Tuesday, February 27, 2018

War Department Asks Soldiers to Not Keep Diaries, 1918

From Trench and Camp, printed weekly for the Y.M.C.A. by courtesy of the Charlotte Observer for Camp Greene, Charlotte, N.C., February 4, 1918

War Department Discourages Keeping of Diaries by Soldiers

There you are in the front-line trenches, with the shrapnel and high-powered explosive shells hurtling over your head. You are carrying a minimum of baggage and, let us suppose, a maximum load of courage. Among your handy kit of toilet articles is the dainty, leather-bound diary your sister, your mother or “the girl back home” gave you for Christmas. When you are relieved from the firing-line, you fall in a heap in a shelter and try to write a letter. When your letter is finished, you turn to the faithful diary and you commence relating to it, without hesitation, without stint, the manifold, soul-stirring things you have gone through and seen. It is and has been your never-failing confidant and you have pledged to tell it everything. And indeed you do.

Then suppose—the Germans suddenly storm your sector of the battlefield—your trench! Their numbers are overwhelming and their drumfire and machine-gun pelting irresistible. You and your comrades fight bravely, but the odds are too great. The enemy captures your trench and eventually you. An officer later searches you and your effects and at last seizes the dainty diary which was perhaps “her” memorable gift to you.

The Germans read it and laugh at your naivete, your secret confessions, your séances with your soul—and then they come to the part where you tell of the troops behind the lines, the huge preparations, the names of regiments, their equipment, their methods of transportation, the types of guns in use and a welter of rumor which is half truth and half fiction.

The enemy proceeds to devour your artless notes. You meant well, you never dreamed of being captured, but the vicissitudes of war are many and this is one of the likeliest of them all. You are giving, unconsciously of course, aid and comfort to the enemy because you were so honest and truthful with yourself and with your cherished diary.

A good deal of valuable information already has been obtained by the allies from the diaries seized on the persons of the German prisoners. Perhaps it has been unwise to print the contents of some of those diaries, as has been done in both English and French press, because that speedily must have given the cue to the Germans, who are, even more than we, a diary-keeping nation.

In all events, the compilation of diaries which must of necessity be kept on the person of the author, is not desirable and the War Department has served official notice that everything should be done to discourage this practice.

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