Sunday, April 26, 2020
In the Spring of 1918 death was no stranger to the world. Indeed, by then the bodies of more than five million soldiers had already been fed into what was called "the sausage factory" by generals whose stupidity was matched only by their brutality.
German generals, for example, had decided to bleed France into submission by matching it death for death at Verdun, believing that Germany's greater population would leave it victorious. The French later replied with their own massive offensive, believing that their elan vital would triumph.
Only slaughter triumphed. Finally one French regiment refused orders to make a suicidal charge. The mutiny spread to fifty-four divisions, stopped only by mass arrests, the conviction of twenty-three thousand men for mutiny, with four hundred sentenced to death and fifty-four actually executed.
Yet nothing expressed the brutality of this war as did a sanitation report on the planned eradication of rats in the trenches to prevent the spread of disease. A major noted, "Certain unexpected problems are involved in the rat problem. . . . The rat serves on useful function—he consumes the corpses on No Man's Land, a job which the rat alone is willing to undertake. For this reason it has been found desirable to control rather than eliminate the rat population."
-John M. Barry, The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History