Unnamed Journal Volume 2, Issue 3 - Page 21

The Teutonic Beast Just as Matthews finished this pronouncement, a trench mortar popped a Minnie just in front of the berm on the front of the fire trench. It made a great racket and the whole platoon froze in shock, but when it cleared, no casualties had been clicked. That was something of a coup; trench mortars were evil little bleeders. Henry felt his teeth shudder anyway. Jacobs may be right after all, but Minnie was nothing to sneeze at. Such a nasty, cruel little explosion. Cooly murderous. A monument to Teutonic efficiency, which was a thought that Henry found oddly soothing. For one thing, Henry had been sufficiently well-educated to admire those things in the Prussian system that were admirable. Their efficiency, their respect for organization and authority, their willingness to pitch in for the good of all, these were features of a culture that Americans, Henry believed, would do well to imitate. Of course their bellicosity and lack of decency as regards the rules of war deserved censure, and even a healthy dose of warlike correction, as only a good solid war could correct. But overall, Henry respected the German. Besides, what glory lay in defeating a foe unworthy of your steel? So the lack of serious artillery threat to his remote outpost, however welcome in the short term, and however much the Brigade and Division brass would appreciate reading it in his very thorough report, could not help but disappoint Henry. He chalked it up to the exhaustion of war, but still. What point was there in crossing the ocean to fight those with barely any fight in them? Which was not to say that there had been no casualties. 3rd Platoon had been down to half-strength at the time of the trial, and numbered twenty-four men when they scurried across no-man's land in the night to Suicide Ditch. Two men had been lost during that journey. They had never been found, and if they had run back to the Allied lines someone would have sent them back. Henry decided that their honors had been served and left it at that. Over the course of the past week, three more men had fallen to Minnies and one to causes unknown. That brought them down to eighteen. All through this, the men of 3rd Platoon had not complained, had hardly said anything to Henry beyond "Yes, sir." Their answers to basic questions were usually monosyllabic when they were spoken aloud at all. To call Henry's experience of the trenches limited was an understatement, he knew. But he could not escape the sense that something was wrong in the men. It was not as if they did not show fear. They ducked the Minnies with the alacrity of veterans, and after Private Robie was found on the lip of the trench, naked and ripped in half, they were merely more careful in pairing up, especially at night. Henry simply could not understand how this group of soldiers, who were hardly strangers to the front, could have cut and run so utterly. What had they seen? Every now and then, when a Minnie would pop close, Henry would hear some of the men refer to "beasts". At first he thought it a local slang for the shrapnel, perhaps picked up from some British trainers in the spring, but it did not seem so. It seemed as though that was the men's word for the Germans. They did not use any other, such as "Hun" or "Jerry" or "Boche" or "Kraut". One evening, after the stars first winked in the sky, as the orange lingered on the horizon, Henry called Matthews into his dugout and asked him about it. "That's the Germans all right, sir," Matthews had said. "You know, 'The Mad Beast'."