Today, July 1 is the 100th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. As I have written this week, there is no single battle in modern British history that has made a greater impression on the British psyche. The five month long battle cost the British some 420,000 casualties. For territory, it was worth a few miles. Daniel Todman, writing in the Financial Times (FT) article entitled “Stories of the Somme”, said, “Both in its scale and duration, the Somme was different to anything the British had done before. With wartime volunteers involved en masse in the most intense combat for the first time, the impact of the battle was felt throughout the Empire. The second world war saw combat that was just as horrific — and a global slaughter that was much worse — but Britain avoided the same enormous and prolonged commitment of its army to the task of breaking the strength of a great power opponent on land.”
As a Texan, brought up on tales of the Alamo and other last stand battles, I understand commitment. The Spartans certainly had it at Thermopile. Yet I think the Somme was something different. When you have 60,000 casualties on the first day (July 1, 1916) what makes men continue to go over the top for another five months, when the slaughter was almost as great. During most of my life, I believed “The scar tissue left by the Somme was not concealed by subsequent suffering. As time went on, its mythology became more parochial. After the Great War’s more awful sequel, later generations reified the battle not just as a distinctly British tragedy, but also as a moment when the illusions of the pre-1914 order were shaken to their core.”
Yet modern historians have come to a different interpretation of the event. They now view the battle of the Somme as the seminal battle of World War I (WWI) that began to turn the tide for the Allies against the Central Powers. First was the development of new tactics and weapons to break the stalemate on the Western Front. Certainly the tank was hastened in its development from the slaughter at the Somme. The German Army was significantly hurt at the battle as well, losing nearly as many men as the British. Finally, the British Army became a truly professional fighting force from this experience, while the German professional core was eroded in the slogging battle.
The Germans did not have the combined resources of both the British and French. Then a year later when the American entered the war, they simply could not muster enough men and material to resist the ensuing onslaught. Does this make the Somme worthwhile? I cannot answer that question but it may mean that the Somme was necessary.
As I said when I began this series on Monday, the battle has affected me in a way that most do not. So I appreciate your patience with me during this series, especially if you are not a military history maven like myself. Yet there is a pay-off for making it this far. I have posted three new episodes on my recently introduced podcast 12 O’Clock High, a podcast on business leadership. They are:
Episode 3: The Psychology of Persuasion – in this episode I explore the research of Robert Cialdini and his work “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. In this book, he laid out what he believed to be six universal principals of persuasion that can be used to hone your leadership skills. In this episode my co-host Richard Lummis and I explore those principals and give you pointers on how you can incorporate them into your own business experiences.
Episode 4: Entrepreneurial Leadership – in this episode, I visit the area of entrepreneurialism as an area for leadership influence that can be found by looking at the skills needed for entrepreneurial leadership. In an article entitled “10 leadership skills for entrepreneurs”, Gregg Swanson wrote about how an entrepreneur understands “how to handle a demanding situation while leading others”. While Swanson’s piece was designed to help an entrepreneur understand “how to handle a demanding situation while leading others,” I also found his ideas useful for any leader to consider.
Episode 5: Your First 100 Days as a New Leader – in this episode, I discuss the age old question (at least since the Presidency of Franklin Roosevelt) of what can you do to hit the ground running after you have finally been able to secure a new position as Chief Compliance Officer (CCO). What are some of the things that you can do in your first 100 days? Hopefully you will not be dropped into a dire corporate situation but the reality is that many new heads are judged on these mythical first 100 days. I give you 10 specific items you should try and accomplish in your first 100 days as a new leader in an organization.
I wish each and every one of you a most Happy and Joyous Fourth of July. It has always been one of my favorite holidays so I hope you will take a few minutes to consider the sacrifices of those before which allow us, some 240 years after the first 4th was celebrated to continue to do so.
I will have an extraordinary story for my July 4th blog post on what it means to be an American.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2016