The Letter

22

The war had dragged on for four years, neither side seemingly gaining any advantage. To the rear of the front lines, generals sat in comfort looking at a map, dispassionately moving markers around hoping to gain an advantage over the enemy. None of them for one moment considered those markers represented living breathing human beings.

***

Petain-and-Pershing-during-World-War-I

Paul sat on the firing step with his back to the trench wall. His rifle lay propped up beside him as he reached inside his tunic for pencil and paper.

Dear Franz,

You and I are the only ones left from the class of 1912. Remember Opellman? He died this morning at dawn when we went over the top, shot through the head. At least it was quick. I doubt he felt anything.

Gruber was eventually found a week ago by the military police. Poor Gruber, he’d had enough. All he wanted to do was go home to the farm. Who could blame him, certainly not me?

There’s talk of an armistice, but you know how rumours spread through the trenches. Hell, we all thought that the war would be over by Christmas back in 1914.

Yesterday old Hans died – remember him, fat jolly Hans, always had his pipe in his mouth come what may. A French plane flew low over where Hans and I were making our way back to the trench with what food we could get for our unit. The bastards dropped some bombs and Hans was hit. His leg looked bad. I applied a field dressing to it before hefting him across my shoulder.

It took me nearly two hours to carry him to the nearest dressing station. My back was killing me. All the while we kept talking, making plans for what we’d do together after the war. I shed tears of anger when the damned medical orderly told me I had wasted my time as Hans was dead.

It’s dawn. The whole front has fallen silent. I’ve just heard a bird singing. Can you imagine that Franz – a bird, a real live bird. I’m going to sign off for a moment. You know me, I love to draw…

Paul feverishly began to sketch the bird, which had perched on the mangled remains of a tree trunk. He needed to get a better view. The last shot fired in anger, rang out. Paul toppled lifeless into the mud. As his hand relaxed its grip, the unfinished sketch and his pencil fell from his dead hand.

***

Despite the agreed armistice coming into effect at 11am, on November 11th, 1918, 13,000 soldiers died on the last day. Next year (2014) we celebrate the centennial of the first day of World War One on the 28th of July…

22 Comments
  1. Sissy Pantelis says

    Jack, this is a very beautiful story. I cried at the end of the story.
    In France, they use to say that “an empty dish is the best compliment to the cook.”
    I think that tears are the best compliment to a writer.
    Thank you so much for this moving story.
    http://www.jesuspaintings.com/pictures/bluebird.jpg – here is a link to a beautiful picture of a blue bird. It could be the one in the story… 🙂

    1. Jack Eason says

      Thank you Sissy,
      I’m glad you enjoyed it. I just took a look at the picture you included – very pretty. 🙂

      1. Sissy Pantelis says

        Happy you like it, Jack. Thank you again for the story 🙂

  2. MFBurbaugh says

    Excellent story Jack. I thought about what if, when I was in ‘Nam… though it went on long after I left…

    1. Jack Eason says

      Thank you Merle. What I set out to do with this short story is to show that no matter which side a soldier is on, he is still a human being…

  3. Craig Murray says

    This is the end of a very famous book published in 1928 in Germany

    All Quiet on The Western Front
    by Erich Maria Remarque

    The last 2 paragraphs

    [Paul] fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front.

    He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.

    Pretty famous book, pretty famous ending,

    1. Jack Eason says

      Thanks Craig. Your point is what exactly?

  4. Craig Murray says

    I am guessing my point Jack is that this is not your story, this is an encapsulation of the ending of an already famous an published almost a century ago book.
    It is barely changed
    The heroes name is the same
    the cause of death is the same

    In the book Paul dies as he stands admiring a butterfly
    In the movie Paul dies as he stands drawing a bird

    Every other scene,
    Detering wanting to return to his farm and being caught by the military police
    Kat being hit by shrapnel and being carried back only to find him dead

    So I guess my point is this is what is referred to in the writing world as plagiarism
    You are passing this off as your own original work when in fact it is a slightly modified but still undeniable synopsis of anothers work

    Might have just written about a young Danish princeling called Hamlet and his fathers murder at his uncles hand.

    1. Jack Eason says

      You accuse me of plagiarism? For your information, this is my own story. I have never read the book you speak of – All Quiet on the Western Front.

      What happened to each of the characters in my short story is nothing remarkable. It happened to many, many soldiers on all sides during the First World War.. But I couldn’t possibly expect a civilian like yourself to know that, unless you were a student of history, or as in my case – an ex serviceman.

      In many cases, far worse things happened…

  5. MystiParker says

    I have read that book and find no issue with what you’ve written, Jack. It’s a good story and I’d say it’s true to what so many servicemen encountered in every war throughout history. I wonder how many such letters went unfinished and unsent… 🙁

  6. Craig Murray says

    There are a few problems here.
    The odds of your original story containing not only

    -the exact same main characters name,
    -that he is a German soldier,
    -cause of death,
    -situation surrounding his death, specifically drawing a bird,
    -situation carrying a friend to an aid station only to be found dead on arrival,
    -another friend running off to his farm only to be caught by the military police, and
    -dying on a silent day of the war, an all quiet on the western front day,
    -in 1918

    makes for odds so truly astronomical that not a single rational person in the world could be confused that they are one in the same story.

    My first comment was to give you an “out”. You could have said “My god, read that story as a boy and forgot all about it until now. The similarities are undeniable and unintentional. I had not realised it until now, so I will remove it”

    Instead, you dig in your heels and say “Nope, all just amazing coincidence after coincidence that I just happened to write a synopsis of an internationally famous book.”

    Now this puts our dear hostess in a very precarious position. Her website and all the stories on it are based on the premise of original and uncopyrighted material only.
    If the copyright holder of this story was to come across your synopsis then they could take legal action against Angie as the publisher of copyrighted material.

    Some people may find no issue with this
    I do
    so do all other professional writers, publishers etc.

    No writer as the lawful right to recreate any characters, situations, scenarios or other derivative products from a copyrighted story.
    Angie is now put in the position of having to review every single post, consider whether or not it was created originally or if it violates copyright law, and then act/react as necessary.
    This is an unnecessary burden for any web manager/publisher.

    Now, your arrogant last statement that a civilian like me wouldn’t get it

    I retired after 20 years as an Army Captain. My proper name is
    Captain C Murray, SBStJ, CD, RTD.
    And in those 20 years I have never met a single serving member who has not read or seen the movie
    All Quiet on the Western Front.

    We are not talking about some small book no one has ever heard of before. We are talking about what is arguably the most famous book on life in the trenches in WW1 ever written. A story that has the exact same scenarios in it that you claim as your own.

    So, this story is not yours, it is not original, the odds of it being a coincidence are in the realm of ridiculous and now, you are embarrassed and unwilling or unable to admit you made a mistake.

    Anyone who calls themselves an author only needs to think how they would feel seeing their work with someone elses name on it, to decide if they have an issue or not

    As an aside, not only am I a retired Army officer, I am also a very dedicated student of history.

  7. Derek Haines says

    Plagiarism is a very serious accusation. I have checked the text of this short story with http://smallseotools.com/plagiarism-checker/ and it returns every word as original content that is dated in line with the publication date of this story.

    the trench wall. His rifle lay propped up beside him as he Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    class of 1912. Remember Opellman? He died this morning Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    over the top, shot through the head. At least it was quick. Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    it was quick. I doubt he felt anything.Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    military police. Poor Gruber, he’d had enough. All he wanted Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    home to the farm. Who could blame him, certainly not me?Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    the trenches. Hell, we all thought that the war would Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    remember him, fat jolly Hans, always had his pipe in his Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    come what may. A French plane flew low over where Hans Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    for our unit. The bastards dropped some bombs and Hans Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    Hans was hit. His leg looked bad. I applied a field dressing Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    dressing station. My back was killing me. All the while we Existing (Nov 27, 2013)
    kept talking, making plans for what we’d do together after Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    after the war. I shed tears of anger when the damned medical Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    fallen silent. I’ve just heard a bird singing. Can you Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    bird singing. Can you imagine that Franz – a bird, a real Good
    Franz – a bird, a real live bird. I’m going to sign off Good
    for a moment. You know me, I love to draw…Existing (Nov 27, 2013)
    sketch the bird, which had perched on the mangled remains Existing (Nov 27, 2013)
    a tree trunk. He needed to get a better view. The last Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    a better view. The last shot fired in anger, rang out. Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    anger, rang out. Paul toppled lifeless into the mud. As his Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    into the mud. As his hand relaxed its grip, the unfinished Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    effect at 11am, on November 11th, 1918, 13,000 soldiers Existing (Nov 20, 2013)
    the last day. Next year (2014) we celebrate the centennial Good

  8. Eileen Browne says

    Mr. Haines,

    I agree with you. Plagiarism IS a very serious accusation.
    And I think it’s very valiant of you to come to Mr. Eason’s defense.

    But, unfortunately your free online tool is worthless.
    To prove my point: just input a known phrase from the works of Ernest Hemingway and change one word.

    Try using a professional tool like Grammarly, and you will quickly see that it does find several instances of ‘unoriginal text detected’ in the text above (not to mention numerous grammatical, style, and punctuation errors).

    But plagiarism is not only about words, it’s also about writing an existing concept using different words. It’s about using the intellectual property of someone else as if it’s your own creation.

    I think Mr. Murray is right in his thorough analysis, and using the tool you mentioned does not change that.
    Sincerely,
    EB

  9. Eileen Browne says

    One last remark:

    This story entry is in conflict with rule nr. 5 of this contest:
    ⑤ Your entry must be original, in English, unpublished and unproduced, not accepted by any other publisher or producer at the time of submission.

    This short story has been published elsewhere on November 20th: http://havewehadhelp.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/the-letter/

    (I wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for the comment of Mr. Haines – Existing (Nov 20, 2013))

    1. Jack Eason says

      FYI Eileen, the blog havewehadhelp is mine. You would know that if you had bothered to check…

  10. Carla Rosselini says

    Sorry, Jack, Eileen is right.
    The rules do not state “unless published on your own website,” or similar.

  11. rgabel says

    As King Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” War is pretty basic and many stories coming from any war would seem similar since there is a commonality in what happens.

    Unless you were in the room with Mr. Easton when he typed this and you watched him copy word for word from the book in question, you have no proof of plagiarism. With all the billions of people in this world, you must understand that someone can have the same thought as another person at the same time. The odds are for it. In this case, his story is based on what he experienced. If it has any similarities, that is all it is, a coincidence.

    I had a story idea for a Viking era romance. Imagine my surprise and chagrin when last year I read an indie romance author’s story and found it followed my idea almost exactly. I was thankful I hadn’t written mine yet! But was disappointed that I thought my idea was unique. I didn’t know her, so there was no way she ever had a peek at my notes. We are not as unique as we would like to think.

    I feel you should be careful before you accuse. You can easily ruin someone’s reputation on little more than insinuation.

  12. Bren_Freeman says

    Sorry Jack, I loathe becoming involved in this drama, and it is creating more and more drama , anger and resentment it seems. However after reading this story it unfortunately created “red flags” in my mind. So wanting to be sure of my facts before commenting, I decided to reread “All is Quiet on the Western Front ” in both English and German. In addition , I watched the 1979 version of the movie ” All Quiet on the Western Front” and I could not find the 1930 version on line anywhere to watch as well. Now granted it could be any soldier’s story as been said, but not every solider writes in a style that is like and has so many similarities to” All is Quiets on Western Front”. Could it be coincidental maybe, but even so, it is for me, so much like All is Quiet, not to raise enough doubts about the story conception..
    Now in all fairness to give a benefit of a doubt, I did test the site that Derek Haines, used, to verify its credibility in my own mind by using some lines from Shakespeare’s ” Merchant of Venice” “If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? By changing all the do we to don’t, the program site came back also with an out come that said “every word as original content that is dated in line with the publication. which was today 12/3/2013” Your site that you used Mr. Haines as being http://smallseotools.com/plagiarism-checker/. while Grammarly did “red flag” it all as unoriginal text detected. So sorry Mr Haines while I commend your efforts to try to verify the text content as original, unfortunately the site you used does seem to have a lot of credibility issues. Please note I double checked it as well using some of my published poetry, again it failed, and grammarly came back with unoriginal text detected. This is my take and I wanted to be sure before even commenting. It is what it is and there are just too many doubts for me about this. The longer this is argued about, it will just create more drama and possibly get more ugly. Is that really what anyone wants to happen? “All Quiet on the Western”” ( Im Westen nichts Neues)” by Erich Maria Remarque 1928, is his intellectual property and that of his heirs, as is the sequel ” the Road Back”, as well as the script rights and royalties of the movie being the Intellectual property of Maxwell Anderson (adaptation & dialogue) George Abbott (screenplay) and their heirs along with Erich Maria Remarque’s heirs. It is just too coincidental. Perhaps the gracious thing is needed here and not more drama. Sorry Jack!!!

  13. Derek Haines says

    I find it strange that every commenter on this discussion has a link attached to their name, bar two. Craig Murray and Eileen Brown. Posting personal attacks anonymously is too easy, and something I would recommend the owner of this site act upon immediately to eradicate.

  14. Angie says

    Dear Derek,

    This current exchange of comments has become somewhat of a melodrama, but I can assure you that there is no issue of anonymity here. All commenters are verified, so there will be no eradication or other forms of censorship as long as everyone adheres to comments based on rational thinking and facts, while refraining from unsubstantiated personal attacks.

    I will not partake actively in this debate, but I’m available for discussing privately any issues concerning the management and philosophy of this online magazine.

    Sincerely,
    Angie

  15. Craig Murray says

    Derek, I find it strange that you would say something as obtuse and thoughtless as that. I have been writing for decades, I am reasonably well known. The fact that you do not know me does not bother me in the least.
    Now maybe as a writer you might want to take this opportunity to learn what anonymously means, you obviously do not.
    I will use small words for you. It meas “without a name or identifiable character.”
    Since I use both my name and my face, sorta means I am not being anonymous.
    There, did that help?

    Secondly, We are NOT talking about a single message, or a general feeling or concept. We are talking about a dozen different issues all appearing in a very short story that were KEY ELEMENTS in an internationally famous book.

    Even the very bloody name of the hero in the story is Paul. Not a very German name, stands out from the Hans, Gruber and Oppelmier. Remarch chose it specifically because people of all nations would be able to relate to a Paul.

    For both yourself and rgabel, try to understand that if you write a story that contains the key elements and character names from another story

    YOU ARE PLAGIARIZING IT

    I take no pleasure in the accusation, I have had no beef with Jack
    but as a professional writer I do have a beef with anyone stealing someone elses work and passing it off as their own.

    If I write

    To be or not to be, that is a good question. Whether it matters to be noble in the heart or suffer the arrows and slings of outrageous fortune.

    and run it through the site you offered it tells me
    100% ORIGINAL CONTENT

    Yay, don’t tell Billy Shakespeare ok?

    Plagiarism is not copying word for word, maybe like anonymous it is another word you need to look up. Plagiarism includes copying the essence and intent.

    As I said, this is an incredibly short story and yet in such a short story
    -the exact same main characters name,
    -that he is a German soldier,
    -cause of death,
    -situation surrounding his death, specifically drawing a bird,
    -situation carrying a friend to an aid station only to be found dead on arrival,
    -another friend running off to his farm only to be caught by the military police, and
    -dying on a silent day of the war, an all quiet on the western front day,
    -in 1918

    All occur the same as in the original story.

    Now when we see this, it is not an insinuation, it is an undeniable bit of plagiarism that would not survive even a first run in any court.

    Now I am not sure how much you hate Angie. I kinda like her. Because of that I cannot stand by and watch her and her site be endangered by people passing off copyrighted material as their own

    1. Bren_Freeman says

      Thank you Angie!!!

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