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January 28, 2010
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The French countryside

I joined the war because of my ideals. Full of a nearly hysterical patriotism, we enlisted in droves; war was honor, war was glory. War was fighting the enemy. Now I am huddled in the dugout in the trenches, on the hard little chair, writing by the bright hanging light bulb. Our personal grudge against the Germans is forgotten: the assassination of the Austrian prince and the fight over the Balkans... memories. All there is, is marching in the cold, following orders and running from the Enemy. What is this war but a mass slaughter, mindless death? I saw a man be killed... he had his head cleanly taken off by a bullet when he stood up. I expect when the war is over we shall all be sent to Bedlam.

Right now we are headed north, along the front line. Our commanding officer, a loud man with a harsh grating voice and a drooping mustache, says we’re racing the Germans “to the sea!” He claims we have to keep the enemy from breaking through our lines and capturing more land. We soldiers don’t know anything about that. We know hunger, cold, wet, the smell of the trenches, the blood, the panic and killing for no cause but itself. Why are they Enemy? The men who lost their lives on the other side of barbed wire deserve no less remembrance then ours…

A town in northern France

We were in the trenches all yesterday and most of the night until men came and took over for us. The noise is indescribable… shouting of the officers, yelling of men who have recently been relieved of a limb and the ever-present guns and bullets. The Germans built their trenches on hills, so we are forced to dig them on much lower ground… usually they are flooded, the water up to our waists. After we were let out, we had to find any men that had died and take them away. Some of the bodies were days old, and as the limbs were lifted up, sometimes the torso did not come with them. The worst part was flies, the little black, biting flies, everywhere.

The peasants that we pass on our way stand on the sides of the streets and wave their hats and handkerchiefs and cheer. They’ll never know the utter depression and horror that is war.

After we returned from the trenches, we were issued our rum. What is it but this rum that keeps us alive some days! It is strong, bitter black stuff, and we only get two tablespoons, but how welcome it is in the cold and wind. If not for the rum, there would be many more deserters then there are. The man who has the bunk beneath mine told me that he heard that the French and Germans give their soldiers daily amounts of wine and brandy! How happy the French and Germans must be.

Almost on the boarder of Belgium

How long has it been since I slept? The rats practically crawl right over us in search of food, sometimes, biting people, and the rain pounds on the flimsy roof. And the lice! There is not one man that is not ridden with them, constantly.

The other day, a soldier in our battalion shot himself in the foot.. He is one of many SIW, which means Self Inflicted Wound. The only way to get out of here is to have an injury, and some are desperate enough to do it themselves. It’s a capital offense, and you can get in terrible trouble for trying to get out of the war with a SIW. The police come and visit you in the hospital, right along with the priest. Officially, anyone who shoots himself with the intention of getting out of the war is executed in front of a firing squad, but I don’t know if anyone ever is. The soldier who just shot himself was just a boy, one of many who gave his age as nineteen to enlist, but he is only fifteen, and already without a foot.

This afternoon one of the German soldiers came over to have a cigarette with us, and then others came over too, but no one fired at them. Then lots of us came out of the trenches and walked around repairing them and stretching our legs.

At the river Yser in Belgium

There was more fighting today than usual. Our officer says that we have to break through the German’s lines, and there is certainly a gap in them around the city of Ypres, wherever that is. He says we need to capture this city in order to defeat the Germans (an event, he claims, which should be occurring by the end of this year).. Perhaps I will not write any more here. What is the use when every day is the same… every day means only that this period of torture is prolonged by twenty-four hours. Maybe some day, far in the future, someone will read my meditations and wonder how the world was ever so mad that they could wage such a war. Until that time, I’ll live out my life. Perhaps I’ll live to see the end of this fight… perhaps it would be better not to. For if I survive, will I ever be able to close my eyes without seeing the inside of the trenches, the flies and death? Will I live all my days being haunted by ghosts of this Great Slaughter of Human Beings? For now, the shots continue to blend in with each other, as do the places I’ve been, the people I’ve seen die… our own English, or the innocent Germans.

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CaptainFabulous. said...
Feb. 10, 2010 at 4:28 pm
this is not good ... it is AMAZING
it is as if you were in this war yourself
great job
i wish there was more!!
ElijahNoble said...
Feb. 9, 2010 at 9:07 pm
this is very good. :)
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