A strange interview with a professor, a WWI soldier, and a man from the Great Depression.
|I had just gone downstairs and made a delicious teriyaki chicken sandwich. Then ran back up to my room with my delicious meal in hand. I immediately sat at my desk, set my sandwich on the ground, and got my laptop out. I turned it on and then spun around to grab my delicious sandwich. Much to my dismay, my roommate's filthy little toad had gotten out of his tank, and had decided to eat some of my chicken! I was so angry that I picked that little booger up and tossed him in the hall. He was fine of course, and just hopped back to my roommate's room. I really did not want to make another sandwich and I was extremely hungry. So I just took off the parts that he ate, and ate the rest of the sandwich anyway.
This was a mistake. I had forgotten that the frog secretes poison from its skin. Now normally eating after a poisonous toad like this would do nothing, but when a certain anti-anxiety medication is thrown into the mix, things change (Wikipedia 4). Example : tyramine is a chemical found in wine and cheese that can cause tachycardia, which can lead to a heart attack. Normally tyramine is not harmful to the average cheese-eater because it is unable to cross the blood-brain-barrier by itself. When a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (anti-anxiety medicine) is taken, the tyramine is assisted across the blood-brain-barrier and causes harm to the heart (Wikipedia 5). My anti-anxiety medicine apparently has the same assisting effect with a psychoactive component in the frog's poison .
As soon as I picked up my laptop, I immediately remembered the frog was poisonous! So I went on Google to check to see if I should go to the hospital. I found a bunch of sites that told me I would be fine, unless I had taken an MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) recently. I was on some anti-anxiety medicine, but I was nearly positive that it was not the kind that is an MAOI. So I went back to my laptop and set on typing my paper. Just as I placed my keys on the keyboard, my Civ teacher Dr. _________, a WWI soldier, and a guy that looked like he was from the 1920's walked through my wall and sat on my bed. I was about to scream like a little girl, but then I remembered why my doctor told me to stay away from cheese. My medicine was in fact an MAOI.
After realizing that I had been poisoned, I wrote my introduction quickly about what had happened so that it would offer an explanation of how I am going to interview Dr. _________, a WWI soldier, and a man from the 1920's. These three characters have not said a word the entire time I typed my introduction; they just sat and smiled at me. The WWI soldier is wearing a metal helmet, a dark green uniform, and twirling a bayonet. The 1920's man has suspenders, a tie, and a fedora atop his head. Dr. _________ seems to have forgotten than I am writing a WWI paper, because he is wearing a a suit of armor.
Me : “Dr. _________, I am in Civ 2... why are you dressed like you are going to a medieval battle?”
Dr. _________ (in a French accent) : “Bonjour! I am le French, would you like some cheese and some of zis wine?”
A slight pause, and an uncomfortable silence.
Dr. _________: “Ok, ok I forgot that this paper is over WWI. But if you are going to make fun, Calbraith, Adrian, and I are going to help someone else!”
Me: “No , I was going to say it is an awesome suit ! So can I interview you guys about World War I and the Great Depression?”
All three in unison: “Hell yes!”
Me: “Ok then, this question is for the WWI soldier : Why were so many people unprepared for the outbreak of war in 1914? “
Adrian: “The name's Adrian, 'ol chap. Well, let me think about this one...People were very surprised at the speed in which everything got out of hand. The Serbians, Russians, and Austria- Hungary were all basically fighting over territory in the Balkans. In June of 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were assassinated by Serbian terrorists. Austria- Hungary was pissed and wanted justice! They had a feeling that it was not just rogue terrorists, but also the Serbian government. So the Austrians typed of a list of demands which included an investigation into the assassination of Franz Ferdinand (FirstWorldWar.com). The Serbians had Russia to back them up, so they basically threw the demands back into Austria-Hungary's face. This causes Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia. Russia declares war on Austria. Germany declares war on Russia, France, and Belgium. Once Germany attacks Belgium, Britain declares war on Germany. Within about a week's time there is a seven-way war going on. After this starts, there is no going back. More allies get involved on each side, and pretty soon it is known as a World War. The treaties in Europe caused countries to jump to the aid of each side very quickly. The swiftness of the escalation of war made caught many people off- guard (FirstWorldWar.com).”
Me : “That sounds like a pretty good to me. Let me ask you another question: Why did so many people expect a short war in 1914? And why wasn't it short?”
Adrian : “Well... Each side underestimated the other, and thus assumed the war was was going to be 'over by Christmas'. This was all fine and dandy until the Germans had a plan to counter an attack by Russia and France, called the Schlieffen plan (1914-1918.net). The Germans put the plan into action, and it failed horribly. While retreating, they decided to hold some ground and dig trenches. This was the beginning of trench warfare and the reason why the war lasted so long. The opposing sides were at a stalemate (FirstWorldWar.com).”
Me : “Thank you very much Adrian, I'll come back to you in a minute. I would like to ask Dr. _________ my next question: Why was there so much initial enthusiasm for the war?”
Dr. _________ : “I really should just make you look this up. Although I am already here, so I may as well just help you! Why was there so much enthusiasm for the war? Well people during that time idolized the war. They thought of it as: quickly punish the enemy, take over their capital, and then come home for a parade. Each side had very high hopes for themselves, especially when strategic government propaganda was published to increase public approval. The people wanted to do anything they could to help make this war happen, and to make it end quickly. But like Adrian said, a stalemate occurred and everyone's hope for a short war went down the drain.(FirstWorldWar.com)”
Me : “Next question for Adrian, Describe the training needed by soldiers to fight this new style warfare”
Adrian : “Ahh. Finally a question that I can definitely help you with! To tell you the truth, at the start of trench warfare , all of the leaders in the military fought like they had in previous wars. Attacking is the only way to win, and if you think you are going to win, you will. Many also prepared for war as they would in Napoleon times, with a horse calvary. They were largely in for a surprise! Over 50,000 British soldiers died on the first day at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 (Ellis p. 94). Can you just imagine an entire city's population being gone in one day? The new deadly firepower available in World War I was not the same as the inaccurate guns available during previous wars, and apparently our military leader's did not know this.
Needless to say, much training had to be done to prepare soldiers for this new type of fighting. A soldier's training all began with just typical drills, physical fitness, gunning practice, etc. One big addition to basic training after trench warfare began was gas defense. After the initial training, one could be specialized into several different areas: common infantry, machine gunners, artillery operators, pilots, etc. (Ellis p. 83-90).
A common infantry soldier was trained to use a shotgun, rifle, bayonet, and most importantly a hand grenade/mortar. I say the had grenade is the most important because it was the most effective weapon for the common infantry man. A bullet is going to do nothing when it strikes a solid wall of dirt. Although if you can get a grenade into the enemy trench, consider them history (Ellis p. 24-28). Even more effective than a grenade is the mortar. A mortar is basically a grenade is dropped into a cylindrical tube, it hits the bottom of the tube and then is expelled out the other end by a small explosion . The mortar then flies up to 1500 yards and explodes upon contact.
Machine gun specialists were at first not needed by the British; the machine gun was 'over rated' so they said. Well they were wrong! After suffering huge losses due to the German machine guns, the British began training more and more of their soldiers on it (1914-1918.net). It can pin down an enemy from a vast distance, it is hard to move, and can kill hundreds of men in minutes. This sounds like the perfect defensive weapon to me, which was the basic strategy during World War I. Though the machine gun was a top weapon, the dominators of the gun area were the artillery weapons. Artillery was basically just a huge gun that fired gas or some sort of explosive. Combined with an infantry attack, this combo was deadly to the enemy (Ellis p. 89-101).
Aerial reconnaissance and the training of pilots was so very vital to the winning of battles in World War I. The pilots were trained to fly high enough to avoid most enemy artillery, yet low enough to gather information about the enemy's trenches. With the information from reconnaissance missions, the British artillery men could more accurately take out parts of the enemy's base. This information would also expose any advances made by the enemy, so that it could be countered by our soldiers (1914-1918.net).
Piss on some cloth and hold it over your breathing holes. This is what the early crude gas masks consisted of; the ammonia in the urine neutralized chlorine gas (Ellis p. 65-69). If it was tear gas, you were better off to just to stay put and stick it out through the gas. Moving caused you to breathe in more tear gas and thus make it much worse on yourself (1914-1918.net). Once mustard gas became available for use, the ol' cloth and urine trick did not work. Men would die horrible, agonizing deaths from this nasty stuff. So better masks with respirators were created, and we were trained to put them on in a flash. Countless gas drills over and over, each time your time gets better and better. They had to basically make it instinct to put your mask on when you got the signal to do it. This is because in a real gas situation some people panic. Even if they can normally put the gas protection on, in a real situation they freeze up and die (Ellis p. 66-67).”
Me : “That was a pretty thorough response! Next question: Describe life in the front line trenches, touching particular on the subject of how men fighting the war survived the horrors of the trenches.”
Adrian : “Well I will assume you have read the book Eye-Deep in Hell by John Ellis. Dr. _________ told me that you were supposed to have read it for this paper. In case you read it a long time ago and have forgotten about it, I will touch on a few points covered by the book. I'll also add a little of my own personal experience.
By far the hardest thing to adjust to in fighting in the front line is the noise. The deafening, constant boom of artillery fire. It shakes a deep inner human instinct to run away. You cannot. It is everywhere, all the time! It is almost as though the sound is a living, breathing entity. Rather than actually hear it , you feel it ripping apart your composure (Ellis p. 62-64).
I had never smelled anything so awful as when I had first arrived in my first trench. Rotting corpses, feces, mud, rotten vegetation, lime (for sanitation), and sweaty men. Even a few hundred feet away, the stench from the trench was horrendous! You could taste it in the air, feel it on your skin, and taste it in your food (Ellis p. 58-67). There were times that I pondered shooting myself just to escape the noise and that nasty smell. Covering your face did not help with the smell, and covering your ears did not help with the noise. The only thing the we could do was mentally withdraw ourselves from the situation. We were no longer men, but zombies. After a while you did not care too much if you lived or died. Surely hell is much better than that awful place.
Combine unsanitary conditions, cold weather, and being in water most of the day, you get trench foot (Ellis p. 48-51). Trench foot can happen in as little as 11 hours of being in the trenches with out any protection. First your feet go numb, then turn red or blue, and finally you get ulcers. The next stage after trench foot is gangrene (which is basically your foot dying), and then possibly amputation if it left untreated. We had to constantly battle trench foot; a soldier with no feet is not much use to the military. We had 'sock-changing buddies' whom were responsible for checking to make sure we changed our socks regularly (Ellis p. 48-51). 'Change socks five times a day to keep the medic away' as my fellow soldiers and I would say. We also applied tried to keep our feet water proof by applying whale grease to our feet. This actually made the situation worse as it turned out because the grease made our feet perspire more. So the only way to really battle the demon trench foot was to just change socks regularly and have foot inspections (Ellis p. 48-51).”
Me: “That sounds pretty intense! Yes I did read the book by the way, but I really like your personal account of the trenches. Dr. _________, would you mind answering my next question? "
Dr. _________ : “Sure, but I need a beer first.”
Me : “Sounds fair.”
I walk downstairs and open the refrigerator to grab Dr. _________ a beer. Nothing but cheap stuff. I have a feeling Dr. _________ is going to be a little upset when I appear back at my room with a Keystone in one hand and a Corona in the other. Oh well, I hope he will understand
Me : “I know you aren't going to like this, but... All I have is keystone and Corona.”
Dr. _________ grabs the keystone out of my hand and chucks it at my bed.
Dr. _________ : “You college kids and your crappy beer!”
Dr. _________ : “I'm just kidding! I'll just make some beer. Adrian, Calbraith, get off of the bed please.”
Right before my eyes, Dr. _________ turns my bed into a golden keg filled with the most satisfying and delicious beer in the world!
Me : “So why did you ask me to get you a beer, if you were going to make some anyway?”
Dr. _________ : “Why are you wasting time asking me irrelevant questions?”
Me : “ Touché! Ok, Was there opposition to the war and, if so, what forms did it take?”
Dr. _________ : “At the start of the war, there was little opposition.. People were optimistic and patriotic about it. As the war drug on and thousands of people began dying , the opposition increased dramatically. The most common form of opposing the war was applying to be a conscientious objector (FirstWorldWar.com). Those who applied said they refused to fight in the war due to moral or religious reasons. Thousands in Britain applied for this status, and got it. Though becoming a conscientious objector did not come without a price: discrimination from jobs, going to prison, and solitary confinement. In Britain 1916 there was a campaign called 'Stop the War' which caused some people to unite in their opposition to the war, but they still had relatively low numbers so nothing happened (FirstWorldWar.com).”
Me : “Very interesting... Now only two questions for Calbraith and then one more after that for Dr. _________. Calbraith, Once soldiers returned home in 1919-1920, what sort of problems did they face adjusting to civilian society?”
Calbraith : “Seeing men's legs get blown off and watching rats devour a comrade does something to a person. It tears what innocence you have out of you and crushes it into a million pieces. Many of my friends suffered from post-traumatic stress disorders, and either committed suicide or were sent to a hospital for a while. Those that did make it home ok and in semi-decent mental condition, came back with a new outlook on life. You only get one life, and should throughly enjoy every minute of it. This led to a lot of boozing and substance abuse (FirstWorldWar.com).
Also around the time the soldiers got home, Great Britain started going through an industrial decline. People began losing their jobs, and the entire country was in debt due to the cost of the war. This was a definite blow to the postwar soldiers such as myself. It was though going to hell and back was not enough, we also had to come back to a country that was on its way to falling apart (FirstWorldWar.com).”
Me : “And what new issues did you face in the 1930's?”
Calbraith : “Well the the country continued to get worse, and so did much of the rest of the world. The Great Depression was happening, everywhere. The unemployment rate jumped up to 2 million people and the need for British exports plummeted. Multiply that 2 million people by the number of people in an average family, add the number of people that have extremely low- income jobs, and you have a lot of poor people (Orwell p. 85). The country as a whole needed help and thus made some changes to help offset the world depression. One such measures was to decrease unemployment benefits, which created even more hardships for many World War I veterans. There were some organizations that attempted to help such families, like the National Unemployed Workers Movement. They would supply each family with 25-30 shillings per week to help with food costs (Orwell p. 83).
As well as job loss, housing shortages occurred in northern Great Britain. Houses would be condemned, but because people had no money to fix the house or enough to buy a new one, they had to stay in their condemned houses. Authorities were legally not able to kick someone out of a condemned house if they did not have another house to go to. So everyone latched onto their eroding shacks and no new houses were being built (Orwell p. 52-61).”
Me : “ Final question! Dr. _________, how do you think the war helped to usher in the 20th century?”
Dr. _________ : “The war did cause many problems, but it also gave everyone a reality check. The people began distrusting their political leaders because of the extreme losses and hardships suffered. They wanted better ways of life, and wished to get rid of the selfish monarchs. Republics were the new thing in Europe, kings were becoming a thing of the past. New technology also became available because the war sparked a rush to have the most advanced weapons. After the war was over, the new technologies became readily available to the public. Planes, trains, automobiles, and electronics were being distributed everywhere. At this point, the world was on its way to becoming the technological super-beast that it is today.”
Me : “ All right! Thanks for letting me interview you all, it really helped me out. I'm not sure how I would have set-up my paper had you not shown up.“
Dr. _________ :“And we're gone!”
Dr. _________ sprays me with the keg and flings Adrian's bayonet into my ceiling. I can barely keep my eyes open , an extreme sleepiness is enveloping me.
I have just woken up to the worried and disappointing feeling that I wasted all last night and did not work on my paper. So I got on my laptop, and what do I see? A nine page paper with a missing conclusion! I have no recollection of the previous night whatsoever. All I know is I am covered in beer, a bayonet is protruding from my ceiling, and someone (apparently me) wrote most of my Civ paper. Either way, it is up to me to end it.
Trench warfare and World War I were man-made catastrophes. Millions of people around the world lost their lives, and billions felt the repercussions. Many soldiers who experienced trench warfare, were unable to adjust back to normal civilian life. The atrocities they saw forever left scars embedded deep in their minds. Countries that existed before the war, disappeared. The countries that were still around had major debt issues, which eventually led to the Great Depression. Losing so many and leading to the Great Depression sounds horrible, but as Dr. _________ had said last night: “At this point, the world was on its way to becoming the technological super-beast that it is today.”