“Is there a joiner called Lanz who lives here?” he asked. “Pardon?” said a young woman with black, shining eyes who was, at that moment, washing children’s underclothes in a bucket. She pointed her wet hand towards the open door of the adjoining room.
K. thought he had stepped into a meeting. A medium sized, two windowed room was filled with the most diverse crowd of people – nobody paid any attention to the person who had just entered. Close under its ceiling it was surrounded by a gallery which was also fully occupied and where the people could only stand bent down with their heads and their backs touching the ceiling. K., who found the air too stuffy, stepped out again and said to the young woman, who had probably misunderstood what he had said, “I asked for a joiner, someone by the name of Lanz.” “Yes,” said the woman, “please go on in.” K. would probably not have followed her if the woman had not gone up to him, taken hold of the door handle and said, “I’ll have to close the door after you, no-one else will be allowed in.” “Very sensible,” said K., “but it’s too full already.” But then he went back in anyway.
From Der Prozeß (“The Trial”) by Franz Kafka (written 1915, but not published until 1925)
“The path, which ran parallel to the river, led to a little grassy clearing that was hemmed in by huddled trees; coconut, cashew, mango, bilimbi. On the edge of the clearing , with its back to the river, a low hut with walls of orange laterite plastered with mud and a thatched roof nestled close to the ground , as though it were listening to a whispered subterranean secret. The low walls of the hut were the same colour as the earth they stood on, and seemed to have germinated from a house-seed planted in the ground, from which right-angled ribs had risen and enclosed space. Three untidy banana trees grew in the little front yard that had been fenced off with panels of woven palm leaves.”
From The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1992)
“At the peace talks in 1919, Britain was fully aware of the dangers of imposing too severe a penalty on the Germans; but the French were not to be denied. For them, the war had meant two million dead and a vast tract of north eastern France laid waste. Much has been written about the devastation wrought by the fighting, but nothing in our modern experience even comes close to describing it. Perhaps a single image will help. In 1914, the French village of Douaumont was a thriving rural community, a few miles from an ancient fortress that had guarded the road to Paris since Roman times. In 1916 it was the scene of some of the most ferocious fighting between French and Germans during the battle of Verdun. Such was the intensity of the artillery bombardment that the village was completely obliterated – and I mean that quite literally, there wasn’t a single stone left standing. In fact, the only way you could tell that there had been ever anything there at all was a vague grey smudge in the soil visible only from the air. During the battle, the combatants fired off 40 million artillery shells, that’s six per square metre of the battlefield, which in some places resembled the surface of Mars with a permanent smog overhead of Mustard Gas and Phosgenes mixed in with the noxious smell from the rotting corpses that littered the battlefield. All that is left now is a cemetery containing the remains of 100,000 unidentified soldiers from both sides out of the three hundred thousand who perished there.”
[During WW1, the killing of POWs was commonplace by both sides … ] “Though sometimes spontaneous, this kind of behaviour seems to have been encouraged by some commissioned officers, who believed that the order ‘Take no prisoners’ enhanced the aggression and therefore the combat effectiveness of their men. A verbal order to finish off French prisoners was issued to some German officers as early as September 1914. But there was nothing particularly German about this sort of thing . One British brigadier was overheard by a soldier in the Suffolks to say on the eve of the Battle of the Somme ‘You may take prisoners, but I don’t want to see them.’ Another man, in the 17th Highland Light Infantry, recalled the order ‘that no quarter was to be shown to the enemy and no prisoners.’ Private Arthur Hubbard of the London Scottish Regiment also received strict orders not to take prisoners, ‘no matter if wounded.’ His ‘first job’ he recalled, ‘was when I had finished cutting some of the wire away, to empty my magazine on 3 Germans that came out of their deep dugout , bleeding badly, and put them out of their misery, they cried for mercy, but I had my orders, they had no feelings whatever for us poor chaps.’ ….”
From The War of the World by Niall Fergusson (2006)
“The rate of interest she paid was of course high , because of the uncertainty of her security, and the arithmetic of lovers is often sketchy and optimistic. Yet they had glorious times after that return. They determined that they would not go to a Pleasure City nor waste their days rushing through the air from one part of the world to the other, for in spite of one disillusionment, their tastes were still old fashioned. They furnished their little room with quaint old Victorian furniture, and found a shop on the forty-second floor in Seventh Way where printed books of the old sort were still to be bought. It was their pet affectation to read print instead of hearing phonographs. And when presently came a sweet little girl, to unite them further if it were possible, Elizabeth would not send her to a Creche, as the custom was, but insisted on nursing it at home. The rent of their apartments was raised on account of this singular proceeding, but they did not mind. It only meant borrowing a little more.”