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Stephen Vincent Benét: Toy soldiers


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

American writers on peace and against war

Stephen Vincent Benét: The dead march from the last to the next blind war

Stephen Vincent Benét: Nightmare For Future Reference: The second year of the Third World War


Stephen Vincent Benét
From Spanish Bayonet

He opened the door. Three soldiers headed by a corporal marched into the room and grounded arms.

Andrew thought tiredly that they looked like disgruntled footmen in their draggled uniforms. The corporal’s face was still puffy with sleep. By some trick of mind he remembered his first tour of inspection when they had passed the tiny guardhouse near the wharves and Dr. Gentian had jested about his military forces. There were only eight men at the post – where were the other five’? It seemed inappropriate that they should not join in this nightmare joke of arresting him as a murderer and a rebel.

The corporal was a decent fellow – he had often given him tobacco. But tonight his face was as stiff and wooden as a face carved on the bowl of a pipe. It betrayed not the slightest sign that he had ever seen Andrew before. All soldiers were like that – they came out of a giant toy-box and turned into flat pieces of painted wood whenever someone spoke to them with a frog in his throat. He looked at the corporal’s feet accusingly – they should be glued into a little green stand. Also, it was thoughtless of Dr. Gentian to leave his soldiers out in the rain. They would have to be repainted, tomorrow, clumsily, with sticky stuff that came off on your tongue when you licked the brush. Presently he would get up and push the corporal in the chest – then the corporal would totter on his stand and fall in one piece against the nearest private, and all three of them would clatter to the floor with a woodeny sound, because they were only toys, and this was a dream.


“Once men have started to fight, they forget what set them on,” Sebastian said, “It is like a game of ball – the ball is nothing – the thing is to throw the ball so it counts for your side. Those who watch the game see better than the players. Only, in war, you cannot stand off and watch the game.”

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