The second battle of the Marne was fought in the summer of 1918. It pitted the Allies -- British, Anzacs, French, Italian, and Americans against a German army that had pretty much worn itself out in a recent attack that had failed. These battles, by the way, are a little hard to follow. The maps are few.
The Allies won and sent the Germans into an orderly withdrawal characterized by stubborn rear guard action. "It was never easy to defeat the German army," Redgrave's narration tells us.
It was the first real Allied success in a long time. Germany brooded and spoke of peace. Americans cheered. The British, who had seen so many previous successes evaporate, were measured in their response. Like the other European powers they were worn down. There were strikes in critical industries and an often lethal influenza epidemic was sickening civilians. There was also a kind of "war fever." The angry, frustrated Brits at home began to rail against immigrants, opining that they should be rounded up and jailed. That's a force against which there seems to be no immunity. In psychology it's called "displaced aggression." When you're angry towards something you can do nothing about, you kick the dog, or put the Japanese into internment camps.
Meanwhile, the preparations for an Allied offensive continued. By this time the Brits were in reasonably good shape in terms of men and materièl. Excerpts from a few poems are introduced. One is "In Flanders Fields," written by Canadian physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. The image of red poppies growing on graves was so striking it was used in propaganda. It gave rise to the wearing of red paper poppies on Memorial Day, to the extent that the tradition is still observed. (It was, when I was a kid.)
There is also an excerpt from Robert Palmer. "How long, O Lord, how long, before the flood Of crimson-welling carnage shall abate?" This one wasn't taken up by propagandists because it wasn't patriotic, in the sense that it didn't urge us to slaughter our enemies. World War I produced a number of poets, Robert Graves and the rest. I wonder why the only poem that most people might recognize from the Second World War is Randall Jarrett's "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner."
In any case, in the Fall of 1918, the Allies pressed their costly advantage until the German army fell back to the well-fortified Hindenburg Line -- and then beyond that. At this point there was little doubt about the war's outcome. There would certainly be peace. The only question was how to achieve it. The answer would be as slippery in 1918 as it is today.
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