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Week 6 Discussion

Week 6 Discussion

This week we return back to the trenches of the Western Front to explore some of the war’s most memorable and deadly battles. As a result, many of these prompts ask you to think back to earlier readings from our class or to think more broadly about the 1916 period of fighting. 

  1. As Michael Howard asks in Chapter 5 of The First World War: A Very Short Introduction, what factors made it possible for the war to last so long? In other words, what made it possible for the countries involved in the war to endure the war of attrition that settled in by 1916?
  2. Think back to all of the firsthand accounts of the First World War we’ve read so far. Which one stands out to you the most? Why?
  3. Both Louis Barthas and Gabriel Chevallier present accounts of the First World War from a French soldier’s perspective. How are these accounts similar or different? What do you think can explain these differences, if there are any?
  4. What was it like to inhabit a trench during the Battle of Verdun?  Please consider the following passage:

“The trench we had just occupied was about halfway up the slope…  In reality this wasn’t much more than a miserable boyau dug in one night, by troops who were hanging on three and who, the next day, were pulverized by howitzers.”There, human flesh had been shredded, torn to bits.  At places where the earth was soaked with blood, swarms of flies swirled and eddied.  You couldn’t really see corpses, but you knew where they were, hidden in shell holes with a layer of dirt on top of them, from the wafting smells of rotten flesh.  There was all sorts of debris everywhere: broken rifles; gutted packs from which spilled out pages of tenderly written letters and other carefully guarded souvenirs from home, and which the wind scattered; crushed canteens, shredded musette bags—all labeled 125th Regiment.  I was easily able to replace the munitions, rations, and tools which I had cast off during the march up to the front.”The sight of this gloomy tableau suggested to us that the next day, once the Boches spotted our presence there, they would pound us into marmalade” (p. 193).

REQUIRED BOOKS: double check questions for which books to use!

Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of AugustMichael Howard, 

The First World WarGabriel Chevallier, 

Fear: A Novel of World War I

Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth

Cecil Lewis, Sagittarius Rising

Louis Barthas, Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker 1914-1918

Robert Graves, Good-bye to All That

Ernst Jünger, Storm of Steel