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Katrina Trask: Civilized warfare

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

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Katrina Trask
From In the Vanguard

FIRST SOLDIER
Leaning on the piano and talking so loudly that his voice rises above the din of Philip’s music. Say – I was only taking the rights of war.

PHILIP
Scornfully, emphasising his words with loud musical chords. The rights of war! The rights of war! We fight, we win a battle, we invade this country, we come to this house, we take possession of it; a mother is dying up stairs, the servants have run away, a young inexperienced girl is alone. We desecrate the house, smash her jimcracks – (waving his hand towards the room). We smoke out her violet perfume with rank tobacco , make her wait on us and then kiss her by force! By Jove! It cuts!

FIRST SOLDIER
She’s damned lucky. If she had lived years ago – in fact, if she lived now in Turkey or any other
barbarous country – she would be lying in a pool of blood . But in civilised warfare –

PHILIP
Impatiently.
In civilised warfare we can be as uncivilised as we please provided it is “civilised warfare.”

****

Philip pours water from his canteen and holds it to the Enemy’s lips.

PHILIP
Here – take this water.

THE ENEMY
Turning away.
Water – from you? Not if I were in Hell!

PHILIP
Please take it from me – we are both soldiers.

THE ENEMY
I’m not a soldier now – I am just a man – blown to atoms – and cut to shreds – going out into the dark.

PHILIP
You are feverish. Please take this water.

THE ENEMY
I am not feverish. I am perfectly sane – sane – for the first time in all my life. I see clearly for the first time – I tell you death takes the blood mist from our eyes.

PHILIP
Then, if you are sane, remember your code.

THE ENEMY
Code be damned! Men trick themselves with lies. I see it all now – all the artificial stuff. I have wouldn’t blow a dog to atoms, for any reason, as I have blown my fellow-men for years – and never thought about it – as you have blown me.

PHILIP
Sternly.
Don’t say that again!

THE ENEMY
With a harsh laugh.
Ha! How particular we are about names! Call a man a brave soldier and his gold-embroidered
breast swells, he is puffed up with pride. Call a man a murderer and he is ready to knock you down.

****

THE ENEMY
O I’ll die like a soldier all right – that doesn’t trouble me – what troubles me is that I’ve been killing like a soldier for ten years – I tell you, dying opens the door and one sees a new view. I thought I was a fine hero and I find I’m just a common murderer – a wholesale murderer!

****

THE ENEMY
…Killing is against the Law – the law of God – the law of Society – the inner law of Conscience. Calling it fine names doesn’t change it. It has been murder in the first degree, for it was intent. Every shot the army fired was intendedaimedplanned to kill, and I was a part of each purpose – each intent.

****

That’s funny too. Blow a man to pieces in the name of patriotism, and then try to patch the pieces together in the name of humanity. It’s really comic when you come to think about it – I won’t be party to such a farce any longer. There’s no help for me now, and besides – I wouldn’t take it from an enemy!

There is an awful silence, broken only by the ominous sound in the man ‘s throat and by piteous sounds that come from the battle-field.

****

PHILIP
I should rather you would turn me out of the house than –

MRS. GORDON
Interrupting.
You know, Philip, I would not turn you out of the house for anything; not even if you had committed murder.

PHILIP
I have.

MRS. GORDON
Startled.
What, Philip?

PHILIP
Committed murder.

MRS. GORDON
Turning pale.
What do you mean?

PHILIP
I have killed men –

Mrs. GORDON
In a tone of horror.
Philip!

PHILIP
In battle.

MRS. GORDON
Looking much relieved.
What a turn you gave me! I thought you meant you had actually murdered; I do not know what to expect from you these days.

PHILIP
I do mean just that. Killing is killing – is it not? Wherever it is done.

MRS. GORDON
Mercy, no; that’s very different.

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