The Somme Began 100 Years Ago Today

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.

[A British Tommy rescuing his mate during the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916. ]

 

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.

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “The Somme Began 100 Years Ago Today

  1. All great points. The most surprising thing I found in reading the Bible, is how human nature hasn’t changed at all. The people in the Bible suffered from the EXACT same issues we deal with today – Questions of faith, peer pressure, greed, guilt, lust…You name it. Yes, our technology is light years ahead of where it was even a decade ago, but people haven’t changed at all. In fact, I think you could make an argument that we’ve actually declined.

    • Yes. Exactly. The human heart is the same as it always was. This is why, by the way, that great literature from centuries ago is still valuable–it explores the implications of the human heart, and what wisdom looks like.

      I’ve been reading 1 & 2 Kings recently, and sometimes I read that stuff and think: Why did the Israelites keeping going after Baal? How hard could it be to be faithful? And then I thought, Wait–we do the exact same thing. We want to be like everyone else.

  2. OK, so hear is my take. If we look at the glass as half or almost entirely empty, the we are going to you know where in a handbasket. Life if full of suffering, bad people, unavoidable conflicts. So maybe we are inherently evil – some even bad to the core.

    But God said, on the sixth day, when he created humankind, “it is very, very good” (or something like that). Not just “it is good” as he did on every other day and with regard to all His other creations. OK, so there was the fall and maybe that is the beginning of the very very good times.

    But you are right, we have God (if we want Him). I love the apostle Paul’s letters. He really stated the problem in Romans 7:15 — I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t. I do what I don’t want to—what I hate (i.e., why do I keep coming back to the Somme). But he also gave us the answer in Romans 5:1-5 where he said — So now, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith in his promises, we can have real peace with him because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. For because of our faith, he has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has had in mind for us to be.

    We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”

    • Yes, God created the world good. That’s what gives me hope today, when the world is certainly not good.

  3. I hate to get political here but that is exactly what is wrong with the “Progressives” they believe in Progress just the way you describe. Human beings can be made better by education or indoctrination, if people are instructed in the right things to do they will do them. A perfect example of this notion is a couple of years ago when Russia invaded Ukraine and John Kerry said something to the effect “that’s nineteenth century behavior, we don’t do stuff like that anymore.” We know that the only thing that can make human beings better is for God to change our hearts.

    • Yes: exactly. Now, it’s important to make a distinction between various “progressive” policy positions on things like healthcare, education, etc., which may be wise or foolish positions, depending–and a Progressive worldview. Public policy is a matter of wisdom and prudence, and committed Christians can certainly disagree on the wisdom or prudence of this or that policy solution. But, the Progressive worldview–that we can improve ourselves and solve our greatest problems on our own–is incompatible with Christian teaching. Your assessment of the Progressive worldview–“if people are instructed in the right things to do they will do them”–is not compatible with Christian teaching, because it leaves out the inescapable effects of sin.

      Our problem is not a lack of education–though I’m all for education–our problem is sin. If all it took to fix our world was better education, then the world would be relatively easy to fix. Note that it was not the so-called undeveloped countries that participated in The Great War, but the most sophisticated, cultured, and enlightened nations on earth, particularly Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.

      Note that it was not backwards, illiterate peasants in Mongolia who created the death chambers at Auschwitz, but the German people–heirs of one of the great intellectual traditions in the world.

      I like your last sentence: “We know that the only thing that can make human beings better is for God to change our hearts.” Amen and amen.