William Black: Military glory, the most mean, the most cruel and contemptible thing under the sun!
From Sunrise (1881)
“…And I am to consider America as my future home? Well, at all events, one will be able to breathe freely there. It is not a country weighed down with standing armies and conscriptions and fortifications. How could one live in a town like Coblentz, or Metz, or Brest? The poor wretches marching this way and marching that – you watch them from your hotel window – the young men and the middle-aged men – and you know that they would rather be away at their farms, or in their factories, or saw-pits, or engine-houses, working for their wives and children – ”
“Natalie,” said he, “you are only half a woman: you don’t care about military glory.”
“It is the most mean, the most cruel and contemptible thing under the sun!” she said, passionately. “What is the quality that makes a great hero – a great general – nowadays? Courage? Not a bit. It is callousness! – an absolute indifference to the slaughtering of human lives! You sit in your tent – you sit on horseback – miles away from the fighting; and if the poor wretches are being destroyed here or there in too great quantities, if they are ridden down by the horses and torn to pieces by the mitrailleuses, ‘Oh, clap on another thousand or two: the place must be taken at all risks.’ Yes, indeed; but not much risk to you! For if you fail – if all the thousands of men have been hurled against the stone and lead only to be thrown back crushed and murdered – why, you have fought with great courage – you, the great general, sitting in your saddle miles away; it is you who have shown extraordinary courage! – but numbers were against you: and if you win, you have shown still greater courage; and the audacity of the movement was so and so; and your dogged persistence was so and so; and you get another star for your breast; and all the world sings your praises. And who is to court-martial a great hero for reckless waste of human life? Who is to tell him that he is a cruel-hearted coward? Who is to take him to the fields he has saturated with blood, and compel him to count the corpses; or to take him to the homesteads he has ruined throughout the land, and ask the women and sons and the daughters what they think of this marvellous courage? Oh no; he is away back in the capital – there is a triumphal procession; all we want now is another war-tax – for the peasant must pay with his money as well as with his blood – and another levy of the young men to be taken and killed!”