Language and the “war machine”

2 Aug

A very interesting post today at Oxford’s WWI Centenary Blog from Christopher Phillips on the subject of how industrial/commercial language is employed in the rhetoric surrounding the work conducted by the British general staff.  The red tabs organized an unending series of logistical miracles throughout the course of the war, and Phillips’ engagement with a popular 1917 pamphlet on this subject insists upon some realities well worth remembering:

The First World War on the Western Front was an industrial conflict. The armies that fought it required men, munitions and materials on a scale hitherto unimagined. Without food, men cannot fight. Without ammunition, guns cannot fire. As an illustrative example, in the first two weeks of September 1917, during the Third Battle of Ypres, the British fired 4,283,550 rounds of ammunition. All of which had to be produced, transported and delivered to the right place at the right time. Popular images of the war, transfixed by the horrors of trench warfare, have succeeded in almost completely eradicating this vast organizational challenge from the historiography. Marcosson’s contemporary account, however, does not diminish the importance of this challenge, but instead marvels at the scale of the operation required simply to feed the voracious appetite of the Western Front.

Do read the whole thing, as it’s not obstructively long.  Everyone writing at this venue is turning out amazingly interesting work, and this latest piece is no exception.

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