ON a certain day in the spring of 1917, a day of showers and sunshine, and of tears and laughter, the streets of one of our American cities were cleared of their drab traffic to make way for marching thousands who were escorting Marechal Joffre on his entry into the freedom of the city and the hearts of the citizens. For many of the bystanders this brave pageant was their initiation into the perennial romance of war. The men whom they saw sweeping past were something more than a hastily assembled group of available military units. They seemed to the bystander to have become, for the moment, members of an indivisible and mystical society, some ‘community of memory and hope.’

So, reflected the bystander, have men always marched with the Hero at their centre, and so will men march again and again while there is left in mankind the impulse to celebrate the spirit and deeds of those who have given battle and have overcome. That procession reawakened in the mind of the bystander the memory of the mythical and the historical victors of all the world’s yesterdays. And it was prophetic of the day toward which the hopes of the free peoples of the earth are now set, when such marching men in their millions shall tell of the realization of those hopes which had at the Marne their first military pledge of final achievement.

But the memory which still lingers most vividly from that brave day is not the memory of the genial marshal smiling his gracious way into our affections, or of the thousands of our fellow countrymen who formed his bodyguard of honor. The most vivid memory is that of a little group of French, English, and Colonial soldiers midway in the procession, who had seen service in the trenches. The contrast between these men and the marshal was great. The Hero bowed continually to right and to left. His hand was at an almost unbroken salute to the riot of Allied flags waving on the waysides. But these other heroes, of humbler rank, and yet, perhaps, of sterner experience, ‘marched straight forward.’

And the contrast between these men of the achieved armies of Europe and the boys of our own army in the making was still greater. The precision of our own boys was that of men with whom discipline was still a self-conscious effort; but with these other men it seemed to be the habit of a lifetime. The bystander had the uncertain impression that at any time one of the college boys with the battery might turn to glance hastily and furtively up at some window, on a hungry quest for an answering flutter of lace; but he knew that these other men would never turn and look. It was not merely that they were strangers in a strange land, where they need not look for answering faces. It was something deeper than that — the subtle suggestion that they had eyes for a scene far away and very different. Their faces were as the faces of men wearing masks, the mask neither of care-free levity nor of disconsolate tragedy, but the stern mask of a deliberate and studied stoicism. As they passed, they seemed to reincarnate and rehabilitate a sombre discredited article of the traditional creed, ‘He descended into hell.’

These marching men from the trenches left with the bystander the sense of the presence in the pageant of an alien, or at least an unassimilated, element. The bystander realized that here was something which lacked its true spiritual milieu, and he found himself wondering what primitive emotions of pity and desire and anger might be working on the human faces behind that Stoic mask. There was here the suggestion of judgment reserved, of something yet to be said — something which could not then be said, which perhaps never could be said so that the crowds along the highway should hear and understand.

The bystander remembered the incisive comment made upon the poet Gray by one of his contemporaries, ‘ He never spoke out.’ Were there mute poets there in dusty blue uniforms and trench-helmets who could never ‘speak out’? The bystander remembered again those lines with which long ago Bernard of Clairvaux prefaced one of his treatises; ‘It is my strong opinion that no one can comprehend what it is, save he who has experienced it; it is as it were a hidden manna, and he who tastes of it still hungers for it again. It is a fountain sealed from which no stranger may draw; but he who drinks from it still thirsts to drink again.’ Was it thus that these men were thinking of their lives?

The bystander’s mind ran on, in obedience to these suggestions, to the thought of William James’s catalogue of the hall-marks of men’s mystical experiences : ‘ Ineffability — the handiest of the marks by which I classify a state of mind as mystical is negative. The subject of it immediately says that it defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words. It follows from this that its quality must be directly experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others.’

Was this the deeper secret of the vast reserves suggested by the impassive faces of those men from the trenches? Had they been baptized by blood into some ineffable mystery which, even if they would, they could not tell?

And when they had passed, the bystander went his civilian way again, with the seeds of a new conviction in his mind, the conviction that there was already appearing in his world a gulf between the mind of the soldier and the mind of the civilian in war-time, which must widen and deepen unless by some fresh effort of sympathy and imagination he could bridge the rift.

The bystander then began to understand what previously he had been unable to understand — the reticences of his friends who had been and seen and who had come home again. They had gone off blithely and unselfishly, to drive ambulances, to nurse the wounded, to know the storm centre for themselves; and they had come back sobered, which was intelligible, and silent, which was unintelligible. That they should speak modestly of their deeds was natural, but that they should be so strangely reticent in speaking of the grim total fact and of their inner reactions was unnatural. They had been willing to communicate a few items from their adventure, but of their total experience they would not speak. The cleverest raconteur broke down. The most discerning philosopher found himself beyond his depth. A touch of the ineffable seemed to have entered into the lives of all such as had seen and shared, however briefly and humbly, in the strain and stress of the storm centre. It was this mysterious and previously inexplicable quality in the character of his friends who had been and seen and come home again which the marching soldiers from the trenches incarnated and illuminated.

Then, for the first time, the bystander understood that halting passage in one of Mr. Wells’s last books. No one had ever thought of Mr. Wells, as the victim of the ineffable. His universe has been one of romance, but never of mystery. Yet even Mr. Wells, with his gift for interpretation, seems to have suffered, on his trip to the Front, something of these inhibitions and impotences of the soldier mind.

It has been my natural disposition [he writes, with his fine candor] to see this war as something purposeful and epic. I do not think that I am alone in this inclination to a dramatic and logical interpretation. The caricatures in the French shops show civilization in conflict with a huge and hugely wicked Hindenburg Ogre. Well, I come back from this tour with something not quite so simple as that. If I were tied down to one word for my impression of this war, I should say that this war is Queer. It is not like anything in a really waking world, but like something in a dream. It has n’t exactly that clearness of light against darkness or of good against ill. My memory of this tour is filled with puzzled-looking men. I have seen thousands of poilus sitting about in cafés, by the roadside, in tents, in trenches, thoughtful. I have seen Alpini sitting restfully and staring with speculative eyes across the mountain gulfs toward unseen and unaccountable enemies. I have seen trainloads of wounded staring out of the ambulance-train windows as we passed. I have seen these dim intimations of questioning reflection in the strangest juxtaposition: in Malagasy soldiers resting for a spell among the big shells they were hoisting into trucks for the front; in a couple of khaki-clad Maoris sitting on the step of a horse-van in Amiens station. It is always the same expression one catches, rather weary, rather sullen, inturned. The shoulders droop. The very outline is a note of interrogation. One meets a pair of eyes that seem to say, ‘Perhaps you understand ... in which case . . .?’

In all these ways the civilian mind, over the last four years, has been made more and more conscious of some new spiritual fact coming into being, the mind of the Front, puzzled, thoughtful, speculative, ‘inturned’; a mind as yet unable to grapple with the dominant ineffable fact. The secrets of the men of this fraternity have not yet been shared with us of the homelands. They have done their graphic best to make us understand the setting of their experience. They have visualized for us mud and rats and shrapnel and gas. But beyond that they have not gone. They can only intimate by their silence that life there has certain qualities which may not be told. The mood of the thoughtful man, as he reflects on war, is the mood of the thoughtful man as he faces toward war: —

And went discouraged home,
And brooded by the fire with heavy mind.

In some such way the soldier mind of the present day seems to be brooding over ancient chaos come again.


Every reader who has followed the more intimate and reflective soldier literature of the last three years has become familiar with a single adjective which seems to the fighting man to be the most accurate description of his own state of mind and that of his fellows. It is the adjective ‘inarticulate.’ It would seem as though, at the heart of the cyclone, there was some silent centre where either thoughts lie too deep for words, or where thought is not.

If Mr. Wells, bringing to the storm centre the most alert and articulate mind of the day, finds himself strangely inhibited in thought and speech, how much more the man of lesser intellectual prowess, who knows the storm, not as a spectator, but as a participant. In so far as he is able to philosophize at all about his world, the soldier tells us that it is too vast and complex to yield to the interpretation of any political or ethical monism.

If ever a man lived in a ‘pluralistic universe,’it would seem to be the soldier in the modern army. His total impression, in so far as he is able to give us any account of that impression, is like a wild futurist sketch. He is in a moral chaos where the noblest virtues rub shoulders with the basest vices. If this strange wild world of his has any dominant hue, it is a neutral tone, which communicates itself to his own spirit. ‘Without using either a whitewash brush or a tar brush, I will paint Tommy as I have seen him. I have looked for the good in men as earnestly as for the bad. Some think of Tommy as being clothed in sins of scarlet hue. Others think of him as robed in the spotless white of righteousness. But, as a matter of fact, Tommy’s moral dress is neither scarlet nor white: it is khaki.'

This spiritual khaki of the soldier is not the expression of an inherent moral indifference as to the causes and issues of the war; it is the expression of the natural instinct for protective coloration. One who has known the soldiers well, says of them, ‘They do not deny greatly, but neither do they joyfully assert.’ Beyond the deep silent conviction that, the world being what it now is, he must ‘ carry on,’ the soldier seems to be keeping his mind in a state of suspended judgment. We still wait for the man who shall dare to strike the first trial-balance between the good and evil of this experience. Indeed, the civilian accountant may well ponder the conclusion of one who has looked into the confused ledgers of our time and said, ‘It would be impossible for any single human mind to sum up the good and evil of war, and strike a balance between the two.’ Some such oppressive sense of a universe too great and intricate to be easily analyzed and assessed is the seat of the inarticulateness of the soldier.

And the sharp contrast between the facile dogmatism of the civilian and his own inner inhibitions seems to be the fact which most heavily oppresses the thoughtful soldier. There appeared a year or more ago in one of the English weeklies a brief contribution from an anonymous soldier under the caption, ‘When These Dumb Speak.’ ‘Over all the world,’ says this nameless man of the trenches, ‘there is a chaos of sound. But amid all this noise there is a notable silence. It is the silence of the fighters. They are dumb: dumb by law, dumb by instinct and reason. What will those lips say when their seal is removed ? ’

This is a question which has not seriously troubled the civilian mind as yet. But it is, probably, the most important question of the day. We have not had time in America to grasp the fact that we must ultimately make our reckoning with this reaction to the war. We have complacently taken it for granted that our civilian dogmatism and oratory are the first and last words upon our age. But it behooves us to begin to cultivate, in this present hour, a little of the inhibition and inarticulateness of the soldier, so that, when he does speak to us, we may not be wholly unprepared for the mood and substance of his words.

‘What will those lips say when their seal is removed?’

Many of them will say what was said to all the facile chatter of an English fireside a little while ago: ‘Oh, how I wish they would all shut up!’

Others of them will take refuge in verse. Coming back from their hell to find the world of business and pleasure making cheap capital of their experiences, they will break out into savage resentment.

The house is crammed: tier beyond tier they grin
And cackle at the show, while prancing ranks
Of harlots shrill the chorus, drunk with din, —
‘We’re sure the Kaiser loves the dear old tanks.’
I’d like to see a tank come down the stalls,
Lurching to rag-time tunes and ‘Home, sweet home’ —
And there’d be no more jokes in music-halls,
To mock the riddled corpses round Bapaume.

Or if, in less bitter mood, he tries to give sober prose form to his inarticulateness and the sense of the great gulf which that inarticulateness puts between himself and the mind of the civilian world, this is what the homecoming soldier will say, as he has already said: —

You really have come back from another world; and you have the curious idea that you may be invisible in this old world. These people will never know what you know. There they gossip in the hall, and leisurely survey the book-stall; and they would never guess it, but you have just returned from hell. What could they say if you told them? They would be polite, forbearing, kindly and smiling, and they would mention the matter afterward as a queer adventure with a man who was evidently a little overwrought: shell shock, of course. Beastly thing, shell shock. Seems to affect the nerves. They would not understand, they never will understand. I know how Rip Van Winkle felt about it. But his was a minor trouble. All he lost was a few years. But the man who comes back from the line has lost more than years. He has lost his original self.

The home-folk do not know this and may not be told. The youngster who is home on leave knows that what he wants to say cannot be said. What would happen if he uncovered in a sunny and innocent breakfast-room the horror he knows? If he spoke out? His people would not understand him. They would think he was mad. They would be sorry, dammit!

It is difficult for him to endure hearing the home-folk speak with confidence of the special revelation of the war they have not seen, when he who has been in it has contradictory minds about it. The greatest evil of war —that which staggers you when you come home feeling you know the worst of it — is the unconscious indifference to war’s obscene blasphemy against life of the men and women who have the assurance they will never be called on to experience it.

What is the matter with London? The men on leave, when they meet each other, always ask that question. They feel perversely that they would sooner be amid the hated filth and smells of the battlefield than at home. Out there, though possibly mischance may suddenly extinguish the day for them, they will be with those who understand them, with comrades who rarely discuss the war except with quiet and bitter jesting. Seeing the world has gone wrong, how much better and easier to take the likelihood of extinction with men who have the same mental disgust as your own, and can endure it till they die, than to sit in sunny breakfast-rooms with the newspaper maps and positive arguments of the unsaved.

These are hard words for the civilian to hear. To realize that he cannot understand and never will understand, and that his dogmas are the easy creeds of the unsaved, is a perplexing and humiliating experience. And yet there is no need in our total world of to-day so great as the need of some such inhibition among all those who by choice or by necessity still live ‘in the safe glad rear.’

The time was, in the past, when armies made and unmade history. Such a time may well come again, when some such fraternity of the saved will assume control of the moral history of our own time, not by force of arms, but by the imperious and ultimately articulate authority of their own experience. ‘All mystics,’ said Saint-Martin, ‘come from the same country and speak the same language.’ Some such mystical order is coming into being to-day — the brotherhood of those who from many countries have gone to Northern France and who will ultimately return to the civilian world citizens, not of the states they left, but of that No Man’s Land, that strange, common spiritual world that they found there.

We ‘unsaved’ of the civilian world are thrown again into the morally helpless lot of those who must be saved, if they are to be saved at all, by the efficacy of some vicarious atonement. For the outstanding moral fact of this age is the fact that again the simple and good and true are having to suffer for the careless and the evil. And the ultimate salvation of the unsaved rests still, as it has always rested, upon the ability of these unsaved to partake of a vicarious sacrifice in the spirit of humility and self-scrutinizing silence.

In classical Christian history the doctrine of the Atonement has had moral efficacy only for those men who have never been able to take the initial historical fact quite for granted. The record of the Crucifixion, when it fails to awaken in those who read it some mood of inarticulateness, becomes a meaningless and impotent platitude. As soon as the Disciple takes the death of the Master for granted, a moral gulf appears between them, and the agony of the one becomes unavailing for the experience of the other. ‘The King’s Way of the Holy Cross’ has been efficacious only with those who have pondered it in the humble halting mood which Thomas à Kempis long ago breathed into his Imitation.


It is the easy-going civilian habit of taking the vast atonement of these years for granted which bodes so ill for its ultimate efficacy for our generation. The institution of conscription is not only a military and political necessity: it rests upon some deeper intuition of the fact that all life is a conscription, that there is an imperious element of necessity about being born, and living in the world, and dying. The draft law is the counterpart, in the world of statecraft, of determinism in the world of science, and the dogmas of Foreordination and Election and Irresistible Grace in the elder theology. All we can say is, Life is like that. Something of this element of necessity in all life conscripted Jesus on to his cross.

But the facile habit of taking this deeper conscription for granted, and of acquiescing in its operations carelessly, as it works for our security, is a habit of soul full of peril for those who slip into it easily and thoughtlessly. So long as women acquiesce romantically and comfortably in Nietzsche’s dictum that it is the business of man to be a soldier and the business of woman to be the solace and relaxation of the soldier, whether that solace be licit or illicit, so long will there be a great moral gulf between the two. So long as men who are over age, and men who are exempted by virtue of their valuable civilian services, take it comfortably for granted that others shall descend into hell in their behalf, just so long will the vicarious sufferings of these others be morally inefficacious for them.

Here is the spiritual rift of the time, the great gulf between those who can no longer take anything for granted in their world, and those who take it all for granted. It is for some communication of the inarticulate mood of the soldier to the spirit of the civilian that the present hour waits.

‘ I hate that which is not written with blood,’said Nietzsche. The war-time philosophy of the civilian world is still written with typewriters and pens, in editorial sanctums and in church studies. And all these easy creeds and dogmas must ultimately vanish before a faith which is being written now with blood.

The mood which must, somehow, by some miracle of imagination and sympathy, creep into our unsaved civilian soul, if the gulf between our world and the world of the soldier is not to be a sinister and widening gulf, is the mood of the poet: —

In earth or heaven,
Bold sailor on the sea,
What have I given,
That you should die for me?
What can I give,
O soldier leal and brave,
Long as I live.
To pay the life you gave?
What tithe or part
Can I return to thee,
O stricken heart,
That thou shouldst break for me?
The wind of Death
For you has slain life’s flowers,
It withereth
(God grant) all weeds in ours.

The sombrest transcript out of all the war, which the bystander has found, is not any record of battlefields, or any story of horrors or atrocities, but rather ‘Some Reflections of a Soldier’—reflections which for the moment were the articulate expression of all this inarticulateness at the heart of our time, the inarticulateness which marched in those men from the trenches that spring day of 1917: —

It is very nice to be home again. Yet am I at home? One sometimes doubts it. There are occasions when I feel like a visitor among strangers whose intentions are kindly, but whose modes of thought I neither altogether understand nor altogether approve. You speak lightly, you assume that we shall speak lightly of things, emotions, states of mind, human relationships, and affairs which are to us solemn or terrible. You seem ashamed, as if they were a kind of weakness, of the ideas which sent us to France, and for which thousands of sons and lovers have died. You calculate the profits to be derived from ‘War after the War,’as though the unspeakable agonies of the Somme were an item in a commercial transaction. You make us feel that the country to which we’ve returned is not the country for which we went out to fight.

I cannot dismiss as trivial the picture which you make to yourselves of war and the mood in which you contemplate that work of art. They are an index of the temper in which you will approach the problems of peace. You are anxious to have a truthful account .of the life of a soldier at the front. You would wish to enter, as far as human beings can enter, into his internal life, to know how he regards the tasks imposed upon him, how he conceives his relation to the enemy and to yourselves, from what sources he derives encouragement and comfort. You would wish to know these things; we should wish you to know them. Yet between you and us there hangs a veil. It is mainly of your own unconscious creation. It is not a negative, but a positive thing. It is not intellectual, it is moral. It is not ignorance, it is falsehood. I read your papers and listen to your conversation, and I see clearly that you have chosen to make to yourselves an image of war, not as it is, but of a kind which, being picturesque, flatters your appetite for novelty, for excitement, for easy admiration without troubling you with masterful emotions. You have chosen, I say, to make an image, because you do not like, or cannot bear the truth; because you are afraid of what may happen to your souls if you expose them to the inconsistencies and contradictions, the doubts and bewilderments, which lie beneath the surface of things. You are not deceived as to the facts; for facts of this order are not worth official lying. You are deceived as to the Fact.

Perhaps I do you an injustice. But that intimation does seem to me to peep through some of your respectable paragraphs. As I read them, I reflect upon the friends who, after suffering various degrees of torture, died in the illusion that war was not the last word of Christian wisdom. And I have a sensation as of pointed ears and hairy paws and a hideous ape-face grinning into mine — sin upon sin, misery upon misery, to the end of the world.

O gentle public,— for you were once gentle and may be so again, — put all these delusions from your mind. The reality is horrible, but it is not so horrible as the grimacing phantom which you have imagined. Your soldiers are neither so foolish, nor so brave, nor so wicked, as the mechanical dolls who grin and kill and grin in the columns of your newspapers. The war . . . is a burden they carry with aching bones, hating it, hoping dimly that, by shouldering it now, they will save others from it in the future. They carry their burden with little help from you. For an army does not live by munitions alone, but also by fellowship in a moral idea or purpose. And that you cannot give us.

No, the fact is we’ve drifted apart. We have slaved for Rachael, but it looks as if we’d got to live with Leah. We have drifted apart, partly because we have changed and you have not; partly, and that in the most important matters, because we have not changed and you have. . . . We are strengthened by reflections which you have abandoned. Our foreground may be different, but our background is the same. It is that of August to November, 1914. We are your ghosts.