"One would need to return to the Dark Ages or the depredations of Genghis Khan to find a war as devastating. By point of comparison, over the previous century, during which it had expanded its empire to five continents, the British Empire had been involved in some forty different conflicts around the globe--colonial insurrections mostly, but including the Crimean and Boer wars--and had lost some forty thousand soldiers in the process.
"Over the next four years, it would lose over twenty times that number.
"In the disastrous Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, France had suffered an estimated 270,000 battlefield casualties; in the present war, it was to surpass that number in the first three weeks. In this conflict, Germany would see 13 percent of it's military-age male population killed, Serbia 15 percent of its total population, while in just a two-year span, 1913-1915, the life expectancy of a French male would drop from fifty years to twenty-seven.
"So inured would the architects of the carnage become to such statistics that at the launch of his 1916 Somme offensive, British general Douglas Haig could look over the first day's casualty rolls--with fifty-eight thousand Allied soldiers dead or wounded--it remains the bloodiest single day in the history of the English-speaking world--and judge that the numbers "cannot be considered severe.""The effect of all this on the collective European psyche would be utterly profound. Initial euphoria would give way to shock, shock to horror, and then, as the killing dragged on with no end in sight, horror to a kind of benumbed despair."In the process, though, the European public would come to question some of the most basic assumptions about their societies. Among the things they would realize was that, stripped of all its high-minded justifications and rhetoric, at its core this war had many of the trappings of an extended family feud, a chance for Europe's kings and emperors--many of them related by blood--to act out old grievance and personal slights atop the heaped bodies of their loyal subjects.
"In turn, Europe's imperial structure had fostered a culture of decrepit military elites--aristocrats and aging war heroes and palace sycophants--whose sheer incompetence on the battlefield, as well as callousness toward those dying for them, was matched only by that of their rivals.
"Indeed, in looking at the conduct of the war and the almost preternatural idiocy displayed by all the powers, perhaps its most remarkable feature is that anyone finally won at all."