Romain Rolland: Where to rebuild the world after war?
From The Death of a World (1933)
Translated by Amalia de Alberti
In spite of all that Society has invented to poison youth by chaining it to the galley-slave’s benches (schools, armies), the turbulence of twenty is a fine thing!
But the twenty of 1918 was not on a par with that of normal life. It equaled eighteen as well as eighty. It was made up of ill-assorted bits and pieces of every age; too much and at the same time not enough for clothing; the seams burst at every movement, revealing passions and bare flesh.
The pre-war men who had planted them did not recognize their own seed. And to the sons who had lost their fathers these pre-war men were as strangers whom they despised and came near to hating. Even among themselves, the young men were hard put to understand each other. Each one was a separate puzzle. If only life were a game! Many of them tried to maintain that it was, in order to convince themselves. But they knew very well that, if so, it was a terrible game, a game of madness. Everything had been destroyed, and the wind that blew over the field of ruin was laden with the stench of the charnel house. Where could they rebuild the world? With what stones, upon what soil, and on what data? They knew nothing; they could see nothing in the smoking chaos. Everything was lacking except arms. But it is hard for boys at twenty to condemn their arms, as their only lot, for all their youth, so menaced, and so fleeting, to the harassing task of navvies, with no one to guide them. How could they know that before they had even raised the first walls upon the quivering ground, a fresh earthquake would not demolish them? Who could believe in the duration of a world supported by the treaties of crime and stupidity? Everything was tottering, nothing was sure, life had no morrow: tomorrow the abyss might reopen – war, wars, at home and abroad.