It is mighty, mighty, cold here in Chicago. I gave into curiosity and went for my traditional "snow walk" last night and today. I love the snow. I like a good blizzard. We ghetto nerds take any chance necessary to pretend we are on Hoth with Luke and Han.
I will spare you the obligatory "And I thought they smelled bad on the outside" joke.
Even by my winter loving standards, 40 below zero turned me around as I sought shelter. May the fates have mercy on animals, the homeless, and any other folks who do not have ready access to warmth.
I am about to eat a homemade bowl of Vietnamese Pho soup, watch Netflix, drink some beer, and get ready for work on Wednesday. As I watched the temperature plummet to dangerously low levels here in Chicago, I was reminded that everything hurts in extreme cold, basic movements are made difficult, and simple tasks made complex.
For my ghetto nerds and grognards, can you imagine fighting a war in such an environment?
In most other countries, 2014 will bring public discussions and memorials for the one hundred year anniversary of World War One. America is a world onto itself. Thus, we do not concern ourselves with World War One because World War Two is the only war in human history that really "mattered".
The cult of the Greatest Generation was born out of American triumphalism at the end of the Cold War. Its blinders remain. American Exceptionalism will ensure their long-term hold on the country's sense of geopolitics.
Nevertheless, the 100 year anniversary of World War One has generated some great discussions both online and in print.
Michael Moran, writing at the globalpost, puts World War One in the context of a centuries-long ethnic conflict.
Niall Ferguson made a similar observation in his book and documentary The War of the World.
World War One brought the end of several empires and the subsequent redrawing of maps. We saw the mess that such events wrought in both World War Two and the present Middle East.
Many Americans are obsessed by the Civil War. World War One is a similar fixation for the British.
There is a spirited conversation in the British press between Nigel Farage, Chris Newton, Michael Gove about the leadership ability and skill of British generals during World War One. This is very rich debate as it signals how World War One's echos, and present day efforts to make sense of the slaughter and seeming (early) incompetence of the Allied forces, are located along current ideological divides in British politics.
Based on my growing knowledge of World War One, there seems to be a good amount of revisionist scholarship which is challenging the conventional wisdom about the "human expensive" military tactics of the era on the Eastern and Western fronts.
One school of thought suggests that the British and the French were not as inept in their war fighting as popular memory would suggest. Their tactics and strategies were simply not prepared for industrial warfare and mass mobilization. The generals soon learned to innovate. Unfortunately, millions of deaths later, technology had still created too great a gap between what the military leadership wanted to accomplish and what was feasible.
Other scholars argue that there was a culture of death that possessed the collective psyches of the British and French military leadership class. "Paying the butcher's bill" was tied to a sense of honor and national pride. This created a callousness toward human loss that left millions dead at Ypres, the Somme, the Marne, and Gallipoli.
The award winning graphic novelist Joe Sacco captures the banality of those grand theory and meta-level discussions, written a century or so later, for the soldier on the ground in his new work The Great War. Graphic novels and comic books are much more than pictures with words. His depiction of the Battle of the Somme contains some of the most moving images about World War One that I have ever seen. Troubling. Sad.
Trying to stay warm in Chicago reminded me of the "war in snow and ice" which was fought in the Alps during World War One by elite Italian and Austrian troops. The Italian mountain forces, who are among the best in the world, still serve today. At 40 below zero, "the Alpini" would probably consider the cold here in Chicago, and the Midwest, more generally, akin to a warm summer day. But then again, they would probably have the good sense to hunker down and stay warm. You cannot fight Mother Nature and win. Or can you?
How are you all enjoying (or not) the cold and ice?