If men armed with rifles and bayonets cannot open a gap in defensive lines,
perhaps it can be done by simply obliterating the enemy in his trenches by
means of massive shelling by the artillery. This is the unsubtle idea behind the
infamous “attrition battles” fought in 1916 and associated with the names of
generals such as von Falkenhayn, Pétain, and Haig. The Germans called these
battles Materialschlachten, an allusion to the huge amounts of materiel, or war
equipment, that were involved. However, an unprecedented amount of “human
material” was also used — and pulverized — in those titanic battles of 1916,
and in France and Britain as well as in Germany their names — Verdun and the
Somme — continue to conjure up the horrors of the Great War . . .
Jacques R. Pauwels
JACQUES R. PAUWELS has taught European history at the University of Toronto, York University and the University of Waterloo. He is the author of several books on twentieth-century history, including The Myth of the Good War, in which he provides a revisionist look at the role of the United States and other Allied countries in the Second World War. An independent scholar, Pauwels holds PhDs in history and political science. He lives in Brantford, Ontario.