In the Trenches

Approximately 908,000 British troops died during WWI with 2,000,000 being wounded. Nearly 1,300,000 French soldiers out of a population of twenty million French males of all ages, were killed in fighting with 4,200,000 being wounded. France and England would send wave after wave of troops charging against the entrenched German machine guns, only to have them mowed down in their thousands. In just the first hour of the Battle of the Somme, the British lost more troops than the Americans did in all of D-Day; at Verdun, the French Army was lost in a deadly meat-grinder that took thousands of lives every day. It was mass slaughter on a scale that had never been seen before.

The appalling conditions that the average soldier experienced during the First World War are almost impossible for today’s drone warfare mentality to appreciate. Mud, filth, lice, death, rats, disease and landscapes of dead lying upon dead were the grotesque realities of the frontline, making everyday life unbearable. 

Few battles encapsulate WWI better than the Battle of Passchendaele. For the sake of only a a little more than a mile, at 6:00 AM, April 16, 1917, French General Robert Nivelle sent an army of 1.2 million men into a battle roughly 80 miles northeast of Paris that would be France’s go-for-broke gamble to end World War I. At least 30,000 were killed in the first 10 days. The result was catastrophic and as a result, the soldiers mutinied. They sat down in their trenches and flatly refused to carry out any more of the futile suicidal frontal assaults being ordered by their generals.

It is also from this battle that came Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s famous poem, “In Flanders Fields.”


“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.” 

Of course, being in the trenches in relative. Like morality, it depends on "where you are." I have known individuals who viewed simple events as life-ending catastrophes and others who used devastating events as monumental vehicles for growth and expansion. Nonetheless, it must be acknowledged that being in the trenches is being in the trenches. Relative or not, I would go further by stating that you don’t get to find out who you are or what you are made until you have been in the trenches. Big or small, real or unreal, to the individual, being in the trenches takes the individual to the limit. In the trenches is in the trenches. But it depends on "where you are."

In the Lou Reda Productions Vietnam war documentary, “Brothers in Arms,” the film depicts Charlie Company’s journey through the Mekong Delta that ended in January 1968. Charlie Company suffered 26 men killed and 105 wounded — an 82 percent casualty rate.

Near the film's end, John Young of Picayune, Mississippi, describes war in this way: “You can do something that's cruel and ugly, or something that's cruel yet uglier still. There's no good option to take. And I'd really rather not have anybody who hasn't been through something like that pass judgment on me. Don't be too sure about the decision you would have made. And don't be smug about your morality until you've had it tested.”

Being in the trenches in your life…and if you haven’t been there yet, you will…will take you to the limit of what you are capable of bearing, of what you are capable of tolerating, of what you are capable of understanding. It will take you to the edge of that place in you where the dark one, the cannibal, the shadow, dwells. It is at this point in your inner cosmos that transformation lies, transformation that is more often than not achieved through the journey of hardship.

Would you not be willing to consider that many of the soldiers who mutinied in WWI actually committed the most courageous act of their lives in the act of mutiny? Would you not be willing to consider that Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to salute the flag during the national anthem is actually one of the most patriotic acts he has ever committed? Would you be willing to name at least one situation in your life where it is time for you, too, to mutiny, to take a knee, to take a stand and say, “No more.”?

Remember, it’s relative. Your “trench” is just as difficult as Kaepernick’s trench. It’s just as scary as the soldier in WWI who mutinied. And if you are courageous enough to change your mind, move against the status quo in order to honor the inner cosmos and your heart’s desire, consider the following as you make your stand, feel the cold wind in your face, the buckling of your knees, and the isolating judgment of others:

1. You are never given a problem that is greater than your ability to solve it.

2. You are never alone. You are held in balance and safety each breath of your life.

3. All problems are temporary. How long the problem lasts is mathematically proportional to how you are looking at it.

4. In the DNA of all problems lies its opposite: growth, gain, personal power, transformation.

5. The “trench” is something you have chosen as a vehicle to grow. There are no accidents. If you think it is an accident, then you don’t understand.

6. Your outer world is a physical manifestation of your inner world. To change the outer, change the inner.

7. How long you are in the trench is mathematically dependent upon your willingness to tolerate being there.

8. Only you can deprive yourself of anything.

9. The “trench” convinces you of what you want to perceive. (You’ll have to read that again to get it.)

10. Your choice of how to deal with the “trench” is determined by what you value.

In a conversation with a colleague, we pondered the possibility that all human beings deal with PTSD because all human beings have been “in the trenches” before, the remnants and residue of which can affect us for a lifetime. That which is common and found everywhere simply cannot be unique and isolated. It can be understood and mastered.

Big or small, real or unreal, “in the trenches is in the trenches.”  It is “in the trenches” that you can find exactly what you need to change the outcome of your life experience, discover the nurturing depths of your inner power and create a safety in this world that lies beyond death, the limitations of the fearful mind, and the judgment of others.

What is your “trench” and when will you mutiny?