The Big Push

As a history major and now a history teacher, I’ve read a lot of history books.  While I have found most of them fascinating, only a handful are written in an engaging assessable manner that I could actually use them with high school students.  Adam Hochschild is probably my favorite historian.  First his King Leopold’s Ghost captivated me as he described the colonization and exploitation of the Belgium Congo.  Next he provided a true understanding of what life was like in the Soviet Union under Stalin in Unquiet Ghost.  I’ve used excerpts of both books with my classes over the years.  He has another book (Bury the Chains) that I have, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

Hochschild’s next book is on World War I (one of my favorite subjects).  He recently compared the Battle of Somme with the current war in Iraq:

“The Big Push” is a phrase that came into the language with another troop surge that was supposed to bring another war to victory. For months beforehand, the Big Push was how British cabinet ministers, propagandists, generals, and foot soldiers talked about the 1916 Battle of the Somme.

The First World War had been in a deadly stalemate for the better part of two years. A string of horrific battles had revealed the huge toll of trench warfare: Defenders could partially protect themselves by building deeper trenches, concrete pillboxes, and reinforced dugouts far underground. But when you went “over the top” of the trench to attack, you were disastrously vulnerable — out in the open, exposed to deadly, sweeping machine-gun fire as you clambered slowly across barbed wire and bypassed water-filled artillery-shell craters.

So, what did the Allies do? They attacked. At the time, in numbers of men involved, it was history’s largest battle. The plan was to break open the German defense line, send the cavalry gloriously charging through the gap, and turn the tide of the war. The result was a catastrophe.

Read the entire article.

Interesting stuff.

4 thoughts on “The Big Push”

  1. Hi!

    Great blog! I love what you stand for, especially in regards to utilizing technology to teach history.

    I wanted to let you know about an innovative concept for teaching U.S. history to today’s student s. Hip-Hop U.S. History puts the stories, facts, dates and drama of American history into rap music. You can find free songs here, including Let Freedom Ring which features the voice of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech.

    We’re hoping to reach all student s, but especially those who love hip-hop but whose eyes glaze over while reading standard academic text. We’re trying to bring history to life. As historian / professor Howard Zinn notes, “I see this as an extroardinary teaching tool for today’s youth.”

    If you wanted to let the readers of your blog know about what we’re doing, I would certainly appreciate it.

    Seriously awsome blog, take care and good luck with your site.


    Justin Marchetti


  2. The Battle of the Somme is on of the major battles I used to hit on with my fifth graders as we explored WWI. I believe many Americans don’t know as much as they should about this important war because the magnitude of WWII simply overshadows it. I miss teaching young people about it. Thanks for the article link.


  3. As a future history teacher, I too see the importance of student interest in history. I was in college before I had a history teacher that actually made the subject interesting. I credit him with sparking my desire to be a history teacher. I too would like to use sources (other than a textbook) that would spark interest for my students. I have a history class now that focuses on primary sources. Wow, has that put a new spin on what I thought history was! I would love to be able to use these primary sources in my classroom. I will definately keep the name of this author in my head so that I can do some searching out of his books. Thanks!

    By the way, I think the comparison of the Battle of Somme and the war in Iraq is a very intersting topic!


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