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The Most Stupid Thing People Can Be Busy With Is War

Submitted by Marjana on Wed, 14/09/2011 - 15:46
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The Man They Could Not Draft

The old sailor removed the pipe from his mouth and expectorated contemptuously. “War,” he said. “is neither complicated nor difficult to understand. You just take a gun and kill people. But my grandfather was too smart for them. He had a most methodical mind, he did.”

The children sat quietly while he puffed thoughtfully and gazed out to the sea. They knew he would continue presently.

“Twas during the war for the purification of virtue,” he said. “That was a long time ago, before you were born. My grandfather, a handsome young man at the time, was drafted with all the rest. The doctor looked down his throat and thumped his chest, and declared him the finest specimen of them all.

“They gave him a bath and dressed him in a uniform and then handed him a gun. “And now you are ready” they said.

“Ready for what?” says my grandfather.

“Why, ready to go and shoot,” they say.

“And who am I going to shoot?” my grandfather wanted to know.

“Why, the enemy, of course,” they said.

“And who might that be?” asked my grandfather.

That stumped them. “If it be necessary to shoot a man,” said my grandfather, ”then I suppose I shall shoot him. But who is he? What is his name? Is he married or single? Does he have any children? What is his profession? How old is he? I have no objections at all to shoot shooting him, but you can’t ask me to put holes in a man who is a complete stranger.”

That was most logical and the generals could not deny it. Nothing would do but they go to the files of the names of the enemy troops ad to select someone for my grandfather to shoot. “Here,” they said, “this man will do as well as any other. Here is his complete record and you will find a photograph attached. Take it home and read carefully. When you know him well enough, come back and we will send you to the front to shoot him.”

The very next day my grandfather came back. “This will not do,” he said. “I cannot kill him. A finer man I never heard tell of. Indeed I have grown as fond of him as a brother. His name is Oliver Schmaltzh and he runs a bicycle repair shop. He has a wife and three small children. In his spare time he plays the violin and sings: “Sweetheart, the Buds are Blooming.” “This my favorite song and goes like this:

Sweetheart, the buds are blooming;

Banish that tear from your eye.

Smile for me, darling, and kiss me,

Before I march off to die.

Smile for me, darling, and kiss me –

For I must march off to die.

“That will be enough,” said the general. You could see that he was very much impressed. “I know how you feel,” he said, “and I don’t blame you. We should give him someone else to kill.

Then the general went to the files again and spent a long while studying over the enemy soldiers. Finally he located one who seemed suitable. “Here is one any man would be happy to shoot. Go home and study his record. When you are sufficiently acquainted with him, come back and you may shoot him without delay.”

My grandfather took home the record and studied it long and earnestly. This man was indeed a contemptible character. His name was Oscar Fingle. He spent the days boozing in saloons and the evenings beating his wife. The way he supported himself was stealing pennies out of blind men’s cups. He was mean, irritable, lazy, dishonest, brutal, slovenly and unpunctual.

Far into the night my grandfather studied the record, and, next morning, returned to the general.

“This man is unquestionably a louse,” said my grandfather. “Indeed, I see no reason for not shooting him. He is the most contemptible scoundrel I have ever heard of.”

“That’s fine,” said the general. “Here is your gun. You may go to the front and shoot him immediately.”

“Just a minute,” said my grandfather. “Even a lowest louse is entitled to fair play. Here is a personal heart-to-heart letter I have written for him. I have decided to give him one more chance. I will give him six month in which to pull himself together and reform. If at the end of that time he has not improved, I will shoot him down in his tracks like the dog he is.”

Naturally, this was a perfectly fair position. There was nothing the general could do but agree. So my grandfather went home to wait.

The old sailor stopped talking and began puffing his pipe with unnecessary concentration. When it was apparent he was not going to continue, a little girl asked, “And did the bad man reform?”

“He was not the reforming kind,” said the old sailor. “Two months later he fell down the back stairs in a drunken stupor and broke his neck. That was the end of him.”

“And your grandfather” asked a little boy, “what did he do then?”

“What could he do?” said the sailor. “The man was dead. You can’t shoot a dead man. There was nothing else they could do but excuse my grandfather from the war.”

M. Quin;