Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why Worry? A Practical Philosophy for the Trenches

Oxford graduate John "Max" Staniforth decided to enlist in the army to see what this war business was all about. He eventually earned a commission and was assigned to the 16th Division, one of the Irish formations of the British Army. In September 1916 his unit was at the Somme getting a good education in what the war business was all about. In a letter home to his parents, he shared the philosophy he had developed to deal with the stress and strain of combat.

Searching for a Philosophy
The Menin Road, 1916

The only way to be here is to be philosophical. We have evolved a philosophy accordingly. What do you think of it?

If you are a soldier, you are either: 
(1) at home or (2) at the Front.
If (1), you needn’t worry.
If (2), you are either (1) out of the danger zone or (2) in it.
If (1), you needn’t worry.
If (2), you are either (1) not hit, or (2) hit.
If (1), you needn’t worry.
If (2) you are either (1) trivial or (2) dangerous.
If (1), you needn’t worry.
If (2), you either (1) live or (2) die.
If you live, you needn’t worry: and – If you die, YOU CAN’T WORRY!!
So why worry?

Needless to say, despite being gassed, Staniforth survived the war.


  1. Very good philosophy, As later warriors put it, consider yourself dead. You won't survive the day or you won't survive the night.

  2. That is a tremendous flow chart.

  3. Not only a tremendous flow chart, but a long-lived one: in various guises it is still doing the rounds - especially on the internet (of course). In fact it is so neatly contrived that I (rather unkindly?) wonder if it was Staniforth's own invention or whether it was already a well known piece of amusing verbal juggling when he wrote it down?