I was reminded by one of my European readers that it was just 100 years ago this month that the Battle of the Somme began. The battle took place between July 1 and November 18, 1916 on the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. It was the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front; more than one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.
As politicians and princes met last week in northern France to commemorate the battle (on the heels of Britain’s vote to exit the European Union), I could not help but reflect what a different place Europe is today—yet still it is dominated by centuries of conditioning by historical experience. I honestly don’t know if Brexit is a good thing or not. As one comedian has said, the British public has voted along lines of age and class against “Sense and Sensibility” in favor of “Pride and Prejudice.” But what difference will it make? It seems to me the rich will keep getting richer and all the rest of us will have to keep settling for less. Corporations and “the market” will still dominate immigration and industrial automation policies which will favor lower wages.
People with black or brown skin will always be needed to perform tasks which white people “don’t want to do,” so immigration to Europe and the US will likely continue undiminished. How different this is from the recent past!
I recently received this remembrance photo, likely from the Battle of the Somme (or some other 1916 engagement on the West Flanders front), and was reminded of how cheaply all life was regarded not so long ago. Roughly half the young men listed as casualties of the Somme were German (British Commonwealth: 419,654, of which 95,675 were killed or missing; French: 204,253, of which 50,756 were killed or missing; German: 465,000, of which 164,055 were killed or missing), yet I did not see any German representation at the recent observances—only the former Allies. So much for European unity.
I was originally attracted to this photo because the frame reminded me of Mexican “santos,” of which I have several examples.
It was only after it arrived that I realized it was 100 years old this year and that the soldier pictured came from Ludwigsburg, which is not far from the homeland of my ancestors. I have no illusions that a century ago I, too, would have been regarded as mere cannon-fodder, even though I am white.
This is at least one advantage that current immigration policy offers: as long as we let immigrants do the heavy lifting, wealthy whites will never have to fight and die for the follies of their privileged leaders.
100° and Clear to Partly Cloudy