La Guerre by Nathan Jobe

 

Life is monotonous. Since Georges enlisted in this petty war, I’ve been forced to do twice the chores at home. “You’re the man of the house, Frédéric,” my mother, Brigitte, tells me. “It’s your responsibility.”

“It’s not a man’s job to do the dishes! Why must you bother me?” I bitterly reply. I know she hears me, but she doesn’t care to respond. I wouldn’t either. No one wants to put up with a whiny person in a time like this. With the war raging on just miles to the east, everyone feels like buckling under the stress.

I’ve felt the pressure myself. What if the Germans invade? What if our trenches can’t hold them off? What if they treat us as they treated Belgium? Why hasn’t the United States come to help us? There are so many questions and so few answers.

The year is 1915. Our family lives in the little town of Calais, France, a mere twenty miles from the Belgian border. From my home, I can see the white cliffs of England in the distance across the English Strait. This proximity may be convenient, but in times like these, it’s a curse.

A year ago, a Serbian man assassinated the Archduke of Austria. Because of this, Austria-Hungary and Germany declared war on Serbia. Unfortunately, we joined this ridiculous, avoidable war because of our obligations to the Triple Entente. Now, the entire European continent is at war, and it appears that even the isolationist United States may be forced to join.

Germany has become the main opposing power. We dug trenches to hold them off in the west, and the Russians did the same in the east. There are constant battles taking place on each front, and no progress is ever made. My brother, Georges, is stationed on the Western Front in Belgium, merely thirty miles east. However, he might as well be on a different continent for all the contact we have. He is just one of millions of soldiers at risk of dying every day over this pointless war.

We all constantly fear for his safety. Last year, the Germans completely annihilated Belgium. They committed all kinds of war crimes against the people. Now, the entire country has become nothing more than a colossal battleground; a network of trenches and tunnels.

“I finished the dishes, maman.” I reply, this time more cheerfully. “What else is there to do?”

“I don’t know. It’s just so stressful not having Georges at home.” My mother sits in her fauteuil.

In search of something to do, I go for a walk outside. “How will this war end? Who will win? CAN this war end?” Questions flood my mind. “Where is Georges? Is he hurt?”

NO.

My brother cannot be injured. He is my role model. No power on the German side can ever hurt someone as strong as Georges. “If this war lasts until I’m eighteen” I think, “I will fight the Germans myself.”

Years pass, and we hear nothing of Georges. We begin to fear he is dead. It is now 1917, and I am old enough to join the war. The United States has joined, and the course of the war is drastically changing for our favor. Some reports suggest this blasted war may end within a year.

My enthusiasm is at an all-time high. I’m joining this war, and no one can stop me! Immediately I enlist with French Army, and I am sent to northern Belgium, not far from where my brother is fighting. I am alone, but at least I have a hope of maybe seeing my brother.

Several months pass in the trenches. My sociopathic sergeant gives us no break in the night or in the day. How on earth could my brother survive this for four grueling years? Surely something must snap at a certain point, and I’m pushing this point after only two months in the armed forces.

I must be ready for work by six in the morning. For our meals, we receive nothing but unflavored oatmeal and water every day. We alternate being on the lookout for our squadron, and I get the worst times. Some go insane from the monotony and others from the bombs. We don’t know what to call this condition, but it’s driven many previously sane soldiers mad. Most call it “shell shock.”

I wake up on the morning of November third, 1917, and I find my brother! He is clearly weathered from the war. Overjoyed, I thank God for his health. I have heard many stories not quite as happy as mine, and I could not be more grateful.

Georges tells me that he was shot in 1916, in the Battle of the Somme. Listening to his gruesome descriptions makes me shudder. He tells me stories of unimaginable pain, and I begin to fear for my own safety.

It is now the autumn of 1918, and the war has finally ended. Due to the involvement of the United States’ Armed Forces, albeit delayed, we finally managed to force through the German trenches. The Germans have declared unconditional surrender. I’m going home!

I find my home in Calais destroyed by the German forces. Apparently, my hometown was overrun in my absence. However, my family is alive and well in the nearby town of Rouen.

I have never been happier to be home! My parents welcome my brother and me as heroes, and we have an enormous dinner. I can’t help but notice that Georges behaves somewhat differently, however. He was shot in The Battle of the Somme, and the experience was very traumatic. According to him, the emergency nurses in the trenches were absolutely inept in their training, and he developed an infection. They told him they would have to amputate his leg, but his infection healed in time, so they changed their minds. However, he has had to use a crutch ever since. Also, during a small skirmish in 1917, he lost his only friend in no man’s land. This changed him for the worse, making him bitter and unemotional.

When I speak to him, it’s like he is not the same person I knew as a child. He is constantly terrified of threats that do not exist. Whenever he senses something that resembles anything he experienced in the war, he must hide from it to avoid extreme stress. Besides that, he shows little emotion, not even caring about things that used to be his greatest pleasures. I ask him if something is wrong, but he only gives vague, depressed answers. I worry about him.

I only spent six months in the trenches, but Georges spent four years. He suffered through the same things as me, but for four years? I can’t believe he survived!

At this point, I can only hope to God that Georges may become the brother I knew and loved as a child, always positive and nice. However, I know that no matter how wicked men can become, God is still good, just as he always has been and always will be. And so I pray.

About the author: Nathan is a 15-year-old sophomore with a strong interest in math, science, and French. He enjoys languages and culture. He also is an avid boy scout working on his Eagle rank. While he does not particularly enjoy creative writing, he found this assignment tolerable once told he could incorporate some French history into the plot details.

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