Home > Uncategorized > Roger Martin du Gard: Be loyal to yourselves, reject war

Roger Martin du Gard: Be loyal to yourselves, reject war

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

Roger Martin du Gard: Selections on war

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Roger Martin du Gard
From Summer 1914 (1936)
Translated by Stuart Gilbert

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“A defensive war! A war that’s forced upon us! A just war! Don’t you realize they’re throwing dust in our eyes – as they’ve always done? Are you, too, going to let yourself be fooled? It’s only three hours since the mobilization order came out, and you’re backing down already! You’re giving way to those brutal passions that the press has been working up to fever-pitch for the last week, passions that the army leaders will exploit to the utmost! Who’ll stand up against this wave of madness if even Socialists like you give in?”

Jacques thought: “Nine Frenchmen out of ten are like that today. Eager to exculpate their country and convince themselves that their enemies have foisted this war on them – so as to justify the reactions of their combative instinct. And as a matter of fact one can’t help wondering if young fellows like these don’t get a sort of gloomy satisfaction out of suddenly feeling at one with an outraged nation, breathing the heady atmosphere of collective hatred.” And it struck him that nothing had changed since the days when Cardinal de Retz made bold to write: “Nothing is of greater consequence in handling a nation than to make it appear to them, even when one attacks, that one has only self-defence in mind.”

He addressed the young men again in a low, mournful voice: “Anyhow, please think it over! If you throw in your hand now, tomorrow it will be too late. Don’t forget that on the other side of the frontier it’s exactly the same as it is here: hatred, lies, and blind, unreasoning hostility…”

“If you think that violence and justice are two different things, if you think that human life is sacred, if you think there aren’t two kinds of morality – one that condemns murder in peacetime and another that insists on it in wartime – refuse to let yourselves be mobilized. Be loyal to yourselves!…”

“But,” Jacques cried, “can’t you see how cowardly it is to shirk your personal responsibility, to let other people, just because they’re stronger, decide for you? You tell yourself: ‘I disapprove, but I can’t do anything about it.’ It goes against the grain, but you salve your conscience easily enough with the thought that it’s a struggle for you to submit, yet it’s the decent thing to do. But can’t you see that you’ve been bamboozled by a gang of criminals? Have you forgotten that governments aren’t put into power just to tyrannize over their subjects and send them to slaughter, but to serve, to protect them, to give them happy lives?”

“And the most grotesque thing of all is the need they feel, not only to justify themselves, but to proclaim that if they’ve given in they’ve done so for good reasons and of their own accord! Their own accord! All these poor wretches who yesterday were fighting doggedly to stave off a war and now are dragged into it against their will are resolutely putting up a show of acting on their own initiative.” Again he paused before continuing. “It’s positively tragic that all these shrewd, sharp-witted men should suddenly become so gullible once their patriotic emotions are played on. Tragic and almost incomprehensible. Perhaps it’s simply this: the average man identifies unthinkingly with his country, his nation, and his government. He gets into the habit of saying: ‘We Frenchman…’ or ‘We Germans…’ And, as each genuinely desires peace, it’s impossible for him to admit that his country is out for war. Almost one might say that the more a man is keen for peace, the more inclined he is to exonerate his country and his countrymen and the easier it is to convince him that all the provocations come from the foreigner; that his government isn’t to blame and he belongs to a community which is being victimized, and that if he fights for it he’s acting in self-defence.”

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  1. rosemerry
    October 25, 2012 at 5:19 am

    Spot on, and very relevant to the post about Obama-Romney “debate” on foreign policy.

    • richardrozoff
      October 25, 2012 at 1:48 pm

      In his Nobel Prize in Literature Prize address in 1937, Martin du Gard warned the world in terms that are fully applicable today:

      “In these months of anxiety in which we are living, when blood is already being shed in two extreme parts of the globe, when practically everywhere in an atmosphere polluted by misery and fanaticism passions are seething around pointed guns, when too many signs are again heralding the return of that languid defeatism, that general consent which alone makes wars possible: at this exceptionally grave moment through which humanity is passing, I wish, without vanity, but with a gnawing disquietude in my heart, that my books about Summer 1914 may be read and discussed, and that they may remind all – the old who have forgotten as well as the young who either do not know or do not care – of the sad lesson of the past.”

  2. Afeuro Cado
    October 25, 2012 at 7:29 am

    A defensive war is not a just war if not fought on one’s own soil!! My favourite quote is “Don’t forget that on the other side of the frontier it’s exactly the same as it is here: hatred, lies, and blind, unreasoning hostility…” “If you think that violence and justice are two different things,… if you think there aren’t two kinds of morality – one that condemns murder in peacetime and another that insists on it in wartime – refuse to let yourselves be mobilized (for war). Be loyal to yourselves!…”

    • richardrozoff
      October 25, 2012 at 1:47 pm

      You’re absolutely correct. In fact no war is in any sense of the word defensive if fought on other nations’ soil, such as the War of 1812 whose bicentenary is being marked currently in which the U.S. invaded (British) Canada, the war U.S. war against Mexico from 1846-1848, the Spanish-American War, the so-called Mexican Expedition of 1916 and all that has followed them.

      In his Nobel Prize for Literature address in 1937 Roger Martin du Gard included a stern warning that is at least as pertinent today as it was when he delivered it:

      “In these months of anxiety in which we are living, when blood is already being shed in two extreme parts of the globe, when practically everywhere in an atmosphere polluted by misery and fanaticism passions are seething around pointed guns, when too many signs are again heralding the return of that languid defeatism, that general consent which alone makes wars possible: at this exceptionally grave moment through which humanity is passing, I wish, without vanity, but with a gnawing disquietude in my heart, that my books about Summer 1914 may be read and discussed, and that they may remind all – the old who have forgotten as well as the young who either do not know or do not care – of the sad lesson of the past.”

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