Remarks on the press and public reaction to World War I (fragment), November 1915

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Perhaps I may be permitted to close this chapter with a personal experience, illustrating the power of the press to select such data as suits its purpose.

In an address in New York City given the week of my return from Europe, I was presenting data which to my mind indicated a revolt against war, taking place in the midst of the war itself. I cited the loathing against the use of the bayonet felt by a certain type of young man, to overcome which "we were told in several countries" that stimulants were administered before a bayonet charge was ordered.

It never occurred to us who heard this statement nor to those who made it that this was done because the men lacked courage. It was taken for granted that the stimulants inhibited the sensibilities of a certain type of modern man to whom primitive warfare was especially abhorrent, although he was a brave soldier and serving his country with all his heart. The giving of stimulants was a quicker process than that incitement to reprisals and revenge which in actual warfare often serves as an immediate incentive. We were in fact told of this substitution, once by a Frenchman who said, "That since the use of poisonous gases by the [page 2] Germans, no further stimulants could possibly be needed for a thoroughly indignant and aroused soldiery," and again by an Englishman who spoke of the difficulties of in the early months of the war in overcoming the camaraderie unhappily evinced by certain British troops for the Saxons long established in an opposite trench, and the relief when the Bavarians took their places against whom no incitement to hostility was needed.

I used no illustration for the statement in my New York address and, speaking broadly, without notes, I unfortunately gave a mistaken impression as to the extent to which I myself believed stimulants had been used in connection with bayonet charges. The statement, much exaggerated in the reporting and without any qualifying clauses, was made the subject of much unfriendly comment, especially in those journals which had been unalterably opposed to the woman's meeting at The Hague from its inception.

Several weeks later therefore I took advantage of an interview on the subject with an Associated Press man to make clear two points: first, the authority for my statement that "we have been told in several countries." I instanced three occasions upon which my friend, Dr. Alice Hamilton, and myself heard the statement when we were together, so that we have since been able to confirm each other's impression. We distinctly recall a French Governmental official, an English professor, and a convalescing German soldier. The latter, who was on sick leave in Switzerland after three months in the trenches, was an exceptionally intelligent young man. He said to us, "A bayonet charge does not show courage, but madness. Men must be brought to the [page 3] point by stimulants and once the charge is begun they are like insane men. I have been in it and after it was over I was utterly dazed. I did not know what had happened to me any more than if I had been picked up from the water after an explosion on shipboard." He said that the stimulant given to the German soldiers contained sulfuric ether.

I remember at the time Dr. Hamilton remarked to me that she knew from the medical journals that it had been found necessary in both the German and the English armies to abandon the idea of total abstinence and serve rations of alcohol to the soldiers.

I should also like to quote from the journal "Stamps" the impressions of a French soldier who wrote:

"You act and fight as in a dream, you have lost the sense of time and place and feel yourself to be merely a part of a monstrous whole that twists itself convulsively. It is as if the life of sensation had been cut off. And later on, when you are yourself again, you think you have been shut up in a cage, out of which you have been desperately trying to escape but in vain. It is not true that you never are afraid, but proximity robs death of its terrors. Many soldiers experience an irresistible loathing of the use of their bayonets, of rushing on a living human being with such a weapon. They simply cannot do it."

The second point I made in my interview with the Associated Press man was that the soldier for whom stimulants might be necessary represented a type of sensitive man doubtless found in each army. Such assertions as I made in regard to the use of stimulants were confined to this type of man, and it never occurred to me to make any [generalizations] in regard to the "average" soldier as I was reported to have done. One of the hideous results of war is the inveterate tendency of the "average" man to fall into the spirit of hot retaliation. We were told in two countries that the [page 4] soldiers were being supplied as fast as possible with short knives because they could not advantageously use their bayonets in the occasional hand to hand encounters within the trenches themselves and we, of course, know of the men who said of the bayonet charge, "Ah, [that] is fighting when the primitive man lets himself go and does the sort of [illegible] fighting which is obvious and definite."

It is farthest from my wish [and] intention to add one word to the campaign of calumny, to disparage either the motives or the courage of the long line of fighting men, to repeat one tale of horror which might increase that poverty of heart induced by hatred. One returns from Europe this year in a much too serious frame of mind to wish to utter one word which might increase the confusion and misunderstanding, or undermine the respect for human nature in these trying times.

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