The New York Times has been publishing an occasional series in its Travel section on World War I sites in France, written mostly by Richard Rubin, the author of Last of the Doughboys, a remarkable oral history (and remarkably recent) of the last surviving American soldiers who had seen action in the war.
The latest piece–a huge two-page spread in today’s Travel section–describes the remains, often stunningly preserved, of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the “deadliest battle in American history,” with more than 26,000 Americans killed in just 47 days.
By the time it abruptly ended at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, between 15 million and 20 million men had perished in the First World War. That statistic can be difficult to grasp, much less believe; but hike through a couple of forests in the hills of Lorraine, and you begin to see how it happened.”
Hike around these woods, and you quickly come to understand that this was a war unlike any other when it came to murderous ingenuity, and that the Germans had a distinctive technological edge. They also had better weapons, better-trained soldiers, better generals, better spies, better maps, better barbed wire, better barbed wire cutters. They always seemed to hold the better ground; their strategy was better. You can’t help but wonder: How did they lose?
Rubin has been here often, and describes, wonderfully, his encounters with the locals. When he asks them that question: “How did the Germans lose?”
the answer is always– always– the same: Les Americains.