Octave Mirbeau: War, apprenticeship in man-killing
From Calvary (1886)
Translated by Louis Rich
That evening I did not go out and remained at home to muse in solitude. Stretched on a sofa, with half-closed eyes, and body made torpid by the heat, almost slumbering, I liked to go back to my past, to bring to life things dead and to recall memories which escaped me. Five years had passed since the war – the war in which I began my apprenticeship in life by entering the tormenting profession of a man-killer…Five years already!…
During the war I had killed a man who was kindly, young and strong, and I had killed him just at the moment when, fascinated, with beating heart, he was rapturously watching the rising sun! I had killed him while hidden behind a tree, concealed by the shadow, like a coward! He was a Prussian? What difference does it make! He, too, was a human being, a man like myself, better than myself. Upon his life were depending the feeble lives of women and children; a portion of suffering humanity was praying for him, waiting for him; perhaps in that virile youth, in that robust body that was his, he had the germs of those superior beings for whom humanity had been living in hope? And with one shot from an idiotic, trembling gun I had destroyed all that.