David Bruce: Anecdotes About War

This is Wise Up! column number 1,000! (I write a weekly anecdote column titled “Wise Up!” for The Athens News in Athens, Ohio.)

A man in New Orleans supported the Union in the Civil War, so he was driven out of town. When he was expelled, he asked for the legal writs by which he was to be expelled, but the men driving him out told him that the government would do nothing illegal, so instead of having writs, they were simply going to make him leave of his own free will. When President Abraham Lincoln heard this story, he said, “That reminds of a hotel-keeper down at St. Louis, who boasted that he never had a death in his hotel, for whenever a guest was dying in his house, he carried him out to die in the gutter.”

Howard M. Jenkins, a Quaker, was totally opposed to war. After Mr. Jenkins had become editor of a Quaker newspaper, the Friends Intelligencer, a friend told him, “Thee is getting on well, Howard, except that almost all of thy editorials are about peace.” Mr. Jenkins replied, “As long as civilized nations believe in war, I expect to give about 50 editorials a year to the subject. That will leave two weeks for other concerns.”

During World War II, the Archbishop of Canterbury was very worried about the Cathedral at Canterbury. Prime Minister Winston Churchill assured him that everything possible had been done to keep the Cathedral safe, but the Archbishop asked, “What will happen if they score a direct hit on the Cathedral?” Churchill replied, “In that case, my dear Archbishop, you will have to regard it as a divine summons.”

When the Nazis were ready to march into Athens, Greece, during World War II, people went shopping for necessities, emptying the food shops quickly because they knew that food would soon be scarce. In addition, writes Maria Callas’ mother, who was there, “The beauty shops worked overtime, for when war threatens, most women decide to have their hair washed and curled before the shooting starts.”

During World War II, Pablo Picasso managed to continue making art, often from scrap items. A famous example is his 1943 work of art, “Bull’s Head,” which is made from a bicycle seat and handlebars. In addition, friends diverted metal into Picasso’s workshop, even under the eyes of Nazi guards. They hauled in the metal in crates of garbage and they hauled out the finished works of art using the same means.

During World War II Ballet Theatre asked Anton Dolin to stage “Pas de Quatre.” He wrote to Keith Lester to ask him to send over his notes on the ballet — using a notation developed especially for dance, the notes set down each step of the ballet. Unfortunately, War Customs refused to allow the notes to be sent, fearing that they were some kind of coded message.

A shield has many uses, from protecting oneself in battle to being used to carry the corpse of a warrior back home. The Spartans regarded losing one’s shield in battle as the greatest disgrace that could befall a warrior in battle. (Cowards throw away their shields so they can run away faster.) A Spartan mother once told her son, “Come back with your shield — or on it.”

When Spike Milligan was being trained as a British soldier in World War II, the thing he had most trouble adjusting to was getting up at 6 in the morning. He used to envy the bugler who he says was able to stay in bed while blowing “Reveille” by pushing his door open with his foot. After waking up everybody in camp, the bugler then went back to sleep.

While in Korea, Colin Powell became the victim of a “punji” trap set by a North Vietnamese soldier. A “punji” trap was a simple sharpened stick placed in a hole; the tip of the stick was often coated with animal dung to create an infection in any wound caused by the stick. Mr. Powell’s wound was not serious, but he was forced to go to Saigon for treatment.

In 1915, Ford Madox Ford published a book about a four-sided love triangle. At this time the war was going badly for the British forces, so his publisher asked him to give the novel a patriotic title. His novel was titled “The Good Soldier” — but it had nothing at all to do with military matters.

“We have women in the military, but they don’t put us in the front lines. They don’t know if we can fight, if we can kill. I think we can. All the general has to do is walk over to the women and say, ‘You see the enemy over there? They say you look fat in those uniforms.’” — Elayne Boosler

General Joe Wheeler had fought for the Confederates during the Civil War. Years later, he was fighting in the Spanish-American War at Las Guasimas. In the heat of battle, he forgot where he was and yelled, “Come on, boys, we’ve got the damn Yankees on the run!”

During his tour of America, Oscar Wilde noted that many Southerners date events by the Civil War. He once said that he had mentioned how lovely the moonlight was to a Southerner, and the Southerner replied, “Yes, but you should have seen it before the war.”

General Nathanael Greene was a Quaker, but he joined the Whigs militia before the Revolutionary War and the Society of Friends expelled him. When the war started and he prepared to start fighting, his mother told him, “Nathan, if thee gets shot, I hope thee will not be shot in the back.”

At a debate at the Lyceum Club, G.K. Chesterton spoke on racial characteristics. Afterwards, an old woman came up to him and asked him to identify her race. Mr. Chesterton replied, “I should certainly say, Madame, one of the conquering races.”

During World War II, a bomb fell on the BBC during a news broadcast. The news announcer paused a moment, then continued with the broadcast.

At a meeting of Equity, Phil Loeb was asked if he was a member of Artists Front to Win the War. He replied, “What then, to lose the war?”

“The army is a dangerous instrument to play with.” — George Washington.

© 2016, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved

David Bruce has lots of anecdote books for sale:


Free PDF book: Honey Badger Goes to Hell — and Heaven by David Bruce


Romance Books by Brenda Kennedy (Some Free)


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