- Sassoon's importance
- Early experiences
- 'War on war'
- Hospital and afterwards
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World War One recruiting poster
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3. 'Siegfried's war on war'
Something else that made Siegfried Sassoon angry was the callous unawareness of the army chiefs who made the battle plans, the 'scarlet majors' who 'speed glum heroes up the line to death', who casually speak of having 'lost heavily in the last scrap' and think of numbers, not individual men.
So what a friend called 'Siegfried's splendid war on the war' was two-fold: against the generals sitting over their maps well out of danger, and against the 'home front'. He particularly disliked government propaganda aimed at gaining the new recruits needed to fill the gaps made by the many thousands of men already killed. It depicted the war as a worthwhile cause to join, a sacrificial duty to fulfil: a call to battle, it implied, which only cowards would refuse.
He also loathed the way pacifism, which was what he now saw was the worthwhile cause, was spoken of as 'cowardice' and 'betrayal' - especially when such things were said by women. It was to women he addressed a poem which begins
'You love us when we're heroes, home on leave,
Or wounded in a mentionable place.
You worship decorations; you believe
That chivalry redeems the war's disgrace...'
The 'decorations' that women 'worshipped' were military awards for bravery. In his first days on the front line, Siegfried Sassoon had earned the nickname 'Mad Jack' for his reckless boldness. After helping to bring in wounded men while under fire himself, he was awarded the Military Cross. That was in 1915. In 1917, just recovered from fever and based in a garrison near Liverpool, he threw his Military Cross ribbon into the river Mersey, to express his disgust with war.
'Weighted with significance though this action was,' he wrote, 'it would have felt more conclusive had the ribbon been heavier. As it was, the poor little thing fell weakly on to the water and floated away as though aware of its own futility...Watching a big boat which was steaming along the horizon, I realised that protesting against the prolongation of the war was about as much use as shouting at the people on board that ship.'