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Wars_Back_Fire

THE SATURDAY EVENING POST 7 You"leave your luggage in the custody of your bearer and you take a long, weary walk to the building where the commandant has established himself, like a large brassbuttoned spider in a voluminous and intricate web of red tape. Here you bicker with sentries, with orderlies, with civilian and military secretaries, each of whom, as you advance along the line, seems more dubious of your motives and more doubtful of your identity than those below him have been. Finally you reach the sacred presence of the adjutant, cushioned within the sacerdotal precincts of his office. He, being an adjutant by trade, is most polite; yet seemingly he finds it most difficult to understand why you should desire to go elsewhere when you might remain where you are. Ensues a painstaking and cumbersome inquiry into your business, and more especially into that part of your business which leads you unaccountably to wish to ride thirty miles in a given direction to a given destination. Eventually—say, in half an hour or so—the adjutant begrudgingly bestows on you a stamped slip permitting you to go to that one place, but extending no further privileges of travel. You take it to another part of the same building, where, after more interesting formalities, the official in charge of transportation affixes his visa to it. This boon, understand, is vouchsafed you because you are a responsible and properly accredited resident of a neutral and friendly Power. If you should chance to be a citizen or a subject of a country with which the particular country you are in is at war, you would go under armed guard, and possibly with gyves on your wrists, to a jail or a fortress, to remain a close prisoner until the end of hostilities. In Aix-la-Chapelle I repeatedly met the aged and infirm rector of the Anglican Church—a mild, scholarly old gentleman. Because of his years the authorities did not lock him up, as they had already locked up practically all other English civilians caught in that town after war was declared to exist between the German Empire and Great Britain; but, because he was English, they did not permit him to leave the country or the district. And every day, rain or shine, he and his wife—an elderly, feeble gentlewoman— were required to report personally to the head of the local garrison. At that, they counted themselves lucky. When Soldiers Run the Railroad ARMED with the precious document issued by the adju- tant, you hurry, as fast as your wearied legs will bear you, back to the station. The train you meant to take, the one you hoped to take, has gone, and no living soul knows when the next train will go. Trains in this topsy-turvy land, where only military affairs are ordered with regularity, no longer run on schedule or according to time cards; they run according to the vagaries or the necessities of those who now control the road and its destinies; for this railroad, like every railroad in the country, was taken over by the government on the day when mobilization was ordered. There being nothing else for you to do, you sit and wait amid the squalor and the smells of the neglected station. Stretchers are piled in the corners, and the refreshment room is a temporary hospital for the redressing of wounds of injured soldiers and prisoners passing through. Late in the afternoon—remember, you started getting under way for this trip early that morning—a train is announced to start shortly. Your pass having been duly examined first, you are permitted to buy a ticket; and you wriggle through a guarded gate and board a dirty and overcrowded coach. The engine has a soldier-driver. The guard is a soldier, too, and so is the fireman. Every member of the train crew is a soldier; and in addition there are special detailed soldiers, fully armed, who ride on that train to guard against whatever may befall. Once aboard, you may spend an unhappy hour or two discommoded hours in your dismal compartment before the wheels begin to turn. It is dusk now and the cars are feebly lighted. You creep along, crawling when you are not jolting, and taking to sidings often so that the main line may be cleared for troop trains, until you have gone perhaps halfway on your journey. You have been traveling at the rate of fifteen miles an hour, but you are satisfied to be traveling at all. Presently you quit traveling. Night has come and something else has come too. The train slackens to a dead halt. An underofficer bustles through the coaches, stuffed with petty authority and prolific in imperious gestures. Everybody must get out and get off. It has been so ordered. Explanation, expostulation and pleading do you no good whatever. The officer merely is the tool and instrument of an instruction coming suddenly from a source that is not to be disobeyed. This particular train is needed by the government for government purposes. With those purposes the casual passenger from alien shores cannot possibly have any concern. Heraus mit ihm! Which, accordingly, with neatness and dispatch, is done. The train, emptied now of all but its soldier guard and its soldier crew, pulls away into the distance, leaving you and the rest of your late fellow travelers standing alongside the track, in approximately the same historic but uncharted district where Moses was presumed to be when the light went out. Nobody knows where you are going to spend the night. Nobody knows what you are going to do with your mound of baggage. And, except yourself, nobody cares. All others in that immediate vicinity have troubles of their own. If you are lucky, having first abandoned the bulk of your belongings, you find lodgings of sorts for the night. If you are unlucky you sit up all night and in person greet the newborn sun of the morrow. Next day you either go forward by slow and painful degrees to the place you originally thought you wanted to go, or else you go back, also by tedious stages, to the place whence you started; it all depends on whether your stubborn will power overcomes your weariness or your stubborn weariness overcomes your will power. I have written this in the second person. I might just as easily have written it in the first person, for it was an actual experience of mine. It occurred substantially as I have here detailed it, in Rhenish Prussia in the latter part of last September; the main parts of it are absolutely true, including the circumstance of the secret-service man with the intent ear and the ever-watchful eye. Perhaps there has been some improvement in conditions thereabout since then; but personally I doubt it. War is a most terrific unsettler of everything that suffers by being unsettled. The cause is supreme; the individual does not figure in the equation—neither he nor his comfort nor his desires, nor his ordinary rights as an individual. I doubt whether an American could readjust himself to an existence so completely transmogrified with the marvelous facility and patience which these European races have lately exhibited. I seem to have heard that, in those first few frenzied days of war last August, a considerable number of my esteemed fellow countrymen became vocal and palpitant with indignation, grief and kindred emotions on making the astounding discovery that for the nonce an American tourist, with plenty of money, cut no great amount of Continental ice; and that, in the presence of a cataclasm that threatened the geography and the destinies and the lives of a whole hemisphere, nobody seemed to care particularly whether he got his wife's twelve trunks and chow dog across the border or just naturally left them behind him as he fled for the dear U. S. A. Swift Adjustment to Martial Law POSSIBLY the secret lies in the breed of those peoples. Heredity may help to account for it. They belong to countries where, through all the centuries since time began, there have been wars frequently, and war's alarms even more frequently. The capacity for readjusting to war—the ability to endure war—is born with them, I guess; it must run in their blood along with the corpuscles. The English, who have had many wars away from home but very few wars at home, do not, if I am one to judge, possess the same mental facility in anything like the same degree. It appears to belong to the Continental peoples. Overnight apparently they get used to doing without those things that heretofore have made up life. I am speaking now of dwellers within the zone of hostilities or on the edges of it. Mails are suspended; ordinary means of communication are interrupted or annulled outright; shops are closed or else they pass into the hands of the military authorities; highroads are closed; byways are stoppered; traffic is ended; trade is destroyed; credit is something that was, but is not any more. And a new, strange and terribly exacting code of laws, framed on the drumhead and executed at the rifle's muzzle, takes the place of the easy regulations of a time of peace. Those who yesterday perhaps paid a land tax to their own tax collectors are to-day called on to contribute to a levied tribute infinitely heavier than any they ever knew. The able-bodied menfolk are snatched up for service at the front on behalf of their own country, or possibly they are marched off to the prison camp of,the conqueror. Common commodities become contraband of war. A man's own private property is liable to seizure. Officers clank into his house and camp in his parlor; common soldiers crowd his halls and flock in his kitchen, and deny him access to his own bedroom and his own wine cellar and his own pantry. Tribute is exacted on his bank account and his larder. Very well, then; so be it! Thus you may translate the mental attitudes of the chief sufferers by this invasion. They rally from the first shock of the earthquake. That takes perhaps a day; but when night comes they are readjusting and rebalancing themselves, and piecing together the broken and bankrupt fragments of their affairs. Within a week, looking at them, you would say here was a community that never had known daily mails and postmen and newspapers and milkmen and open markets and open roads, and the rest of the minor and major machinery of twentieth-century civilization. Medievalism has come a ORCORATION SY HENRY J. BOULEM


Wars_Back_Fire
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