Home > Uncategorized > Jules Roy: Any attempt to escape the universal holocaust would mean being hunted and tortured wherever he went

Jules Roy: Any attempt to escape the universal holocaust would mean being hunted and tortured wherever he went


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

French writers on war and peace


Jules Roy
From The Navigator (1954)
Translated by Mervyn Savill


This war was so different from anything they had known. You killed without ever seeing your victims, until it required an effort to realize that you were releasing live bombs over the target and not just an imaginary load during some well-planned exercise. And you were killed, too, without knowing who caught you in the range-finders or in the sights of a roving fighter. Or else a friend plunged at you in the pitch darkness, without giving you time to ward off the blow, and he hurtled with you to his death. As for the navigator, he never handled a weapon. His war consisted in plotting courses, measuring distance, degrees, and minutes and taking bearings on stars while sitting over a charge of explosives which might blow him sky-high at any moment. During flights this thought sometimes made his hear miss a beat, but then he would shrug his shoulders. If he were not here, he would be somewhere just as bad. If he refused to fight he would be shot. Any attempt to escape the universal holocaust would mean being hunted and tortured wherever he went.


He realized that he would be held responsible for the deaths of Raumer and his crew. By rights Raumer ought to have already killed himself a hundred times over – not because the navigator Ripault was not with him but because he was an imbecile. But now the majesty of death made this epithet seem an outrageous injustice. No, Raumer was not the imbecile: the epithet applied to those who had flung him into the sea of blood.


“After twenty-four trips to their stinking Ruhr Valley or death traps like Kiel, would you take a rap over the knuckles like that lying down? You might have at the start, on the principle that there’s no room for sentiment, that you’re there to be killed sooner or later and that the more gravestones there are in the cemetery, the greater the glory of our leaders!”


The first marking bombs fell on Würzburg just ahead of them like the red and gold rain of a fireworks display. This ritual took place before each butchery. Stars were dropped which burst into multicolored flowers. Anti-aircraft lights went on and brandished white lances, exploring the sky. Then the incendiaries spread a tide of short, undulating flames. In the setting of this ballet, staged for some mighty king, only the dancers were lacking; but everything changed quickly when the demolition bombs went down. They crackled on the earth, and at twenty thousand feet the searing breath of their explosions rocked the planes. Petrol or oil dumps went up and heavy clouds of reddish smoke bellied and drifted in the wind; and suddenly, like a flight of birds of prey, golden in the light of the furnace, the squadrons came out of the darkness.

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