Death to the French
Death to the French is a 1932 novel of the Peninsular War during the Napoleonic Wars, written by C. S. Forester, the author of the Horatio Hornblower novels. It was also published in the United States under the title Rifleman Dodd. The novel follows Dodd's quest to reunite with his unit as he wages guerrilla warfare against the French in Portugal.
- Within the next two hours he might be dead or a prisoner, and captivity or death would be imminent all though the day. But at present he was alive and at liberty, and soldier fashion, he did not allow the other possibility to depress his spirits.
- Dodd left him there, shouting and laughing, to sink into exhaustion and coma and die, alone on the windswept hill. After all, a soldier had much more important work to do than to ease an idiot's last hours, as any one would agree who did not have to make the decision.
- Dodd was not exasperated or cast down at the new development. The soldier with years of campaigning behind him has, perforce, acquired a philosophic outlook towards turns of fortune. If one plan goes wrong there is need to make another, that is all.
- The regiment had taught him that he must do his duty or die in the attempt; a simple enough religion for his simple mind. As long as there was breath in his body or a thought in his mind he must struggle on; as long as he went on trying there was no need to meditate on success or failure. The only reward for the doing of his duty would be the knowledge that his duty was being done. That was how honour called; and glory -- the man in the ranks did not bother with glory, nor did the men a century later who died in the poison gas at Ypres.
- There is no excuse for defeat in the military code, just as success excuses everything.
- It was merely one more Frenchman dead, another little step in the right direction. They turned from the death of this Frenchman to planning the death of the next.
- Bernardino voiced his disgust at the prospect; he was for turning back again, and a man less obstinate than Dodd might have yielded, or one with a lower ideal of military duty. But the British Army had not won the distinction it now possessed by turning back at the first sign of difficulty; nor would Dodd turn back now.
- Dodd was not much moved anyway. His trade was in death, and he had seen much of it of late years. He was engaged in war, and war without death was a quite unthinkable thing.
- And seeing that England had been engaged in one continuous war since he was a child in petticoats, a world without war was equally unthinkable. And Dodd had far too much practical common sense ever to begin to think about such a fantastic notion as a world without the possibility of war. He was far too deeply occupied, moreover, with his present business of killing Frenchmen, or aiding them to starve to death, or tormenting them with disease.
- But there is nothing so fragile as a military plan.
- Now it was growing dark, and cold, and the world seemed a gloomy place.
- Even in those days the usual retort of a non-commissioned officer was "You thought? You're not paid to think. You're paid to obey orders" -- a speech which had been endured word for word even down to our day.
- Yet if he had been asked – it is quite impossible, but assume it to have happened – if he were happy, he would not have known what to reply. He would have admitted readily enough that he was uncomfortable, that he was cold, and badly fed, and verminous; that his clothes were in rags, and his feet and knees and elbows raw and bleeding through much walking and crawling; that he was in ever-present peril of his life, and that he really did not expect to survive the adventure he was about to thrust himself into voluntarily, but all this had nothing to do with happiness: that was something he never stopped to think about. Perhaps the fact that he did not think about it proves he was happy. He was a soldier carrying out his duty as well as he knew how. He would have been the first to admit that under the wise direction of an officer what he had done and what he proposed to do might be more successful, but as it was he felt (or rather he would have felt if he had thought about it) he had nothing with which to reproach himself. And that condition is not at all far from true happiness.
- Indeed, now that his efforts had been crowned with success, he was mainly conscious only of weariness, and of something which oppressed him like despair. It was home-sickness -- not the desire for the green Sussex Downs, but the desire to be one more with his regiment, marching along with the green-clad files, exchanging jagged jests with his fellows,squatting round the camp fires, leading a life fatalistically free from anxiety and responsibility.
- They burnt everything, destroyed everything; the smoke of their burnings rose to the sky wherever one looked. In truth, the area which the French had occupied was horrible with its burnt villages and its desolate fields, ruined and overgrown, where not a living creature was to be seen.
- There were dead ones enough to compensate -- dead men and dead animals, some already skeletons, some bloated corpses, which a fair sprinkling of dead men -- and women -- swinging from trees and gallows here and there. Yes it was all just a natural result, even if a highly coloured one, of war, and war was a natural state, and so the horrible landscape through which Dodd trudged did not depress him unduly -- how could it when he was on his way back to his regiment?
- Not that it mattered. Not even trifles depended on it, for in those days there were no medals or crosses for men in the ranks. There was only honor and duty, and it was hard for a later generation to realize that these abstractions had meant anything to the querulous bald-headed old boozer who had once been Rifleman Dodd.