Oliver Goldsmith on war: Hundreds of thousands killed without consequence
From Citizen of the World (1762)
All the great nations still nearly preserve their ancient limits; none have been able to subdue the other, and so terminate the dispute. France, in spite of the conquests of Edward the Third and Henry the Fifth, notwithstanding the efforts of Charles the Fifth and Philip the Second, still remains within its ancient limits. Spain, Germany, Great Britain, Poland, the states of the North, are nearly still the same. What effect then has the blood of so many thousands, the destruction of so many cities, produced? Nothing either great or considerable. The Christian princes have lost indeed much from the enemies of Christendom, but they have gained nothing from each other. Their princes, because they preferred ambition to justice, deserve the character of enemies to mankind; and their priests, neglecting morality for opinion, have mistaken the interests of society.
On whatever side we regard the history of Europe, we shall perceive it to be a tissue of crimes, follies, and misfortunes, of politics without design, and wars without consequence.
[C]ompacts for peace are drawn up with the utmost precision, and ratified with the greatest solemnity: to these each party promises a sincere and inviolable obedience, and all wear the appearance of open friendship and unreserved reconciliation. Yet, notwithstanding these treaties, the people of Europe are almost continually at war. There is nothing more easy than to break a treaty ratified in all the usual forms, and yet neither party be the aggressor. One side, for instance, breaks a trifling article by mistake; the opposite party, upon this, makes a small but premeditated reprisal; this brings on a return of greater from the other; both sides complain of injuries and infractions; war is declared; they beat; are beaten; some two or three hundred thousand men are killed; they grow tired; leave off just where they began; and so sit coolly down to make new treaties.