The Horrors of War

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“It is well that war is so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it.” ~ Robert E. Lee

“The evils of war are great in their endurance, and have a long reckoning for ages to come.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

Current Conflicts

At the dawning of the year 2004, there were fifteen major wars in progress, plus twenty more “lesser” conflicts. According to Global Security, there are now conflicts raging in the following places:

  • Afghanistan (Taliban and Al Qaida)
  • Algeria (insurgency by Muslim fundamentalists)
  • Angola (secessionist conflict in Angola’s Cabinda enclave)
  • Burma (insurgency by ethnic minority groups)
  • Burundi (civil war between ethnic groups)
  • China (dispute with other countries over ownership of Spratly Islands)
  • Colombia (insurgency by various guerilla groups)
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo War involving nine African nations)
  • Georgia (conflict with Russia, ethnic group conflict)
  • India (longstanding conflicts in Assam and Kashmir; Naxalite uprising)
  • Indonesia (conflicts in Aceh, Kalimantan, Maluku, and Papua)
  • Iraq (occupation by U.S. forces)
  • Israel (Intifada)
  • Ivory Coast (civil war)
  • Liberia (ritual killings and cannibalism)
  • Moldova (Transdniester independence movement)
  • Namibia (Caprivi Strip liberation movement)
  • Nepal (Maoist insurgency)
  • Nigeria (religious and ethnic conflicts)
  • Peru (Shining Path terrorist movement)
  • Philippines (Moro Islamic Liberation Front uprising)
  • Russia (Chechen uprising)
  • Somalia (civil war)
  • Spain (Basque uprising)
  • Sri Lanka (Tamil uprising)
  • Sudan (civil war)
  • Thailand (Islamic insurgency)
  • Turkey (Kurdish separatist movement)
  • Uganda (civil unrest)

Although the United Nations was founded “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind,” there have been more conflicts in the world since the founding of the UN than during any previous period in history.

The United States maintains a global empire of troops and bases that would make a Roman emperor look like the mayor of a small town.

War

Too much has been written throughout history that glorifies war and the warrior who is sent by the state to do its bidding. Dying for one’s country — regardless of the circumstances that brought on the conflict — is seen as the ultimate sacrifice. To protest the war is to be a traitor. Being a professional soldier is viewed as one of the noblest of occupations. The death of enemy combatants is celebrated. Civilian casualties are written off as “collateral damage.”

In the current Iraq war, before the phoney transfer of power on June 28, 855 American troops had died. That is 800 young men (and women) who will never gave their parents any grandchildren or who left behind grieving wives and children. Forgotten are the over 5000 military personnel who were injured, many of whom will endure suffering the rest of their life. And that number is just the “official” figure. The thousands of Iraqi troops killed or injured are not much of a concern to anyone — and neither are the Iraqi civilian casualties.

General descriptions of the horrors of war can be read in any military history by John Keegan or Martin Gilbert. But more and more specific accounts of the horrors of war are beginning to see the light of day. Blood Red Snow: The Memoirs of a German Soldier on the Eastern Front and His Time in Hell: A Texas Marine in France are two recent books that explore the horrors of war from the individual soldier’s point of view. Chris Hedges’ What Every Person Should Know About War is a stinging indictment of the twin evils of the glorification of war and the concealment of its brutality.

Intimate Voices

The recently published Intimate Voices from the First World War does all of those things and much more. What makes this book so unique is that the authors — twenty eight men, women, and children from thirteen different nations — because they were not writing for publication, had no particular statement to make other than to describe the effects of war on themselves and their surroundings. This is the ultimate in primary source material. From their research into hundreds of first-hand accounts, the editors of the book, Svetlana Palmer and Sarah Wallis, selected twenty-eight diaries or collections of letters written by soldiers and civilians who lived (and in some cases died) during World War I. Many of the diaries were found decades after the end of the war, and some in the last few years. A few are published here for the first time.

The horrors of war are described here as no historian writing in the twenty-first century could describe them. But in addition to the accounts of death, destruction, and starvation, Intimate Voices also gives us an insight into the role of the state in warfare, the religious ideas of the combatants, the war’s demoralizing effect on women, and the regrets of soldier and civilian.

The War

The conflict we read about in Intimate Voices is the “great war” to “make the world safe for democracy” — the “war to end all wars.” The war began when Austria declared war on Serbia after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, during a state visit to Sarajevo, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The archduke had recently given an after-dinner toast in which he advocated peace: “To peace! What would we get out of war with Serbia? We’d lose the lives of young men and we’d spend money better used elsewhere. And what would we gain, for heaven’s sake? A few plum trees, some pastures full of goat droppings, and a bunch of rebellious killers.” His advice went unheeded, and resulted in the slaughter of over a million soldiers who fought for his empire, plus an untold number of ordinary citizens. Overall, 65 million men donned a miliary uniform, over 9.3 million soldiers died, 21 million soldiers were wounded, 7.8 million soldiers were captured or missing, and 6.7 million civilians died.

The Cast of Characters

The writers of the diaries and letters in Intimate Voices are a diverse lot.

German soldier Paul Hub is a young recruit sent to make up for the heavy losses suffered by his advancing army. He married his sweetheart, whom he wrote to throughout the war, while home on leave in June of 1918. After a few days with his wife he returned to the front — only to die two months later.

Polish widow Helena Jablonska survived the war and died in 1936.

Austrian doctor Josef Tomann tends to the sick and wounded soldiers in a hospital in Przemysl. He contracted disease and died in May 1915, leaving behind a wife and a baby daughter.

German officer Ernst Nopper, an interior decorator from Ludwigsburg, was killed in action on the Western Front, leaving a wife and two children.

Serbian officer Milorad Markovic is the future grandfather of Mirjana Markovic, wife of Slobodan Milosevic. He survived the war, only to be captured by the Nazis in the next one. He made it through that one as well and died in 1967.

Russian soldier Vasily Mishnin was reunited with his wife and two sons after the war. He went back to work at a furniture shop and died in 1955.

Australian corporal George Mitchell finished the war as a captain. He wrote several books about World War I and served again in World War II. He died in 1961.

Turkish second lieutenant Mehmed Fasih was captured by the Allies and released at the end of the war. He married in 1924 and lived until 1964.

German doctor Ludwig Deppe returned to Dresden after the war. His subsequent fate is unknown.

French captain Paul Truffrau returned to Paris after the war, where he became a teacher. He went on to fight and keep another diary in World War II. He died in 1973.

Russian officer Dmitry Oskin joined the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution. He advanced in the Communist Party but died suddenly in 1934, possibly a victim of a Stalinist purge.

American officer John Clark survived the war and married his sweetheart, a Red Cross nurse.

An unnamed Austrian officer wrote a diary that was found on his dead body in July of 1915. He died in mid-sentence.

Russian soldier Alexei Zyikov was captured by the Germans. His diary was found by a Russian solider in Germany during World War II.

German schoolgirl Piete Kuhr lived through the war and became a professional performer and then a writer. She and her family fled to Switzerland during World War II. She died in 1989.

French schoolboy Yves Congar lived to become a priest, serve in World War II, and be made a cardinal. He lived until 1995.

Klara Hess was the mother of the future Nazi Rudolf Hess.

African Kande Kamara was from French Guinea. He fought for the French and returned home to West Africa at the end of the war. Forced to flee his village, he never saw his family again.

British private Robert Cude returned to London after the war. He later appeared as an extra in a James Bond film.

British officer Richard Meinertzhagen became a colonel and attended the Paris Peace Conference. He became an advocate of Zionism and later wrote Middle East Diary, about his experiences in the Middle East after World War I. He died in 1967.

Canadian Winnie McClare was killed in May of 1917, within a month of his arrival at the front line. He was nineteen.

The Horrors of War

There is no better description of the horrors of war than an eyewitness description. German soldier Paul Hub writes to his girlfriend:

I’ve already seen quite a lot of misery of war. . . . Maria, this sort of a war is so unspeakably miserable. If only you saw a line of stretcher-bearers with their burdens, you’d know what I mean. I haven’t had a chance to shoot yet. We’re having to deal with an unseen enemy. . . . Every day brings new horrors. . . . Every day the fighting gets fiercer and there is still no end in sight. Our blood is flowing in torrents. . . . That’s how it is. All around me, the most gruesome devastation. Dead and wounded soldiers, dead and dying animals, horse cadavers, burnt-out houses, dug-up fields, cars, clothes, weaponry — all this is scattered around me, a real mess. I didn’t think war would be like this. We can’t sleep for all the noise.

Polish widow Helena Jablonska writes in her diary:

Vast numbers of wounded are being brought in. Many of them die form severe blood loss, but the death toll would not be half as great were it not for cholera. It is spreading so fast that the cases outnumber those wounded and killed in battle. Everything has been infected: carts, stretchers, rooms, wardens, streets, manure, mud, everything. Soldiers fall in battle, where it is impossible to remove the bodies and disinfect them. They don’t even bother.

Austrian doctor Josef Tomann writes in his diary:

Starvation is kicking in. Sunken, pale figures wander like corpses through the streets, their ragged clothes hanging from skeletal bodies, their stony faces a picture of utter despair. . . . A terrifying number of people are suffering from malnutrition; the starving arrive in their dozens, frozen soldiers are brought in from the outposts, all of them like walking corpses. They lie silently on their cold hospital beds, make no complaints and drink muddy water they call tea. The next day they are carried away to the morgue. The sight of these pitiful figures, whose wives and children are probably also starving at home, wrings your heart. This is war.

German officer Ernst Nopper writes in his diary:

There are dead bodies everywhere you look. The villages have been completely destroyed. The fields are covered in so many graves it looks like moles have been at work. There are shell holes everywhere.

Serbian officer Milorad Markovic writes in his diary:

I remember things scattered all around; horses and men stumbling and falling into the abyss; Albanian attacks; hosts of women and children. A doctor would not dress an officer’s wound; soldiers would not bother to pull out a wounded comrade or officer. Belongings abandoned; starvation; wading across rivers clutching onto horses’ tails; old men, women and children climbing up the rocks; dying people on the road; a smashed human skull by the road; a corpse all skin and bones, robbed, stripped naked, mangled; soldiers, police officers, civilians, women, captives. Vlasta’s cousin, naked under his overcoat with a collar and cuffs, shattered, gone made. Soldiers like ghosts, skinny, pale, worn out, sunken eyes, their hair and beards long, their clothes in rages, almost naked, barefoot. Ghosts of people begging for bread, walking with sticks, their feet covered in wounds, staggering. Chaos; women in soldiers’s clothes; the desperate mothers of those who are too exhausted to go on. A starving soldier who ate too much bread and dropped dead. A soldier selling anything and everything for bread: his gun, clothes, shoes and boots, coats, horses’ feedbags, saddlebags, horses.

Russian soldier Vasily Mishnin writes to his pregnant wife:

We go to the depot to get our rifles. Good Lord, what’s all this? They’re covered in blood, black clotted lumps of it are hanging off them. . . . It is frightening even to sit or lie down here — the rifle is shaking in my hands. My hand comes down on something black: it turns out there are corpses here that haven’t been cleared away. My hair stands on end. I have to sit down. There is no point in staring into the distance — it is pitch dark. All I can feel is fear. I am so frightened of the shells that I want the ground to open up and swallow me. . . . Suddenly a screeching noise pierces the air, I feel a pang in my heart, something whistles past and explodes nearby. My dear Lord, I am so frightened — and I hear this buzzing in my ears. I leave my post and climb into my dugout. It is packed, everyone is shaking and asking again and again, “What’s going on? What’s going on?” One explosion follows another, and another. Two lads are running, shouting our for nurses. They are covered in blood. It is running down their cheeks and hands, and something else is dripping from underneath their bandages. They’re soon dead, shot to pieces. There is screaming, yelling, the earth is shaking from artillery fire and our dugout is rocking from side to side like a boat. . . . Our eyes are full of tears, we wipe them away, but they just keep coming because the shells are full of gas. We are terrified. . . . We will probably never see each other again — all it takes is an instant and I will be no more — and perhaps no one will be able to gather the scattered pieces of my body for burial. . . . A zeppelin attacked Ostrow in the night and dropped a few bombs, many killed. One woman and her two kids got blown to pieces that blew away in the wind.

Australian corporal George Mitchell writes in his diary:

And again I heard the sickening thud of a bullet. I looked at him in horror. The bullet had fearfully mashed his face and gone down his throat, rendering him dumb. But his eyes were dreadful to behold. How he squirmed in agony. There was nothing I could do for him, but pray that he might die swiftly. It took him about twenty minutes to accomplish this and by that time he had tangled his legs in pain and stiffened. I saw the waxy colour creep over his cheek and breathed freer.

Turkish second lieutenant Mehmed Fasih writes in his diary:

Though I keep picking off lice, there are plenty more — I just can’t get rid of them and am itching all over. My body is covered with red and purple blotches. . . . When I finally reach our trenches I find a large pool of blood. It has coagulated and turned black. Bits of brain, bone and flesh are mixed in with it.

German doctor Ludwig Deppe writes in his diary:

Behind us we have left destroyed fields, ransacked magazines, and, for the immediate future, starvation. We were no longer the agents of culture; our track was marked by death, plundering and evacuated villages.

French captain Paul Truffrau writes in his diary:

We reach the trench, dug out by joining up the shellholes and it stinks of bogs and decaying corpses. Stagnant water. . . . The smell of corpses everywhere.

Russian officer Dmitry Oskin writes in his diary:

The battle became so vicious that our soldiers started using spades to split Austrians’ skulls. This hand-to-hand fighting went on for at least two hours. Only nightfall stopped the butchery.

American officer John Clark writes to his sweetheart:

I was only beginning to see what war really is. . . . Outside of the enemy fire, it was a terrific strain on our men, for we were firing night and day — on a couple of occasions, for ten hours without any intermission. We spent our spare time burying the infantry dead which were scattered all around us. It was gruesome work, for the bodies had been lying on the battlefield for two, three or more days. On the crest just before us were light “tanks” which had been shattered by German shellfire. They were the most gruesome of all, for the charred bodies of their crews were still in or scattered about them.

The unnamed Austrian officer writes his last words in his diary:

The wounded groan and cry for their mothers. You have to shut your ears to it. . . . It is enough to drive you insane. Dead, wounded, massive losses. This is the end. Unprecedented slaughter, a horrific bloodbath. There is blood everywhere and the dead and bits of bodies lie scattered about so that

Second only to the horrors on the battlefield are those that one endures in captivity. Russian soldier Alexei Zyikov writes in his diary:

Hunger does not give you a moment’s peace and you are always dreaming of bread: good Russian bread! There is consternation in my soul when I watch people hurling themselves after a piece of bread and a spoonful of soup. We have to work pretty hard too, to the shouts and beatings of the guards, the mocking of the German public. We work from dawn till dusk, sweat mingling with blood; we curse the blows of the rifle butts; I find myself thinking about ending it all, such are the torments of my life in captivity! . . . Then there are those of us who eat potato peel: they take it out of the pit, wash it and boil it, eat it and say how delicious it is. Some consider it the greatest happiness to snatch food from the tub where the Germans throw their leftovers.

War and the State

The truth of Randolph Bourne’s classic statement, “War is the health of the state,” can be seen throughout the excerpts from the diaries and letters in Intimate Voices. To get a war to work — to get men to kill other men that have never aggressed against them and that they don’t even know — the state must do two things: convince men to love the state and to hate the members of other states. The first is always cloaked in patriotism, and leads to an acceptance of interventionism. The second is always cloaked in nationalism, and leads to hatred toward foreigners within one’s country. German schoolgirl Piete Kuhr writes in her diary:

At school they talk of nothing but the war now. The girls are pleased that Germany is entering the field against its old enemy France. We have to learn new songs about the glory of war. The enthusiasm in our town is growing by the hour. . . . People wander through the streets in groups, shouting “Down with Serbia! Long live Germany!” Crowds of people are milling around in the streets, laughing, wishing each other good luck and joining in singing the national anthem. . . . Dear God, just bring the war to an end! I don’t look on it as glorious any more, in spite of “school holidays” and victories. . . . At school everyone is so much in favour of the war. . . . They scream so that the headmaster sees what a patriotic school he has. . . . Everyone talks of shortages. Most people are buying in such massive stocks that their cellars are full to bursting. Grandma refuses to do this. She says she doesn’t want to deprive the Fatherland of anything. We’re not hoarders. The Fatherland won’t let us starve. . . . To them [uncle and mother] “the German nation” is still everything. Fall with a cheer for the Fatherland, and you will die as a hero in their eyes.

German officer Ernst Nopper writes in his diary:

At the border post we strike up “Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles.”

French schoolboy Yves Congar writes in his diary:

I can only think about war. I would like to be a soldier and fight. . . . Very well, if they want to starve us then they’ll see when, in the next war, the next generation goes to Germany and starves them. They are turning the French people against them and I’m happy about it. I have never hated them so much. . . . The Germans, fiends, thieves, murderers and arsonists that they are, set fire to everything. . . . The Boches’ behaviour in France is scandalous. The loot they are taking back to Germany is unbelievable: they’ll have enough to refurbish every one of their towns! But one day soon it will be our turn: we will go there and we will steal, burn and ransack! They had better watch out! Over in Germany they are almost as unhappy as we are. There is famine in all the big cities: Berlin, Dresden and Bavaria; I hope they all die!

Russian soldier Alexei Zyikov writes in his diary:

They boast to us that their governments send them bread and parcels from home. But we, Russians, get nothing: our punishment for fighting badly. Or, perhaps, Mother Russia has forgotten about us.

Klara, the mother of Rudolf Hess, writes to her son:

Of course I know that an armistice would mean your safe return, my sons, but your future and that of the Fatherland would be built on shaky foundations. . . . It would be cowardly of us to worry about you. Instead we should be proud that through our sons we are fighting for the salvation of the Fatherland.

Polish widow Helena Jablonska writes in her diary:

The Jews are frightened. The Russians are taking them in hand now and giving them a taste of the whip. They are being forced to clean the streets and remove manure. . . . The Jewish pogrom has been under way since yesterday evening. The Cossacks waited until the Jews set off to the synagogue for their prayers before setting upon them with whips. They were deaf to any pleas for mercy, regardless of age. . . . It pains me to hear the Germans bad-mouth Galicia. Today I overheard two lieutenants asking “Why on earth should the sons of Germany spill blood to defend this swinish country?” We, the Poles, are hated by everyone in this Austrian hotchpotch and are condemned to serve as prey for all of them.

African Kande Kamara writes in his diary:

We black African soldiers were very sorrowful about the white man’s war. There was never any soldier in the camp who knew why we were fighting. There was no time to think about it. I didn’t really care who was right — whether it was the French or the Germans — I went to fight with the French army and that was all I knew. The reason for war was never disclosed to any soldier. They didn’t tell us how they got into the war. We just fought and fought until we got exhausted and died. Day and night, we fought, killed ourselves, the enemies and everybody else.

Australian corporal George Mitchell writes in his diary:

A wounded Turk told us they regard Australians as fiends incarnate.

British private Robert Cude writes in his diary:

I long to be with battalion so that I can do my best to bereave a German family. I hate these swines. . . . It is a wonderful sight and one that I shall not forget. War such as this, on such a beautiful day seems to me to be quite correct and proper! . . . Men are racing to certain death, and jesting and smiling and cursing, yet wonderfully quiet in a sense, for one feels that one must kill, and as often as one can.

The unnamed Austrian officer writes in his diary:

Since yesterday my mind has been troubled by the thought of the many Austrian heroes who have given their lives defending the honour of Austria and the Habsburgs, while I entertained my thoughts of treason, all for the love of an unworthy [Italian] woman. I am disgusted at myself. Habsburg, I live for you and I shall die for you, too! . . . He who gives his life for the Fatherland and the honour of the Habsburgs shall be honoured and remembered for eternity.

Russian officer Dmitry Oskin writes in his diary of his support for the ultimate form of state interventionism. First he records part of a speech he heard given by Lenin in support of Communism: “The main point is that land should be taken immediately from the landowners and given to the peasants without compensation. All ownership of land is to be eliminated.” Then he recounts his own comments: “We the soldier-peasants demand that the land be immediately decreed common property. That it is immediately taken from the landowners and given to local land committees.”

Religion in War

If there is ever a time when men get religious it is certainly in the midst of a war. The phenomenon of “fox hole religion” is understandable. What is interesting, however, is the religious ideas of some combatants when they go into the war. Men on both sides think that God is on their side. Turkish second lieutenant Mehmed Fasih writes in his diary:

From the rear comes “Allah! Allah!” — the rallying cry of our soldiers. . . . One of his comrades tells us how Nuri said to him when they arrived at the Front together: “I implore God to let me become a martyr!” Oh Nuri! Your prayer was answered. We bury Nuri. It was God’s will that I would say the opening verse of the Koran over him.

The African Kande Kamara writes in his diary:

Coming from the background I came from, which was Muslim oriented, the only thing you thought about was Allah, death and life. . . . Whatever we thought was dedicated to the God Almighty alone.

This attitude is not restricted to Muslims. The unnamed Austrian officer writes in his diary:

Dear Lord, come to our aid, for we fight in the name of Justice, the Empire and the Faith. Dear Lord, steer the flight of the double eagle so that these beauteous lands, which had one time belonged to Austria, once again fall under the shadow of its mighty wings. . . . Cases of cholera. This is all we need. Is God no longer on our side? . . . Italy will pay for this, for the Lord sits in judgement up on high and he is wrathful.

German schoolgirl Piete Kuhr writes in her diary:

But we have faith in France and God, and comfort ourselves with the thought that over in Germany they are almost as unhappy as we are.

Klara, the mother of Rudolf Hess writes to her son:

Thank God the German Michael [the patron saint of Germany] has finally had the guts to stand firm until our rights to water and land have been secured.

Women in Wartime

One of the great tragedies of war is its demoralizing effect on women, either through subjugation or whoredom. Austrian doctor Josef Tomann writes in his diary:

And then there are the fat-bellied gents from the commissariat, who stink of fat and go arm in arm with Przemysl’s finest ladies, most of who (and this is no exaggeration) have turned into prostitutes of the lowest order. The hospitals have been recruiting teenage girls as nurses, in some places there are up to 50 of them! . . . They are, with very few exceptions, utterly useless. Their main job is to satisfy the lust of the gentlemen officers and, rather shamefully, of a number of doctors, too. . . . New officers are coming in almost daily with cases of syphilis, gonorrhoea, and soft chancre. Some have all three at once! The poor girls and women feel so flattered when they get chatted up by one of these pestilent pigs in their spotless uniforms, with their shiny boots and buttons. . . . . Anything that can’t be carted off or used to pay one of the prostitutes for her services is burnt, so that the Germans don’t get it when they march in.

British officer Richard Meinertzhagen writes in his diary:

All the blacks are mad on looting, whether it is the Askaris or the porters, man, woman or child. It is also difficult to stop the blacks from raping women, because they see them as property, like cows or huts.

African Kande Kamara writes in his diary:

The only way to get to town was by sneaking out of camp. There were some white women who had mattresses and beds and invited you to their bedrooms. In fact they tried to keep you there. They gave you clothes, money, and everything. When the inspector came, he never saw you, because you were hiding under the bed or under the bed covers of that beautiful lady. That’s how some soldiers got left behind. None of them went back to Africa.

Canadian Winnie McClare writes in a letter to his father:

An awfull lot of fellow that go to London come back in bad shape and are sent to the V.D. hospitals. There is one V.D. hospital near here that has six hundred men in it. It is a shame that the fellows can’t keep away from it.

Disillusion and Regret

Occasionally, we read in Intimate Voices of the disillusion and regret of soldiers and civilians. The folly of war is sometimes recognized. German officer Ernst Nopper writes in his diary:

And all this time the weather is so beautiful that the shooting seems absurd.

Russian soldier Vasily Mishnin writes to his pregnant wife:

What are we suffering for, what do I achieve by killing someone, even a German? . . . It is quite a peaceful scene when it’s quiet and no one is firing. This is our enemy? They look like good, normal people, they all want to live and yet here we are, gathered together to take each other’s lives away.

British officer Richard Meinertzhagen writes in his diary:

It seemed so odd that I should be having a meal today with people whom I was trying to kill yesterday. It seemed so wrong and made me wonder whether this really was war or whether we had all made a ghastly mistake.

German officer Ernst Nopper writes in his diary:

I no longer share most people’s enthusiasm for war. I think about the dying soldiers, not just Germans, but also French, English, Russian, Italian, Serbian and I don’t know who else.

German schoolgirl Piete Kuhr writes in her diary:

I don’t want any more soldiers to die. Millions are dead — and for what? For whose benefit? We must just make sure that there is never another war in the future. We must never again fall for the nonsense peddled by the older generation.

And finally, the regret of Russian soldier Alexei Zyikov, who writes in his diary during Easter of 1916:

Why did I lead such a debauched life? Why did I not cherish my family and friends? I don’t know. I loved adventure and now I am paying for it. I feel very sad. Must I really die like this, fruitlessly, with nothing worth repenting of?

The argument that modern warfare has changed so much that these descriptions of World War I never happen — modern war really isn’t all that bad (unless of course you get killed) — is never made by the soldier who suffers psychological damage or psychiatric disorders the rest of his life, the forgotten civilians injured or disfigured in the conflict, or by those maimed or blown up by land mines years later.

Such are the horrors of war.

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