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Victor Hugo: International Peace Congress 1851

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

Victor Hugo: Selections on war

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Victor Hugo
From address to the International Peace Congress
London, 1851

hugo

Gentlemen, if someone four centuries ago, at a time when war raged from parish to parish, from town to town, from province to province – if someone had said to Lorraine, to Picardy, to Normandy, to Brittany, to Auvergne, to Province, to Dauphine, to Burgundy, ‘A day will come when you will no longer wage war, when you will no longer raise men of arms against each other, when it will no longer be said that Normans have attacked the men of Picardy, and the men of Lorraine have driven back those of Burgundy; that you will still have differences to settle, interests to discuss, certainly disputes to solve, but do you know what you will have in place of men on foot and horseback, in place of guns, falconets, spears, pikes, and swords? You will have a small box made of wood, which you will call a ballot box. And do you know what this box will bring forth? An assembly, an assembly in which you will all feel you live, an assembly which will be like your own soul, a supreme and popular council which will decide, judge, and solve everything in law, which will cause the sword to fall from every hand and justice to rise in every heart. And this event will say to you, ‘There ends your right, here begins your duty. Lay down your arms! Live in peace!”

On that day you will be conscious of a common thought, common interests, and a common destiny. You will clasp each other’s hands and you will acknowledge that you are sons of the same blood and the same race. On that day you will no longer be hostile tribes, but a nation. You will no longer be Burgundy, Normandy, Brittany, Provence, you will be France. On that day your name will no longer be war, but civilization.

Well, you say today – and I am one of those who say it with you – all of us here, we say to France, to England, to Prussia, to Austria, to Spain, to Italy, to Russia, we say to them, ‘A day will come when your weapons will fall from your hands, a day when war will seem absurd and be as impossible between Paris and London, St. Petersburg and Berlin, Vienna and Turin, as today it would seem impossible between Rouen and Amiens, Boston and Philadelphia.

A day will come when there will be no battlefields, but markets opening to commerce and minds opening to ideas. A day will come when the bullets and bombs are replaced by votes, by universal suffrage, by the venerable arbitration of a great supreme senate which will be to Europe what Parliament is to England, the Diet to Germany, and the Legislative Assembly to France.

A day will come when a cannon will be a museum-piece, as instruments of torture are today. And we will be amazed to think that these things once existed!…

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