Home > Uncategorized > Heinrich Böll: Every death in war is a murder – a murder for which someone is responsible

Heinrich Böll: Every death in war is a murder – a murder for which someone is responsible

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

Heinrich Böll: I’m going to die soon and before the war is over. I shall never know peace again.

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Heinrich Böll
From The Train Was on Time (1949)
Translated by Richard Graves

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Life is good, he thought. At least it was good. Twelve hours before I die I realize that life is good. That is too late. I have been ungrateful to Providence. I have denied the existence of human happiness. And now I know that life was good. He turned red with embarrassment, fear and ruefulness. Yes, I actually denied that human happiness existed and that life was good. I have an unhappy life – a frustrated life, as they call it. I have suffered every second I have worn this ghastly uniform. They have destroyed me with their deadly army chatter and they have made me literally shed my blood on their battlefields. I have been wounded three times, once at Amiens and again down at Tiraspol and the last time at Nikopol. And I’ve seen nothing but filth and blood and excrement and smelled nothing but dirt, and heard nothing but groans of misery and bawdy talk.

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Nineteen hundred and forty-three – what a dreadful century that will be! What horrible clothes the men will be wearing. They will glorify war and wear dirt-coloured clothes when they go to war. We did not glorify war. We thought of it as an honourable craft, though we were not always sure of receiving our pay, and while we were at work we wore bright clothes – just like a doctor, a mayor or a prostitute. But these soldiers of the twentieth century will wear frightful clothes and will glorify war and go into battle for their countries. A terrible century – nineteen hundred and forty-three…Every death in war is a murder – a murder for which someone is responsible.

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Everything seemed cold and inevitable as it always does by night in wartime, full of menace, full of mocking cruelty – filthy dug-outs on the battle field, the cellars of countless cities cowering with fear – one conjures up a picture of these dreadful nights which by four in the morning have reached their peak of horror – these unspeakably terrible wartime nights.

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