Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968). rn The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.

Lay Down Your Arms

Suttner, Bertha (Gräfin Kinsky), Freifrau von

Baroness Bertha Von Suttner

(Austrian novelist and peace advocate, 1850–1914. Her protest against war, published in 1889, made a deep impression throughout Europe. In the following scene a woman is taken to visit a field of battle with the hospital-corps)

NO more thunder of artillery, no more blare of trumpets, no more beat of drum; only the low moans of pain and the rattle of death. In the trampled ground some redly-glimmering pools, lakes of blood; all the crops destroyed, only here and there a piece of land left untouched, and still covered with stubble; the smiling villages of yesterday turned into ruins and rubbish. The trees burned and hacked in the forests, the hedges torn with grape-shot. And on this battle-ground thousands and thousands of men dead and dying—dying without aid. No blossoms of flowers are to be seen on wayside or meadow; but sabres, bayonets, knapsacks, cloaks, overturned ammunition wagons, powder wagons blown into the air, cannon with broken carriages. Near the cannon, whose muzzles are black with smoke, the ground is bloodiest. There the greatest number and the most mangled of dead and half-dead men are lying, literally torn to pieces with shot; and the dead horses, and the half-dead which raise themselves on their feet—such feet as they have left—to sink again; then raise themselves up once more and fall down again, till they only raise their head to shriek out their pain-laden death-cry. There is a hollow way quite filled with corpses trodden into the mire. The poor creatures had taken refuge there no doubt to get cover, but a battery has driven over them, and they have been crushed by the horses’ hoofs and the wheels. Many of them are still alive—a pulpy, bleeding mass, but “still alive.”

And yet there is still something more hellish even than all this, and that is the appearance of the most vile scum of humanity, as it shows itself in war—the appearance and activity of “the hyenas of the battlefield.” “Then slink on the monsters who grope after the spoils of the dead, and bend over the corpses and over the living, mercilessly tearing off their clothes from their bodies. The boots are dragged off the bleeding limbs, the rings off the wounded hands, or to get the ring the finger is simply chopped off, and if a man tries to defend himself from such a sacrifice, he is murdered by these hyenas; or, in order to make him unrecognizable, they dig his eyes out.”

I shrieked out loud at the doctor’s last words. I again saw the whole scene before me, and the eyes into which the hyena was plunging his knife were Frederick’s soft, blue, beloved eyes.

“Pray, forgive me, dear lady, but it was by your own wish——”

“Oh, yes; I desire to hear it all. What you are now describing was the night that follows the battle; and these scenes are enacted by the starlight?”

“And by torchlight. The patrols which the conquerors send out to survey the field of battle carry torches and lanterns, and red lanterns are hoisted on signal poles to point out the places where flying hospitals are to be established.”

“And next morning, how does the field look?”

“Almost more fearful still. The contrast between the bright smiling daylight and the dreadful work of man on which it shines has a doubly-painful effect. At night the entire picture of horror is something ghostly and fantastic. By daylight it is simply hopeless. Now you see for the first time the mass of corpses lying around on the lanes, between the fields, in the ditches, behind the ruins of walls. Everywhere dead bodies—everywhere. Plundered, some of them naked; and just the same with the wounded. Those who, in spite of the nightly labor of the Sanitary Corps, are still always lying around in numbers, look pale and collapsed, green or yellow, with fixed and stupefied gaze, or writhing in agonies of pain, they beg any one who comes near to put them to death. Swarms of carrion crows settle on the tops of the trees, and with loud croaks announce the bill of fare of the tempting banquet. Hungry dogs, from the villages around, come running by and lick the blood from wounds. Further afield there are a few hyenas to be seen, who are still carrying on their work hastily. And now comes the great interment.”

“Who does that—the Sanitary Corps?”

“How could they suffice for such a mass of work? They have fully enough to do with the wounded.”

“Then troops are detailed for the work?”

“No. A crowd of men impressed, or even offering themselves voluntarily—loiterers, baggage people, who are supporting themselves by the market-stalls, baggage-wagons and so forth, and who now have been hunted away by the force of the military operations, together with the inhabitants of the cottages and huts—to dig trenches—good large ones, of course—wide trenches, for they are not made deep—there is no time for that. Into these the dead bodies are thrown, heads up or heads down just as they come to hand. Or it is done in this way: A heap is made of the corpses, and a foot or two of earth is heaped up over them, and then it has the appearance of a tumulus. In a few days rain comes on and washes the covering off the festering dead bodies! but what does that matter? The nimble, jolly grave-diggers do not look so far forward. For jolly, merry workmen they are, that one must allow. Songs are piped out there, and all kinds of dubious jokes made—nay, sometimes a dance of hyenas is danced round the open trench. Whether life is still stirring in several of the bodies that are shovelled into it or are covered with the earth, they give themselves no trouble to think. The thing is inevitable, for the stiff cramp often comes on after wounds. Many who have been saved by accident have told of the danger of being buried alive which they have escaped. But how many are there of those who are not able to tell anything! If a man has once got a foot or two of earth over his mouth he may well hold his tongue.”