Wilhelm Lamszus: The Human Slaughter-House
From The Human Slaughter-House
Scenes from the War that is Sure to Come (1912)
Translated by Oakley Williams
War! War is declared! So the news speeds hollow-eyed through the streets. We are at war. It’s the real thing this time.
The ominous word dominates the placards on the hoardings. The newspapers reproduce the proclamations in their heaviest type, and rumors and dispatches flutter like a ruffled dovecote round this day of Blood and Iron.
It is deadly earnest now. And this sense of the seriousness of it has numbed the State like a stroke of paralysis. But then a jar, as of a lever thrown over, goes through the vast iron fabric. And every one has got to yield to this jar. The time for anxiety and hesitation is over, for doubts and oscillation. The moment has now come when we cease to be citizens, from henceforward we are only soldiers – soldiers who have no time to think, who only have time to die.
Not one of us has probably ever, with his own eyes, seen a field of battle. But we have heard about it from others, and we have read in books of other men what a battlefield looked like in 1870-71, and, as though with our own eyes, we have watched the shells shattering human bodies. And another thing we know is that forty years ago in spite of inferior guns and rifles, over a hundred and twenty thousand dead stayed behind on the field of honor. What percentage of the living will modern warfare claim? Armies are being marshalled vaster than the world has ever seen. Germany alone can put six million soldiers in the field; France as many. Then the war of ’70-’71 was nothing more than a long-drawn affair of outposts! My brain reels when I try to visualize these masses starting to march against one another; I seem to choke for breath.
There probably won’t be many among us who believe in the Resurrection, who believe that our mangled bodies will rise again in new splendor. Nor do we believe that our Father in Heaven will have pleasure in our murderous doings, that in that better world He will regard us other than as our brothers’ murderers…
How the experts have, day in, day out, been inventing and constructing new marvels of mechanism. The mechanical side of war has been raised to a high standard of genius and a fine art. Two hundred and forty bullets and more to the minute! What a marvel of mechanism one of those machine-guns is. You set it buzzing, and it spurts out bullets thicker than rain can fall. And the automaton licks its lips hungrily and sweeps from right to left. It is pointed on the middle of the body, and sprays the whole firing-line with one sweep. It is as though Death had scrapped his scythe for old iron; as if nowadays he had graduated as expert mechanic. They have ceased to mow corn by hand nowadays. By this time of day even the sheaves are gathered up by machinery. And so they will have to shovel our millions of bodies underground with burying machines.
They have grown rigid in death in grotesque postures as if Death had been trying to pose figures here. There are certain schemes of Death that are always recurring. Hands out-stretched — fingers clawing the grass — fallen forward on to the face — that fellow over there lying on his back is holding his hand pressed tight against his abdomen, as if he were trying to staunch the wound.
In the country I was once watching them killing sheep. There a beast lay, and was waiting for the butcher, and as the short knife cut through its windpipe and jugular vein, and the blood leaped hot from its neck, I could see nothing but the big eye, how it enlarged in its head to a fearsome stare, until at last it turned to a dull glass.
All the bodies lying about here, as if bleating up to heaven, have got these glazed eyes, they are lying as if they were outstretched in the abattoir. Well, to be hit and to fall down dead, there’s nothing to make a fuss about that! But to be shot through the chest, to be shot through the belly, to burn for hours in the fever of your wounds, to cool your mangled body in the wet grass, and to stare up into the pitiless blue heavens because your accursed eyes go on refusing to glaze over yet -
I turn away from them. I force myself to look past these mocking, grotesque posés plastiques of Death.
And then a spectral vision rises before my eyes…I see red Death standing outside there on the plain…the clouds reveal a face grinning down on the symphony…and suddenly a clear note detaches itself from the darkness — a tune which enraptured Death is playing to himself till his fiddle splits…is that a human being coming up, running, here?…he is coming with a rush…he will leap upon our backs…halt! halt! halt! He stumbles upright into the trenches, and tumbles sobbing and howling, among our rifles. He strikes out at us with hands and feet…he is crying and struggling like a child, and yet no man dares go up to him…for now he is rising on his knee…and then we see! Half his face has been torn away…one eye gone…the twitching muscle of the cheek is hanging down…he is kneeling, and opening and closing his hands, and is howling to us for mercy.