Charles Yale Harrison: Two kinds of people in the world, those who like wars and those who fight them
Charles Yale Harrison
From Generals Die In Bed (1928)
To the left, up towards the line a mile or two away, we see an ammunition dump blowing itself up in sporadic explosions. It must have been hit by a stray shell. In the blackness of the night it looks as though a boy had thrown a match among a giant heap of fireworks. We have seen these things before – they keep on going off for weeks – open-air enormous storage places for ammunition supplies, sometimes a square mile in area.
We crowd to the side of the truck to watch the sight. We talk among ourselves about it.
“They say those ‘coalbox’ shells cost about five thousand dollars each.”
“Can you imagine what a little barrage costs, then?”
We lapse into silence as we try to calculate the possible cost of a preliminary bombardment. After a while someone says in an awed voice:
“Millions, I guess.”
“Then what must a scrap like Passchendaele cost? They were hammering away there for months. First the Belgians tried to take it, then the Imperials, then the Anzacs, and then we did. They must’ve fired millions of shells…”
This problem in mathematics is too much for us.If one twelve-inch shell costs five thousand dollars, then a major battle must cost – it is too much…
“I bet that dump going up over there must cost a billion dollars.”
“And I’ll bet somebody is making a profit on those shells whether they are fired at the Germans or whether they just blow up…”
“Sure they do.”
A surprised voice from a corner says:
“Just think of all the people that’s getting a big hunk of swag out of it. Shoes, grub, uniforms, bully beef…”
He breaks off.
We all join in enumerating the various materials of war on which someone may be making a profit.
“…and big profits, too.”
The lorry hits a shell hole and knocks the breath out of us for a while.
We continue the conversation.
“Sure, and I’ll bet that those people don’t want the war to end in a hurry.”
“At Étaples when I was goin’ on my leave I heard a madame in an estaminet say she hoped the war never ended – with her gettin’ five francs for a bottle of vinegar what she called vin blanc. Why should she?”
“All of us wish the war was over, but believe me, there’s plenty that don’t.”
“…there’s those that make the shells, the clothes; them that sell the food, rifles, socks, underwear, ships, boots…”
Others break in:
“Flags, airplanes, artillery…”
“Officers with cushy jobs in Blighty…”
“Paymasters in Millbank…”
“Society dames playing the Florence Nightingale with wounded officers…”
“…these men who are making money on war have wives and daughters and women…”
“…there must be millions of them…!”
“…and in every country, too. In Germany and France and America…!”
“…and they’re praying to God tonight for the war to last forever while we’re riding in this goddamned lorry…”
“…and God must be listening to them. Look how long it’s been going on.”
“There’s two kinds of people in this world – there’s those who like wars and those who fight ’em, pal.”