The Last Shot

Frederick Palmer

The Last Shot

The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Last Shot, by Frederick Palmer
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Title: The Last Shot
Author: Frederick Palmer
Release Date: October 13, 2004 [eBook #13738]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
E-text prepared by Stephen Schulze and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Author of Over the Pass, etc.

This story of war grew out of my experience in many wars. I have been under fire without fighting; known the comradeship of arms without bearing arms, and the hardships and the humors of the march with only an observer's incentive. A singular career, begun by chance, was pursued to the ends of the earth in the study of the greatest drama which the earth stages. Whether watching a small force of white regulars disciplining a primitive people, or the complex tactics of huge army against huge army; whether watching war in the large or in the small, I have found the same basic human qualities in the white heat of conflict working out the same illusions, heroisms, tragedies, and comedies.
The fellowship of campaigning made the cause of the force that I accompanied mine for the time being. Thus, one who settles in the town of A absorbs its local feeling of rivalry against the town of B in athletic games or character of citizenship. To A, B is never quite sportsmanlike; B is provincial and bigoted and generally inferior. But settle in B and your prejudices reverse their favor from A to B.
Yet in the midst of battle, with the detachment of a non-combatant marvelling at the irony of two lines of men engaged in an effort at mutual extermination, I have caught myself thinking with the other side. I knew why my side was busy at killing. Why was the other? For the same reasons as ours.
I was seeing humanity against humanity. A man killed was a man killed, courage was courage, sacrifice was sacrifice, romance was romance, a heart-broken mother was a heart-broken mother, a village burned was a village burned, regardless of race or nation. Every war became a story in a certain set form: the rise of the war passion; the conflict; victory and defeat; and then peace, in joyous relief, which the nations enjoyed before they took the trouble to fight for it.
But such thoughts have been a familiar theme to the poet, the novelist, the dramatist, the satirist, the dreamer, and the peace propagandist, while the world goes on arming. In want of their talent, I offer experience of the monstrous object of their gibes and imagination. To me, the old war novels have the atmosphere of smoke powder and antiquated tactics which still survived when I went on my first campaign sixteen years ago. These classic masterpieces endure through their genius; the excuse of any plodder who chooses their theme to-day is that he deals with the material of to-day.
Methods of light and of motive power have not changed more rapidly in the forty-odd years since the last great European war than the soldier's weapons and his work. With all the symbols of economic improvement the public is familiar, while usually it thinks of war in the old symbols for want of familiarity with the new. My aim is to express not only war as fought to-day, soldiers of to-day under the fire of arms of to-day, but also the effects of war in the nth degree of modern organization and methods on a group of men and women, free in its realism from the wild improbabilities of some latter-day novelists who have given us wars in the air or regaled us with the decimation of armies by explosives dropped from dirigibles or their asphyxiation by noxious gases compounded by the hero of the tale.
The Russo-Japanese and the Balkan campaigns, particular in their nature, gave me useful impressions, but not the scene for my purpose. The world must think of those wars comparatively as second-rate and only partially illustrative, when its fearful curiosity and more fearful apprehension centre on the possibility of the clash of arms between the enormous forces of two first-class European land-powers, with their supreme training and precision in arms. What would such a war mean in reality to the soldiers engaged? What the play of human elements? What form the new symbols? Therefore have I laid my scene in a small section of a European frontier, and the time the present.
Identify your combatants, some friends insist. Make the Italians fight the Austrians or the French fight the Germans. As
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