Men in War by Andreas Latzko Book, page 1 / 105
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MEN IN WAR
MEN IN WAR (μετάφραση στα αγγλικά από το πρωτότυπο)
BY ANDREAS LATZKO
DEDICATED TO FRIEND AND FOE
_"I am convinced the time will come when all will think as I do."_
I OFF TO WAR
II BAPTISM OF FIRE
III THE VICTOR
IV MY COMRADE
V A HERO'S DEATH
VI HOME AGAIN
This world war has given me a comrade, too. You couldn't find a better one.
It is exactly fourteen months ago that I met him for the first time in a small piece of woods near the road to Goerz. Since then he has never left my side for a single moment. We sat up together hundreds of nights through, and still he walks beside me steadfastly.
Not that he intrudes himself upon me. On the contrary. He conscientiously keeps the distance that separates him, the common soldier, from the officer that he must respect in me. Strictly according to regulations he stands three paces off in some corner or behind some column and only dares to cast his shy glances at me.
He simply wants to be near me. That's all he asks for, just for me to let him be in my presence.
Sometimes I close my eyes to be by myself again, quite by myself for a few moments, as I used to be before the war. Then he fixes his gaze upon me so firmly and penetratingly and with such obstinate, reproachful insistence that it burns into my back, settles under my eyelids, and so steeps my being with the picture of him that I look round, if a little tune has passed without his reminding me of his presence.
He has gnawed his way into me, he has taken up his abode within me. He sits inside of me like the mysterious magician at moving-picture shows who turns the crank inside of the black booth above the heads of the spectators. He casts his picture through my eyes upon every wall, every curtain, every flat surface that my eyes fall on.
But even when there is no background for his picture, even when I frantically look out of the window and stare into the distance so as to be rid of him for a short while, even then he is there, hovering in front of me as though impaled upon the lance of my gaze, like a banner swaying at the head of a parade. If X-rays could penetrate the skull, one would find his picture woven into my brain in vague outline, like the figures in old tapestries.
I remember a trip I took before the war from Munich to Vienna on the Oriental Express. I looked out upon the autumnal mellowness of the country around the Bavarian lakes and the golden glow of the Wiener Wald. But across all this glory that I drank in leaning back on the comfortable seat in luxurious contentment, there steadily ran an ugly black spot--a flaw in the window-pane. That is the way my obstinate comrade flits across woods and walls, stands still when I stand still, dances over the faces of passers-by, over the asphalt paving wet from the rain, over everything my eyes happen to fall upon. He interposes himself between me and the world, just like that flaw in the window-pane, which degraded everything I saw to the quality of the background that it made.
The physicians, of course, know better. They do not believe that He lives in me and stays by me like a sworn comrade. From the standpoint of science it rests with me not to drag him round any longer, but to give him his dismissal, precisely as I might have freed myself from the annoying spot by angrily smashing the window-pane. The physicians do not believe that one human being can unite himself at death with another human being and continue to live on in him with obstinate persistence. It is their opinion that a man standing at a window should see the house opposite but never the wall of the room behind his back.
The physicians only believe in things that _are_. Such superstitions as that a man can carry dead men within him and see them standing in front of him so distinctly that they hide a picture behind them from his sight, do not come within the range of the gentlemen's reasoning. In their lives death plays no part. A patient who dies ceases to be a patient. And what does the day know of the night, though the one forever succeeds the other?
But I know it is not I who forcibly drag the dead comrade through my life. I know that the dead man's life within me is stronger than my own life. It may be that the shapes I see flitting across the wall papers, cowering in corners and staring into the lighted room from dark balconies, and knocking so hard on the windows that the panes rattle, are only visions and nothing more. Where do they come from? _My_brain furnishes the picture, _my_ eyes provide the projection, but it is the dead man that sits at the crank. He tends to the film. The show begins when it suits Him and does not stop as long as He turns the crank. How can I help seeing what He shows me? If I close my eyes the picture falls upon the inside of my lids, and the drama plays inside of me instead of dancing far away over doors and walls.
I should be the stronger of the two, they say. But you cannot kill a dead man, the physicians should know that.
Are not the paintings by Titian and Michael Angelo still hanging in the museums centuries after Titian and Michael Angelo lived? And the pictures that a dying man chiseled into my brain fourteen months ago with the prodigious strength of his final agony--are they supposed to disappear simply because the man that created them is lying in his soldier's grave?
Who, when he reads or hears the word "woods," does not see some woods he has once walked through or looked out on from a train window? Or when a man speaks of his dead father does he not see the face that has long been rotting in the grave appear again, now stern, now gentle, now in the rigidity of the last moments? What would our whole existence be without these visions which, each at its own word, rise up for moments out of oblivion as if in the glare of a flashlight?
Sick? Of course. The world is sore, and will have no words or pictures that do not have reference to the wholesale graves. Not for a moment can the comrade within me join the rest of the dead, because everything that happens is as a flashlight falling upon him. There's the newspaper each morning to begin with: "Ships sunk," "Attacks repulsed." And immediately the film reels off a whirl of gasping, struggling men, fingers rising out of mountainous waves grasping for life once more, faces disfigured by pain and fury. Every conversation that one overhears, every shop window, every breath that is drawn is a reminder of the wholesale carnage. Even the silence of the night is a reminder. Does not each tick of the second-hand mark the death rattle of thousands of men? In order to hear the hell raging yonder on the other side of the thick wall of air, is it not enough to know of chins blown off, throats cut open, and corpses locked in a death embrace?
If a man were lying comfortably in bed and then found out for certain that some one next door was being murdered, would you say he was sick if he jumped up out of bed with his heart pounding? And are we anything but next door to the places where thousands duck down in frantic terror, where the earth spits mangled fragments of bodies up into the sky, and the sky hammers down on the earth with fists of iron? Can a man live at a distance from his crucified self when the whole world resounds with reminders of these horrors?
It is the others that are sick. They are sick who gloat over news of victories and see conquered miles of territory rise resplendent above mounds of corpses. They are sick who stretch a wall of flags between themselves and their humanity so as not to know what crimes are being committed against their brothers in the beyond that they call "the front." Every man is sick who still can think, talk, discuss, sleep, knowing that other men holding their own entrails in their hands are crawling like half-crushed worms across the furrows in the fields and before they reach the stations for the wounded are dying off like animals, while somewhere, far away, a woman with passionate longing is dreaming beside an empty bed. All those are sick who can fail to hear the moaning, the gnashing of teeth, the howling, the crashing and bursting, the wailing and cursing and agonizing in death, because the murmur of everyday affairs is around them or the blissful silence of night.
It is the deaf and the blind that are sick, not I!
It is the dull ones that are sick, those whose souls sing neither compassion for others nor their own anger. All those numerous people are sick who, like a violin without strings, merely echo every sound. Or would you say that the man whose memory is like a photographic plate on which the light has fallen and which cannot record any more impressions, is the healthy man? Is not memory the very highest possession of every human being? It is the treasure that animals do not own, because they are incapable of holding the past and reviving it.
Am I to be cured of my memory as from an illness? Why, without my memory I would not be myself, because every man is built up of his memories and really lives only as long as he goes through life like a loaded camera. Supposing I could not tell where I lived in my childhood, what color my father's eyes and my mother's hair were, and supposing at any moment that I were called upon to give an account, I could not turn the leaves of the past and point to the right picture, how quick they would be to diagnose my case as feeblemindedness, or imbecility. Then, to be considered mentally normal, must one treat one's brain like a slate to be sponged off and be able at command to tear out pictures that have burned the most hideous misery into the soul, and throw them away as one does leaves from an album of photographs?
One man died before my eyes, he died hard, torn asunder after a frightful struggle between the two Titans, Life and Death. Am I sick, then, if I experience all over again all the phases of his agonizing--preserved in my brain like snapshots--as long as every happening inexorably opens the pages of this series? And the other people, are they well, those, I mean, who skip the pages as though they were blank that record the dismemberment, the mutilation, the crushing of their brothers, the slow writhing to death of men caught in barbed wire entanglements?
Tell me, my dear doctors, at just what point am I to begin to forget?
Am I to forget I was in the war? Am I to forget the moment in the smoky railway station when I leaned out of the car window and saw my boy ashen white, with compressed lips, standing beside his mother, and I made a poor show of cheerfulness and talked of seeing them soon again, while my eyes greedily searched the features of my wife and child, and my soul drank in the picture of them like parched lips after a many days' march drinking in the water so madly longed for? Am I to forget the choking and the bitterness in my mouth when the train began to move and the distance swallowed up my child, my wife, my world?
And the whole ride to death, when I was the only military traveler in a car full of happy family men off for a summer Sunday in the country--am I to tear it out of my memory like so much cumbersome waste paper? Am I to forget how I felt when it grew quieter at each station, as though life were crumbling away, bit by bit, until at midnight only one or two sleepy soldiers remained in my coach and an ashen young face drawn with sorrow hovered about the flickering lamplight? Must one actually be sick if it is like an incurable wound always to feel that leave-taking of home and warmth, that riding away with hatred and danger awaiting one at the end of the trip? Is there anything harder to understand--when have men done anything madder--than this: to race through the night at sixty miles an hour, to run away from all love, all security, to leave the train and take another train because it is the only one that goes to where invisible machines belch red-hot pieces, of iron and Death casts out a finely meshed net of steel and lead to capture men? Who will obliterate from my soul the picture of that small dirty junction, the shivering, sleepy soldiers without any intoxication or music in their blood, looking wistfully after the civilian's train and its brightly lighted windows as it disappeared behind the trees with a jolly blow of its whistle? Who will obliterate the picture of that exchanging for Death in the drab light of early dawn?
And supposing I could cross out that first endless night as something settled and done with, would not the next morning remain, when our train stopped at a switch in the middle of a wide, dewy meadow, and we were told that we had to wait to let hospital trains go by? How shall I ever banish the memory of those thick exhalations of lysol and blood blown upon the happy fields from a dragon's nostrils? Won't I forever see those endless serpents creeping up so indolently, as though surfeited with mangled human flesh? From hundreds of windows white bandages gleamed and dull, glassy eyes stared out. Lying, crouching, on top of each other, body to body, they even hung on to the running-boards like bloody bunches of grapes, an overflowing abundance of distress and agony. And those wretched remains of strength and youth, those bruised and battered men, looked with pity, yes, _with pity_, at our train. Am I really sick because those glances of warm compassion from bleeding cripples to sound, strapping young fellows burn in my soul with a fire never to be extinguished? An apprehension sent a chill through our whole train, the foreboding of a hell that one would rather run away from wrapped in bloody bandages than go to meet whole and strong. And when this shudder of apprehension has turned into reality, into experience and memory, is it to be shaken off as long as such trains still meet every day? A casual remark about the transfer of troops, news of fresh battles inevitably recall this first actual contact with the war, just as a certain note when struck will produce a certain tone, and I see the tracks and ties and stones spattered with blood, shining in the early morning light of a summer day--signposts pointing to the front.
Am _I_ really the sick person because I cannot utter that word or write it down without my tongue growing coated from the intense hatred I feel? Axe not the others mad who look upon this wholesale cripple-and-corpse-factory with a mixture of religious devotion, romantic longing and shy sympathy? Would it not be wiser once for a change to examine those others for the state of their mind? Must _I_ disclose it to my wise physicians, who watch over me so compassionately, that all this mischief is the work of a few words that have been let loose upon humanity like a pack of mad dogs?
Front--Enemy--Hero's death--Victory--the curs rage through the world with frothing mouth and rolling eyes. Millions who have been carefully inoculated against smallpox, cholera and typhoid fever are chased into madness. Millions, on either side, are packed into cars--ride, singing, to meet each other at the front--hack, stab, shoot at each other, blow each other into bits, give their flesh and their bones for the bloody hash out of which the dish of peace is to be cooked for those fortunate ones who give the flesh of their calves and oxen to their fatherland for a hundred per cent profit, instead of carrying their own flesh to market for fifty cents a day.
Suppose the word "war" had never been invented and had never been hallowed through the ages and decked with gay trappings. Who would dare to supplement the deficient phrase, "declaration of war," by the following speech?
"After long, fruitless negotiations our emissary to the government of X left to-day. From the window of his parlor car he raised his silk hat to the gentlemen who had escorted him to the station, and he will not meet them with a friendly smile again until _you_ have made corpses of many hundreds of thousands of men in the country of X. Up then! Squeeze yourself into box-cars meant for six horses or twenty-eight men! Ride to meet them, those other men. Knock them dead, hack off their heads, live like wild beasts in damp excavations, in neglect, in filth, overrun with lice, until we shall deem the time has come again for our emissary to take a seat in a parlor car and lift his silk hat, and in ornate rooms politely and aristocratically dispute over the advantages which our big merchants and manufacturers are to derive from the slaughter. Then as many of you as are not rotting under the ground or hobbling on crutches and begging from door to door may return to your half-starved families, and may--nay must!--take up your work again with redoubled energy, more indefatigably and yet with fewer demands than before, so as to be able to pay in sweat and privation for the shoes that you wore out in hundreds of marches and the clothes that decayed on your bodies."
A fool he who would sue for a following in such terms! But _no_ fools they who are the victims, who freeze, starve, kill, and let themselves be killed, just because they have learned to believe that this must be so, once the mad dog War has burst his chains and bitten the world.
Is this what the wars were like from which the word "war" has come down to us? Did not war use to guarantee booty? Were not the mercenaries led on by hopes of a gay, lawless life--women and ducats and gold-caparisoned steeds? Is this cowering under iron discipline, this holding out of your head to be chopped off, this passive play with monsters that spill their hellish cauldron on you from out of the blue distance still "war"? War was the collision of the superfluous forces, the ruffians of all nations. Youth, for whom the town had grown too small and the doublet too tight, ventured out, intoxicated by the play of its own muscles. And now shall the same word hold good when men already anchored to house and home are torn away and whipped into the ranks and laid out before the enemy, and made to wait, defenseless, in dull resignation, like supers in this duel of the munition industries?
Is it right to misuse the word "war" as a standard when it is not courage and strength that count, but explosive bombs and the length of range of the guns and the speed with which women and children turn out shells? We used to speak with horror of the tyrants of dark ages, who threw helpless men and women to the lions and tigers; but now is there one of us who would not mention them with respect in comparison with the rulers who are at present directing the struggle between men and machines, as though it were a puppet show at the end of telegraph wires, and who are animated by the delightful hope that our supply of human flesh may outlast the enemy's supply of steel and iron?
No! All words coined before this carnage began are too beautiful and too honest, like the word "front," which I have learned to abhor. Are you "facing" the enemy when their artillery is hidden behind mountains and sends death over a distance of a day's journey, and when their sappers come creeping up thirty feet below the surface? And your "front" is a terminal station, a little house all shot up, behind which the tracks have been torn up because the trains turn back here after unloading their cargo of fresh, sunburned men, to call for them again when they have emerged from the machines with torn limbs and faces covered with verdigris.
It was towards evening when I got off the train at this terminal. A bearded soldier with his right arm in a sling was sitting on the ground leaning against the iron railing around the platform. When he saw me pass by, quite spick and span, he stroked his right arm tenderly with his left hand and threw me an ugly look of hatred and called out through clenched teeth:
"Yes, Lieutenant, here's the place for man salad."
Am I to forget the wicked grin that widened his mouth, already distorted by pain? Am I sick because each time I hear the word "front" an echo, "man salad," inevitably croaks in my ears? Or are the others sick who do not hear "man salad," but swallow down the cowardly stuff written by our war bards, who try like industrious salesmen to make the brand "world war" famous, because in reward they will have the privilege of dashing about in automobiles like commanding generals instead of being forced to face death in muddy ditches and be bossed by a little corporal?
Are there really human beings of flesh and blood who can still take a newspaper in their hands and not foam at the mouth with rage? Can one carry in one's brain the picture of wounded men lying exposed on slimy fields in the pouring rain, slowly, dumbly bleeding to death, and yet quietly read the vile stuff written about "perfect hospital service," "smoothly running ambulances," and "elegantly papered trenches," with which these fellows poetize themselves free from military service?
Men come home with motionless, astonished eyes, still reflecting death. They walk about shyly, like somnambulists in brightly lighted streets. In their ears there still resound the bestial howls of fury that they themselves bellowed into the hurricane of the drumfire so as to keep from bursting from inner stress. They come loaded down, like beasts of burden, with horrors, the astonished looks of bayoneted, dying foes on their conscience--and they don't dare open their mouths because everybody, wife and child included, grinds out the same tune, a flow of curious questions about shells, gas bombs and bayonet attacks. So the days of the furlough expire, one by one, and the return to death is almost a deliverance from the shame of being a coward in disguise among the friends at home, to whom dying and killing have become mere commonplaces.
So be it, my dear doctors! It is an honor to be charged with madness if those villains are not called mad who, to save their own necks, have so gloriously hardened the people's hearts and abolished pity and implanted pride in the enemy's suffering, instead of acting as the one intermediary between distress and power and arousing the conscience of the world by going to the most frequented places and shouting _"Man Sal-ad"_ through a megaphone so loud and so long that at length all those whose fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, have gone to the corpse-factory will be seized with terror and all the throats in the world will be _one_ echo to "Man Sal-ad!"
If you were here right now, dear doctors, I could show you my comrade, summoned to this room in the very body by the flames of hate against news from the front and against the indifference of the hinterland. I feel him standing behind my back, but his face is lying on the white sheet in front of me, like a faint water-mark, and my pen races frantically so as to cover his eyes at least with letters and hide their reproachful stare.
Large, widening, hideously distorted, his face, slowly swelling, rises from the paper like the face of Jesus of the handkerchief.
It was just like this that the three war correspondents saw him lying at the edge of the woods on that midsummer morning and--turned away involuntarily with almost the military exactness of soldiers at a "right about face." Their visit was meant for _me_! I was to furnish them with carriage and horses because the automobile that was to have darted them through the danger zone was lying on the road to Goerz with a broken axle.
Charming gentlemen, in wonderfully well-cut breeches and traveling caps, looking as if they had stepped out of a Sherlock Holmes motion picture. They offered to carry letters back and deliver messages, and they found everything on my place perfectly fascinating, and laughed heartily at my mattress of willow twigs--and were particularly grateful when the carriage stood ready to carry them off before the daily bombardment of the Italians began.
On driving out of the woods they had to pass the wounded man again with the hideously disfigured face. He was crouching on the meadow. But this time they did not see him. As if at command they turned their heads the other way and with animated gestures viewed the damage done by an air raid the day before, as though they were already sitting over a table in a coffee-house.
I lost my breath, as though I had run a long distance up-hill. The place where I stood suddenly seemed strange and altered. Was that the same piece of woods into which shells had so often come crashing, which the huge Caproni planes had circled about with wide-spread wings like vultures, shedding bombs, while our machine guns lashed the leaves with a hailstorm of shot? Was it out of _this_ piece of woods that three men had just driven off, healthy, unscathed, gaily waving their caps? Where was the wall that held us others imprisoned under the cracking branches? Was there not a door that opened only to let out pale, sunken cheeks, feverish eyes, or mangled limbs?
The carriage rolled lightly over the field, trampled down brown, and the one thing missing to make it the perfect picture of a pleasure trip was the brilliant red of a Baedeker.
Those men were riding back home.
To wife and child, perhaps?
A painful pulling and tugging, as though my eyes were caught to the carriage wheels. Then my body rebounded--as if torn off--back into emptiness, and--at that moment, just when my soul was as if ploughed up by the carriage and laid bare and defenseless by yearning--at that moment the experience sprang upon me--with one dreadful leap, one single bite--incurable for the rest of my life.
Unsuspecting, I crossed over to the wounded man upon whom the three had so unceremoniously turned their backs, as though he did not also belong to the interesting museum of shell holes that they had come to inspect. He was cowering near the dirty ragged little Red Cross flag, with his head between his knees, and did not hear me come up. Behind him lay the brown spot which stood out from the green still left on the field like a circus ring. The wounded soldiers who gathered here every morning at dawn to be driven to the field hospital in the wagons that brought us ammunition had rubbed this spot in like a favorite corner of a sofa.
How many I had seen crouching there like that, for ten--often twelve hours, when the wagons had left too early, or had been overcrowded, or, after violent fighting, had stood waiting in line at the munitions depot behind the lines. Happy fellows, some of them, with broken arms or legs, the war slang, "a thousand-dollar shot," on their pale, yet laughing lips--enviously ogled by the men with slight wounds or the men sick with typhoid fever, who would all gladly have sacrificed a thousand dollars and a limb into the bargain for the same certainty of not having to return to the front again. How many I had seen rolling on the ground, biting into the earth in their agony--how many in the pouring rain, half buried already in the mud, their bodies ripped open, groaning and whimpering and outbellowing the storm.
This man seemed to be only slightly hurt in the right leg. The blood had oozed out on one spot through the hastily made bandage, so I offered him my first-aid package, besides cognac and cigarettes. But he did not move. It was not until I laid my hand on his shoulder that he raised his head--and the face he showed me threw me back like a blow on the chest.
His mouth and nose had come apart, and crept like a thick vine up his right cheek--which was no longer a cheek. A chunk of bluish red flesh swelled up there, covered by skin stretched to bursting and shining from being drawn so tight. The whole right side of his face seemed more like an exotic fruit than a human countenance, while from the left side, from out of grey twitching misery, a sad, frightened eye looked up at me.
Violent terror slung itself round my neck like a lasso.
What was it? Such a frightful thing as that even this field, this waiting-room to the Beyond, had never witnessed before. Even the awful recollection of another wounded man who had stood at this same spot a few days before, his hands looking as though they were modeling something, while in actuality they were carefully holding his own entrails--even that hideous recollection faded before the sight of this Janus head, all peace, all gentle humanity on one side; all war, all distorted, puffed-up image of fiendish hatred on the other side.
"Shrapnel?" I stammered timidly.
The answer was confused. All I could get out of it was that a dumdum bullet had smashed his right shinbone. But what was that he kept mumbling about a hook each time his hand trembled up to his glowing cheek?
I could not understand him; for the thing he had gone through still seethed in his veins so violently that he spoke as though it were just then happening and I were witnessing it. His peasant's mind could not comprehend that there were people who had not seen or heard of the tremendous misery of the last hours he had gone through. So it was more by guess-work that I gradually pieced together his story from unfinished sentences, coarse oaths, and groans.
For a whole night, after a repulsed attack on the enemy's trench, he had lain with a broken leg, unconscious, near our own wire entanglements. At dawn they threw out the iron grappling hook for him, with which they pull over into the trench the corpses of friend and foe so as to be able to bury them unceremoniously before the sun of Goerz has a chance to do its work. With this hook, dipped in hundreds of corpses, a dunce--"God damn him!"--had torn his cheek open before a more skilful hand caught hold of it and got him over safely. And now he asked humbly to be taken away to the hospital quickly, because he was worried--about his leg and being a crippled beggar the rest of his life.
I ran off as though mad dogs were at my heels, over rocks and roots, through the woods to the next detachment. In vain! In the whole woods there was not a single vehicle to be found. I had given up the last one to those three war correspondents.
Why had I not asked them to take the one wounded man lying on the field along with them and leave him at the hospital that they would pass? Why had they themselves not thought of doing their human duty? Why?
I clenched my fists in impotent fury and caught myself reaching for my revolver as though I could still shoot those gay sparks in their carriage.
Breathless, overheated from the long race, I tottered back, my knees trembling the whole way. I felt utterly broken, as though I were carrying on my shoulders a picture, weighing a ton, of men who for sport angle for human carrion.
An odd choking and tickling came into my throat--a sensation I had not known since childhood--when, back at my post again, I had to listen to the low whimpering of the helpless man.
He was no longer alone. In my absence a little band of slightly wounded men had joined him. Peering between the tree trunks I saw them sitting in a circle on the field, while the man who had been hooked was hopping about holding on to his injured leg and tossing his head from one shoulder to the other.
Towards noon I sent my corporals in search of a vehicle, promising them a princely reward, while I ran to the field again with my whisky flask.
He was no longer dancing about. He was kneeling in the center of the circle of wounded men, his body bent over, rolling his head on the ground as though it were a thing apart from himself. Suddenly he jumped up with such a yell of fury that a frightened murmur came even from the line of wounded men, who had been sitting there indifferent, sunk in their own suffering.
That was no longer anything human. The man's skin could not stand any more stretching and had burst. The broad splits ran apart like the lines of a compass and in the middle the raw flesh glowed and gushed out.
And he yelled! He hammered with his fist on the enormous purplish lump, until he fell to his knees again moaning under the blows of his own hand.
It was dark already when--at last!--they came and carted him away. And when the night slowly wove its web of mist in the woods and I lay wrapped in a mound of blankets, the only one who was still awake in the throng of black tree-trunks that moved closer together in the darkness--there he was back again, standing up stiff in the moonlight, his tortured cheek, huge as a pumpkin, shining blue against the black shadows of the trees. It glimmered like a will-o'-the-wisp, now here, now there. Night after night. It shone into every dream, so that I forced my eyelids open with my fingers--until, after ten frightful nights, my body broke down and was carried, a shrieking, convulsed heap, to the same hospital in which He had succumbed to blood-poisoning.
And now I am a madman! You can read it, black on white, on the placard at the head of my bed. They pat me on the back soothingly, like a shying horse, when I flare up and ask to be let out of this place in which _the others_ should be shut up.
But the others are free! From my window I can look over the garden wall into the street, and see them hurrying along, raising their hats, shaking hands, and crowding in front of the latest bulletin. I see women and girls, dressed coquettishly, tripping along with pride shining in their eyes, beside men whom a cross on the breast brands as murderers. I see widows in long black veils--still patient. I see lads with flowers stuck in their helmets ready to leave for the war. And not one of them rebels! Not one of them sees bruised, mangled men cowering in dark corners, men ripped apart by grappling hooks, men with their entrails gushing out, and men with blue shining cheeks.
They go by under my window, gesticulating, enthusiastic; because the enthusiastic phrases arrive coined fresh every day from the mint, and each person feels sheltered and enveloped in a warmth of assent if the phrases ring clear from his lips. I know that they keep quiet even when they would like to speak, to cry out, to scream. I know that they hunt down "slackers," and have no word of abuse for those who are a thousand times worse cowards, those who clearly recognise the utter senselessness of this butchery of millions, yet will not open their mouths for fear of
the censure of the thoughtless crowd.
From my window I can see the whole globe spinning round like a crazy whirligig, whipped on by haughty lords in cunning calculation and by venal servants in sneaking submissiveness.
I see the whole pack! The bawlers who are too empty and too lazy to develop their own selves and want to puff themselves with the glittering praise meant for their herd. The scoundrels who are protected by the masses, carried by them and fed by them, and who look up sanctimoniously to a bogy of their own invention, and hammer that bogy into the conscience of millions of good men, until the mass has been forged that has neither heart nor brain, but only fury and blind faith. I see the whole game proceeding madly in blood and agony. I see the spectators going by indifferently, and I am called a madman when I raise the window to call down to them that the sons they have born and bred, the men they have loved are being chased like wild animals, are being butchered like cattle.
Those fools down there, who for the sake of respectable condolence calls, for a neighbor's eyes raised heavenward in sympathy, sacrificed the splendor and warmth of their lives, who threw their flesh and blood into the barbed wire entanglements, to rot as carrion on the fields or be hooked in with grappling hooks, who have no other consolation than that the "enemy" have had the same done to them--those fools remain free; and in their despicable vanity and wicked patience they may daily shove fresh hecatombs out to the cannons. But I must stay here impotent --left alone with the relentless comrade that my conscience gives birth to over again every day.
I stand at my window and between me and the street lie piled high the bodies of the many I saw bleeding. And I stand here powerless--because the revolver that was given me to shoot down poor homesick devils, forced into a uniform by iron necessity, has been taken from me, out of fear that I might dislodge a few mass murderers from their security and send them as a warning example down to their victims.
So I must stay here, as a seer over the blind--behind iron gratings. And all I can do is consign these leaves to the wind--every day write it all down again and keep scattering the pages out on the street.
I will write indefatigably. I will sow the whole world with my pages. Until the seed shall sprout in every heart, until every bedroom will be entered by a blue apparition--a dear dead one showing his wounds; and at last, at last, the glorious song of the world's redemption will resound under my window, the wrathful cry shouted by a million throats:
(Men in War by Andreas Latzko Book, page 1 / 105)
MEN IN WAR, "OFF TO WAR", BY ANDREAS LATZKO