Richard Aldington: It is so important to know how to kill
From Death of a Hero (1929)
The business of “making a man” of him was pursued at School, but with little more success, even with the aid of compulsion.
“The type of boy we aim at turning out,” the Head used to say to impressed parents, “is a thoroughly manly fellow. We prepare for the Universities, of course, but our pride is in our excellent Sports Record. There is an O.T.C., organized by Sergeant-Major Brown (who served throughout the South African War) and officered by the masters who have been trained in the Militia. Every boy must undergo six months’ training, and is then competent to take up arms for his Country in an emergency.”
The parents murmured polite approval, though rather tender mothers hoped the discipline was not too strict and “the guns not too heavy for young arms.” The Head was contemptuously and urbanely reassuring. On such occasions he invariably quoted those stirring and indeed immortal lines of Rudyard Kipling which end up, “You’ll be a man, my son.” It is so important to know how to kill. Indeed, unless you know how to kill you cannot possibly be a Man, still less a Gentleman.
How curious are cities, with their intricate trench systems and perpetual warfare, concealed but as deadly as the open warfare of armies! We live in trenches, with flat revetments of house-fronts as parapet and parados. The warfare goes on behind the house-fronts – wives with husbands, children with parents, employers with employed, tradesmen with tradesmen, banker with lawyer, and the triumphal doctor rooting out life’s casualties. Desperate warfare – and for what? Money as the symbol of power; power as the symbol or affirmation of existence. Throbbing warfare of men’s cities. As fierce and implacable and concealed as the desperate warfare of plants and the hidden carnage of animals…
Of course, in that eternity of 1914-18 they must have come to feel that men were mortal, and they immortals…And then there was the deep primitive physiological instinct – men to kill and be killed; women to produce more men to continue the process…
There must be a vast amount of latent masochism in women…How ghastly – if you think about it – their passion for soldiers! To breed babes by him who has slain men – puh! there’s too much spilt blood in the world; one sickens at it…