This week (and next) I want to build a bit off of our discussion of Victoria II and talk a bit about World War I and in particular the trench stalemate on the Western Front. That trench stalemate is, in many countries, synonymous with the war itself. Of course the war was much larger than that and while trenches, machine guns and artillery appeared everywhere in the war, not all fronts devolved into the static trench warfare of the Western front. The Eastern front, for instance, was always too large for this (though trench systems developed in areas of frequent fighting), while battles in Mesopotamia and the Levant always had the desert as a vast, open (but also logistically challenging) flank. Nevertheless, the experience of the Western Front was extremely important; the disaster of the First World War both broke and made nations. Yet precisely because it was so formative, World War I, its generals, tactics and battles are often shrouded in national myths and unquestioned assumptions.
What I want to focus on here is the disconnect between the popular conception of how trench warfare actually worked and the actual conditions that produced trench warfare. This week, we’re going to look at the problem: both the popular perception of what the problem is and what the actual problem of trench warfare is. This is both to set the groundwork for the next post, which will discuss the ways that this stalemate was and wasn’t broken, but it also serves to handily dismiss some of the ‘easy’ solutions that are often offered which don’t solve the actual problem but merely solve the imaginary one.