Finished with the War
A Soldier's Declaration
I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.
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 believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would no be attainable by negotiation.
I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these 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 complacence 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 realize.
Bryce waited for Rivers to finish reading before he spoke again. 'The "S" stands for "Siegfried". Apparently, he thought that was better left out.'
'And I'm sure he was right.' Rivers folded the paper and ran his fingertips along the edge. 'So they're sending him here?'
Bryce smiled. 'Oh, I think it's rather more specific than that. They're sending him to you.'
Rivers got up and walked across to the window. It was a fine day, and many of the patients were in the hospital grounds, watching a game of tennis. He heard the pok-pok of rackets, and a cry of frustration as a ball smashed into the net. 'I supposed he is--"shell-shocked"?'
'According to the Board, yes.'
'It just occurs to me that a diagnosis of neurasthenia might not be inconvenient confronted with this.' He held up the Declaration.
'Colonel Langdon chaired the Board. He certainly seems to think he is.'
'Langdon doesn't believe in shell-shock.'
Bryce shrugged. 'Perhaps Sassoon was gibbering all over the floor.'
'"Funk, old boy." I know Langdon.' Rivers came back to his chair and sat down. 'He doesn't sound as if he's gibbering, does he?'
Bruce said carefully, 'Does it matter what his mental state is? Surely it's better for him to be here than in prison?'
'Better for him, perhaps. What about the hospital? Can you imagine what our dear Director of Medical Services is going to say, when he founds out we're sheltering "conchies" as well as cowards, shirkers, scrimshankers and degenerates? We'll just have to hope there's no publicity.'
'There's going to be, I'm afraid. The Declaration's going to be read out in the House of Commons next week.'
Rivers made a dismissive gesture.
'Yes, well, I know. But it still means the press.'
'And the minister will say that no disciplinary action has been take, because Mr Sassoon is suffering from a secere mental breakdown, and therefore not responsible for his actions. I'm not sure I'd prefer that to prison.'
'I don't suppose he was offered the choice. Will you take him?'
'You mean I am being offered a choice?'
'In view of your case load, yes.'
Rivers took off his glasses and swept his hand down across his eyes. 'I suppose they have remembered to send the file?'