Sunday, July 17, 2011
French Legionare WW1
This is a fascinating account of how a man feels when forced to kill.
Phil Rader was a member of the French Foreign Legion. This story was written on March 1, 1915.
Phil Rader tells how he shot and killed an unarmed German upon the command of his Lieutenant.
Was so excited he could hardly aim but finally got his man.
Written for the United Press, 1915
By Phil Rader
London March 1. How it feels to kill a man is something I cannot definitely describe.
There are some millions of men in Europe who have had this feeling during the past half year but I venture to say that not one of them could faithfully detail his emotions upon first taking a human life.
After you see your victim drop you first feel a sense of triumph... Then the ages in training in the Ten Commandments come to front and you feel like a murderer.
Then you want to run around among your mates and tell them circumstances of the killing and get them to tell you that you did the right thing.
My experience was like that. I was standing beside my lieutenant one day. He had fastened a small mirror to a twig and was looking at the German trenches, when suddenly he exclaimed. “Get your gun! A Boche has come out of his trench.” I ran down the trench and got gun and came back to the loop hole. I was so excited I could hardly aim. Through the hole I saw a German standing on the edge of his trench. He had been carrying a huge board and he had rested it against his back while he tried to light his pipe.
“Get him! Get him! , he said the lieutenant.
I fired and missed. The German struck another match and merely looked contemptuously at the spot in space where the bullet had whistled past him. He was only 45 feet away from me, but thorough the loop hole I could see only a part of his body and I wanted to hit him low if possible. I aimed again. He wheeled around and backed in a circle, like a drunken man trying to keep his balance. Then he threw up both hands and fell forward on his face.
I turned around to look at the lieutenant. He had moved a way. I was proud. Then a wave of remorse came over me; it was the “Thou shalt not kill” that is buried in every man’s mind and heart.
“I got a German” I shouted to a soldier nearby. I told him how the man had been standing there, holding a board.
“Did he have a rifle?” asked the soldier. “Why no “, I said. “And you shot an unarmed man?” “I had direct orders” I answered. I felt like a dog. It seemed to me that I must find some human being who would say that I had done the right thing.
I told another soldier about it. “Served him right, “said the soldier. “ He would have done the same thing to you.”
Those were splendid words for me. I had sloughed along the trench before I met him. After that I held up my head. But the two feelings the pride and remorse fought in my mind.
At last I told it all to an old Legion Soldier.
“My boy, “he said, “Its war. Could you have refused to shoot under the eye of the Lieutenant? War is killing and that’s all there is to it. Suppose every soldier in the French line were to obey his own instincts about killing. None of the enemy would die. The French have brought you here to kill. You are ordered to kill and you must kill whenever you can.”
Technically I had dome wrong because all war is wrong.
French Hotchkiss Machine Gun
“I sat behind a machine gun, one day soon after that and killed eleven Germans who had built a barricade in some nearby trees. They were shooting at us and I felt much better about killing them than I did about that single German.
And then later again on the bicycle seat of the machine gun, and, at the rate of 700 shots a minute, I fired at advancing columns of Germans in close formation and watched them drop and squirm. They were coming to kill us if they could. It was only fair to kill them, under the rules of the war game.
A terrific sense of power filled me; the rattle of the gun was sweeter and grander to me that the Hallelujah chorus. I knew what it meant to be drunk with killing. Other machine guns were going too, but I felt at the time that mine was the only one. The Germans turned and ran, their formation smashed; their dead and wounded strewing the hillside.
But that night. After I had crawled into my mud hole to sleep. I didn’t dare to think of all the women and children whose hearts had been hit by that machine gun fire.
I had joined the French Foreign Legion expecting to be made a member of the flying corps. Instead I had found a way to the trenches where killing was our only job. brutal out and out killing. With little science and less chivalry.
When my chance came I got out of the 1,500 men I had started out with only 345 remained and we had been in the trenches only 47 days.
I quit because it was a living hell. Everybody else would have quit too, I know they would, I lived with them and talked with them and ate with them. And I know them all and they would have quit if they could. So would every other man in all the armies of the world.