MEMORY OF FRENCH VETERANS SLANDERED.
Something keeps drawing me back to this most evil and sinister battlefield on Earth, a mere 18X10 km, where during ten hellish months of 1916, 1.4 million French and German soldiers were killed or gravely wounded.
Each year, it is my custom to greet spring in France's exquisite countryside, exploring battlefields and forts of the two, world wars.
But this, my sixth journey to Verdun, holds particular personal meaning.
Decades of travel, covering many wars, reading the history of man's folly have made me a cosmopolitan who detests borders and earnestly believes mankind's worst evils are nationalism and religious fanaticism. Still, there are four countries I hold particularly dear and towards which I feel respectful (as opposed to hormonal) patriotism, and loyalty - Canada, France, Switzerland and the US (in alphabetical, not emotional order)
Quixotic as it may sound, while at Verdun, as a US Army veteran, I apologized to France's fallen soldiers for the slander and disgraceful lie hurled at their memory by American know-nothings and pro-Israel neo-con pundits who poured venom on the French for not agreeing with President Bush's Imperial war of oil against Iraq.
Insults such as 'defeat monkeys', 'surrender specialists', 'never won a war', always saved by Americans' in war like an accordion, useless and noisy', cowards' wre hurled at France by American commentators. The internet overflowed with anti-French jokes and lists of French military defeats.
I invite all those flag-waving, fire breathing, American couch patriots who called French cowards to visit Verdun. Ther air here still stinks of death, and only deformed, stunted bushes grow on its poisoned soil. I the towering grey stone ossuary repose bone pieces of 135,00 men.
In 1916, the Germans sought to win a decisive battle on the strategic heeights above Verdun, where they planned to bleed Frances army to death with their massed artillery. On the first day of the battle alone, French positions were innudated with one million shells. The titanic bombardment went on for ten months; explosives against human flesh. Trenches and dug outs were pulverized- entire French regiments destroyed in a few hours.
The French commander. Gen. Nivelle, ordered his 2nd Army defending Verdun: "no retreat, not even an inch: Die where you stand" And so they did.
On June 4-5, the Germans poured 100,000 poison gas shells- chlorine, phosgene, and cyanide- onto only 4km of French held front, then launched divisional assults against the position. French soldiers had no gas masks. Thousands died in hideous agony, or were blinded. Yet they held.
Shells churned the battlefield into a ginantic quagmire of mud, rotting corpses, body parts, dead horses, overhung by a toxic miasma of chlorine and mustard gas.
Troops went days without food; drank from shell craters filled with bodies, and often drowned in them.
German flamethrowers inflicted frightful casualties. Shells rained down round the clock. Every tiny elevation, every fort, became a little Thermopylae.
At the height of the German attack on Fort Vaux, over 2000 heavy shells an hour, some 405 mm 1000 kg monsters were exploding on its roof and glacis. When we today talk about combat stress, think of the heroic garrison of Vaux, burned, gassed, poisoned by toxic smoke, dying of thirst, fearing they would be buried alive at any moment, yet fighting on. The French suffered 100,000 casualties trying to retake another fort, Douaumont.
Three quarters of the French Army, an entire generation of France's men, passed through the inferno of Verdun. Units stayed in line until they had lost 60% casualties. Every town and village in France bears a war memorial with names of its sons fallen at Verdun.
The heights above the Meuse river became France's Calvary; "They shall not pass" the army's and the nation's credo.
The attacking Germans fought, as always, like lions, losing 400,000 dead. The almost broke through, but were finally held at the last line of French defences, at a fearsome sacrifice.
French soldiers fought with their legendary fury and elan: Over 430,000 died at Verdun; 800,000 gassed or crippled for life.
Bones are still unearthed here today, 87 years later and Paris metros only recently ended reserved seating for 'mutilies de guerre'. After the war there were not enough young Frenchmen to farm the fields or produce children.
In the end, the French held Verdun. In this battle, alone, France lost 1,5 times the total US losses in all of WWII, and 20% of its nearly two million dead from 1914-1918.
To the northwest of here there is Sedan. In May, 1940, the German XIX Panzer Corps negotiated the dense Arddennes Forest and fought across the Meuse, dividing, then shattering the French Army. Italy attacked in the South.
The French did not simply surrender, as some Americans say.
Their army fought valiantly, but was overwhelmed and torn apart by Germany's high tech military machine, just as Iraq's outdated forces were recently obliterated by high-tech US forces.
The French government wanted to fight on from Brittany, but there were no army divisions left intact.
France lost 210,000 dead in 1940 fighting Germany and Italy; America lost 292,000 men during the entire war. (end of column)
I wonder how these French heroes feel about having their memories desecrated by ex-servicemen on this board?
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
between the crosses, row on row,
that mark our place; and in the sky
the larks, still bravely singing, fly
scarce heard amid the guns below.
To you from falling hands we throw
the torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
we shall not sleep, though poppies grow
in Flanders fields.
John McCrae, Canadian soldier, 1915
In my opinion, certain army vets on this board have broken faith with their dead comrades by pissing on their graves. You know who you are.