Tuesday, June 13, 2006


There's a tendency to put values of today onto the past, perhaps particularly in regards to war. Of course war has always been violent and full of atrocities, but in novels, at least, we like to think that our military heroes have modern sensibilities. Perhaps modern civilian sensitivities. They are sensitve to the humanity of the enemy. They regret killing them. They care about the enemy civilians. They look back on war and shudder.

There are all kinds of reactions to war, of course, but I've seen plenty of evidence to the opposite.

Consider this letter, written after Waterloo by Lieutenant William Turner, 13th Light Dragoons.

"VILLEPEUT near PARIS, 3rd July 1815.

MY DEAR BUSBY,—I assure you it is with the greatest pleasure I can find time to inform you I am perfectly sound and in good health and spirits.

We marched into this village last night from near Louvres, and are only nine miles from Paris and can distinctly hear the firing, which takes place at Paris, between the Prussian advanced posts and the French. This war cannot possibly last long, for every town and village is completely ransacked, and pillaged by the Prussians and neither wine, spirits, or bread are to be found. The whole country from the frontier to Paris has been laid waste by the march of troops, and the crops nearly destroyed, we are waiting for the Prussians when that infernal City Paris will be attacked and no doubt pillaged, for it is a debt we owe to the whole of Europe, all the inhabitants for leagues round here have taken themselves and their effects into Paris, so that it will be worth taking if we loose 20,000 men.

You have no idea of the enthusiasm of the troops and their determination to carry before them everything in their way, the Prussians are also determined soldiers and I expect in one week Paris will be completely sacked and perhaps burned."


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