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A German Deserter's War Experience

Library of Alexandria
The following narrative first appeared in German in the columns of the New Yorker Volkszeitung, the principal organ of the German speaking Socialists in the United States. Its author, who escaped from Germany and military service after 14 months of fighting in France, is an intelligent young miner. He does not wish to have his name made public, fearing that those who will be offended by his frankness might vent their wrath on his relatives. Since his arrival in this country his friends and acquaintances have come to know him as an upright and truthful man whose word can be relied upon. The vivid description of the life of a common German soldier in the present war aroused great interest when the story presented in these pages to the English speaking reader was published in serial form. For here was an historian of the war who had been through the horrors of the carnage as one of the Huns, one of the Boches; a soldier who had not abdicated his reason; a warrior against his will, who nevertheless had to conform to the etiquette of war; a hater of militarism for whom there was no romance in war, but only butchery and brutality, grime and vermin, inhuman toil and degradation. Moreover, he was found to be no mean observer of men and things. His technical training at a school of mining enabled him to obtain a much clearer understanding of the war of position than the average soldier possesses. Most soldiers who have been in the war and have written down their experiences have done so in the customary way, never questioning for a moment the moral justification of war. Not so our author. He could not persuade his conscience to make a distinction between private and public morality, and the angle from which he views the events he describes is therefore entirely different from that of other actual observers of and participators in war. His story also contains the first German description of the retreat of the Teutonic armies after the battle of the Marne. The chief value of this soldier’s narrative lies, however, in his destructive, annihilating criticism of the romance and fabled virtues of war. If some of the incidents related in this book appear to be treated too curtly it is solely due to this author’s limited literary powers. If, for instance, he does not dwell upon his inner experiences during his terrible voyage to America in the coal bunker of a Dutch ship it is because he is not a literary artist, but a simple workman.