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   Chapter 8 WITH THE CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS

Uncle Sam's Boys with Pershing's Troops Dick Prescott at Grips with the Boche By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 9070

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"No other business, Sergeant?" asked Dick, one October morning, as he looked up from the desk in company office at his "top."

"Among the nineteen National Army men drafted into this regiment, sir, are three conscientious objectors who ask to be transferred to some non-fighting branch of the service."

"Send for them," ordered Dick briefly, a frown settling on his brow.

Privates Ellis, Rindle and Pitson speedily reported in the office, saluting, then standing at attention.

"You men are all conscientious objectors?" Prescott asked coldly.

"Yes, sir," said the three together.

"You all have conscientious objections to being hurt?" Prescott went on.

"I have conscientious scruples against killing a human being, sir," replied Private Ellis.

"And you also have scruples against giving him a chance to kill you," Dick went on mercilessly. "You believe in a police force for preserving order in a community, do you?"

"Y-yes, sir."

"If you found a burglar in your home, and had an opportunity, you would send for a policeman?"

"Yes, sir," Ellis admitted.

"Even though you knew the policeman might find it necessary to kill the burglar in attempting to arrest him?" Prescott quizzed.

"Yes, sir."

"Then, while you presumably would not kill a burglar yourself you would not object to calling a policeman who might do it?"

Private Ellis began to suspect the trap into which he was falling.

"I could not bear to kill the burglar myself, sir," he replied.

"And you would not want the burglar to kill you, so you would summon a policeman to do whatever killing might be necessary. In that case, are you a moral objector to killing, or are you merely a coward who relies on another to do the killing for you?"

Private Ellis appeared much confused.

"Answer me," Dick commanded.

"The case doesn't seem the same to me, sir, as serving as a fighting man in the war."

"The case is exactly the same, except in the matter of magnitude," Prescott retorted. "Germany is the burglar, trying to break into the house of the world. You haven't time necessary courage to fight a German yourself, but you will be glad to see a braver man serve on the firing line in your stead. And you are a conscientious objector, too, are you, Rindle?"

"I--I thought I was, sir," confessed the soldier. "Your questions, sir, and your way of putting the case confuse me."

"And you, Pitson?" Dick demanded, eyeing the third man. "Knowing that, if you are sent to some non-combatant work, some other man will have to be sent to this company to do your killing work for you, you wish to dodge fighting duty?"

"Yes, sir; I do," Pitson answered unhesitatingly.

"Pitson, consider the matter seriously and try to decide whether you're a moral hero or a physical coward!"

"Sir, I am no mor---"

Here the man hesitated, growing red in the face.

"Out with it," Dick smiled coolly.

"I am a conscientious objector, sir," Pitson rejoined. "No matter what punishment may await me for refusing, I must decline to accept any duty that may call upon me to kill another human being."

"Yet you would call a policeman, in the case of finding a burglar in your house?"

"Not if I thought the policeman would have to kill the burglar, sir," Pitson protested.

"I'll wager the fellow is lying, at that," Prescott reflected, as he rose. "Take off your hat, Pitson."

The soldier obeyed. His forehead sloped up and back. The back of his head sloped up and forward, so that the top of his head was pointshaped.

"I've been interested in seeing what the head of a real conscientious objector looked like," Dick remarked slowly. "I've seen your head and from its shape I believe you to be a real conscientious objector. I am going to approve your transfer to a non-combatant branch, Pitson. You may step outside until you are sent for again."

After Pitson had gone Dick ordered the two remaining men to remove their campaign hats. He studied the shapes of their heads so attentively that both young men winced plainly under the inspection.

"Your heads are shaped differently from Pitson's," Prescott went on. "The top of his head goes up to a point. If a mule had a head shaped like that our veterinary surgeons would call it a fool mule and reject it. But you men have heads expressing more intelligence.

"What is the matter with you two? Have you been listening to socialistic or other freak talk? Do you realize that the German Kaiser and his nation threaten the freedom of the world? Do you re

alize that the Germans want to rule this world, and do you know how they would rule it, and what a miserable, impossible world it would be for free men to live in?

"Do you realize that the only way we can stop the Germans from ruling the world in their own brutal way is for the free men of all good nations to fight? Do you fully understand that we cannot fight such a beastly enemy in any other way than by killing him? Do you so thoroughly object to fighting that you would see a free world ground under the heel of the despotic Kaiser sooner than help kill his soldiers and thus prevent such a world-wide tragedy? Are you men, or are you dish-rags? Are your consciences so important that you would put the world in cruel bondage rather than violate your own little personal ideas of what is moral? Are you men so sure you're right that you'd dodge a slight wrong--if wrong it be--and allow the greatest wrong ever attempted to triumph? Do your moral principles tell you that it is better to let Shame rule the world instead of Justice?"

Ellis and Rindle were plainly non-plussed by Dick's passionate appeal to their broader sense of right and truth.

"I'm afraid you two have been patting yourselves on the back in the idea that you stood out for a great moral principle," Captain Prescott resumed. "Don't you begin to see that the fact is that, instead, you're really moral slackers who'd let the world go into the devil's keeping provided you didn't have to be made to do something that you don't want to do? I won't say you're physical cowards, for honestly I hardly think you are, but aren't you at least moral slackers?"

Private Ellis swallowed hard before he replied:

"No, sir; I'm not a moral slacker, for I've changed my mind.

I'm going to fight if I'm told to. I'm going to do whatever Uncle

Sam wants me to do. You've put the matter in a different light

to me, Captain Prescott."

"And you, Rindle?"

"I'm going to do myself the honor of asking permission to remain in your company, sir," replied the second man, his mouth twitching. "I'm a bit of a fool, sir. But I don't believe that I'm a fool all the way through. I believe that I can see at least part of a truth when it's put to me fairly, and now I believe that it's right to fight for truth and justice as against black tyranny--and I'm ready to do it."

"Good enough!" cried Dick, his face lighting up, as he held out his hand. "If you have any further doubts, later, come to me. I don't know everything, but we can get together and perhaps between us we can get close to the truth."

Shaking hands with the soldiers who had found themselves, and dismissing them, Dick added:

"Sergeant Kelly, find out what non-combatant branch that fellow Pitson would prefer to serve in, see what unit will have him, and then bring the transfer papers to me to sign."

Passing into the corridor, and hearing the piano's notes in the mess-room he glanced inside. It was a rest period between drills, and a soldier seated at the instrument strummed his way through the air of a mournful ditty. It's an odd thing that when the average soldier is wholly cheerful he prefers the "sobful" melodies.

At one of the long mess tables near the piano sat four young men, paying no heed to the music, nor, in fact, doing anything in particular.

"How many of you men have mothers?" Prescott asked with a smile.

All admitted that they had.

"How many of you have written that mother to-day?"

None had.

"How many wrote her yesterday?" None.

"Think hard," Dick went on. "Has any of you written his mother a letter within five days?"

One soldier asserted that he had written his mother four days before.

"I wish you men would do me a favor," Dick went on. "Each one of you write his mother at least a four-page letter and mail it before supper. There is going to be time enough between drills to-day. How about it?"

Each of the four soldiers standing at attention promised promptly.

"All right, then," Prescott nodded. "Rest!" Whereupon they resumed their seats on the bench. "Remember that a promise is a promise. And I've seen enough of soldiers to know that they're likely to be careless where it hurts most."

"I'd do anything Captain Prescott asked me to do," remarked one of the soldiers when Dick had passed on out of barracks.

"If I knew anything he wanted me to do I'd do it before he asked me," declared another.

When a captain's men feel that way about him it's a cinch that he commands a real fighting unit.

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