Two years ago (April 2018), my son wrote this short story for a school contest. Last Sunday we went together to the movies, and watch the movie 1917. I couldn’t stop thinking about my son’s story, so I would like to share it here.
Please take into account that we are not native English speakers (Spanish is our mother tongue).
The Price of a mile
In 1914, over 100 years ago, World War I began. As tension began rising between the Allied powers and the central forces, war breaks out.
In between both of the frontlines, a stalemate is created, neither of the sides can advance further into enemy territory. To solve this, in 1917, July, the British began pushing towards northern Belgium, in an attempt to cut enemy supply lines and break the stalemate.
This attempt would take place at the town of Passchendaele.
They thought this war would end all wars, yet in ended nothing. What follows is frontline combat.
They were not expected to survive.
Another day in a mud filled trench, laying low against it’s feeble wooden walls -used as supports- so that it won’t collapse. If you don’t know what a trench is, it’s better you don’t know.
Here one gets to enjoy the scenery, beautiful trees, wonderfully paved roads, fields filled with green, ponds, a calm sky and a pleasant amount of silence.
Except what used to be of those beautiful trees were merely ,dead and soulless sticks rising up the ground; of the paved roads craters from artillery fire; what remained of the fields filled with green grass was just wet dirt; of the ponds, spots with filled with toxic water from all the toxic chemicals; of the calm sky, a depressing heavily raining cloud covered sky; and of the silence… There wasn’t any, only the fire of machineguns, rifles, bombs, and screams.
In the trench, a fellow soldier approaches me, keeping his head low, crouching. We were currently standing by without having received any orders, his shirt, uniform, and name tag covered in mud, he stands right by me.
“So, what’d you used to do before the war?” He said.
“Chuffeur, it was so pleasant driving people, feeling the wind on your face as you get to contemplate the scenery, quite the one we have here.”
Chatting with someone else was the best thing you could do, sleeping was nearly impossible, you couldn’t pop your head out of the trench. If you did, you would die from being shot by machinegun fire, and if you din’t die by machinegun fire, you would by sniper fire, or the god-awful mustard gas clouds, and if you didn’t die by either, well, what was the point of living after witnessing such horrible scenery?
From afar, officer McManus began approaching us, wearing his cap, with his glasses and moustache, with his egocentric vibe around him.
He sees us, and he begins turning red like a tomato, and charging towards us with his anger filled face.
“May I possibly be enquired of what in the name of God are YOU two fools doing now? Laying oh so lazily here!”
-“We weren’t doing anything guv”. The other soldier replied.
“Nonsense! I’ll have you tied up for your misbehav-“
Boom, sniper, from one second to another McManus ceased existing in the realm of the living, his corpse rigid on the mud.
All around us we would suddenly hear a whistle.
The sound of that dreaded whistle, the most atrocious order a soldier could receive, to stop your current what you’re doing and jump over the trench, and rush towards the enemy. We weren’t considered as people, but cannon fodder.
And so we did, rifle in hand I began sprinting towards the enemy, under constant fire from the enemy. All around my partners relentlessly running just like me.
You could see Tim, but he didn’t make it, you could also see John, and Joe, and Edward, but they didn’t make it.
Few managed to make it, but to where you ask? 15 Meters afar from our trench, and as I layed in a water filled crater from the constant monsoon, we were enduring.
Attempting to advance, infront of me was an enemy soldier, a german with his black helmet and trenchcoat.
He saw me as I saw him, too.
As I aim my rifle and squeeze the trigger, but the rifle jams from all the mud.
I see him raise it, and as he too aims and squeezes the trigger, his gun jams as mine did.
He looks at me in the eye as I do as his too. They say the eye is the gate-way to the soul, and what I saw was a terrified man, just like you and me, who didn’t want to be there.
And as I contemplated around me, I realized, that…
Hell isn’t deep beneath the earth, it was right here, where I stood.
A hell in which humans lives are mere numbers.
A hell in which people are thrown into wars like meat in a grinder.
A hell in which disputes are settled by men in fancy suits and prices are paid by young men’s lives.
And thus, what was the purpose of it all?
Half a million lives were lost at the battle of Passchendaele, fighting over 6 miles of…Nothing.
The battle achieved nothing.
So tell me, if over 500.000 men died over such a small piece of land-
What’s the price of a mile?