The Battle of the Somme began exactly 100 years ago today, July 1, 1916. By day’s end, the British Army alone would suffer over 57,000 casualties, and 20,000 of His Majesty’s young soldiers lay dead in the filthy mud. That obscenity is worth reflecting on today.
Progress is a Lie
We modern people are so arrogant. We believe that because we can split the atom and transplant the kidney that we are more advanced than the people who came before us. We believe in Progress. In fact, we worship it.
But Progress is a lie. The Somme is the result of Progress.
At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, all the right sort of people–cultured and cosmopolitan–knew that man was progressing toward a glorious future, and that scientific knowledge would enable us to obtain greater and greater mastery over the physical world. However, in their Promethean arrogance the smart set overlooked the stubborn fact that scientific knowledge might give us mastery over the physical world, but it does nothing to give us mastery over ourselves; splitting the atom and transplanting the kidney doesn’t make us wise.
Modernity Began at The Somme
The late literary critic (and decorated WWII combat veteran) Paul Fussell believed that modernity began on July 1, 1916. That first day of slaughter at the Somme was the beginning of a century of slaughter. Mass graves, pointless killing: that’s Progress, and that’s who we are.
The Somme, 100 Years Later
100 years later, we have the iPhone and the Global Positioning System and the defibrillator. Today, all the right sort of people know that humankind is progressing toward a glorious future, and that death and disease will find their end in Silicon Valley. The inconvenient history of the Somme, if we choose to acknowledge it at all, is just one more example of the pitiful ignorance of past generations. Unlike them, however, we have Progress, and Progress will make us perfect. Progress is our God.
So much for progress.