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Collateral Damage : Richard Hannay reflects on the innocent lives lost, when the lust for power or the desire for revenge makes us less than human.
Collateral Damage

From ‘Greenmantle’ by John Buchan.

It is Christmas 1915, and on a secret mission during the Great War, Richard Hannay has found refuge in a remote cottage in southern Germany. The house is kept by a desperately poor woman with three children, whose husband is away fighting the Russians. Hannay comes to realise that, unlike the German government, he does care about collateral damage.

THAT night I realized the crazy folly of war. When I saw the splintered shell of Ypres and heard hideous tales of German doings,* I used to want to see the whole land of the Boche given up to fire and sword.* I thought we could never end the war properly without giving the Huns some of their own medicine.*

But that woodcutter's cottage cured me of such nightmares. I was for punishing the guilty but letting the innocent go free. It was our business to thank God and keep our hands clean from the ugly blunders to which Germany’s madness had driven her. What good would it do Christian folk to burn poor little huts like this and leave children’s bodies by the wayside? To be able to laugh and to be merciful are the only things that make man better than the beasts.

* The Battles of Ypres were three battles of the First World War fought in Belgium during October and November 1914, April and May 1915, and from July to November 1917. It was at the second of these that the Germans deployed poison gas.

* ‘Boche’ is derived from 19th century Parisian slang ‘caboche’, roughly equivalent to thick-head, blockhead. It was applied to the invading Germans in the First World War. Buchan deliberately uses the derogatory term to evoke the outrage of a frontline soldier who has seen indescribable suffering.

* The Huns were the people of Attila, the great fifth century warlord of central and eastern Europe. Kaiser Wilhelm II invoked his example in a speech in 1900, urging that the Boxer Rebellion in China be crushed without mercy or quarter given. The speech provoked disgust in Britain, and was remembered long after.

From ‘Greenmantle’ by John Buchan.

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John Buchan (4) Extracts from Literature (93) International Relations (11) Greenmantle (novel) (1) The Great War (14) Fiction (83)

Picture: © Philipp Reiner, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC BY_SA 2.0. View original
A cottage in the sunrise in Oggenhaum, near Heidenheim an der Brenz in southern Germany, about ten miles from the Danube. It was in this area of Germany that Hannay holed up, waiting for a boat on the Danube which could take him to Constantinople (Istanbul) where, he believed, the Germans were trying to weaponise Islamic hatred for the west.
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By John Buchan
(1875-1940)

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