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The struggle of men from one low ridge to another low ridge in a territory forty miles wide by more than twenty miles deep, during five months of fighting, was enormous in its intensity and prolongation of slaughter, wounding, and endurance of all hardships and terrors of war. As an eye-witness I saw the full scope of the bloody drama. I saw day by day the tidal waves of wounded limping back, until two hundred and fifty thousand men had passed through our casualty clearing stations, and then were not finished. I went among these men when the blood was wet on them, and talked with hundreds of them, and heard their individual narratives of escapes from death until my imagination was saturated with the spirit of their conflict of body and soul. I saw a green, downy countryside, beautiful in its summer life, ravaged by gun-fire so that the white chalk of its subsoil was flung above the earth and grass in a wide, sterile stretch of desolation pitted with shell-craters, ditched by deep trenches, whose walls were hideously upheaved by explosive fire, and littered yard after yard, mile after mile, with broken wire, rifles, bombs, unexploded shells, rags of uniform, dead bodies, or bits of bodies, and all the filth of battle. I saw many villages flung into ruin or blown clean off the map. I walked into such villages as Contalmaison, Martinpuich, Le Sars, Thilloy, and at last Bapaume, when a smell of burning and the fumes of explosives and the stench of dead flesh rose up to one's nostrils and one's very soul, when our dead and German dead lay about, and newly wounded came walking through the ruins or were carried shoulder high on stretchers, and consciously and subconsciously the living, unwounded men who went through these places knew that death lurked about them and around them and above them, and at any second might make its pounce upon their own flesh. I saw our men going into battle with strong battalions and coming out of it with weak battalions. I saw them in the midst of battle at Thièpval, at Contalmaison, at Guillemont, by Loupart Wood, when they trudged toward lines of German trenches, bunching a little in groups, dodging shell-bursts, falling in single figures or in batches, and fighting over the enemy's parapets. I sat with them in their dugouts before battle and after battle, saw their bodies gathered up for burial, heard their snuffle of death in hospital, sat by their bedside when they were sorely wounded. So the full tragic drama of that long conflict on the Somme was burned into my brain and I was, as it were, a part of it, and I am stilled seared with its remembrance, and shall always be.

But however deep the knowledge of tragedy, a man would be a liar if he refused to admit the heroism, the gallantry of youth, even the gaiety of men in these infernal months. Psychology on the Somme was not simple and straightforward. Men were afraid, but fear was not their dominating emotion, except in the worst hours. Men hated this fighting, but found excitement in it, often exultation, sometimes an intense stimulus of all their senses and passions before reaction and exhaustion. Men became jibbering idiots with shell-shock, as I saw some of them, but others rejoiced when they saw our shells plowing into the enemy's earthworks, laughed at their own narrow escapes and at grotesque comicalities of this monstrous deviltry. The officers were proud of their men, eager for their honor and achievement. The men themselves were in rivalry with other bodies of troops, and proud of their own prowess. They were scornful of all that the enemy might do to them, yet acknowledged his courage and power. They were quick to kill him, yet quick also to give him a chance of life by surrender, and after that were -- nine times out of ten -- chivalrous and kindly, but incredibly brutal on the rare occasions when passion overcame them at some tale of treachery. They had the pride of the skilled laborer in his own craft, as machine-gunners, bombers, raiders, trench-mortar-men, and were keen to show their skill, whatever the risks. They were healthy animals, with animal courage as well as animal fear, and they had, some of them, a spiritual and moral fervor which bade them risk death to save a comrade, or to save a position, or to kill the fear that tried to fetter them, or to lead men with greater fear then theirs. They lived from hour to hour and forgot the peril or the misery that had passed, and did not forestall the future by apprehension unless they were of sensitive mind, with the worst quality men might have in modern warfare -- imagination.

They trained themselves to an intense egotism within narrow boundaries. Fifty yards to the left, or five hundred, men were being pounded to death by shell-fire. Fifty yards to the right, or five hundred, men were being mowed down by machine-gun fire. It was their luck. Why worry about the other fellow? The length of a traverse in a ditch called a trench might make all the difference between heaven and hell. Dead bodies were being piled up on one side of the traverse. A shell had smashed into the platoon next door. There was a nasty mess. Men sat under their own mud-bank and scooped out a tin of bully beef and hoped nothing would scoop them out of their bit of earth. This protective egotism seemed to me the instinctive soul-armor of men in dangerous places when I saw them in the line. In a little way, not as a soldier, but as a correspondent, taking only a thousandth part of the risks of fighting-men, I found myself using this self-complacency. They were strafing on the left. Shells were pitching on the right. Very nasty for the men in either of those places. Poor devils! But meanwhile I was on a safe patch, it seemed. Thank Heaven for that!

"Here," said an elderly officer -- one of those rare exalted souls who thought that death was a little thing to give for one's country's sake -- "here we may be killed at any moment!"

He spoke the words in Contalmaison with a glow in his voice as though announcing glad tidings to a friend who was a war artist camouflaged as a lieutenant and new to the scene of battle.

"But," said the soldier-artist, adjusting his steel hat nervously, "I don't want to be killed! I hate the idea of it!"

He was the normal man. The elderly officer was abnormal. The normal man, soldier without camouflage, had no use for death at all, unless it was in connection with the fellow on the opposite side of the way. He hated the notion of it applied to himself. He fought ferociously, desperately, heroically, to escape it. Yet there were times, many times, when he paid not the slightest attention to the near neighborhood of that grisly specter, because in immediate, temporary tranquillity he thrust the thought from his mind, and smoked a cigarette, and exchanged a joke with the fellow at his elbow. There were other times when, in a state of mental exaltation, or spiritual self-sacrifice, or physical excitement, he acted regardless of all risks and did mad, marvelous, almost miraculous things, hardly conscious of his own acts, but impelled to do as he did by the passion within him -- passion of love, passion of hate, passion of fear, or passion of pride. Those men, moved like that, were the leaders, the heroes, and groups followed them sometimes because of their intensity of purpose and the infection of their emotion, and the comfort that came from their real or apparent self-confidence in frightful situations. Those who got through were astonished at their own courage. Many of them became convinced consciously or subconsciously that they were immune from shells and bullets. They walked through harassing fire with a queer sense of carelessness. They had escaped so often that some of them had a kind of disdain of shell-bursts, until, perhaps, one day something snapped in their nervous system, as often it did, and the bang of a door in a billet behind the lines, or a wreath of smoke from some domestic chimney, gave them a sudden shock of fear. Men differed wonderfully in their nerve-resistance, and it was no question of difference in courage.

In the mass all our soldiers seemed equally brave. In the mass they seemed astoundingly cheerful. In sprite of all the abomination of that Somme fighting our troops before battle and after battle -- a few days after -- looked bright-eyed, free from haunting anxieties, and were easy in their way of laughter. It was optimism in the mass, heroism in the mass. It was only when one spoke to the individual, some friend who bared his soul a second, or some soldier-ant in the multitude, with whom one talked with truth, that one saw the hatred of a man for his job, the sense of doom upon him, the weakness that was in his strength, the bitterness of his grudge against a fate that forced him to go on in this way of life, the remembrance of a life more beautiful which he had abandoned -- all mingled with those other qualities of pride and comradeship, and that illogical sense of humor which made up the strange complexity of his psychology.

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