Richard Aldington: Why so sentimental? Why all this fuss over a few million men killed and maimed?
From Death of a Hero (1929)
He…suffered abominably as month after month of the war dragged on with its interminable holocausts and immeasurable degradation of mankind. The world of men seemed dropping to pieces, madly cast down by men in a delirium of homicide and destructiveness. The very apparatus of killing revolted him, took of a sort of sinister deadness. There was something in the very look of his rifle and equipment which filled him with depression. And then, in his imagination, he was already facing the existence for which this was but a preparation, already confronting the agony of his own death. Horrific tales – alas! only too true – were told of companies and battalions wiped out in a few instants…
Over the men of that generation hung doom which was admirably if somewhat ruthlessly expressed by a British Staff Officer in an address to subalterns in France: “You are the War generation. You were born to fight this War, and it’s got to be won – we’re determined you shall win it. So far as you are concerned as individuals, it doesn’t matter a tinker’s damn whether you are killed or not. Most probably you will be killed, most of you. So make up your minds to it.”
There can be no world peace because the man who has the most money gets the best woman, as the German Kaiser said at the gathering of nations. As if the nations were a set of Kiplingesque characters bidding against each other for an expensive tart! How despicable, how odious!
Yes, but why so sentimental? Why all this fuss over a few million men killed and maimed? Thousands of people die weekly and somebody’s run over in London every day. Does that argument take you in? Well, the answer is that they’re not murdered. And your “thousands die weekly” are the old and the diseased; here’s it’s the young and the strong and the healthy…Loud cheers we’re winning. Yes, but, going back to murder – people are murdered all the time; look at Chicago. Look at Chicago! We’re always patting ourselves on the back and looking smugly at wicked Chicago. When there’s a shoot-up between gangs, do you approve of it, do you give the winning side medals for their gallantry, do you tell ’em to go to it and you’ll kiss them when they come back, do you march ’em by with a brass band and tell ’em what fine fellows they are? Do you take the gunman as the high ideal of humanity?…Blood will have blood. All right, now we know. It doesn’t matter whether murder is individual or collective, whether committed on behalf of one man or a gang or a state. It’s murder. When you approve murder you violate the right instincts of every human being. And a million murders egged on, lauded, exulted over, will raise a legion of Eumenides about your ears. The survivors will pay bitterly for it all their lives. Never mind, you’ll go on? More babies, soon make the losses? Have another merry old war soon, sooner the better…