They Shall Not Grow Old

Peter Jackson’s poignant WWI documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” to commemorate the centennial of the end of the first World War. The acclaimed documentary is an extraordinary look at the soldiers and events of the Great War, using film footage captured at the time, now presented as the world has never seen.

by John Leake

On our recent trip to Australia, I discovered that our host, Clive Palmer, shares my horrified fascination with World War I. One morning we watched “They Shall Not Grow Old”—a stunning documentary film, using Imperial War Museum archival footage never before seen by the public, about life and death in the trenches during the Great War. As I watched the film, I frequently asked myself the question: How could the Great Powers of Europe have even contemplated, much less carried out, such abuse of their young men?

For four years, millions of young men were sent to muddy trenches with no sanitation facilities and no place to sleep, where they were constantly barraged with artillery and machine gun fire and poison gas attacks. All around them, for hundreds of meters, the earth was blasted into a lunar landscape strewn with the corpses of thousands of men and horses, which drew into the trenches millions of rats.

What really jumped out at me as I watched “They Shall Not Grow Old” was the extraordinary ineptitude of the war planners. ALL of the technological advances that were supposed to give one side the edge ended up backfiring and getting millions more killed without providing any strategic advantage. Trenches became fixed targets for artillery fire. “Offenses” consisted of lines of men walking across a barren expanse of open ground, carrying bolt action rifles, directly into machine gun fire. The sheer, bloody-minded stupidity of it boggles the mind.

NONE of the meticulous plans and expectations for the war’s swift conclusion came to pass. Instead of being home by Christmas of 1914, the soldiers ended up grinding out a war of attrition till November of 1918. Each one of the millions of young men was a tiny unit in a gigantic war machine that didn’t function as its inventors had planned.

The lesson is clear. Whenever the State and its military-industrial-biopharmaceutical friends make big promises to the citizenry, the citizenry should be skeptical. Most of the people who work for the State have little competence beyond routine administrative work. The industrialists who create new technologies rarely if ever foresee the consequences of their technologies being deployed in wide-scale practice. When our officials tell us that we MUST participate in their latest grand scheme, we should tell them. No thanks. We don’t believe the State and its lobbyist friends are our Benevolent Father, and we will manage without your “help.”