Two Old Codgers

How the World strikes us

Let us assume for a moment that you are a normal, rational, clear thinking human being. They (whoever ‘they' may be), persuaded you that a group of people, normal, rational, clear thinking human beings, are your enemy. Apart from speaking a different language and possibly having a slightly different life style to you, they have, up until now, appeared fairly ordinary.

Because they seem to have control of your life, you now find yourself in another Country alongside people, normal, rational, clear thinking human beings who they say are your allies. You really don’t have much idea where you are but the officers they have chosen to command you say you are near Ypres in France and that you are going to capture a small village called Paschendaele.

The infantry attack began on 31 July. Constant shelling had churned the clay soil and smashed the drainage systems. Within a few days, the heaviest rain for 30 years had turned the soil into a quagmire, producing thick mud that clogged up rifles and immobilised tanks. It eventually became so deep that men and horses drowned in it.

The trench you are in is almost knee deep in mud and the landscape in front of you is a mess of shell holes, water and mud. You are cold, wet, bitten by lice, hungry and frightened. At a given signal, your officer orders you to climb out of the trench and advance into a hail of rifle and machine gun fire as well shells from German field guns. You have two options, go with the thousands of your fellow soldiers and face the enemy or try to run away or cower in the trench and face the very real possibility that one of your officers will shoot you.

Sheep like, you follow the herd. Over the next few weeks, the British suffered almost 300,000 casualties. 90,000 bodies were never identified and 42,000 were never recovered from the mud and water. Fortunately, you were one of the survivors. A bullet in your leg early in the offensive meant you were sent home and you escaped a worse fate.

What is it in human beings that makes us obey orders that they dish out, even it means we will probably die. In WW 2 Russian soldiers when short of weapons were persuaded to link arms and march towards the enemy. Young English men climbed into aircraft and flew over Germany to drop bombs on men, women and children.

Those young men suffered an extremely high casualty rate: 55,573 killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew (a 44.4 percent death rate), a further 8,403 were wounded in action and 9,838 became prisoners of war. That is a total casualty rate of over 50 percent.

Those young soldiers in WW 1 and the airmen in WW 2 almost certainly had no animosity to the individuals they were trying to kill. Sadly they persuaded us that the only good German was a dead German. The people they had designated as our enemy probably believed the same about us. The descendants of those same Germans are now our friends and allies.

Think about they for a moment. How often do you hear or say “Why have they done that” or “Why don’t they do something about that”. We probably think it is the government, a committee, board of directors or some other official body.

What it probably comes down to is some charismatic individual who can sway the group to their way of thinking.

The really big decisions, which have such an effect on our life and death, probably come down to one person, be it the Chairman, Director, an Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, a Winston Churchill or the leader of the group.

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