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Charles Edward Montague: War’s demoralization


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

British writers on peace and war

Charles Edward Montague: Selections on war and its aftermath


Charles Edward Montague
From Disenchantment

The war had more obvious disagreeables, too; you have heard all about them: the quelling coldness of frosty nights spent in soaked clothes – for no blankets were brought up to the trenches; the ubiquitous dust and stench of corpses and buzzing of millions of corpse-fed flies on summer battle-fields; and so on, and so on – no need to go over the list.


Nearly everybody is morally weary. Most of the men inspected have outlived the first profuse impulse to court more of bodily risk than authority expressly orders. Most of the doctors, living here in the distant rear of the war, have outlived their first generous belief in an almost universally high moral among the men. In the training-camps in 1914 the safe working presumption about any unknown man was that he only wanted to get at the enemy as soon as he could. Now the working presumption, the starting hypothesis, is that a man wants to stay in, out of the rain, as long as you let him. Faith has fallen lame; generosity flags; there has entered into the soul as well as the body the malady known to athletes as staleness.


Even officers tended to deprecate the higher temperatures of ardour in other ranks of base establishments. “You’re out for distinction,” – one honest rationalist would advise – “that’s what it is. Well, trust to me – up the line’s not the place where you get it. Every time a war ends you’ll find most of the decorations go to the people at G.H.Q., L. of C., and the bases.

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