism” become a dirty word.

Much of the article looks at the philosophical and intellectual impact of the Somme. For example:

Psychoanalysis itself was irrevocably transformed by the Great War. It was WWI’s horrors that led Freud to upend much of his previous thinking, now postulating a “death drive” that fatally attracts human beings to destruction, recalcitrant to all rational self-interest.

The philosophical implications of death from a distance are also mentioned as well as the nature of courage and definitions of masculinity.

Two television series relevant to the issues raised here are the venerable The Great War from 1964 (episode 1 of 26) and the 1997 series The Great War and the Shaping of the Twentieth Century (episode 1).

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