Home > Uncategorized > Jean Giono: War! Who’s the madman in charge of all this? Who’s the madman who gives the orders?

Jean Giono: War! Who’s the madman in charge of all this? Who’s the madman who gives the orders?

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

Jean Giono: Led to the slaughterhouse

Jean Giono: Rats and worms were the only living things

Jean Giono: War, nourishment and dismemberment

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Jean Giono
From To the Slaughterhouse (Le grand troupeau) (1931)
Translated by Norman Glass

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“That’s enough,” the father said, “that’s enough. Don’t make yourself hoarse. I understand, I understand only too well. The war! But me, I’m telling you no, and no it is! All right, they need men for the war, and corn, and sheep, and horses, and goats. They need everything, everything! And why do you always go looking in the same places? And you, what are you doing here? There’s a lot of flesh on you, you know.” He turned to the policeman. “What’s this fellow doing here? There must be a place for him up there. Somebody’s surely been killed today, that makes an empty place. You think it can go on like this? Our son, our horse, our corn, and now our goats. Do you intend to leave us our eyes for weeping? You better had, we’re going to need them. Anyway, who’s the madman in charge of all this? Who’s the madman who gives the orders?”

***

Joseph ran up the slope of the path. He held on to his right arm. With his wide open left hand he tried stuffing the hole in the other elbow. It was a mess of bone and flesh. A fountain of blood squirted through his fingers. He wanted to stuff that hole. He ran two or three steps, then he walked two or three, breathing heavily, then he started running again. He couldn’t stuff the hole. He grasped it tightly with his left hand, but the blood kept on flowing. As the blood flowed away, he felt air enter through the hole. He no longer felt that he was in one piece and insulated from the world. The broken-up ground, the fire, the powder and the blood of other men, they started flowing into him, and very soon, if it lasted, he would become part of it himself. He, Joseph, his flesh, he’d melt into it all like sugar in water. The black corpse that had its teeth planted into the bark of the willow tree was still there, crouched at the edge of the canal…

***

The liaison agent went out every day, turning right toward the Seventh. Then they heard the noise of his gas mask-case knocking against the logs. He had come back. “Come and take a look,” he called one evening.

They had to walk the length of the Zouaves’ trench, and follow the blue zigzagging across the quarry. The ramp had just been wrecked. Scraps of cloth were mixed with the mud. A kind of air-hole had opened as a result in the side of the quarry. A man’s arm stuck out from it. The hand was black and shaped like a hook. They drew near. There was a big ditch full of corpses; a sound of chopping water came from inside.

***

The young officer, Grivello, sprang forward like a cat. He stayed doubled up for a moment, then stood up straight.

“Get down!” He was shattered by a blast in the belly. He opened out his arms like wings, they were red with blood. Flachat sprawled in a hole, his guts flowing from him like wet linen.

“There!” He touched his side. “Look!”

Charmolle vomited blood and wine. He took two steps, then stopped to see what was running from his mouth. Gun-shots followed him.

“The captain? The captain?” It was the major’s liaison officer.

“Attack! Attack! Tell them to attack!”

Two English soldiers made rabbit jumps towards the hop-fields. One rolled up into a ball and didn’t move. The other ran on.

“Lieutenant Reynaud, it’s me who commands. The captain’s been killed!”

The liaison officer didn’t move. He was crouched down, clutching a brandy flask in the vice of his legs and fists. There was a hole in his head. A long thread of froth and blood hung from his mouth. Oliver threw the grenade.

“Get down!”

Two machine-guns tore into the men and the ground with their claws.

“Forward!”

The lieutenant ran, bent double. He jammed his head into the ground. After a moment, he twisted round and lay out, face to the sky, mouth open. The corporal moved along on his knees.

“You, who are you?”

“Barnous.”

“Right, I’m in charge. And you, who are you?” He jabbed the man’s equipment. “Those guys down there in the hole, get them moving!”

“They’re dead.”

“Forward!”

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