Home > Uncategorized > O. Henry: The ethics of justifiable slaughter

O. Henry: The ethics of justifiable slaughter

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

American writers on peace and against war

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O. Henry
From The Moment of Victory (1909)

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“Our company got into a section of Cuban scenery where one of the messiest and most unsung portions of the campaign occurred. We were out every day capering around in the bushes, and having little skirmishes with the Spanish troops that looked more like kind of tired-out feuds than anything else. The war was a joke to us, and of no interest to them. We never could see it any other way than as a howling farce-comedy that the San Augustine Rifles were actually fighting to uphold the Stars and Stripes. And the blamed little señors didn’t get enough pay to make them care whether they were patriots or traitors. Now and then somebody would get killed. It seemed like a waste of life to me. I was at Coney Island when I went to New York once, and one of them down-hill skidding apparatuses they call ‘roller-coasters’ flew the track and killed a man in a brown sack-suit. Whenever the Spaniards shot one of our men, it struck me as just about as unnecessary and regrettable as that was.”

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“‘Well, Ben,’ says the captain to me, ‘your allegations and estimations of the tactics of war, government, patriotism, guard-mounting, and democracy are all right. But I’ve looked into the system of international arbitration and the ethics of justifiable slaughter a little closer, maybe, than you have. Now, you can hand in your resignation the first of next week if you are so minded. But if you do,’ says Sam, ‘I’ll order a corporal’s guard to take you over by that limestone bluff on the creek and shoot enough lead into you to ballast a submarine air-ship. I’m captain of this company, and I’ve swore allegiance to the Amalgamated States regardless of sectional, secessional, and Congressional differences. Have you got any smoking-tobacco?’ winds up Sam. ‘Mine got wet when I swum the creek this morning.'”

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“‘Well, Ben,’ says Sam, kind of hefting his sword out from between his knees, ‘as your superior officer I could court-martial you for attempted cowardice and desertion. But I won’t. And I’ll tell you why I’m trying for promotion and the usual honors of war and conquest. A major gets more pay than a captain, and I need the money.’

“‘Correct for you!’ says I. ‘I can understand that. Your system of fame-seeking is rooted in the deepest soil of patriotism…'”

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