The War To End All Wars?

Greg Gnall
3 min readFeb 10, 2023

Recently, I watched the Oscar-nominated film All Quiet on the Western Front, the German language production derived from the classic anti-war novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque. The movie depicts, in all too vivid detail, the horrors of the most senseless war in history, World War I, from its onset when the European powers could not come up with a reason not to go to war to the reality of millions slaughtered as they futilely sought to gain a few yards of defoliated ground between the mud-filled trenches that offered little protection from the enemy lurking virtually within hearing distance.

Well, it is obvious that mankind has learned little since those events of a century or so ago. As we approach the first anniversary of Russia’s inexplicable and barbarous onslaught into Ukraine, there are many eerie similarities to the events of 1914–1918. Just as the Germans believed that they “would reach Paris in a matter of weeks,” so thought Vladimir Putin, who will go down as one of history’s greatest war criminals for his efforts to obliterate a nation, as he envisioned the rapid fall of Kyiv and the overthrow of a democratically elected government that he has labelled “Nazis” hoping to swallow a country that he claims doesn’t exist into the greater Russian empire (Russkiy Mir).

I don’t know how this whole tragedy will end, but, so far, it has been nothing but a disastrous humiliation for Putin and the Russian army. They have met defeat in every field of battle and are only holding on because Putin can call on the superior numbers of the Russian population, including hundreds of thousands of unwilling, untrained and unmotivated conscripts and convicts who are promised freedom from their incarcerations but, in reality, are fed as cannon fodder to the NATO-supplied weaponry that serves as the lifeblood of the Ukrainian resistance.

Although the First World War was the first conflict where mechanized weapons such as tanks and planes were deployed on a wide-spread basis, the sophistication of today’s devices make them seem like toys by comparison (not to mention the always present threat of a Putin nuclear attack). Yes, the use of drones and long range missiles have been enormous factors in Ukraine, but it is remarkable how the day-to-day combat, especially in the Donbas, resembles the scenes depicted in All Quiet. Inch by inch, road by road, village by village, the two armies clash for little gain, while hundreds on both sides meet their Maker each and every day.

There is little hope of a diplomatic resolution as long as a megalomaniac narcissist such as Putin falls short of his goals. But the estimated 200,000 Russian casualties so far (ten times the number the U.S. suffered in twenty years in Afghanistan) has to come home to roost at some point. But at least you can credit Putin with one accomplishment: he has united 43 million sometimes dissonant Ukrainians behind their homeland. And he has caused nearly 1 million Russians, including some of its best and brightest, to flee the country for greener pastures. But it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it is better than dying in a muddy trench.