Sending Civilians to Death
The captain sat in the corner playing chess with one of the lieutenants. He had been promoted only two weeks ago, and the company was to advance the next day, return to the front lines for something big. No one was sure what, but it was probably just another offensive. The captain knew what was in for him, as the junior officers always led the charges, so he just kept playing his chess game, sending little soldiers into war, by himself. The men called it “captain’s syndrome,” and one of the symptoms of it was a bullet through the head within the third or fourth week.
The company grenadier leaned against the tavern wall, next to the door, writing in a little pocked journal he had. It was curious: for a man so keen to throw explosives an other humans, he was really just a quiet individual. He liked to stroll through gardens and forests, not launch explosive projectiles. The other lieutenant sat in a chair against the wall a few feet away from him, just sitting there with his eyes closed, resting while he still could.
The company machine gunners, of which there were three, all sat at the same table, laughing and tossing jokes as they drank their poorly-brewed beers. The company’s best sniper sat at a different table, reading a leather-bound book. He was capable of hitting a Frenchman from four hundred meters, probably. That was the thing about the snipers - they had it easy, because they never saw a person’s face before they killed them. The other infantrymen, on the other hand, now they had to watch the light leave a foe’s face as they lay dying under their bayonet. Anyway, the sniper sat quietly reading his book. He was never really anything but a poet. He had written a few short excerpts of poetry for his town paper back home.
Most of the company were not ordering much food or drink, but nevertheless, the French women who ran the tavern were running around as if it were a busy day, asking the soldiers if the wanted their plates cleared, or if they wanted something else to drink.
“Plus de Biere?” “Plus de biere?” “Quel bordel!” Muller only leaned against a wall in the corner, watching all of the scene unfold. There was little French child running around the room, happy to be with the soldiers, even though they were Germans. He was playing with a little wooden stick, using it as a toy gun. Some of the soldiers smiled at him before he pointed it toward the empty doorway and charged out of the tavern. “That’ll give us Germans a scare,” Muller thought. “His feet are backwards.”
Muller had been in the company since 1914, and had somehow not been killed yet. He knew how the attacks worked, as they rotated new men into the company to replace the dead ones. Come tomorrow, at least half the people in this tavern would be dead. He wondered who it would be. The captain? One or both of the lieutenants? The sniper? The grenadier? The machine gunners? Come dawn in two days, at least one of those specific people would be dying in the mud, blood streaming over innocent lips. But that was the thing, really, they were not soldiers, none of them. They were civilians in soldiers’ uniforms.