John Dos Passos: Meat for guns. Shot for saying the war was wrong.
John Dos Passos
From Three Soldiers (1921)
Fuselli looked about him. He was sitting in one of the lowest of three tiers of bunks roughly built of new pine boards. Electric lights placed here and there gave a faint reddish tone to the gloom, except at the ladders, where high-power lamps made a white glare. The place was full of tramping of feet and the sound of packs being thrown on bunks as endless files of soldiers poured in down every ladder. Somewhere down the alley an officer with a shrill voice was shouting to his men: “Speed it up there; speed it up there.” Fuselli sat on his bunk looking at the terrifying confusion all about, feeling bewildered and humiliated. For how many days would they be in that dark pit? He suddenly felt angry. They had no right to treat a feller like that. He was a man, not a bale of hay to be bundled about as anybody liked.
“An’ if we’re torpedoed a fat chance we’ll have down here,” he said aloud.
“They got sentries posted to keep us from goin up on deck,” said someone.
“God damn them. They treat you like you was a steer being taken over for meat.”
“Well, you’re not a damn sight more. Meat for the guns.”
“He always did talk queer.”
“I always thought,” said Fuselli, “he’d get into trouble talking the way he did.”
“How’d he talk?” asked Daniels.
“Oh, he said that war was wrong and all that goddamed pro-German stuff.”
“D’ye know what they did out at the front?” said Daniels. “In the second division they made two fellers dig their own graves and then shot ’em for sayin’ the war was wrong.”
“Hell, they did?”
“You’re goddam right, they did. I tell you, fellers, it don’t do to monkey with the buzz-saw in this army.”
Fuselli noticed, at the other end of the row of bunks, a group of men who all seemed to be looking at the same thing. Rolling down his sleeves, with his tunic hitched over one arm, he walked down to see what was the matter. Through the patter of the rain, he heard a thin voice say:
“It ain’t no use, sergeant, I’m sick. I ain’t a’ goin’ to get up.”
“The kid’s crazy,” someone beside Fuselli said, turning away.
“You get up this minute,” roared the sergeant. He was a big man with black hair who looked like a lumberman. He stood over the bunk. In the bunk at the end of a bundle of blankets was the chalk-white face of Stockton. The boy’s teeth were clenched, and his eyes were round and protruding, it seemed from terror.
“You get out o’ bed this minute,” roared the sergeant again.
The boy; was silent; his white cheeks quivered.
“What the hell’s the matter with him?”
“Why don’t you yank him out yourself, Sarge?”
“You get out of bed this minute,” shouted the sergeant again, paying no attention.
The men gathered about walked away. Fuselli watched fascinated from a little distance.
“All right, then, I’ll get the lieutenant. This is a court-martial offence. Here, Morton and Morrison, you’re guards over this man.”
The boy lay still in his blankets. He closed his eyes. By the way the blanket rose and fell over his chest, they could see that he was breathing heavily.
“Say, Stockton, why don’t you get up, you fool?”‘ said Fuselli. “You can’t buck the whole army.”
The boy didn’t answer.
Fuselli walked away.
“He’s crazy,” he muttered.
The lieutenant was a stoutish red-faced man who came in puffing followed by the tall sergeant. He stopped and shook the water off his Campaign hat. The rain kept up its deafening patter on the roof.
“Look here, are you sick? If you are, report sick call at once,” said the lieutenant in an elaborately kind voice.
The boy looked at him dully and did not answer.
“You should get up and stand at attention when an officer speaks to you.
“I ain’t goin’ to get up,” came the thin voice.
The officer’s red face became crimson.
“Sergeant, what’s the matter with the man?” he asked in a furious tone.
“I can’t do anything with him, lieutenant. I think he’s gone crazy.”
“Rubbish…Mere insubordination…You’re under arrest, d’ye hear?” he shouted towards the bed.
There was no answer. The rain pattered hard on the roof.
“Have him brought down to the guardhouse, by force if necessary,” snapped the lieutenant. He strode towards the door. “And sergeant, start drawing up court-martial papers at once.” The door slammed behind him.
“Now you’ve got to get him up,” said the sergeant to the two guards.
Fuselli walked away.
“Ain’t some people damn fools?” he said to a man at the other end of the barracks. He stood looking out of the window at the bright sheets of the rain.
“Well, get him up,” shouted the sergeant.
The boy lay with his eyes closed, his chalk-white face half-hidden by the blankets; he was very still.
“Well, will you get up and go to the guardhouse, or have we to carry you there?” shouted the sergeant.
The guards laid hold of him gingerly and pulled him up to a sitting posture.
“All right, yank him out of bed.”
The frail form in khaki shirt and whitish drawers was held up for a moment between the two men. Then it fell a limp heap on the floor.
“Say, Sarge, he’s fainted.”
“The hell he has…Say, Morrison, ask one of the orderlies to come up from the Infirmary.”
“He ain’t fainted…The kid’s dead,” said the other man.
“Give me a hand.”
The sergeant helped lift the body on the bed again. “Well, I’ll be goddamned,” said the sergeant.
The eyes had opened. They covered the head with a blanket.