The IRON RATION, Three Years in Warring Central Europeby GEORGE ABEL SCHREINER
"The Iron Ration" is the name for the food the soldier carries in his "pack" when in the field. It may be eaten only when the commanding officer deems this necessary and wise. When the iron ration is released, no command that the soldier should eat is necessary. He is hungry then—famished. Usually
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"The Iron Ration" is the name for the food the soldier carries in his "pack" when in the field. It may be eaten only when the commanding officer deems this necessary and wise. When the iron ration is released, no command that the soldier should eat is necessary. He is hungry then—famished. Usually by that time he has been on half, third, and quarter ration. The iron ration is the last food in sight. There may be more to-morrow. But that is not the motive of the commander for releasing the food. What he has to deal with is the fact that his men are on the verge of exhaustion.
The population of the states known as the Central Powers group of belligerents being in a position similar to that of the soldiers consuming their iron ration, I have chosen the designation of this emergency meal as title for a book that deals with life in Central Europe as influenced by the war.
That life has been paid little attention by writers. The military operations, on the one hand, and the scarcity of food, on the other, have been the cynosures. How and to what extent these were related, and in what manner they were borne by the public, is not understood. Seen from afar, war and hunger and all that relates to them, form so bewildering a mosaic in somber colors that only a very general impression is gained of them.
I have pictured here the war time life of Central Europe's social and political aggregates. Of that life the struggle for bread was the major aspect. The words of the Lord's Prayer—"Give us our daily bread"—came soon to have a great meaning to the people of Central Europe. That cry was addressed to the government, however. Food regulation came as the result of it. What that regulation was is being shown here.
It will be noticed that I have given food questions a great deal of close attention. The war-time life of Central Europe could not be portrayed in any other manner. All effort and thought was directed toward the winning of the scantiest fare. Men and women no longer strove for the pleasures of life, but for the absolute essentials of living. During the day all labored and scrambled for food, and at night men and women schemed and plotted how to make the fearful struggle easier.
To win even a loaf of bread became difficult. It was not alone a question of meeting the simplest wants of living by the hardest of labor; the voracity of the tax collector and the rapacity of the war profiteer came to know no bounds. Morsels had to be snatched out of the mouth of the poor to get revenue for the war and the pound of flesh for the Shylocks.
So intense was that struggle for bread that men and women began to look upon all else in life as wholly secondary. A laxness in sex matters ensued. The mobilizations and the loss of life incident to the war aggravated this laxity.
But these are things set out in the book. Here I will say that war is highly detrimental to all classes of men and women. When human society is driven to realize that nothing in life counts when there is no food, intellectual progress ceases. When bread becomes indeed the irreducible minimum, the mask falls and we see the human being in all its nakedness.
Were I presumptuous enough to say so, I might affirm that this book contains the truth, nothing but the truth, and the whole truth about Germany and Central Europe. I have the necessary background for so bold a statement. I know the German language almost perfectly. German literature, tradition and thought, and I are no strangers. Three years of contact as newspaper-man with all that is German and Central European provided all the opportunities for observation and study one could wish for. And the flare of the Great War was illumining my field, bringing into bold relief the bad, which had been made worse, and the good, which had been made better.
But there is no human mind that can truthfully and unerringly encompass every feature and phase of so calamitous a thing as the part taken in the European War by the Central Powers group of belligerents. I at least cannot picture to myself such a mind. Much less could I claim that I possessed it.
What I have written here is an attempt to mirror truthfully the conditions and circumstances which raised throughout Central Europe, a year after the war had begun, the cry in city, town, village, and hamlet, "Give us bread!"
During the first two months of the European War I was stationed at The Hague for the Associated Press of America. I was then ordered to Berlin, and later was given carte blanche in Austria-Hungary, Roumania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. When military operations, aside from the great fronts in Central Europe, had lost much of the public's interest, I returned to Germany and Austria-Hungary, giving thereafter the Balkans and Turkey such attention as occasional trips made possible....
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