It is mid-January, snowing, blowing, the thermometer
below zero. We have done no flying for five days. We have read our most recent
magazines from cover to cover, including the advertisements, many of which we
find more interesting, better written, than the stories. We have played our
latest phonograph record for the five hundred and ninety-eighth time. Now we
are hugging our one stove, which is no larger than a length of good American
stove-pipe, in the absurd hope of getting a fleeting promise of heat.
Boredom, insufferable boredom. There is no American
expressionthere will be soon, no doubtfor this disease which claims
so many victims from the Channel coast to the borders of Switzerland. The
British have it without giving it a name. They say "Fed up and far from home."
The more inventive French call it "Cafard" Our outlook upon life is warped, or,
to use a more seasonable expression, frozen. We are not ourselves. We make
sarcastic remarks about one another. We hold up for ridicule individual
peculiarities of individuality. Some one, tiring of this form of indoor sports,
starts the phonograph again.
Wind, wind, wind (the crank) Kr-r-r-r-r-r-r (the needle on
the disk) La-dee-dum, dee-doodle, di-dee-day (the orchestral introduction)
Sometimes when I feel sad And things look blue, I wish the
boy I had Was one like you
"For the love of Pete! Shut off that damn silly thing !"
"I admire your taste, Irving!" "Can it!" "Well, what will
you have, then?" "Play that Russian thing, the '^Danse des Buffons.' "
" Don't play anything." "Lord! I wish some one would send us
some new records."
"Yes, instead of knitted wristerswhat?" "And
"Talking about wristers, how many pair do you think I've
received? Eight !"
"You try to head 'em off. Does n't do any good. They keep
coming just the same."
" It"s because they are easy to make. Working wristers and
mufflers is a method of dodging the knitting draft."
"Well, now, I call that gratitude! You don't deserve to have
"Is n"t it the truth? Have you ever known of a soldier or an
aviator who wore wristers?"
"I give mine to my mechanician. He sends them home, and his
wife unravels the yarn and makes sweaters for the youngsters."
"Think of the waste energy. Harness up the wrist-power and
you could keep three aircraft factories going day and night."
"Oh, well, if it amuses the women, what's the difference?"
"That's not the way to look at it. They ought to be doing
"Plenty of them are; don't forget that, old son."
"Anybody got anything to read?" "Now, if they would send us
more books "
"And magazines "
"Two weeks ago, Blake, you were wishing they would n't send
"What of it? We were having fine weather then."
"There ought to be some system about sending parcels to the
"The Germans have it, they say. Soldier wants a book, on
engineering, for example, or a history, or an anthology of recent poetry. Gets
it at once through Government channels."
" Say what you like about the Boches, they don't know the
meaning of waste energy."
"But you can't have method and efficiency in a democracy."
"There you go! Same old fallacy!" "No fallacy about it! Efficiency and personal
freedom don't go together. They never have and they never will."
"And what does our personal freedom amount to? When you get
down to brass tacks, personal freedom is a mighty poor name for it, speaking
for four fifths of the population."
"Germany does n't want it, our brand, and we can't force it
"And without it, she has a mighty good chance of winning
this war "
When the talk begins with the uselessness of wristers,
shifts from that to democratic inefficiency, and from that to the probability
of Deutschland uber Alles, you may be certain of the diagnosis. The disease is
The sound of a motor-car approaching. Dunham rushes to the
window and then swears, remembering our greased-cloth window panes.
"Go and see who it is, Tiffin, will you? Hope it's the mail
Tiffin goes on outpost and reports three civilians
approaching. "Now, who can they be, I wonder?" "Newspaper men probably." "Good
Lord! I hope not." "Another American mission." "That's my guess, too." Rodman
is right. It is another American mission coming to "study conditions" at the
"But unofficially, gentlemen, quite unofficially," says Mr.
A., its head, a tall, melancholy-looking man, with a deep, bell-like voice.
Mr. B., the second member of the mission, is in direct
contrast, a birdlike little man, who twitters about the room, from group to
"Oh! If you boys only knew how splendid you are! How much we
in America You are our first representatives at the front, you know. You
are the vanguard of the millions who " etc.
Miller looks at me solemnly. His eyes are saying, "How long,
O Lord, how long!"
Mr. C., the third member, is a silent man. He has keen,
deep-set eyes. "There," we say, "is the brain of the mission."
Tea is served very informally. Mr. A. is restless. He has
something on his mind. Presently he turns to Lieutenant Talbott. "May I say a
few words to your squadron?" "Certainly," says Talbott, glancing at us
Mr. A. rises, steps behind his chair, clears his throat, and
looks down the table where ten pilots,the others are taking a
constitutional in the country, caught in negligee attire by the
unexpected visitors, are sitting in attitudes of polite attention.
"My friends" the deep, bell-like voice. In fancy, I
hear a great shifting of chairs, and following the melancholy eyes with my own,
over the heads of my ten fellow pilots, beyond the limits of our poor little
mess-room, I see a long vista of polished shirt fronts, a diminishing track of
snowy linen, shimmering wine glasses, shining silver.
"My friends, believe me when I say that this occasion is one
of the proudest and happiest of my life. I am standing within sound of the guns
which for three long years have been battering at the bulwarks of
civilization. I hear them, as I utter these words, and I look into the faces of
a little group of Americans who, day after day, and week after week"
(increasing emphasis) "have been facing those guns for the honor and glory of
democratic institutions' (rising inflection).
"We in America have heard them, faintly, perhaps, yet
unmistakably, and now I come to tell you, in the words of that glorious old war
song, 'We are coming, Father Woodrow, ONE HUN-DRED MIL-LION strong!" We listen
through to the end, and Lieutenant Talbott, in his official capacity, begins to
applaud. The rest of us join in timidly, self-consciously. I am surprised to
find how awkwardly we do it. We have almost forgotten how to clap our hands! My
sense of the spirit of place changes suddenly. I am in America. I am my old
self there, with different thoughts' different emotions. I see everything from
my old point of view. I am like a man who has forgotten his identity. I do not
recover my old, or, better, my new one, until our guests have gone.
FROM A LETTER RECEIVED IN BOSTON, OCTOBER 1,
OFFIZIERS KRIEGSGEFANGENEN LAGER, KARLSRUHE,
BADEN, DEUTSCHLAND July 27,1918
I've been wondering about the ultimate fate of my poor old
"High Adventure" story, whether it was published without those long promised
concluding chapters which I really should have sent on had I not had the
misfortune to be taken prisoner. I hope the book has been published, incomplete
as it is. Not that I am particularly proud of it as a piece of literature!
I told you briefly, on my card, how I happened to be taken
prisoner. We were a patrol of three and attacked a German formation at some
distance behind their lines. I was diving vertically on an Albatross when my
upper right plane gave way under the strain. Fortunately, the structure of the
wing did not break. It was only the fabric covering it, which ripped off in
great strips. I immediately turned toward our lines and should have reached
them, I believe, even in my crippled condition; but by that time I was very low
and under a heavy fire from the ground. A German anti-air craft battery made a
direct hit on my motor. It was a terrific smash and almost knocked the motor
out of the frame. My machine went down in a spin and I had another of those
moments of intense fear common to the experience of aviators. Well, by Jove ! I
hardly know how I managed it, but I kept from crashing nose down. I struck the
ground at an angle of about 30 degrees, the motor, which was just hanging on,
spilled out, and I went skidding along, with the fuselage of the machine, the
landing chassis having been snapped off as though the braces were so many
toothpicks. One of my ankles was broken and the other one sprained, and my poor
old nose received and withstood a severe contact with my wind-shield. I've been
in hospital ever since until a week ago, when I was sent to this temporary camp
to await assignment to a permanent one. I now hobble about fairly well with the
help of a stick, although I am to be a lame duck for several months to come, I
Needless to say, the lot of a prisoner of war is not a happy
one. The hardest part of it is, of course, the loss of personal liberty. Oh! I
shall know how to appreciate that when I have it again. But we are well treated
here. Our quarters are comfortable and pleasant, and the food as good as we
have any right to expect. My own experience as a prisoner of war and that of
all the Frenchmen and Englishmen here with whom I have talked, leads me to
believe that some of those tales of escaped or exchanged prisoners must have
been highly imaginative. Not that we are enjoying all the comforts of home. On
the contrary, a fifteen-cent lunch at a Child's restaurant would seem a feast
to me, and a piece of milk chocolate are there such luxuries as
chocolate in the world? But for prisoners, I for one, up to this point, have no
complaint to make with respect to our treatment. We have a splendid little
library here which British and French officers who have preceded us have
collected. I did n't realize, until I saw it, how book-hungry I was. Now I'm
cramming history, biography, essays, novels. I know that I'm not reading with
any judgment but I'll soon settle down to a more profitable enjoyment of my
leisure. Yesterday and to-day I've been reading "The Spoils of Poynton," by
Henry James. It is absurd to try cramming these. I've been longing or this
opportunity to read Henry James, knowing that he was Joseph Conrad's master.
'The Spoils of Poynton' has given me a foretaste of the pleasure I'm to have. A
prisoner of war has his compensations. Here I've come out of the turmoil of a
life of the most intense nervous excitement, a life lived day to day with no
thought of to-morrow, into this other life of unlimited bookish leisure.
We are like monks in a convent. We're almost entirely out of
touch with the outside world. We hear rumors of what is taking place at the
front, and now and then get a budget of stale news from newly arrived
prisoners. But for all this we are so completely out of it all that it seems as
though the war must have come to an end. Until now this cloistered life has
been very pleasant. I've had time to think and to make plans for a future
which, comparatively speaking, seems assured. One has periods of restlessness,
of course. When these come I console myself as best I may. Even for prisoners
of war there are possibilities for quite interesting adventure, adventure in
companionship. Thrown into such intimate relationships as we are here, and
under these peculiar circumstances, we make rather surprising discoveries about
ourselves and about each other. There are obvious superficial effects which I
can trace back to causes quite easily. But there are others which have me
guessing. By Jove! this is an interesting place! Conrad would find material
here which would set him to work at once. I can imagine how he would revel in
Well, I'm getting to be a very wise man. I'm deeply learned
in many kinds, or, better, phases, of human psychology and I 'm increasing my
fund of knowledge every day. Therefore, I've decided that, when the war is
over, I'll be no more a wanderer. I'll settle down in Boston for nine months
out of the year and create deathless literature. And for vacations, I've
already planned the first one, which is to be a three months' jaunt by
aeroplane up and down the United States east and west, north and south. You
will see the possibilities of adventure in a trip of this sort. By limiting
myself somewhat as to itinerary I can do the thing. I've found just the man
here to share the journey with, an American in the British Air Force. He is
enthusiastic about the plan. If only I can keep him from getting married for a
year or so after getting home!
I had a very interesting experience, immediately after being
taken prisoner on May 7th. I was taken by some German aviators to their
aerodrome and had lunch with them before I was sent on to the hospital. Some of
them spoke English and some of them French, so that there was no difficulty in
conversing. I was suffering a good deal from my twisted ankles and had to be
guarded in my remarks because of the danger of disclosing military information;
but they were a fine lot of fellows. They respected my reticence, and did all
they could to make me comfortable. It was with pilots from this squadron that
we had been fighting only an hour or so before. One of their number had been
killed in the combat by one of the boys who was flying with me. I sat beside
the fellow whom I was attacking when my wing broke. I was right "on his tail,"
as we airmen say, when the accident occurred, and had just opened fire. Talking
over the combat with him in their pleasant quarters, I was heartily glad that
my affair ended as it did. I asked them to tell me frankly if they did not feel
rather bitterly toward me as one of an enemy patrol which had shot down a
comrade of theirs. They seemed to be surprised that I had any suspicions on
this score. We had "a fair fight in an open field." Why should there be any
bitterness about the result. One of them said to me, "Hauptmann, you'll find
that we Germans are enemies of a country in war, but never of the individual."
My experience thus far leads me to believe that this is true. There have been a
few exceptions, but they were uneducated common soldiers. Bitterness toward
America there certainly is everywhere, and an intense hatred of President
Wilson quite equal in degree and kind to the hatred in America of the
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