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Lessons from Passchendaele show the folly of fire and fury

New Zealand marks 100 years since the disastrous attack at Bellevue Spur, Passchendaele in the Great War.

EDITORIAL: While Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un issue bellicose threats about the destruction each could inflict if the other doesn't look out, New Zealanders could do worse than pause from frowning from a distance and take a moment for introspection.

This pair's mine's bigger'n yours posturing makes for a shrill, if scary, soundtrack for the sombre memorial groupings that will happen around New Zealand today.

It's a century since the day we came as close as we ever have to the sort of "fire and fury" that these disgraceful figures evoke in their rhetoric and, to an unknown extent, their planning.

A wrecked tank on the battlefields of Passchendaele.

October 12, 1917, lays claim to being our worst day. Ever.

Only we didn't know it at the time. The damage happened out of sight, though hardly out of mind, at the Passchendaele battleground in Belgium.

One soldier's story of Passchendaele, 100 years on
Passchendaele commemorations going beyond four walls in the capital
Misery in trenches, a Hobbit star investigates Passchendaele slaughter
Passchendaele: The captain, a wasp sting and New Zealand's bloodiest battle
Massey University war historian leads pilgrimage to Passchendaele
One soldier's story of Passchendaele, 100 years on from New Zealand's darkest day


In one morning 950 New Zealanders died or were mortally injured at Passchendaele.

In one fell morning 950 of our men either died or were mortally injured to endure days or weeks of suffering before they finally succumbed.

The greatest loss of life this nation has endured in any day of its recorded history.

Add the capacious ranks of the wounded, figures for which range upwards from 1900, and you have a toll which still wouldn't conspicuously register if measured against the invocations of the Tweedletrump and Tweedlekim. And the methodology of the long-ago massacre would doubtless seem terribly old-school.

(In fact it took a long time even for the bad news to get back home. Some Southlanders can tell you it took a full year before they were officially told the bad news.)

But what most alarmingly spans the century is same sense that there's still a lofty disregard for human life at play. As if some greater forces compel the conflict.

Which is nonsense. To this day school children have to swot, quite hard, to understand the chain of follies that led to World War 1, the essential reason for which still confounds so many adults.

With effort, stories of some uplift and worth can be found from the Passchendaele theatre. Yes, the Germans stayed their guns so the wounded could be stretchered away afterwards. Yes, it is timely to marvel at the bravery of men like southerners Allan Cockerell and George Hampton.

But we do a disservice to the dead, the harmed, the bereft, if we extend valid acknowledgment of soldiers' bravery, sacrifice and mateship into some delusion that they were fighting for a truly worthwhile cause. 

The hell of fire and fury must teach us one thing above all others.

The hell with fire and fury.