Topic: Cold Steel
The Day, New London, Connecticut, 6 December 1940
Persistent reports say that the Italians in the Greek campaign regard the use of bayonets by the Greek troops as entirely unwarranted cruelty. The Italian radio, in fact, is reported to have stated that bayonet fighting is "a barbarous form of warfare which shows a nation is uncivilized." The Greek retort is that "bayonet fighting is certainly less barbarous than using Italian bombing planes against non-combatants." The bayonet, it is said, has been used most effectively by the Greeks in rushing Italian positions, and the reports indicate that the Italian soldiers have not relished the prospect of running up against cold steel.
If the bayonet is barbarous then the United States remains in that benighted state, for bayonets were used by our troops in the World War and many a veteran can remember the aching muscles of bayonet drill even if he never got into battle, and had to use the things. But little about war is pleasant of "civilized," as a matter of fact. The Germans, for instance, were accused of using "dum-dum" bullets in the World War, a type of soft or hollow nosed bullet that expanded when it struck, tearing away large areas of flesh. Some student of that conflict now insist that this may have been war propaganda and that their researches fail to indicate that these bullets were used to any extent. But enough cruel and unnecessary things were done, nevertheless. New types of gas, against which the Allied troops were unprepared, were used. The American troops, on the other hand, pretty generally used bayonets, which are now called barbarous.
It is a question whether it is worse to be killed by a bullet or a bayonet. Neither is an enticing prospect to a soldier. But hand to hand fighting, or "close-up" battle, is little more terrifying to the imaginative soldier than waiting in some shell-hole wondering when an exploding shell, coming from a distant battery, strikes near enough to kill or maim, or even to bury the soldier alive. The fact that, at some distant point, men are shooting in your direction and hoping to hit you isn't pleasant in any event. The possibility of getting out alive often seems pretty slim.
Everything about war is essentially barbarous, if one wishes to be a stickler for the proprieties. There is nothing civilized about bombing civilian populations, even if one justifies the bombing of military objectives, yet this is commonly done with the idea, apparently of breaking down morale at home. War just doesn't give, as a matter of course, a sporting chance to everyone involved in it, whether it is in the mountains where the Greeks and Italians are fighting or the streets of London.