16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Square #3: Veteran's Day/Armistice Day

 

Tasks for Veteran's Day/Armistice Day: Make, or draw a red poppy and show us a pic of your red poppy or other symbol of remembrance –OR– post a quote or a piece of poetry about the ravages of war. 

 

 

There are lots and lots of poems and quotes about war. Way too many. And while I could have easily chosen one of the famous war poets, or a quote from a celebrated work, or, to be obnoxious, some piece of punk sarcasm, I'm going with this passage from the prologue of Erich Maria Remarque's The Road Back (Der Weg Zurueck, 1931):

 

"The fog moves and lifts. And suddenly I know what it is that has thrown us all into such a state of alarm. It has merely become still. Absolutely still.

Not a machine gun, not a shot, not an explosion; no shriek of shells; nothing, absolutely nothing, no shot, no cry. It is simply still, utterly still.

We look at one another; we cannot understand it. This is the first time it has been so quiet since we have been at the Front. We sniff the air and try to figure what it can mean. Is gas creeping over? But the wind is not favourable; it would drive it off. Is an attack coming? But the very silence would have betrayed it already. What is it, 

then? The bomb in my hand is moist, I am sweating so with excitement. One feels as if the nerves must snap. Five minutes. Ten minutes. “A quarter of an hour now,” calls Laher. His voice sounds hollow in the fog as from a grave. Still nothing happens, no attack, no sudden, dark-looming, springing shadows——

Hands relax and clench again tighter. This is not to be borne. We are so accustomed to the noise of the Front that now, when the weight of it suddenly lifts from us, we feel as if we must burst, shoot upward like balloons.

“Why,” says Willy suddenly, “it is peace!” —

It falls like a bomb.

Faces relax, movements become aimless and uncertain. Peace? We look at one another, incredulous. Peace? I let my hand grenades drop. Peace? Ludwig lies down slowly on his waterproof again. Peace? In Bethke’s eyes is an expression as if his whole face would break in pieces. Peace? Wessling stands motionless as a tree; and when he turns his back on it and faces us, he looks as if he meant to keep straight on home.

All at once—in the whirl of our excitement we had hardly observed it—the silence is at an end; once more, dully menacing, comes the noise of gunfire, and already from afar, like the bill of a woodpecker, sounds the knock-knocking of a machine gun. We grow calm and are almost glad to hear again the familiar, trusty noises of death."

 

This passage breaks me every time.

 

Remarque is, of course, best known for All Quiet on the Western Front, which follows a group of school leavers into the hells of the First World War. However, it is in The Road Back that he shows how those that survived the front had to keep on surviving, and how the "ravages of war" took lives in more ways than by bullets and shells.