Home > Uncategorized > Pascal on war: An assassin if he kills in his own country, a hero if in another

Pascal on war: An assassin if he kills in his own country, a hero if in another

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

Blaise Pascal
From Pensées
Translated by W. F. Trotter

“Why do you kill me? What! do you not live on the other side of the water? If you lived on this side, my friend, I should be an assassin, and it would be unjust to slay you in this manner. But since you live on the other side, I am a hero, and it is just.”

Can anything be more ridiculous than that a man should have the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of the water, and because his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have none with him?

Mine, thine.—”This dog is mine,” said those poor children; “that is my place in the sun.” Here is the beginning and the image of the usurpation of all the earth.

When the question for consideration is whether we ought to make war, and kill so many men — condemn so many Spaniards to death — only one man is judge, and he is an interested party. There should be a third, who is disinterested.

The most important affair in life is the choice of a calling; chance decides it. Custom makes men masons, soldiers, slaters. “He is a good slater,” says one, and, speaking of soldiers, remarks, “They are perfect fools.” But others affirm, “There is nothing great but war, the rest of men are good for nothing.” We choose our callings according as we hear this or that praised or despised in our childhood, for we naturally love truth and hate folly. These words move us; the only error is in their application. So great is the force of custom that out of those whom nature has only made men, are created all conditions of men. For some districts are full of masons, others of soldiers, etc. Certainly nature is not so uniform…

Diversion.—When I have occasionally set myself to consider the different distractions of men, the pains and perils to which they expose themselves at court or in war, whence arise so many quarrels, passions, bold and often bad ventures, etc., I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. A man who has enough to live on, if he knew how to stay with pleasure at home, would not leave it to go to sea or to besiege a town. A commission in the army would not be bought so dearly, but that it is found insufferable not to budge from the town…

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