Rudolf Binding was born in Basel in 1867. He studied medicine and law before joining the Hussars. On the outbreak of the First World War, Binding, who was forty-six years old, became commander of a squadron of dragoons. Except for a four month period in Galicia in 1916, Binding spent the whole of the war on the Western Front.
Binding's diary and letters, A Fatalist at War , was published in 1927. His collected war poems, stories and recollections were not published until after his death in 1938.
I pass the ruins of a house every day in which I took shelter with a few men and horses during the first days of the attack. At this time it was evident that the inhabitants had just left the farm. Only two very old people who could not be brought away sat rigid and immovable on either side of the dying fire in the grate. The two sat there like fixtures of the house, like things that had been there and always in the same place. Whether spoken to or not they did not utter a word. My men built up the fire and used the fireplace daily. They did not stir.
As we had enough to do to look after ourselves we forgot them entirely. On the third night I noticed a hunch-backed, stupid, and ill-formed young female in the darkness of the room, who stoked the embers carefully and furtively, and attended to the old people. I discovered that this creature belonged to the household and had fled to somewhere in the rear. She ventured to come only at night, looked after the two old people and, after making up the fire, left without a word.
The next day I went there on foot. The two sat old people sat motionless on their seats as before, the fire had burned down and was glimmering between them. A cricket which had taken shelter behind the warm hearth from the coming winter made childish, intimate music, as if to say it is good to be here.
The next morning the house was burnt down, destroyed by enemy fire. The two old people disappeared. I do not know whether they are dead or alive. It is bright now over the dark hearth open to the sky. The cricket still chirps his carefree song among the warm stones of the hearth. But he, too, will be silent tomorrow.
I have not written to you for a long time, but I have thought of you all the more as a silent creditor. But when one owes letters one suffers from them, so to speak, at the same time. It is, indeed, not so simple a matter to write from the war, really from the war; and what you read as Field Post letters in the papers usually have their origin in the lack of understanding that does not allow a man to get hold of the war, to breathe it in although he is living in the midst of it.
The further I penetrate its true inwardness the more I see the hopelessness of making it comprehensive for those who only understand life in the terms of peacetime, and apply these same ideas to war in spite of themselves. They only think that they understand it. It is as if fishes living in water would have a clear conception of what living in the air is like. When one is hauled out on to dry land and dies in the air, then he will know something about it.
So it is with the war. Feeling deeply about it, one becomes less able to talk about it every day. Not because one understands it less each day, but because one grasps it better. But it is a silent teacher, and he who learns becomes silent too.