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Johann_Schmidt_Private

THE SATURDAY EVENING POST 15 I can best illustrate this by a brief recital of one of our earlier experiences. There were five of us there, all Americans and all fancying ourselves to be war correspondents. But we did not in the least resemble the war correspondents of fiction or of fact either. In the main we were wearing the same unsuitable garments in which we had set out from Brussels on a warm Sunday afternoon for a carriage ride to Waterloo — a sight-seeing jaunt which in my case was to last for seven weeks— and we had worn those same garments through days of dust and dirt and nights spent on straw for upward of a week. By laborious and expensive degrees we had acquired a traveling outfit, consisting of two cheap, rickety bicycles, a broken butcher's cart, and a lopsided, deliberative Belgian mare of advanced years and sedentary habits. I drove the mare. My summer-weight shoes had worn out by two days of marching afoot. On my feet I had a pair of common carpet slippers. I bought them in a little Belgian village and they were of thick gray wool, striped longitudinally with black, and they looked something like two imperfectly stuffed Maltese tabby-cats. Over my coat, in lieu of a raincoat, I wore a canvas blouse, such as Belgian bakers wear. This was another wayside purchase. My straw hat, battered out of all proper shape of a straw hat, had been scalped by an awning under which I had driven while temporarily blinded by dust, and through its roofless top my uncombed hair stood up. My companions were as picturesquely unkempt as I was. To the Germans we must each have looked like a tramp—and a new kind of tramp at that. Thus attired and thus equipped we rode through thousands of German soldiers. Had they been American soldiers we would have traveled to a constant accompani- ment of laughter and guying. These German soldiers stared at us as though we were beings from another world, as in a way of speaking we were; but none of them indulged himself in any audible quips at our expense and none of them cracked his countenance in a grin. Officers of rank might titter as our cavalcade creaked by—Private Schmidt kept his face straight and solemn. To him this war was no laughing matter; and what alien freaks the war might bring in its train were not laughing matters either. Discipline That Works Both Ways ON OUR subsequent trip, when we journeyed in a military automobile, bearing the Kaiser's pass, we carried with us several thousand copies of Cologne and Aix-la-Chapelle daily papers for distribution among the troops. After our papers were exhausted we began giving away small printed leaflets containing German marching songs, of which also we had an abundant supply. Toward the last, when common soldiers gathered about our halted machine to ask for papers—always waiting, though, until we had done talking with their officers—we would pass out the song sheets. Can you imagine what a Yankee trooper on foreign soil would think—yes, and say—did he expect a home paper and receive instead of that paper a folder of songs, and such songs, too, as he already knew by heart? But a German invariably accepted such a gift, if not with outright eagerness, at least with a decorous face and a spoken word of thanks. If he felt disappointment—and he must have felt it, for it might have been weeks since he had authentic news of his own country and his own cause—he never showed it outwardly. French Primmer: in Box Cars Bound for Germany • I don't know what would have happened to him had he expressed open resentment in the presence of his superior; but I daresay it would have been something painful. For we had with us a uniformed officer, and the German plan does not excuse the display of any ordinary human emotion on the part of the common soldier before the eyes or within the hearing of a man who wears shoulder straps. There is a thing to be said of the German military machine—and I think it should be said with due emphasis, because our people here in America do not sense it, I think—and that thing is this: The system is so rigid, so inflexible, so scientifically and brutally exact, that it spares none who violates its rules, whether the offender be a soldier serving under the German flag or an enemy on hostile territory. It works both ways. It kicks backward with practically all of the merciless and fatal force that actuates it in striking its forward blows. It carries no emergency clauses and it provides no loopholes of extenuation. So far as I have been able to judge, the majority of the commissioned officers punish a malefactor of the rank and file with the same determination they have shown in their punitive campaigns against Belgian and French noncombatants accused of infractions of the code of conduct set up for the governing of civilians in the invaded areas. In either event prima facie evidence is sufficient proof of guilt, and punishment follows on the instant. While I was at Maubeuge I was told of a soldier who had been quartered in a household in that town. He found wine in the cellar and when night came he was wildly intoxicated. After he had terrorized the family living in the house until they were half frantic with fear, he stationed himself at a front window with his rifle in his hand. Presently a patrol of German soldiers, making the rounds of the town, turned into the street. Right there the drunkard made his mortal mistake. Thinking, in his befuddlement, that they were Frenchmen who had undertaken a sortie into the captured place, he fired at them once. As the soldiers charged the house he must have realized what he had clOne. He threw his gun under a bed and threw himself on the bed, feigning slumber. The Germans broke down the doors and surged in, having no idea except to kill all the male adults in the house and then to burn the house. But the officer in charge was rather more cool-headed than some officers might have been. Before executing reprisals upon the inhabitants he did a little investigating on his own account. A litter of empty wine bottles upon the floor gave him a clew; also he suffered the frantic dwellers to tell their stories. The finding of the rifle, with its barrel still warm and a newly discharged cartridge in the chamber, provided to his mind ample corroborative evidence of the truth of their protestations. There was no court-martial and there was no delay. The officer gave an order and his men took the drunken soldier outside, propped him against a wall and then and there shot him to death. An eyewitness to a somewhat similar occurrence in Brussels after the German occupation told me the details. He said a grossly intoxicated graycoat suddenly appeared in a crowded street, reeling and swearing and menacing other pedestrians with threatening gestures. He tripped over his own uncertain feet and fell to his knees. The fall jostled an automatic revolver out of his holster. Seemingly the dazed man thought some one had knocked him down. He fumbled about until his fingers closed on his revolver, and then, regaining his legs, he tried to shoot the person nearest him. From behind a citizen grappled with him and held his pistol hand uplifted. Other citizens ran to call a non- commissioned officer on duty at a near-by corner. The noncom. came with a file of men, and after the madman had been disarmed the testimony of certain of the bystanders was taken. In this case a trial was granted, but because in the temper of the rebellious burghers of Brussels almost any wanton act by a German might have provoked a serious outbreak, no mercy was shown the culprit. My informant said he had positive knowledge that on the following morning the soldier faced a firing squad. Stories of Cruelty of Officers BETWEEN Private Johann Schmidt and his company and regimental officers, between him and the downiest and youngest subaltern on the roster, there gapes a gulf that is miles deep and miles wide. The accident of birth, the intention of law, the military rules which are inelastic, the caste rules which are even more rigid—these, and other things besides these, separate them. The officer was never a common soldier, the common soldier can never be an officer; and they both know it and in the knowledge are both of them seemingly well content. Even so, I saw no officer who was deliberately cruel to his men. I had heard stories of this sort of thing often enough, but in my own experience I found none of them coming true. I saw no soldier driven forward either upon the forced march or into the fight by blows and threats of being chopped with a sword. Always when I was by the soldier went ahead willingly enough, and to the ultimate limit of his endurance. Never to my best knowledge and belief did he flinch from the fighting. Indeed, from what I have seen of both aides in this war I have made up my mind that there are no cowards in this world, neither men (Continued on Pare 29) A German Field Weutncr Station Mounted on irn Automobile at Maubeuge With German Officer Standing Alongside Newly Made Graves of German Soldiers German Soldiers and Captured French Hospital Orderlies Standing Alongside at the Railway Station in Louvain After the Destruction of the Town


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