WHAT A SOLDIER THINKS

From The Tribunal 29th October 1916

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

“The Nation” this week contains one of the strongest and most satisfying comments upon the attitude of the country towards War that we have read for a considerable time, even in pacifist journals. It is headed, “Some Reflections of a Soldier,” and is a critical analysis of public opinion. It describes how the writer, like many others, went out to fight for certain ideals, and how it was only the strength of his convictions that carried him through the ghastly life he has lived ever since. Now he comes home and mixes with the people formerly of his own class and confesses that he often feels as if he were among strangers. He relates how when the newspapers arrived with Lloyd George’s latest rhapsody about cheerful Tommies with the glint of battle in their eyes, or “The Times” military expert’s variations ad nauseum of the agreeable doctrine that whatever its losses, the numerically preponderant side can always win, they used laughingly to conclude that it was “only the papers,” and that the people at home could not really be like that. But he adds that since he has returned he has found that such things were not so much caricatures as he expected.

A Veil of Falsehood

The writer says there is a veil of falsehood between the soldier and those at home. He finds that the latter have made an image of War, false, but picturesque, that flatters their appetite for novelty, excitement and easy admiration, without uncomfortable, emotional disturbance. He ridicules the Press invention of a conventional kind of soldier who is easy to believe in, but who is both ridiculous and disgusting, being represented as always cheerful, as revelling in the sport of killing other men – ‘hunting Germans out of trenches as terriers hunt rats’ and overwhelmingly kind to prisoners. This latter kindness, he says, is true, but the emphasis which is laid upon it is insulting and unintelligent, as though soldiers were expected to hunt or starve prisoners. “Do you not see that we regard these men who have sat opposite us in mud as victims of the same catastrophe as ourselves, as our comrades in misery much more truly than you are? Do you think that we are like some of you in accumulating on the head of every wretched antagonist the indignation felt for the wickedness of a Government, of a social system…”

The Horrible Suggestion

In the writer’s opinion the worst enemy in this untruthful picture of war is the horrible suggestion that war is ennobling and that men find in war the fullness of self-expression impossible in Peace, and that they are more truly men than when they were at home. Indeed, to him, the reality of war is horrible, but not so horrible as the grimacing phantom which the newspapers hold up to the public. The soldiers, he said, are neither so foolish or brave, nor so wicked as the mechanical dolls who grin and kill in the newspapers. He strongly denies all this fictitious exhilaration, and says that men who have spent a winter in the trenches regard war with hatred, and hoping dimly that by suffering it now, they will save the future from it, look back with an even exaggerated affection to the blessings of Peace. People, he says, are now more prone than they were to give way to hatred, which is not common among soldiers. It is easy for people at home to hate, as they cannot appease the anguish of their losses by feeling that their turn may soon come. But the worst hatred – the hatred which appals, is not among those who have suffered, but among those who discover in hatred the only outlet for the sensation of activity which they miss. You do not, he says, help yourselves, your country, or your soldiers by hating, but only by loving, and striving to be more lovable.

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