Please let the wind of desire that rose from the multi-coloured spines of those books catch me up again, let it melt the heavy, lifeless lead weight that is there somewhere inside me, and awaken in me once again the impatience of the future, the soaring delight in the world of the intellect – let it carry me back into the ready-for-anything lost world of my youth.
Ah! Mother, Mother! You still think I am a child - why can I not put my head in your lap and weep? Why have I always to be strong and self-controlled? I would like to weep and be comforted too, indeed I am little more than a child; in the wardrobe still hang short, boy's trouser - it is such a little time ago, why is it over?
A word of command has made these silent figures our enemies; a word of command might transform them into our friends. At some table a document is signed by some persons whom none of us knows, and then for years together that very crime on which formerly the world’s condemnation and severest penalty fall, becomes our highest aim.
Detering walks about cursing. ‘What have they done to deserve that, that’s what I want to know?’ And later on he comes back to it again. His voice is agitated and he sounds as if he is making a speech when he says, ‘I tell you this: it is the most despicable thing of all to drag animals into a war.
If we were not automata at that moment we would continue lying there, exhausted, and without will. But we are swept forward again, powerless, madly savage and raging; we will kill, for they are still our mortal enemies, their rifles and bombs are aimed against us, and if we don’t destroy them, they will destroy us.
Here lies our comrade, Kemmerich, who a little while ago was roasting horse flesh with us and squatting in the shell-holes. He it is still and yet it is not he any longer. His features have become uncertain and faint, like a photographic plate from which two pictures have been taken. Even his voice sounds like ashes.
We had fancied our task would be different, only to find we were to be trained for heroism as though we were circus-ponies. But we soon accustomed ourselves to it. We learned in fact that some of these things were necessary, but the rest merely show. Soldiers have a fine nose for such distinctions.
I glance at my boots. They are big and clumsy, the breeches are tucked into them, and standing up one looks well-built and powerful in these great drainpipes. But when we go bathing and strip, suddenly we have slender legs again and slight shoulders. We are no longer soldiers but little more than boys; no one would believe that we could carry packs.
The storm lashes us, out of the confusion of grey and yellow the hail of splinters whips forth the childlike cries of the wounded, and in the night shattered life groans painfully into silence. Our hands are earth, our bodies clay and our eyes pools of rain. We do not know whether we are still alive.
Things become quieter, but the cries do not cease. What’s up, Albert? I ask. A couple of columns over there got it in the neck. The cries continued. It is not men, they could not cry so terribly. Wounded horses, says Kat. It’s unendurable. It is the moaning of the world, it is the martyred creation, wild with anguish, filled with terror, and groaning.
There is one thing I’d like to know, though,’ says Albert, ‘and that’s whether there would still have been a war if the Kaiser had said no.’ ‘I’m sure there would,’ I put in. ‘After all, they say that he didn’t want to fight at all at the beginning.’ ‘Well, if not just him, then perhaps if, let’s say twenty or thirty people in the world had said no?’ ‘Maybe not then,’ I admit. ‘But they all did want a war.