André Gide: Transformation of a war supporter
From the Journals
Translated by Justin O’Brien
September 19, 1917
…It is true that for some time, and well before the war, I was obsessed by the abominable idea that our country was dying. Everything revealed to me her exhaustion, her decadence; I saw them everywhere; it seemed to me that one would have to blind not to see them. If something can save us, I used to think, it can only be a tremendous crisis, such as our history has already witnessed, a great danger, war…And at the beginning of this war I let myself be eagerly overwhelmed with hope. The Nation seemed to catch hold of herself. We have all given our blood to save her. Then this war made us see at close hand all our insufficiencies, all our disorders…
May 3, 1917
All the brilliance of the sky does not make these days any less gloomy. The upset of the recent offensive, in vain hidden by the press, weighs frightfully on the whole nation…
I am less and less inclined to believe that the decision can be won by arms. Since the Russian Revolution it seems to me clear that this enormous war is itself going to be swallowed up by social questions. I have ceased despairing of seeing Germany as a republic.
“Well then, England too?”
“All the states of Europe as republics; the war will not end otherwise. For neither will Germany triumph over us, nor shall be triumph over her; and even if we do triumph, we shall be unable to keep ourselves from being even more stricken by our victory than she by her defeat. The question today is: just how far on the road toward death shall we go because we do not want to admit this?”
There enters into a nation’s resistance a great deal of virtue, and certainly of the most admirable kind, but also obstinacy and even a little stupidity. It is beautiful to want to perish and to prefer perishing in order not to surrender one’s virtue. But it is absurd not to understand that one is dying. This is just why so many souls take refuge in mysticism today, whom reason brings to bay and who could not otherwise escape reason.
September 13, 1938
Listened to Hitler’s speech on the radio. The call to arms permits a facile eloquence, and it is easier to lead men to combat and to stir up their passions than to temper them and urge them to the patient labors of peace…