Monday, January 21, 2008
Doughboy in Battle
The student of tactics soon realized the difference between fighting a battle in imagination and in reality. Imagination cannot bring home to any human brain the extent to which the chess-board dispositions of modern strategy are tempered by the actualities of modern fighting--in other words, by the strain upon the human machine. All the five senses are affected--hearing, by the appalling din; seeing by the spectacle of a whole group of human beings being blown to shreds; smelling, by the reek of gas and explosives; touching by the feel of dead men's faces everywhere under your hand in the darkness; and tasting, by the unforgettable flavor or meat in the mouth after forty-eight hours continuos fighting in an atmosphere of human blood. The War is going to be won, not by the strategist, but by the man who can endure these things most steadfastly.
We now regard ourselves, justifiably, as initiated. We have been bombarded fairly regularly. We do not like it but we can stand it, which is all that matters--as eels probably remark while being skinned. We are getting used, also, to the sight of sudden death and human blood. These things affect us less than we expected. It is all a matter of environment. If you were to see a man caught and cut in two between a street-car and a taxi-cab in your own home town, the spectacle would make you physically sick and might haunt you for weeks, because such incidents are not part of the recognized routine of home town life. But here, they are part of the day's work: we are prepared for them: they are what we are in the War for. And, curiously and providentially, it seldom occurs to any of us to suspect that it may be his turn next. Thus all-wise Naturee maintains our balance for us.
We have made another interesting discovery about Nature, and that is that habit can be stronger than instinct, and pride than either. The first law of Nature is said to be the instinct of self-preservation. Yet, the average soldier, even in the inferno of modern warfare, gives less trouble to his leaders when under shell-fire than when his dinner does not come up to the usual standard, or he has run out of cigarettes.