William Noel Hodgson prayed ambivalently in his poem “Before Action”:
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.
At about the same time, Siegfried Sassoon’s thoughts were running colder as he marched past a corps commander:
‘Eyes right!’ The corpse-commander was a Mute;
And Death leered round him, taking our salute.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.