Carry On: Letters in War Time

Paperback: 136 pages
Publisher: Kessinger Publishing, LLC (1917/April 1, 2005)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1417986611
ISBN-13: 978-1417986613

For information on purchasing this book through Amazon, click here.

The complete text can be read online here for free.

Writing about his experience as a British Soldier in the First World War, Coningsby Dawson in Carry On: Letters in War Time (1917) stated that it is the “bigness of soul” that makes nations great. The war, he said, was a “prolonged moment of exultation for most of us.”

“These men, in the noble indignation of a great ideal, face a worse hell than the most ingenious of fanatics ever planned or plotted. Men die scorched like moths in a furnace, blown to atoms, gassed, tortured. And again other men step forward to take their places well knowing what will be their fate. Bodies may die, but the spirit of England grows greater as each new soul speeds upon its way.” (from Letter XLIX, February 6th, 1917)

The greatness of England, according to Dawson, was measured in terms of the number of casualties it could afford. Dawson sees a direct correlation between the number of casualties—and the spirit of England. Each time a soldier dies, the soul of the nation grows.

British General Douglas Haig planned the Battle of the Somme (July 1-November 18, 1916) and many other disastrous campaigns during the First World War. He was responsible for the deaths of well over a million British soldiers. Although he was criticized for persisting in futile battle strategies, Haig retained the title of commander-in-chief until the end of the war in 1918.

In spite of the enormous casualties and costs of the battles he initiated, he received encouragement and support from the King and a substantial part of the British populace. The following letter to Haig was found among his papers (De Groot, 1988):

“Illustrious General, the expectation of mankind is upon you—the ‘Hungry Haig’ as we call you here at home. You shall report 500,000 casualties, but the Soul of the empire will afford them. Drive on, Illustrious General!”

Haig probably preserved this anonymous note because it echoed his own feelings. This letter and similar messages that he received reinforced his belief that there existed a great mass of people who shared his willingness and determination to fight on even at the cost of the lives of hundreds of thousands of men. The letter writer claims that the Soul of the empire can “afford casualties.” As  “the Hungry Haig” consumed the bodies of soldiers, England grew greater.

British political leader David Lloyd George stated (Haste, 1977) that every nation during the First World War conducted its military activities as if there were no limit to the number of young men who could be “thrown into the furnace to feed the flames of war.” The First World War was a perpetual, driving force that “shoveled warm human hearts and bodies by the millions into the furnace” (Gilbert, 2004).

Waging war constitutes a vehicle for giving or throwing away men and resources. Waging war is a gift to the god—one’s society or nation. One throws away men and material objects—wealth—in order to prove the greatness of one’s nation, which is measured in terms of its capacity and willingness to tolerate loss.

In our hearts, the dream remains the same. Today, the “greatest nation on earth” throws away or squanders billions upon billions of dollars. To what end? To demonstrate one’s capacity and willingness to throw away billions and billions of dollars. Loss is victory.