Why the 1916 Somme Slaughter?

Deal W. Hudson
January 20, 2018

I’m reading Hugh Sebag-Montefiore’s magisterial Somme: Into the Breach (Viking, 2016) where he attempts to explain why Great Britain suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 fatalities, on the first day of the battle, July 1, 1916.

It’s a story of monumental pride, chaotic disorganization, delusional self-confidence, disingenuous calls to duty, and broken promises to the soldiers who were ordered to run hundreds of yards over open ground in the face of German machine guns sweeping the field back and forth.

They had been promised a massive bombardment of German trenches which was never carried out. This promise was reiterated by their officers, yelling “OK, lads,” as the men started the attack. Without hesitation, they lifted their heads above the trenches into space where machine gun fire was mowing men down like wheat.

What stuns me most, however, are the officers who continued to send their men out of the trenches directly into the fire having already witnessed the inevitable result — human carnage.

To his credit, Sebag-Montefiore successfully sorts out all the dynamics set in motion, well before the battle, that colluded in literally wasting thousands and thousands of lives and permanently disfiguring many thousands of others. The bulk of the narrative is told from the letters, diaries, and journals of the combatants and their families.

What the author does not attempt to explain, because it is unexplainable, is the toleration of the slaughter lasting not only to the end of the Somme battle in November but also to the end of WWI itself, November 11, 1918. But Sebag-Montefiore allows his narrative to break off into a kind of silence where both he and the reader are both shaking their heads in disbelief.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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