Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

This is War!

In Memoriam

A Quarter of a Century

August 1914-August 1939

AUGUST 1914 – * RUSSIA MASSES 80,000 MEN ON BORDER
* GERMANY DECLARES WAR ON RUSSIA
* FRANCE PREPARES TO JOIN HER ALLY
* ITALY QUITS TRIPLE ALLIANCE
* GERMANY ADVANCES THROUGH BELGIUM
* BRITISH ULTIMATUM TO GERMANY

APRIL 2nd 1917 –

… We are glad, now that we see the facts with no veil of false pretence about them, to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included: for the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the trusted foundations of political liberty.” Woodrow Wilson.

Known soldier dead………………………………………………………….10, 000, 000

“Missing” dead…………………………………………………………………4,000,000


Barque and Biquet were shot in the belly, Endre in the throat. In the dragging and the carrying they were further injured. Big Lamuse, at last bloodless, had a puffed and creased face, and the eyes were gradually sinking in their sockets, one more than the other. They have wrapped him in tent-cloth, and it shows a dark stain where the neck is. His right shoulder has been mangled by several bullets, and the arm is held on only by strips of the sleeve and by threads that have been put in since. The first night he was placed there this arm hung outside the heap of dead, and the yellow hand, curled up on a lump of earth, touched passers-by in the face, so that they pinned the arm to the greatcoat.

A pestilential vapour begins to hover about the remains of three beings with whom we lived so intimately and suffered so long. (1)

They are so smashed that Tjaden remarks you could scrape them off the wall of the trench with a spoon and bury them in a mess-tin. Another has the lower part of his body and his legs torn off. Dead his chest leans against the side of the trench, his face is lemon-yellow, in his beard still burns a cigarette. It glows until it dies out on his lips. (2)

He looked about, shaken by nausea, his gorge rising. In a dip in the trench he saw a pile of dirty tattered uniforms heaped in layers and with strangely rigid outlines. It took him some time to grasp the full horror of that which towered in front of him. Fallen soldiers were lying there like gathered logs, in the contoured shapes of the last death agony. Tent flaps had been spread over them, but had slipped down and revealed the grip, stony grey caricatures, the fallen jaws, the staring eyes. The arms of those in the top tier hung earthward like parts of a trellis, and grasped at the faces of those lying below, and were already sown with the livid splotches of corruption. (3)

Fragments become coated with these acids in exploding and wounds caused by them mean death in terrible agony within four hours if not attended to immediately…It can be seen from this that this shell is more effective than the regular, shrapnel, since the wound caused by shrapnel balls and fragments in the muscles are not as dangerous as they have no poisoness element making prompt attention necessary”. Advertisement in AMERICAN MACHINIST May 6, 1915.

Attacks alternate with counter-attacks and slowly the dead pile up in field of craters between the trenches…The day is hot and the dead lie unburied. We cannot fetch them all in, if we did we should not know what to do with them. The shells will bury them. Many have these bellies swollen up like balloons. They hiss, belch and make movements. The gases in them make noises. (2)

In the twinkling of an eye the man’s entire left side flared up in flames. With a howl of agony he threw himself to the ground, writhed and screamed and leaped to his feet again, and ran moaning up and down like a living torch, until he broke down, half-charred, and twitched, and then lay rigid. Captain Marschner saw him lying there and smelt the odour of burned flesh, and his eyes involuntarily strayed to his own hand on which a tiny, white spot just under his thumb reminded him of the torments he had suffered in his boyhood from a bad burn. (5)


Seriously wounded…………………………………………………………………………6, 5000,000

Otherwise wounded………………………………………………………………………14,000,000


We see men living with their skulls blown open., we see soldiers run with their two feet cut off, they stagger on their splintered stumps into the next shell-hole., a lance corporal crawls a mile and a half on his hands dragging his smashed knee after him., another goes to the dressing station and over his clasped hands bulge his intestines., we see men without jaws, without faces., we find one man who has held the artery of his arm in his teeth for two hours in order not to bleed to death. (2)

Lunch with Loti and a Lieutenant Simon who had his forearm broken and an eye shot out at the Marne. The horrible thing is that, when he describes how he was wounded, he no longer absorbs the attention of guests. Already (February 1915) indifference is growing. “One can’t get away from heroes,” it has been said

“Between 1915 and 1916 the French and British made five major assaults on the Western Front, the Germans one. None was decisive. None produced substantial changes in the relative positions of the belligerents. All resulted in tremendous losses
.” – Rose Stein in M-DAY, (Harcourt, Brace)

Last winter at Verdun, a regiment of Zonaves had to halt in shell craters, before an attack on a night of bitter cold. The colonel telephoned to the general that his men would soon be frozen and unable to march. The general, snugly ensconced in his quarters, insisted on their remaining where they were. There were 1,200 cases of frozen feet, and 600 amputations. (4)

“… remembering the grey crooked fingers and thick drip of blood off canvas the bubbling when the ling cases try to breathe the muddy scraps of flesh you put in the ambulance alive and haul out dead
.” – 1919 (CAMERA EYE) John Das Passos (Harcourt, Brace).

They (wounded from the trenches in Serbia) were filthy, a bundle of rags, vermin, and dirt. Clay-caked they came from the trenches with matted hair and beards…with skins parched, cracked, and ingrained with filth…about their person, over their hands, their faces, their clothing, crawled vermin by the millions., the stench…was nauseating…Upon…the countenance of each was the expression such as only came after days of terrible suffering…their hands shook with palsy…poor starved skeletons, a mere framework of what had once been a muscular, well nourished, robust man in the prime of life…Our most repulsive cases were the patients whose entire bodies would fill without any apparent cause, resulting in death in four or five hours – probably a sequel of typhus…about 95% of the gun-shot wounds were infected…(5)

Civilian and non-combatant dead………………………………………..28,000,000

Dead from Hunger……………………………………………………………..unknown millions


During the first stage the organism, although having daily a huge deficit in nutrition, lives upon former reserves. Then comes the second stage, atrocious animal, irresistible hunger. The wretched sufferers devour the grass they find along the hedges…They spend whole days turning over refuse heaps and eat everything more or less resembling food…This state is followed by the third and last., the period of exhaustion and apathy, the sufferer becomes completely indifferent. The best food no longer tempts him…Fully conscious, calm and impassive; he waits for the approach of the last hour. When he feels it coming he lies down, covers himself and dies without a word. (6)

“War is no longer Samson with his shield and spear and sword, and David with his sling … it is the conflict of the smokestacks now, the combat of driving wheel and engine.
” Newton D. Baker, Secretary of War

Blockade starved hordes of young and old

I couldn’t help asking. “Is he twelve?” For this boy was no longer than a boy of eight. The baby got up and walked to us in a friendly fashion, and then I noticed that its frail legs were crooked. A little girl ran in and stood beside her mother looking at us. Under both ears were big lumps – a child with tubercular glands. What I saw in this house was true of all the families I visited…and everywhere swarmed children, pale children, children with blotched and scarred faces, children with skinny crooked legs. (7) “The American national debt rose from less than $1,000,000,000 to more than $24, 000,000,000, or from $9.88 per person to $228 per person.”

The feeble of all ages were carried off quickly when concentrated foods (fats) could no longer be had to keep them alive, and persons of middle age and old age suffered so much that death in many cases was a welcome relief…Driven by necessity, the several states (Central Powers) practiced wholesale manslaughter of the less fit.

I was greatly interested in the “home” casualties, and discussed them with many, among them life insurance men, educators and government officials. The first class took a strictly business view of the thing. The life insurance company were heavy losers. (8)

Millions were killed by typhus. First it developed among the unfortunate Austrian prisoners huddled by thousands in Serbian prison camps. They succumbed daily in hundreds – later thousands… (of the 60,000 total, 30,000 died of typhus and 15,000 more on the retreat into Albania). From the prison camps the plague spread into hospitals. There the havoc was tragic indeed,. For 90% of the stricken succumbed, among them physicians and surgeons…Before the epidemic subsided, 75% of the people of Genelia (Serbian city) died. (5)

A doctor tells me that they have a delousing section behind the lines. The soldiers infested with vermin are sent out of the line since the insect spreads the disease. So the louse is treasured. A dozen lice in a match box command a ready sale – the larger the louse, the higher the price.
(4)

And millions more succumbed to Spanish flu, the greatest war pestilence in centuries.

In the United States alone there were nearly 30,000,000 cases, or one out of every four persons in the country. 400,000 to 500,000 died. Half as many soldiers died from influenza in the army camps as died in battle. In Philadelphia the death rate rose 700%. In many cities the poor lay unburied through lack of coffins and grave-diggers. Mines shut down, shipyards and munition factories curtailed operations. Telephone services was cut in half. (9)

“In our effort to silence those who advocated peace without victory we prevented at the very start that vigorous threshing out of fundamentals which might today have saved us from victory without peace
.” Professor Zechariah Chaffee, in “FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN WAR-TIME”.

Men were trained for the Tasks of War…

I wish to speak to you this evening about the spirit of the bayonet…You’ve got to get down and hook them with the bayonet. You will enjoy that, I can assure you. You will certainly know what it feels like to drive that bayonet home and get it out again. You will feel that you will like to go on killing. You are here to work on the idea and to work damn hard…That is the spirit to have – to keep on killing…and I say to you, if you see a wounded German shove him out and have no nonsense about it. We are going to have no sympathy with the Germans at any rate…Then try to experience what it is to have the feeling of warm blood trickling over hands…Get hold of your men., whatever you say, see that it is done. But whatever you do, see that those men are taught to kill.” (10)

“Practical bayonet combat: The part of the body to be attacked will be designated by name as head, neck, chest, stomach, legs…The commands are given and the movements…thoroughly explained by the instructor…The influence of the instructor is great…He should influence the zeal of the men and arouse pleasure in the work
.” – MANUAL OF MILITARY TRAINING.

War the orators said, brings out the best men, as well as the worst

We stand on the firing-step and shoot into the closely packed ranks. Every shot tells. My rifle is hot. On all sides of us machine-guns hammer at the attacking ranks…I am filled with a frenzied hatred of these men. They want to kill me, but I will stand here and shoot at them until I am either shot or stabbed down. I grit my teeth. We are snarling, savage beasts. Their dead and wounded are piling up about for feet deep. They climb over them as they advance. Suddenly they break and retreat. We have repulsed them again. Their wounded crawl towards our trenches. We shoot at them. (11)

Diary of an Unknown Aviator

It’s not the fear of death that’s done it. I’m still not afraid to die. It’s this eternal flinching from it that’s doing it and has made a coward out of me. Few men live to know what real fear is. It’s something that’s grown on you, day by day, that eats into your constitution and undermines your sanity…I haven’t a chance, I know and it’s this eternal waiting around that’s killing me…I know now why men go out and take such long chances and pull off such wild stunts…I know how men laugh at death and welcome it. (12)

The liberal peoples of the world are united in a common cause…The cause of the Allies is now unmistakably the cause of liberalism and the hope of an enduring peace.” –NEW REPUBLIC, April 21, 1917.

The three Hofer brothers and Jacob Wipf, members of an anti-war sect, were first sent to Alcatraz Island…They were put in a dungeon below the surface of the water. It was pitch black. Water dripped from the walls. Clad only in their underwear and tortured by a strait-jacket and ball and chain, the four Christians were kept in a dungeon for five days, spending thirty-six of the hours manacled to the bars. After five days they were transferred to Leavenworth and again placed in solitary. Two of them contracted pneumonia and…died…As a final irony; the body of one of them…was sent back to his people dressed in military uniform. (13)

What is the use of a wounded German anyway? He goes into hospital and the next thing that happens is that you must meet him again in some other part of the line. That’s no good to us, is it? So when you see a German laid out, just finish him off…kill them, every mother’s son of them…exterminate the vile creatures. Murder that vile animal called a German
. (10)

AUGUST 27, 1928 –

The high contrasting parties solemnly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another. – Pact of Paris.

AUGUST 19. 1939

* ARMAMENT BUDGETS BIGGEST IN HISTORY
* CONSCRIPTIONS UNDER WAY IN ENGLAND
* JAPAN BOMBS MIORE CHINESE CITIES
* HITLER MASSES TROOPS ON POLISH LINE
* PLACE AMERICAN FRONTIER ON RHINE
* PREPARING FOR SECOND WORLD WAR


…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

1. Under Fire, by Henri Barbusse (Everyman’s Library, Dutton).

2. All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque (Little, Brown).

3. Men in War, by Andreas Latzko (Modern Library).

4. The Paris Front, by Michael Corday (E.P. Dutton).

5. The Highway of Death, by Earl Bishop Downer, M.D. (F.A. Davies).

6. Memorandum of the Serbian Socialist Party, 1917 (Unpublished).

7. A Footnote to Folly, by Mary Heaton Vorse (Farrar & Rinehart).

8. The Iron Ration, by Georg Abel Schreiner (John Murray, London).

9. Our Times, by Mark Sullivan (Scribner’s).

10. Supressed Speech by Company Sergeant-Major (Published in No More War, London).

11). Generals Die in Bed, by Charles Yale Harrison (Morrow).

12). War Birds (John Hamilton, London).

13). Hey, Yellowbacks, by Ernest L. Meyer (John Day).

POSTSCRIPT

The article THIS IS WAR was written by Rudolf Frank although he signs the article “Typed by Austrian in the German Army”. According to Robert Barltrop, in his MONUMENT: THE STORY OF THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN (Pluto 1975), Rudolf Frank had discovered, what he called, “the SPGB university” in Britain before the 1914-18 war and “ever since, he had laboured to spread the Socialist message” (p. 130).

Throughout the Nazi occupation of Austria, Comrade Frank carried on Socialist propaganda providing a useful retort to the petty and shallow remarks made to Socialists in Britain at the time: “what would you do if Hitler invaded”. The answer, as Frank had demonstrated in occupied Austria was to “Keep on spreading Socialist ideas the best a Socialist can under the circumstances”.

The article has no date but the text finishes on August 19th 1939 with remarks on the impending war. When the Second World War finally took place the following month, the Socialist Party of Great Britain opposed the conflict between competing capitalist countries on the grounds of class interest, working class solidarity and the class struggle; just as the Party had done in August 1914.

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