Patterico's Pontifications


The Great War One Hundred Years Ago Today

Filed under: General — JVW @ 2:58 pm

[guest post by JVW]

On July 15, 1918, the German First and Third Armies attacked the French Fourth Army just east of Reimes, beginning what came to be known as the Second Battle of the Marne. By this point the German forces had been ravaged by influenza, and despite having successfully advanced in Northern France from March until June of that year, the Kaiser’s troops were overworked, undernourished, and dispirited. The German commander, General Erich Ludendorff, had led the spring offensive hoping to penetrate the Allied lines on the Western Front, thus rallying his troops while simultaneously providing Germany with one last opportunity for an end-run to Paris.

File found at

File found at

The fighting commenced the day before with Germany firing 17,500 gas shells at the American 42nd Rainbow Division whose Chief of Staff was a 38-year-old newly-promoted brigadier general named Douglas MacArthur. The 42nd was about 20 miles west of Reims at Château-Thierry, so the attack appears to be intended to prevent the Americans from reinforcing the Fourth Army to the east. The gas would incapacitate over 1,000 American troops and blind dozens, though only six were killed. On that same day, Bastille Day, Second Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt, son of the former President, was shot down and killed piloting his Nieuport 28 ten miles east of the 42nd in Chamery (now known as Coulonges-Cohan).

The Germans also bombed the French lines at Souain-Perthes-lès-Hurlus, 10 miles east of Reims. The French, however, had advance warning of the assault thanks to intelligence from some prisoners of war, and left a skeleton crew in their front trenches as they fell back to the rear. Thus, the Germans basically wasted their heavy artillery to kill a very few troops left behind in the ruse. At the same time, the advance intelligence on the German movements gave the Americans and French the opportunity to shell the German lines as they assembled to attack, further disorienting the Hun. As the German First and Third passed through the abandoned trenches, they were quickly cut down by French troops who had dug new trenches a quarter-mile back from the German bombardment.

The next day, July 16, the Germans fired a half million shells against the French and American forces, dropping over 9000 tons of mustard gas, phosgene, and diphenylchlorarsine as the Kaiser himself watched from the First Army observation point 14 miles to the northeast. Despite the onslaught, the French heavy guns managed to destroy 20 German tanks (the tank being new to the war, appearing on the battlefield for the first time a year earlier) and French bombardiers along with American artillery successfully destroyed every bridge that the Germans had managed to build to cross the Marne River. German troops attempting to ford the river at its most shallow points were easily mowed down by waiting Yank machine gunners. Even the Italian troops (insert your favorite Italian war joke here) got in on the act, repelling a German offensive at Nanteuil-Pourcy. On July 18, the Allied armies under Marshal Ferdinand Foch launched their counter-attack, driving the Germans back four-and-one-half miles and capturing 20,000 prisoners in one day’s worth of fighting.

The events of July 15, 1918 would be recognized as the last significant German offensive of the Great War. The Second Battle of the Marne would officially last until August 6, at which point the Kaiser’s lines had been driven back 28 miles, several beyond the point where they had launched the spring offensive five months earlier. The American poet Joyce Kilmer would be killed in action on July 30 while accompanying Major William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan (who founded the Office of Strategic Services in the next war) to scout the position of German machine guns prior to an impending Allied attack. A little over three months later, the war mercifully concluded.

Note: Most of the above is taken from the late Sir Martin Gilbert’s excellent account, The First World War. I regret that I loaned my copy of the late John Keegan’s The First World War to my father, as I would have liked to consult it as well in writing this post. Both books are indispensable for an understanding of that momentous conflict.


Trump’s Advice to Theresa May on Brexit

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 5:21 am

If only she had listened! New York Times:

Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday revealed the advice President Trump had given her on how to negotiate Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union: Go straight to court.

Mrs. May was asked by the BBC about comments Mr. Trump made both in an interview in the British tabloid The Sun and later at a news conference on Friday at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence, northwest of London.

“He told me I should sue the E.U.,” Mrs. May said.


[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]

Sunday Music: Bach Cantata BWV 60 and More

Filed under: Bach Cantatas,General,Music — Patterico @ 12:01 am

It is the eighth Sunday after Pentecost, and I have a lot of music for you today — not just Bach. The title of today’s Bach cantata is “O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort” (O eternity, you word of thunder):

Today’s Gospel reading is Mark 6:14-29.

John the Baptist Beheaded

King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Others said, “He is Elijah.”

And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”

But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.

Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Bach never directly addressed the beheading of John the Baptist in his cantatas. But his cantata is a dialogue between allegorical figures representing the fear of death (sung by the alto) and the hope of salvation (sung by the tenor). Hope wins out.

The text of today’s piece is available here. Here are the words of the final chorale, “Es ist genug” (It is enough), heard at 14:50:

It is enough:
Lord, if it pleases You,
then release me!
My Jesus comes;
good night now, o world!
I journey to heaven’s house,
I go there securely in peace,
my great suffering remains behind.
It is enough.

The setting of the chorale was an inspiration for part of Alban Berg’s violin concerto:

Listen around 19:40 and you’ll clearly hear the rising whole tones in the orchestra and then the violin.

The cantata also quotes the Book of Revelation in a meaningful reflection on death and hope:

Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben, von nun an.
Soll ich von nun an selig sein:
So stelle dich, o Hoffnung, wieder ein!
Mein Leib mag ohne Furcht im Schlafe ruhn,
Der Geist kann einen Blick in jene Freude tun.

This means:

Blessed are the dead, who die in the Lord, from henceforth.
All right!
If I shall be blessed from now on:
o hope, reappear to me!
My body may rest without fear in sleep,
while the spirit can cast a glance upon that joy.

It is impossible for me to read the words “Selig sind die Toten” without sharing with you portions of Brahms’s Requiem. Let’s start with the passage that quotes those same words:

The words sung here are from Revelation 14:13:

Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herrn sterben, von nun an. Ja, der Geist spricht, daß sie ruhen von ihrer Arbeit; denn ihre Werke folgen ihnen nach.

This means:

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.

And here is the gorgeous opening movement, opening with the same words: “Selig sind” (Blessed are…). If this opening movement does not hook you on the piece, nothing can.

The words sung here are from Matthew 5:4:

Selig sind, die da Leid tragen, denn sie sollen getröstet werden.

Which means:

Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.

Reflections on hope, for a day when the Gospel passage is filled with death. In Christ, there is always hope.

Happy listening!

[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]

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