Warfare persists, in part, because newer generations seem to be blinded by delusions of glory, meanwhile forgetting just how terrible real combat can be.

We would all do well to remember the horrors of World War I, a conflict that raged exactly one century ago. One of the most ferocious episodes of World War I was the Battle of Verdun. This combat was fought between Feb. 21 and Dec. 18, 1916, in the hills surrounding the town of Verdun in northeastern France. It resulted in almost 1 million casualties, including about 300,000 thousand deaths. The Battle of Verdun is one of the longest and most costly military encounters in human history.

The German plan at Verdun was to capture the commanding heights and French forts surrounding the city by a surprise attack, preceded by sustained and withering bombardment. A huge phalanx of heavy artillery would then be installed on the captured positions. The French and British armies would be lured into making a series of bloody, but futile, counterattacks against the now-entrenched German forces. This war of attrition, the German general Erich Von Falkenhayn had hoped, would bleed the French and British armies white, ultimately compelling them to surrender.

As usual in warfare, things did not go as the generals planned. The German attack was not a complete surprise. Bad weather and mud prevented rapid deployment of the heavy German artillery. The initial German bombardment failed to prevent a French artillery response. The Battle of Verdun soon degenerated into bloodshed with indecisive series of local attacks and counterattacks. For example, the French village of Fleury changed hands 16 times in less than two months. In February of 1916, The Germans captured Fort Douaumont, the largest French fort around Verdun, and the French endured 100,000 casualties when recapturing it the following October. When the Battle of Verdun finally ended in December of 1916, the front lines were almost the same as when it had started; but almost 1 million human beings were gravely wounded or dead.

A French lieutenant, later killed by a shell, wrote these words about the Battle of Verdun:

“Humanity is mad. It must be mad to do what it is doing. What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible. Men are mad!”

The continuation (and acceleration) of warfare in the century after World War I suggests that humanity may indeed be mad.

Refusing to engage in warfare is almost always the best alternative. But if a war is in progress, I believe that surrender is usually preferable to continued fighting.

“Peace Train” runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.