Charles Yale Harrison: Who can comfort whom in war? The mother of the man who died at the end of my bayonet
Charles Yale Harrison
From Generals Die In Bed (1928)
How can I say to this boy that something took us both, his brother and me, and dumped us into a lonely, shrieking hole at night – it armed us with deadly weapons and threw us against each other.
I imagined that I see the happy face of the mother when she heard that her two boys were to be together. She must have written to the older one, the one that died at the end of my bayonet, to look after his younger brother. Take care of each other and comfort one another, she wrote, I am sure.
Who can comfort whom in war? Who can care for us, we who are set loose at each other and tear at each other’s entrails with silent gleaming bayonets?
I buy tickets for the theater. Inside, the performance has started.
On the stage a vulgar-faced comic is prancing up and down the apron of the stage singing. Behind him about fifty girls dressed in gauzy khaki stage uniforms, who look like lewd female Tommies, dance to the tune of the music. Their breasts bob up and down as they dance and sing:
Oh, it’s a lovely war.
What do we care for eggs and ham
When we have plum and apple jam?
Quick march, right turn.
What do we do with the money we earn?
Oh, oh, oh, it’s a lovely war.
The tempo is quick, the orchestra crashes, the trombones slide, the comic pulls impossible faces.
The audience shrieks with laughter. Gladys laughs until tears roll down her face.
The chorus marches into the wings. A Union Jack comes down at the back of the stage. The audience applauds and cheers.
I feel miserable.
The fat comic – the half-undressed actresses – somehow made me think of the line. I look about me. There are very few men on leave in the theater. The place is full of smooth-faced civilians. I feel that they have no right to laugh at jokes about the war.
I hear Gladys’s voice.
“Don’t you like it, boy?”
“No, these people have no right to laugh.”
“But, silly, they are trying to forget.”
“They have no business to forget. They should me made to remember.”