Essay on Trench Warfare

The word “trench warfare” quickly conjures up pictures of the muck and bloodshed of World War I’s Western Front. Millions were killed in futile offensives in which troops “went over the top” into withering machine gunfire.

Tanks and warplanes eventually permitted soldiers to maneuver over or over No Man’s Land, and new technology and tactics would bring in the mobile warfare that typified World War II in Europe.

The German blitzkrieg flew over and drove past the Maginot Line, maybe the most powerful static defensive barrier ever built, and it appeared that trench warfare had come to an end.

Because of this, and because trench warfare is so closely associated with crude black-and-white footage of men struggling to cross the pockmarked battlefields of Belgium and France, it is commonly assumed that this military strategy is a relic of a bygone era, as unlikely to reappear as catapults or cavalry charges.

In truth, trench warfare is still perhaps the most successful infantry strategy when armor and air assistance are unavailable for any reason. During the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88), after the Iraqi forces made initial victories, the battle devolved into years of trench warfare. Iran even launched human wave attacks in the style of World War I, which were just as ineffective and terrible as they had been 70 years before.

The Syrian Civil War (2011–) was a new kind of reenactment of World War I, with Bashar al-forces Assad’s attacking opposition-held regions with chemical weapons. The lines in that battle were largely static, with opposition factions employing trench systems of various durability and sophistication, until Russian airpower decisively changed the balance of power in favor of the Syrian government.

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