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Over the past week, images of troops massing in Crimea have been broadcast to millions around the globe. It so happens that the first ever official war photographs were from the very same region.
In 1853, the Russian Empire fought the allied armies of the Ottoman Empire, France and Great Britain in the short but brutal Crimean War that claimed the lives of three quarters of a million soldiers. And for the first time, photographers were able to give people a glimpse of what war was like.
The most famous image perhaps is Roger Fenton's "The Valley of the Shadow of Death," which showed cannonballs strewn throughout a valley. (Some say it was the first staged war photo, that he moved the cannonballs into the road). The technology didn't allow for action shots, but the images captured the moments between battles.
So the folly of the war was probably best articulated with a pen and paper. Listen to this 1890 recording of Alfred Lord Tennyson himself reading his famous poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade."
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
So we can see – and we can hear – what conflict over Crimea was like 160 years ago. Then, as now – as leaders plot and plan – every soldier must think, "ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die."