Friday, January 17, 2014

War: What is it good for?

World War I lived up to its name, sad to say.  There was fighting in a lot of places, not all of them famous.  When we think of WWI, the image is of soldiers fighting in France and coming back to sing "Mademoiselle from Armentieres" and "It's A Long Way to Tipperary" and similar songs.

In 1915, before America even got involved "over there," Italy decided to declare war on Austria, then ruled by the Hapsburg Empire, in order to seize land in the Alps for themselves. Invading Italian troops, known as alpinis, were surprised to find the Austrian soldiers - the  Kaiserschützen - were more than up to the task of fighting in the icy, snowy mountain peaks.  They devised all sorts of logistical devices to get their men and their supplies in place along the disputed territory and they defended their land quite avidly.

750,000 Italian soldiers died in this horror known as "The White War" (it took place in the snow), not all of them at the hands of the enemy there, north of Trieste and in the snows of the Dolomite mountain range.  We use the word "decimate" to mean mass destruction, but the actual literal meaning is "to reduce by a tenth."  The Italian General, Luigi Cadorna, did as his predecessors in the Roman Empire had done.  When troops deserted or otherwise rebelled, he had 10 out of every 100 of them executed.   

Remains of two
Austrian soldiers.
Here in America we naturally focus on our own participation, and tragic losses, in the first World War.  But in Peio, Italy, glaciers that covered over the fallen soldiers of that conflict are only now eroding, leaving behind the frozen-for-all-time bodies of the lost fighters from both sides.   In this fascinating article online,  you can read about how the dead men are honored, decades after their lives were lost because other men decided to fight over some land.

We haven't come very far since then.  

But while you're surfing around, you might also enjoy reading this article about "Otzi the Iceman," a 5300-year-old mummified man found near the same part of the world in 1991. From examining Otzi's body and personal effects, scientists can tell you what he did all day and even what he ate.  

Now I have to worry about being suddenly mummified myself and some scientist in the year 7314 finding my remote, my Leatherman tools and my wallet with the buy-11-bagels-get-12th-free punchcard in it.

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