Killing Generals

Winning the War Against Falsehood

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, the largest battle of World War I on the Western Front. On its first day, July 1, 1916, the British Fourth Army suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 men killed. It was the worst single day in the history of the British army. By battle's end, on November 18, British, French, and German casualties surpassed 1.1 million, including about 310,000 killed or missing.

Many who have heard of the Battle of the Somme think the staggering casualty count the result of stupidity and a callous disregard for human life on the part of the generals. These commanders allegedly sent men out of their trenches into No Man's Land only to be slaughtered, and yet gave the same order over and over again, hoping for a different outcome each time.

If, throughout the battle, the British and French generals had just been beating their unimaginative heads against a German brick wall, thus forfeiting the lives of countless men, they would indeed warrant our scorn and derision. But the truth is more complicated.

In the fog of war, obtaining accurate information is critical, and the Somme was no exception. Whenever the generals discovered, for example, that the air reconnaissance reports were wrong, that stretches of barbed wire thought to have been cut were still intact, that enemy guns they thought destroyed by their artillery were still functioning, or that objectives reportedly captured were still in enemy hands, they usually adjusted their strategy and changed tactics.

But this was not easy to do, as the information they gathered was sometimes contradictory. Gradually, however, they met with more success. By November, the German army had been pushed back six miles; it retreated even farther in 1917 and signed an armistice to end the war the following year.

Shrapnel, Ammo & More

Good intelligence, obtained via surveillance and reconnaissance, was critical to achieving the final victory. Solid basic training was essential as well, as were adequate supplies of weapons and ammunition. Numerous other factors, including precise mapping of the terrain and enemy entrenchment, recognition of enemy camouflage and anticipation of his tactics, knowledge of battle logistics and accurate casualty reports, also contributed to success on the battlefield. Misinformation at times proved as deadly as shrapnel at the Somme.

You'll recognize some of Salvo's department names in the preceding paragraph. That's because Salvo sees its spiritual mission partly as ideological warfare. So it presents things its readers will need to fight well: accurate information on our opponents' tactics, warnings of danger zones, training in apologetics, reports of success, and examples of courage.

Yet sometimes the problem is not just a lack of accurate information. In the Battle of the Somme, the commanders had to be willing to acknowledge and learn from their costly errors in judgment. The lives of others depended on their ability to admit mistakes and change course accordingly.

This is, after all, what responsible people do. We have all read about individuals, both historical and fictional, who refused to admit their mistakes, persisted in denying the facts, and continued to do the same things despite repeated failures and harm done to others. We call such characters fatally flawed and warn our children not to be like them.

In the social and cultural battles affecting young people today, you would expect the same principle of responsible attention to facts and results to hold sway. But it doesn't. Many continue to disregard the tragic effects of the sexual revolution, for example, and double down on policies that harm young people. These people fit the caricature of the generals who cared nothing for the wellbeing and lives of their men. Such leaders repeatedly do others harm, but will not admit to error or change course.

Meanwhile, the casualties mount. Salvo opposes such generals—politicians, academics, activists, writers, and any others who promote moral chaos. We hope the information in this issue will help you oppose them, too. Fight on!

is the executive editor of Salvo and the  Director of Publications for the Fellowship of St. James.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #38, Fall 2016 Copyright © 2024 Salvo |


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