Beginning February 21 to December 1916 the Battle of Verdun can be considered one of the largest battles fought during WWI between France and Germany with a total combined death count of 698,000 on both sides (Horne, 1994).
Based on the account of Alistair Horne in his book “The Price of Glory” this paper will elaborate and examine some of the more interesting facets of the war involving pride, nationalism and the de-humanization of combatants brought about by the combination of such factors.
Going even further into human aspect of the war elaborated on by Horne, this paper will examine the reasons that drove both combatants to fight over what was basically a useless piece of land and how the end result was nothing more than a war of costly attrition with a pyrrhic victory at the end.
Pride and Verdun
When examining the account of Horne regarding the Battle of Verdun it becomes obvious that the entire context of the battle itself was one of pride between two contenders that entered into what can be roughly described as a “pissing contest” between two countries.
For example, if you were to observe the greater context of the First World War it becomes immediately obvious that there was very little to be gained from Germany attacking Verdun while at the same time France had little to lose from merely allowing Germany to take Verdun.
The area wasn’t situated in what can be described as a strategically viable position in terms of allowing Germany to push further into France nor would holding the area allow the French army to cut off any German supply routes or allow the Germans to access any viable resources from the region since Verdun itself held little, if any, “war potential” in terms of munitions factories or stockpiled resources.
Based on the account of Horne it can be seen that Verdun was a matter of pride between the actors wherein it became a symbol of French resistance against German incursions while at the same time it was a way of showing Germany’s resolve in winning the war.
Going even further back to understand that factors that lead to irrational exuberance that permeated this desire to go to war over what can be described as a worthless piece of land, one would come across a variety of historical snippets (as indicated by Horne) which show that the land itself was heavily contested between the French and Germans even before the start of WWI.
This in itself is quite interesting especially when overlaying the “nationalism” that was used as a factor to drive the inexorable war machine forward it can be seen that when nationalism meets pride minor disagreements can often erupt into major conflicts resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
Despite the overwhelming loss of life on both sides over something that had nothing to do with actually winning the war it can be seen from the account of Horne that extreme nationalism urged both sides to keep on fighting with German Field Marshall Von Falkenhayn famously saying that they would “bleed the French white”.
What is interesting about this particular account of the war is that when taking it and overlaying it in the greater context of wars within human society it can be seen that a lot of them were a direct result of pride and nationalism taking precedence over common sense and practicality.
Even in the modern day era with the current “war on terror” it can be seen that a large percentage of radical Islamic militants turn towards terrorism due to feelings related to nationalism and the desire to protect their “traditional” way of life.
Nationalism and Inhuman Treatment
Continuing the in the same vein of though regarding nationalism, pride and how these fueled the battle of Verdun it is quite interesting to note that it was also during this particular battle that the first recorded instance of poison gas was utilized.
This is an important factor to take into consideration since when you combine its usage with the various de-humanizing aspects related to the battle itself it becomes all to obvious that nationalism and pride taken to its zenith enables countries to not think of the ethical and moral considerations of war (as explained by Horne when he elaborated on the various human factors behind and during the battle of Verdun) and as a result dehumanizes the enemy enabling the most atrocious of actions to become acceptable all for the sake of winning.
This is particularly enlightening especially when taking into consideration the inherently hypocritical “noble and “just” reasoning elaborated on by state leaders and generals at time regarding the “justness” of their cause in the face of thousands of deaths.
Such a method of justifying atrocities has actually been endemic in countries such as France and Germany in the past wherein the Crusades (various attempts at retaking the Christian Holy Land from Muslim hands which resulted in millions of deaths on both sides) were fueled by religious fervor.
In the present religion has been replaced by nationalism however it is no less effective in justifying the deaths of thousands all for the sake of a “just” cause.
The last and but not the least most interesting aspect of the account of Horne was that in the end both sides gained nothing from the battle of Verdun and for the French it was nothing more than a pyrrhic victory while for the Germans they actually accomplished what they set out to do and that was to “bleed the French white” (however in terms of an overall military victory the French actually “won” at Verdun since the Germans were unable to either capture the city of Verdun nor were they able to inflict greater causalities to the French).
First and foremost what you have to understand is that despite the sheer amount of deaths on both sides by end of the Battle on December 1916 both sides were quite literally at the same fronts they were in when the battle started in the first place.
Thus, from a certain perspective, it can be surmised that the entire battle was useless from start to finish since neither side actually were able to advance, both suffered costly causalities that hampered their war potential and in the end the battle itself was fought for reasons that are both incredibly selfish and can even be described as incredibly stupid given the amount of people died for them.
Based on the account of Horne and the opinions presented in this paper it can be stated that the entire battle of Verdun was a complete was of human life and shows how nationalism and pride can lead to actions that can basically be described as insanely stupid.
Horne, A. (1994). The price of glory: Verdun 1916.