SIEGFRIED SASSOON

 
       
 


- Sassoon's importance
- Early experiences
- 'War on war'
- Statement
- Hospital and afterwards
- Afterword
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4. The Statement signed 'S. Sassoon'
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All the same, he did protest. He took a stand against the war by publicly declaring he would no longer fight in it - and caused a storm.

In July 1917 he made a written statement about his objection to the war and gave it to his commanding officer. He also refused to return to the front line, though he knew that he risked court martial and severe punishment. (Some soldiers at the front who refused to fight had even been executed.)

Here are some of the words of Siegfried Sassoon's 'Statement':

     
 

'I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest.
I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong those sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.
On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practised on them.
Also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realise.'

 
   Full text  

Siegfried Sassoon certainly didn't realise how much he had alarmed the authorities: so much so that they regarded a court martial, and the publicity that would go with it, as out of the question. Sassoon and his action must be hurried out of sight, in case other men 'caught' his dangerous 'pacifist tendency' and also refused to fight.

At this point, Robert Graves intervened. He meant well: he knew that his friend was too physically weakened by wounds and illness to survive punishment. As he saw it, a practical solution was needed. So, one way and another, sometimes deviously, Graves persuaded the authorities that Sassoon was too mentally and physically unwell to face punishment ('the irony of having to argue to these mad old men that Siegfried was not sane!'). He also persuaded Siegfried himself to 'drop this anti-war business', on the grounds that his protest was in vain: whatever he did the war would go on 'until one side or the other cracked' - meanwhile he would simply be accused of cowardice and his pacifism dismissed as lunacy.

A panel of army doctors quickly decreed that Siegfried Sassoon was 'suffering from a nervous breakdown and not responsible for his actions', and sent him off to a hospital for shell-shocked soldiers (Craiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland).

But the publicity the army feared wasn't entirely suppressed. A pacifist Member of Parliament read Sassoon's 'Statement' aloud in the House of Commons. There was an uproar. [Commons debate or Hansard original]

A few months later a railway passenger found a copy of the Statement stuffed in a luggage rack. The passenger - no pacifist - sent it to the politician responsible for army recruitment, who passed it on to military intelligence. Here there was great agitation: was there a pacifist mass campaign going on, distributing mutinous leaflets? 'Lieutenant Sassoon was undoubtedly the author, but when it was written he was a lunatic. It seems possible that pacifists are circulating Sassoon's insane efforts.'

Sassoon's official army file - it still exists - was made available for public view in 1998, 80 years after the end of the First World War. The file is marked 'Not to be destroyed': 'it refers to a person of international importance'.

 
      

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