EU election results are slowly trickling in. UKIP is doing well, it seems.
So, in the absence of any firm news, a story I came across today:
They were so close to us that we could count them, one by one. In the trench, between two crossways, there was a little round space where somebody, every now and again, stopped for a minute. You could tell they were talking, but the sound of their voices didn’t reach us. That space must have been in front of a shelter that was bigger than the others, because there was more movement around it. The movement stopped when an officer arrived. You could tell he was an officer from the way he was dressed. He had shoes and gaiters made of yellow leather and his uniform looked brand new. Probably he had just arrived a few days ago, maybe fresh out of a military academy. He was very young and his blond hair made him look even younger. He couldn’t have been any more than 17. Upon his arrival, the soldiers all scattered and there was nobody left in the round space but him. The coffee distribution was about to begin. All I could see was the officer.
I had been in the war since it began. Fighting in a war for years means acquiring the habits and the mind-set of war. This big-game hunting of men by men was not much different from the other big-game hunting. I did not see a man there. All I saw was the enemy. After so much waiting, so many patrols, so much lost sleep, he was coming out into the open. The hunt had gone well. Mechanically, without a thought, without any conscious intent to do so, but just like that, just from instinct, I grabbed the corporal’s rifle. He gave it up to me and I took it. If we had been on the ground, as on the other nights, flat on our bellies behind the bush, I probably would have fired immediately, without wasting a second. But I was on my knees in the newly dug ditch, and the bush was in front of me like a shield in a shooting gallery. It was as though I were on a shooting range and I had all the time I wanted to take aim. I planted my elbows firmly on the ground and started to aim.
The Austrian officer lit a cigarette. Now he was smoking. That cigarette suddenly created a relationship between us. As soon as I saw his puff of smoke I felt the need to smoke. That desire of mine reminded me that I had some cigarettes too. In an instant, my act of taking aim, which had been automatic, became deliberate. I became aware that I was aiming, and that I was aiming at someone. My index finger, pressing on the trigger, eased off. I was thinking. I had been forced to think.
Sure, I was consciously fighting in the war and I justified that morally and politically. My conscience as a man and as a citizen was not in conflict with my duty as a soldier. The war, for me, was a dire necessity, terrible surely, but one whose demands I obeyed, as one of life’s many thankless but inevitable necessities. So I was fighting in the war and I had soldiers under my command. Morally, then, I was fighting twice. I had already taken part in a lot of battles. That I should shoot at an enemy officer was, therefore, in the logic of things. Even more than that, I demanded of my soldiers that they stay alert on their watch and that they shoot accurately if the enemy came into their sights. Why wouldn’t I, now, shoot at that officer? It was my duty to shoot. I felt it was my duty. If I didn’t feel it was my duty, it would be monstrous for me to continue fighting in the war and to make others do so as well. No, there was no doubt; it was my duty to shoot.
I often think that smoking humanises people, and that smoke binds them together. And here was an example of this happening.