A WW 1 vet told my father, it was a rich mans heaven, and a poor mans hell.
Same as all Usury banker wars.
Time to stop killing each other, join forces against the bankers.
Lots of empty light post and tree limbs.
Fair common law trials and fair sentencing first of course.
John C Carleton
An excerpt from Jacques Pauwels’ book The Great Class War, 1914-1918
The situation in the fall 1914, after the “war of movement” has given way to the infamous stationary “trench warfare”:
The ordinary soldiers developed more and more antipathy and even hatred toward their own officers. Simultaneously, they started to empathize and even sympathize for the men facing them on the far side of the no man’s land. The official enemy – the Germans, Russians, French, whatever – were demonized by the authorities but the soldiers had little or nothing against them. In many cases, they hardly knew the people they were supposed to hate and kill. Furthermore, they soon found out that they had much in common with “the enemy,” first and above all a lower-class social background, and second, the same exposure to danger and misery.
The men learned in many ways that the official enemy was in fact not the real enemy, that the soldiers on the other side were human beings just like themselves. This lesson could be learned, for example, by reading letters and looking at pictures found on taken from prisoners. The contempt for the “other,” deliberately fabricated by the military and political superiors, thus soon gave way for mutual respect and the feeling “that we are all the same,” for a “reciprocal respect and even sympathy.” In January 1915, a French poilu commented as follows on letters he had found on a prisoner:
“The same as on our side. The misery, the desperation, the longing for peace, the monstrous stupidity of this whole thing. The Germans are just as unhappy as we are. They are just as miserable as us.”
This kind of lesson was also learned by physical meetings with the enemy. What is meant is obviously not hand-to-hand combat, which was actually far less frequent than we have tended to believe, but encounters with prisoners of war. About German captives a British officer reported that “they were pleasant chaps, who generally behaved like gentlemen.” And in 1916 a Scottish soldier, Joseph Lee, expressed his pity and sympathy for German prisoners as follows:
When first I saw you in the curious street,
Like some platoon of soldier ghosts in grey,
My mad impulse was all to smite and slay,
To spit upon you – tread you ’neath my feet.
But when I saw how each sad soul did greet
My gaze with no sign of defiant frown,
I knew that we had suffered each as other,
And could have grasped your hand and cried, ‘My brother!’
Sympathy for German prisoners was also reflected in the poem “Liedholz,” written by the British officer Herbert Read. He may have been an officer but he happened to be a convinced anarchist. Read captured a German named Liedholz, and already before they reach the British trenches, “werden de versperringen van formele vijandschap weggenomen,” to use the words of a literary commentator:
Before we reached our wire
He told me he had a wife and three children.
In the dug-out we gave him a whiskey.
In broken French we discussed
Beethoven, Nietzsche and the International.
In “Memoirs of an Infantry Officer,” published in 1930, Siegfried Sassoon was to write that, during the war, the Germans were generally hated by British citizens, but not, or certainly far less, by British soldiers. He himself, he added, “had nothing against them.” Countless French soldiers likewise failed to develop feelings of hatred with respect to their German “neighbours on the other side.” “We don’t hate the Germans,” wrote a poilu in a letter that was intercepted by the censors.
The French soldier Barthas soon felt sympathy for the German prisoners he escorted on a train travelling from the front to a camp somewhere in southern France, and who were verbally abused by civilians in railway stations. He and his comrades shared the wine and the grapes those same civilians had offered them with their prisoners in a gesture of camaraderie. “Those who has seen the dreadful realities of war,” observes Max Hastings, “recoiled from displays of chauvinism.” The soldiers loathed the civilians, journalists, and politicians who could or would not understand their miserable fate. Conversely, they found it impossible to hate a so-called enemy who shared their misery. “The soldiers of the rival armies felt a far stronger sense of community with each other than with their peoples at home,” writes Hastings.
The “no man’s land” that separated the armies revealed itself to be less wide than the gap that separated the soldiers from the officers of these armies. During the late summer and fall of 1914, two different wars had thus actually started to ravage Europe. First, a highly visible “vertical” war, a conflict between groups of countries, in which all uniformed men of the one side were enemies of all uniformed men on the other side. Second, below the surface, so to speak: a “horizontal” war, an explosion of class conflict, a conflict in which the officers of each army were the enemies of their own subordinates, while a high degree of solidarity united the ordinary soldiers of both sides. In the first war, a geographic (or topographic) frontline separated friend and foe. In the second war, a social gap separated the antagonists.