Home > Uncategorized > Georg Brandes: An Appeal Against Wholesale Murder

Georg Brandes: An Appeal Against Wholesale Murder

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Georg Brandes: Selections on war

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Georg Brandes
An Appeal (1916)
Translated by Catherine D. Groth

*****

Each human life represents a value. Mankind is not alike. There is slight consolation in the fact that our losses were one thousand, and the enemy’s ten.

Who knows if among those one thousand there was not a man who would have been the honour of his country, the benefactor of humanity throughout the centuries?

There may have been a Shakespeare or a Newton, a Kant or a Goethe, a Moliere or a Pasteur, a Copernicus, a Rubens, a Tolstoi among the hundreds of thousands of twenty-year-old English, French, German, Polish, Belgian, or Russian soldiers who have fallen.

The press, in belligerent countries, has taken upon itself to excite hatred against the enemy in order to create war enthusiasm. It should remember that the destroying hatred it calls into existence will live long after the war, and will inevitably give birth to new wars. The longer the war lasts, the shorter the coming peace will be.

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Each of the Great Powers declares the war it is waging is a war of defence. They have all been attacked; they are all fighting for their existence. For all of them murder and lies are necessary means of defence. But since none of the Powers, by their own showing, wanted war, let them make peace.

After twenty-two months’ war, however, peace seems farther off than ever. The fighting nations each and all must first win the victory of civilisation over barbarism — and call civilisation their conception of higher culture, right, justice, or democracy as opposed to militarism.

Civilisation! The first fruit of this civilisation has been to spread over the earth the truth-killing Russian censorship. The second is that we have come back to the days of human sacrifice. With this difference, however, that in the barbarous days of ancient history four or five prisoners of war were offered each year to please a much feared divinity, whereas now four or five millions are sacrificed to the fetiches of the day.

Lamennais once wrote: “Satan inspired the oppressors of mankind with a fiendish thought. He said to them: In each family take the strongest and bravest men and give them arms! Then I shall give them two idols called honour and loyalty, and one law, which they shall call obedience to duty. They shall worship these idols and blindly obey this law.”

When we consider the present war to crush militarism we find that it has brought military compulsion to the only country which had hitherto remained free from it, and while militarism is being fought on the battlefield, civilian rule is being replaced everywhere by the military, or flouted by it.

We follow this fight for freedom during which every shipload, every cargo is inspected or destroyed by the defenders of liberty as well as by the worshippers of might; every letter is opened, even personal letters between neutrals.

We follow the struggle for a higher civilisation, during which Germany has crushed Belgium, Austria-Hungary, Serbia; England, Greece; Russia, East Prussia and Poland: this fight for right in which right is everywhere flouted and the interests of the governments alone considered — this fight for the independence of small states in which that independence is on both sides infringed, disregarded, abolished.

In belligerent countries the armies first of all want victory, but secondly they long for peace. The civilian population everywhere sighs for peace. But the governments, clinging desperately to their seats, dig their spurs into the flanks of the exhausted steed, and race madly on.

The desire for peace is not allowed to find outlet.

In neutral countries public opinion does not consider it seemly to discuss peace. Public opinion is usually on the level of the shop girl who “sympathises” with one side or the other and thereby forgets to add her bit to the scale of justice.

Among neutrals, one power has more influence than all the others combined. Do the United States of America mean only to profit by the war instead of using their infiuence to further peace? Is there, in short, no one who believes in peace, in common sense, and in sound judgment?

The cry for peace that will soon rise from belligerent countries is called cowardly. But if mankind remains silent, the stones will cry. The ruins everywhere call for peace, not revenge. And where stones are silent, fields and meadows cry, watered with blood, fertilised with the dead.

The whole world is in the throes of malicious joy. The only satisfaction is to hurt others, in self-defence. Ships are torpedoed “successfully.” Bombardments have “excellent results.” One man brings down his twentieth aeroplane. And there is rejoicing. If any one asks, “How can you rejoice?” the answer is the phrase hypocritically stamped as jesuitical, as devilish, “The end justifies the means.”

Cruelty has become a duty; compassion is treachery.

The Germans suffer hunger and privations. The Allies rejoice. Belgium and Serbia are crushed. Germans and Austrians rejoice. The Poles are starving, the Jews are inexpressibly wretched. The belligerents are unable to alleviate the misery.

All of the belligerents are proud of the “daring courage and the heroic resistance” of their men. Both sides claim that among their opponents the basest instincts have broken loose, and both sides are unfortunately right.

The Central Powers say they want peace. But they do not seem willing to make any real compromise to obtain it. Their object is to cripple their enemies so that “peace may be lasting.”

The Allies will not hear of peace until the “decisive victory” has been won, i.e., before they have obtained what they for nearly two years have been fighting for fruitlessly, and to which they seem no nearer. They too want to crush their enemies before they will discuss peace.

Whatever happens, no matter how great the battles won, how valuable the ships sunk, how costly the aircraft destroyed, how many belligerents are massacred, one thing is sure: Everything must end in an armistice and in peace negotiations.

Why not, then, discuss those conditions now? What is to be gained by continuing the slaughter? Peace is a sibyl whose books, i.e., whose treasures, must be bought, and they become dearer and rarer for every day that goes.

We are all acquainted with the phrase. “We must first crush the enemy.”

But the enemy cannot be crushed — all that is gained is wholesale murder. Neither of the fighting groups can be crushed.

And when people declare they do not wish to crush Germany but only its militarism, it is as if one were to say, “I don’t want to hurt the porcupine but only to pull out its quills.”

Both parties intend to fight “until the bitter end.” Every day it becomes more bitter. What may be gained by postponing peace negotiations is lost by prolonging the war.

Has humanity forgotten that there are other means of settling human disputes than by resorting to bombs and grenades?

How will future generations judge us? They will say: In those days, in all Europe, there was not a single statesman worthy of the name. Had there been one statesman on each side before the war, it would never have broken out. Had there been one statesman on either side, it would not have lasted a year. Generals have superseded statesmen.

The future will say: That was a time when wars of religion were called barbarous while no one seemed to realise that wars of nationality are worse. That was a time when cabinet wars were considered old-fashioned, while no one understood that trade wars are even more brutal. In the history of humanity the wars of religion are a frightful farce. In the history of the world this war is an appalling tragedy.

It would be best if the war were to end without either side being too deeply humiliated. Otherwise the humiliated party will think of nothing but revenge. And it must be remembered that humiliation inflicted on the enemy does not replace a single human life.

Each human life represents a value. Mankind is not alike. There is slight consolation in the fact that our losses were one thousand, and the enemy’s ten.

Who knows if among those one thousand there was not a man who would have been the honour of his country, the benefactor of humanity throughout the centuries?

There may have been a Shakespeare or a Newton, a Kant or a Goethe, a Moliere or a Pasteur, a Copernicus, a Rubens, a Tolstoi among the hundreds of thousands of twenty-year-old English, French, German, Polish, Belgian, or Russian soldiers who have fallen.

What does a slight change in the boundary line mean in comparison to the loss of such a personality? The gain is temporary; the loss is irretrievable. The gain is that of one country; the loss is humanity’s.

Every one can calculate how war destroys the nations’ wealth, how their capital dwindles until no one will be able to pay the war indemnities. But the loss in human values, the greatest loss of all, is never calculated.

The press, in belligerent countries, has taken upon itself to excite hatred against the enemy in order to create war enthusiasm. It should remember that the destroying hatred it calls into existence will live long after the war, and will inevitably give birth to new wars. The longer the war lasts, the shorter the coming peace will be.

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  1. June 12, 2011 at 6:07 am

    Every person needs to stop voting for pro war candidates and any one who claims to be anti war and lies like Obama did will be sued. All Congress and Presidents should be required to sign a legal contract saying they will not go to war if they are elected and if they do they will be immediately fired and a special election held in 30 days. They will will be put in jail for life and lose all life time assets and all rights such as voting, travel, gun, internet. bank accounts, permits,marriage license.

  2. June 12, 2011 at 6:08 am

    Plus every voter in their district can sue them and win.

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