It will be different in the next, the ultimate, war, but in the last war, battlefields were guarded by the police. We tend to forget that. It was like this:
Behind the confusion of the trenches of every battlefield, in which the manual and white-collar workers shot each other down, while their bosses made good profits, a chain of military police stood and rode, without a pause. The gentlemen were not particularly well-loved; nowhere to be seen at the front, but very much in evidence behind it. The common soldier didn’t like them; they reminded him of the civil drill which he had, in false hopes, exchanged for the military.
The military police didn’t just guard the battlefield from the back to the front, that would have been understandable; they didn’t just ensure that civilians didn’t walk to a death that wasn’t meant for them. The battlefield was also guarded from front to back.
„What’s your unit?“ is what the MP asked isolated soldiers. They used the formal form of address, Sie, where otherwise the soldier was du, or in the plural ihr, the less respectful form. Here, he was suddenly a tax-payer, with obligations to the civil authorities. The MP made sure that people died correctly.
In many cases that was not even necessary. The lambs trotted along with the flock. Most of them had no idea how to get to the rear, and what would they do there anyway? They would have been picked up, and then: remand, court martial, prison, or, worst of all, a punishment unit. Acts of brutality occurred in these German punishment units, whose portrayal, had they occurred in the French Foreign Legion, would have been enough to support an entire publishing house. Some countries chased their involuntary subscribers into the machine guns, with machine guns.
That’s how they fought.
For four long years, there were entire square miles of land within which murder was obligatory, while half an hour away it was equally strictly forbidden. Did I say murder? Of course murder. Soldiers are murderers[P1] .
It is very significant that a decent-thinking Protestant minister recently denied the accusation that he had called soldiers murderers, because it qualifies in his circles as an accusation. And the agitation against Professor Gumbel is because he once called the knacker’s yard of war, the “field of dishonour”. I don’t know whether the rioting students in Heidelberg can read. If so, perhaps they could take the trouble to go to one of their libraries and look up the exhortation of Benedict XV, who called the war, while it was still going on, “dishonourable slaughter”! This exhortation is reprinted in this edition.
The military police of all countries would have, and did, shoot deserters. They murdered those who refused to go on murdering. And they guarded the battlefield, because order is essential, peace, order and the civilization of the Christian countries.