Hans Hellmut Kirst: Selections on war and peace

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

German writers on peace and war

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Hans Hellmut Kirst: Selections on war and peace

Hans Hellmut Kirst: Each thinks it’s in the right, each wants peace and only wishes to defend itself

Hans Hellmut Kirst: Goose-Stepping for NATO

Hans Hellmut Kirst: It was as if the whole world had become simply one vast graveyard

Hans Hellmut Kirst: “Just a dirty, rotten business from beginning to end”

Hans Hellmut Kirst: Nothing – absolutely nothing – can justify war

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Ödön von Horváth: We must prepare them to be warriors. Just that.

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

Ödön von Horváth
From Youth Without God
Translated by R. Willis Thomas

You could have a son too, I thought to myself: but I can easily control any wish I have to bring a son into the world. To be shot down in some war….

***

“You’re forgetting the private memorandum that went round – number 5679, paragraph 33! We are supposed to keep youth at a distance from everything which doesn’t in some way or another prepare their minds for war – which means, morally, we must prepare them to be warriors. Just that.”

***

If these fellows merely rejected everything that’s still sacred to me – well, that wouldn’t be so bad. What hurts is that they put it aside without even having known it. Worse still, they haven’t the slightest desire to know it.

Thinking is a process they hate.

They turn up their noses at human beings. They want to be machines – screws, knobs, belts, wheels – or better still, munitions – bombs, shells, shrapnel. How readily they’d die on a battlefield! To have their name on some war memorial – that’s the dream of their puberty.

***

The priest showed me into his charming study.

“Sit down. I’ll get the wine.”

He left me while me made his way to the cellar.

A picture on the wall attracted my notice. I had seen it before. My parents have a copy of it – my parents are very pious. It was not until the war that I abandoned God. It was asking too much of a youngster to understand that God could allow a war like that. I looked at the picture. God hung nailed to a cross, dead. Mary cried, and John was comforting her. Lightning played across the dark sky. In the foreground stood a warrior in helmet and armor – the Roman Captain.

***

Why was that picture still before my mind? Was I haunted by the Crucified One? No. Or by the face of His mother? No. It was the warrior, the armed and helmeted warrior, the Roman Captain, whose face haunted me.

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Hans Hellmut Kirst: Each thinks it’s in the right, each wants peace and only wishes to defend itself

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

German writers on peace and war

Hans Hellmut Kirst: Selections on war and peace

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Hans Helmutt Kirst
From The Revolt of Gunner Asch (8/15 in der Kaserne)
Translated by Robert Kee

Foreman Freitag left the repair shop, climbed on his bicycle and rode off to the artillery barracks. He wasn’t particularly worried by the fact that this man who had upset Elizabeth turned out to be a soldier. He had a dislike of uniforms, admittedly, and he could never really understand how any normal healthy hard-working man could bring himself to waste his time in an activity of which the ultimate aim was to kill and destroy.

***

“And then came the war,” cried Asch Senior. “The local postman went for a tour of France and lived like a king. When he came back he could speak three words of French and he spoke them thirty times over when he got tight of an evening and started remembering the good old days. A man who worked in a coal merchant’s and who had never been able to save himself a Sunday suit in his whole life destroyed three houses, two guns, four trucks, and several dozen human beings….”

“It’s fundamentally the same today,” said Herbert Asch. “War represents a glorious escape from everyday life, from the dreary rut of the office, the dull monotony of the factory. A man suddenly gets lifted right out of all this. He’s given some ammunition and a license to kill. He’s got men under him – he’s allowed to bully them….”

“But perhaps,” said old Freitag thoughtfully, “men have some sort of primitive urge to be soldiers. I don’t mean just an urge to kill and exercise power, but an urge to protect life and limb, wife and child, the sick and weak. Against wild beasts first of all, against robbers, lunatics, against the enemy….”

“Yes, that may be,” said Asch Senior, “but a perfectly justifiable primitive instinct like that often gets perverted for the worst of ends. Someone wants something the other man’s got. So he simply declares him to be a wild beast, a lunatic, the enemy. It takes two sides to make a war, and each usually has the blessing of the Church. But each thinks it’s in the right, each thinks its honor is at stake, each wants peace and only wishes to defend itself. But one or the other must be in the wrong. Or are both in the wrong?”

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Sinclair Lewis: The democracy of death

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

American writers on peace and against war

Sinclair Lewis: Selections on war

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Sinclair Lewis
From Main Street

Cy was to be heard publishing it abroad that if he couldn’t get the Widow Bogart’s permission to enlist, he’d run away and enlist without it. He shouted that he “hated every dirty Hun; by gosh, if he could just poke a bayonet into one big fat Heinie and learn him some decency and democracy, he’d die happy.” Cy got much reputation by whipping a farm boy named Adolph Pochbauer for being a “damn hyphenated German.”…This was the younger Pochbauer, who was killed in the Argonne, while he was trying to bring the body of his Yankee captain back to the lines. At this time Cy Bogart was still dwelling in Gopher Prairie and planning to go to war.

***

Everywhere Carol heard that the war was going to bring a basic change in psychology, to purify and uplift everything from marital relations to national politics, and she tried to exult in it. Only she did not find it….

Carol did desire to see the Prussian autocracy defeated; she did persuade herself that there were no autocracies save that of Prussia; she did thrill to motion-pictures of troops embarking in New York; and she was uncomfortable when she met Miles Bjornstam on the street and he croaked:

“How’s tricks? Things going fine with me; got two new cows. Well, have you become a patriot? Eh? Sure, they’ll bring democracy – the democracy of death. Yes, sure, in every war since the Garden of Eden the workmen have gone out to fight each other for perfectly good reasons – handed to them by their bosses. Now me, I’m wise. I’m so wise that I know I don’t know anything about the war.”

***

She tried to be content, which was a contradiction in terms. She fanatically cleaned house all April. She knitted a sweater for Hugh. She was diligent at Red Cross work. She was silent when Vida raved that though America hated war as much as ever, we must invade Germany and wipe out every man, because it was now proven that there was no soldier in the German army who was not crucifying prisoners and cutting off babies’ hands.

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Willi Heinrich: If the women had their own way there would be the death penalty for making or bearing arms

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

German writers on peace and war

Willi Heinrich: “It’s quite enough that I know it”

Willi Heinrich: A people proud of its war dead has learned nothing from war

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Willi Heinrich
The Crumbling Fortress (Alte Häuser sterben nicht)
Translated by Michael Glenny

“We are not going to lose any men in this operation.”

Roger sighed. “”I wish we could have convinced their wives of that.”

“Leroy ought to do that,” said Pierre. “He wanted to be a priest once. As usual, though, it will be my job to tell the wives.”

“Rather you than me,” sighed Roger.

“The women of France,” said Raymond with pathos, know what they owe to the Republic.”

“Roger grimaced as though he has a mouth full of vinegar. “He ought to be War Minister,” he said to Pierre.

“Pierre grinned. “If the women of France had their own way there would be the death penalty for making or bearing arms.”

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Willi Heinrich: A people proud of its war dead has learned nothing from war

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

German writers on peace and war

Willi Heinrich: If the women had their own way there would be the death penalty for making or bearing arms

Willi Heinrich: “It’s quite enough that I know it”

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Willi Heinrich
The Crumbling Fortress (Alte Häuser sterben nicht)
Translated by Michael Glenny

“For the French Verdun is something like a national shrine, but in the wrong sense, it seems to me. Instead of pointing a warning the military achievement is glorified. But that is not the way to speak for those who paved the road to Verdun with their bones. When we sing the national anthem in a military cemetery it is, of course, a very moving event, but it distorts the true nature of the matter. We should rig up giant loudspeakers and relay recordings of the screams of the wounded and dying and then no one would ever forget that cemetery….”

“Monsieur Vieale,” said Knopf, “is afraid that you’re bored when we talk about the war.”

“No.” She shook her head. “No, I’m not bored. I was just wondering in what way soldiers nowadays differ from those who fought in the First World War.”

“In their armament,” said Vieale. “Today their equipment is better and more modern.”

“In what other way?” asked the girl.

“That is a difficult question,” said Vieale. “Look at me. I fought in both wars; only for a few days in this one, it’s true, but even that was enough.”

“I don’t think the question is so difficult to answer,” said Knopf. “Would you have volunteered in this war too?”

Vieale laughed. “No, Monsieur, certainly not. I remembered the first war only too well. But with young people it’s a bit different. Why should they be any more sensible than I was thirty years ago?”

“Somebody should have told them,” threw in Anna.

“Some tried to. But when you shout against the wind no one hears you.”

“It’s the tragedy of inevitability,” said Knopf. “If self-destruction is our destiny, the force of reason is powerless against it.”

“Is that your philosophy?” asked Vieale.

“”I said: if! I don’t know. But if it ever came to the point where we had nothing more to live for except for ideologies and the motherland, then it wouldn’t be too difficult to die.”

“Haven’t we reached that point already?”

“I don’t think so,” said Knopf. “Until now it was always a kind of intoxication: they stumbled into death like a drunkard falling under a car. Nobody really went to war to die. They all hoped to escape death and when they realized that it could run faster than they could, they cursed it. We ought not to play anthems over their graves or make solemn speeches in remembrance of them. A people which is proud of its war dead has learned nothing from the war. This is only my personal opinion, but as long as we have no stronger feelings than a bad conscience about our dead when we talk of them, then there will always be other wars. It all began with falsehood and it will one day finish with falsehood: that is what I mean by inevitability. Lies breed death, death breeds lies and so it goes. By distorting the meaning of our existence we have legitimized mass murder.”

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Hans Hellmut Kirst: “Just a dirty, rotten business from beginning to end”

May 16, 2022 2 comments

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

German writers on peace and war

Hans Hellmut Kirst: Selections on war and peace

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Hans Hellmut Kirst
From Forward Gunnar Asch! (08/15 im Krieg)
Translated by Rober Kee

“Well,” said Witterer, “we’ll all soon have a chance of proving what we’re really worth, eh?”

“To hell with that,” said the infantry major openly enough. “If I had things my own way I’d spend the rest of the war in bed.”

“And why not?” said Witterer, thinking himself the old soldier. “After all, you’ve already won your Knight’s Cross.”

“What, this piece of tin?” said the major cynically. “Do you know what that cost me? The lives of twenty-two soldiers, a bullet in the groin and a bad conscience for the rest of my life – that’s to say it’d take me more than a lifetime to get my conscience clean again.’

“Yes, war’s a damned hard business,” said Witterer, trying not to show his embarrassment.

“”It’s not only hard; it’s dirty and rotten as well. Just a dirty, rotten business from beginning to end.”

***

“Just write the ladies off until next year. You’ll have to get used to the fact that there are more men killed than conceived in war – however hard you try to adjust the balance.”

***

“According to Vierbein, things are dead quiet on much of the front. Nearly as quiet as here.”

“Well, why not? Or do you imagine they’re all mad to have a go at the Russians?”

“What the ordinary soldier thinks doesn’t come into it.”

“But the war couldn’t be carried on without them, all the same.”

“Did we want the First World War?” asked Freitag.

“Of course not.”

“Then it didn’t take place, I suppose?”

***

“What else is the whole war but trouble?” said the holder of the Knight’s Cross unconcernedly.

“But the people at the top know what they’re doing….”

“Do they hell?” said the major very emphatically, pouring the contents of an entire tumbler down his throat. “Waging war on a map is a very different thing from lying around in the mud yourself. There’s a difference too between blood and the mark you make on a map with a red pencil. Some men are killed – right, rub them out with an eraser! One man vomits his lungs up into the snow. But the other’s only vomiting because he’s drunk too much red wine!”

***

“But I may be needed,” said Vierbein naively.

The commandant looked up slowly from his desk. He stared at Vierbein in utter amazement.

“Needed?” he said slowly. “What for? The war can surely go on without you for a few hours.”

And the commandant thought: Needed! He really believes he might be needed. He doesn’t know that generals think in terms of divisions. He doesn’t realize that some nights several thousand Vierbeins go into the attack without a single commander sleeping any the worse for it. He’s really managed to persuade himself that he’s making history. But it takes a million liters of blood to write a single chapter of world history. What does one Vierbein count?

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Willi Heinrich: “It’s quite enough that I know it”

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

German writers on peace and war

Willi Heinrich: If the women had their own way there would be the death penalty for making or bearing arms

Willi Heinrich: A people proud of its war dead has learned nothing from war

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Willi Heinrich
The Crumbling Fortress (Alte Häuser sterben nicht)
Translated by Michael Glenny

The times are unsafe,” said Vieale. “I’ve been in two wars and I don’t want anymore to do with shooting….”

“Were you a soldier in 1914?” asked Knopf.

“I volunteered at eighteen. I persuaded myself then that I’d be missing something if I didn’t volunteer. Since then I’ve learned otherwise.”

“That happens to most people,” said Knopf, “but then they forget it again. I was in the first world war myself.”

“Were you?” asked Anna, in extreme surprise. “I never knew that.”

“It’s quite enough that I know it,” said Knopf bitterly….

***

“Apart from him I’ve no time for soldiers. My grandfather was a Republican and my father was killed in 1907 during the rising of the southern wine farmers. That revolt was smashed by Clemenceau. Since then soldiers haven’t been welcome in my family….”

***

“You Americans! What do you know about France? You come over to Europe in boats, play at war for a bit and then clear off again.”

“Now, listen,” said Bordon, “we didn’t come to France for the fun if it. As a Frenchman you should have a slightly better opinion of us.”

“Do you think so?…You didn’t come over to liberate France! You just want to finish off the Germans, now that the Russians have done most of the dirty work for you.” 

***

“You Americans will come over to Europe ten times again whenever your interests here are threatened.”

“Fournier, you’re wrong about America. Once we realize that what we have to lose in Europe is not worth the risk of a war, public opinion will turn and no government in Washington can do a damn thing about it.”

***

“Since Pétain has been in charge the government has been running an anti-alcohol campaign. Personally I’d rather see a man holding a bottle than a rifle.”

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Hans Hellmut Kirst: Nothing – absolutely nothing – can justify war

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

German writers on peace and war

Hans Hellmut Kirst: Selections on war and peace

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Hans Hellmut Kirst
From Forward Gunnar Asch! (08/15 im Krieg)
Translated by Rober Kee

He came here drawn by the magic of the old ruined church. There was something about it of the vastness and stillness of the landscape in which it stood, this landscape which now lay scarred and furrowed and trampled by death.

***

“Of course, once the wheels of war start turning again, then the difficulty is to try and get them to stop.”

***

“You’re both marching toward the millennium,” went on Asch unperturbed,” but each in the opposite direction. Each is convinced that he has discovered the perfect philosophy. And what’s even worse: each thinks that his philosophy is the only one there is.”

“I really think it’s time you were going, Asch. You don’t seem to feel at home here.”

“I’m listening to him,” said Natasha. “What he says interests me very much. He can’t shake my conviction.”

“Nor mine,” said Wedelmann passionately. “And that’s just why it’s quite unnecessary to listen to him.”

“I’m not trying to persuade you,” said Asch in a calm and friendly tone. “I’m not even trying to enlighten you. You’re both too far gone for that. This is the age of mass-produced minds: And there you are, the two of you, both expert performers for your parties – one red and the other brown – you’re in love with each other, I take it, but, for you, love between two human beings has to come second to other things. The Soviet Union, or the Reich, must come first, for both are striving to make the world a better place. The happiness which two human beings are capable of giving each other simply doesn’t count. One can’t help wondering what is the point of human beings producing children. To supply soldiers for the defense of the country? Or to continue to live through such children?”

“You have no sense of patriotism,” said Natasha proudly. “I am defending my country so that I can live in it in peace.”

Wedelmann said, no less proudly: “And presumably you’ll never grasp the fact that the race is all that matters. The individual human being is nothing apart from the race to which he belongs.”

“You’re hopeless,” said Asch. He stood up. “God is above all of us. We can be brought together by our love for each other. All men can be brothers. Nothing – absolutely nothing – can justify war.”

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Hans Hellmut Kirst: It was as if the whole world had become simply one vast graveyard

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

German writers on peace and war

Hans Hellmut Kirst: Selections on war and peace

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Hans Hellmut Kirst
From Forward Gunnar Asch! (08/15 im Krieg)
Translated by Rober Kee

The front was quiet, as it almost always was these days at this time. It was an ugly, sinister, unsettling sort of quiet.

On both sides men who had not yet received orders to attack one another were doing their best to make life, or rather what there was left of it, as tolerable for each other as possible. Although everyone knew how pointless it all was in the end. The silence of the front weighed on people oppressively. It was as if a pack of ravening wolves were quietly surrounding the two armies….

There was not even the sound of a truck on the move to break the silence. No aircraft had appeared in the sky for two weeks. The front lay only about three kilometers away, but over the whole length of it had fallen the silence of the grave.

***

Once again they found themselves caught for the moment in the ominous, treacherous silence which was the war.

“It’s cold,” said Asch. He wanted to break the silence. “Cold and damp.”

A pale moon forced its way through the clouds, wreathed in mysterious vapors. The snow covered the earth like a blanket over a corpse. It seemed to absorb the moonlight and radiate it back again. The darkness slowly dispersed.

***

It was as if the whole world stood still for a moment. There seemed to be no more front lines with frozen corpses lying stiffly in between them; no soldiers snoring beneath filthy banquets; no base camps where they knew neither war nor peace; no women left for a man to go for comfort to. It was as if the whole world had become simply one vast graveyard.

***

“Why does there have to be war?” she asked.

“But for the war we would never have met.”

“What a thing to say!” she answered and withdrew her hand. “That’s just an easy excuse, but it’s a rotten one. We might have met at some big sports gathering, or on holiday, or in a theater, or in a picture gallery, or anywhere like that. Why does there have to be a war to bring two human beings from different countries together?”

“But I’m not responsible for the war, Natasha!”

“No, but you help carry it on.”

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Hans Habe: Constituent battles of the Third World War. You can’t pick your battlefields once war is in progress.

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

Hans Habe: Hiroshima-born realization of man’s destructibility by man

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Hans Habe
From The Poisoned Stream
Translated by J. Maxwell Brownjohn

Read the papers. Reports of fighting in Asia, Africa, the Near and Far East. Fears of a Third World War – they ought to call it the fourth, considering how long ago the third began. The two superpowers have been waging war for years, but on foreign soil. War by instalments – very appropriate in the age of hire-purchase. What is taking place in Vietnam or the Near East isn’t a war but a series of battles – constituent battles of the Third World War. You can’t pick your battlefields once war is in progress. Where will the next battlefield be? The most frightening aspect of war is the corruption it lures us into….

***

The word ruin has a dual significance which renders it applicable both to the miraculous relics of Greece and Rome and to the architectural skeletons left by war: we can, for instance, admire the Forum Romanum and the ruins of Egypt because no personal recollection is associated with them, because we never saw their columns rent asunder. Ancient churches, residences, and places of public assembly did not fall to dust before our eyes; dead they are, but not of our kin; young they once were, but we never knew them in their youth; ruined they stand, but we did not witness their decay.

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Hans Habe: Hiroshima-born realization of man’s destructibility by man

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

Hans Habe: Constituent battles of the Third World War. You can’t pick your battlefields once war is in progress.

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Hans Habe
From The Poisoned Stream
Translated by J. Maxwell Brownjohn

I have a pronounced aversion to soldiers, past, present, and future. Sometimes it works the other way round: if I take a dislike to someone he usually turns out to be an ex-hero. Films show you villainous Fascists and Nazis, but honest-to-God soldiers abound on both sides. Unfortunately, it was honest-to-God soldiers who put Resistance fighters up against the wall in Rome, Venice, and Intra.

***

Is there really a resemblance between our own age and some epoch in the past? I can hardly believe it. There can’t be any resemblance because we have come to an entirely new realization, the Hiroshima-born realization of man’s destructibility by man. Space-travel means nothing beside the message of Hiroshima: we knew man’s capacity for achievement, but never even suspected his capability for destruction. Hiroshima was an attempt to wrest God’s last prerogative from Him, the right of the flood….

Doesn’t the malaise we complain about so sadly spring from the impotence of our omnipotence? Can the atom bomb cause still greater havoc than it has already? Can omnipotence be abused when omnipotence itself is an abuse? Incapable of living in the shadow of destruction, we live as if we had already been destroyed….People live on one side of the chasm as if the atom bomb didn’t exist; on the other as though it had already reduced everything to ashes.

The atom bomb, which fell in the present, destroyed the only place where the past and the future might have met. One can see across a chasm – even join hands across it – but no-man’s-land is a boundless wilderness. Nobody ever sees another soul.

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Heinrich Böll: I saw the fateful gleam in his eyes too late

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

Nobel prize in literature recipients on peace and war

German writers on peace and war

Heinrich Böll: Every death in war is a murder – a murder for which someone is responsible

Heinrich Böll: I’m going to die soon and before the war is over. I shall never know peace again.

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Heinrich Böll
From Billiards at Half-past Nine
Translator unidentified

“War bonds, Leonore? I didn’t buy them. They were left to me by my father-in-law. Throw them into the fire along with the banknotes. Two medals? Yes, of course, I built siege trenches, I bored tunnels, set up artillery emplacements, faced barrages, dragged the wounded out of the field of fire. Second-class, first-class, bring them here, Leonore, let’s have them. We’ll throw them into the roof gutter. Let the muck in the gutter bury them. Otto found them once when he was rummaging around in the cabinets while I was at my drawing board. I saw the fateful gleam in his eyes too late. He’d seen them, and the respect he felt for me took on added dimension. Too late. But at least let’s get rid of them now, so Joseph won’t find them some day among the things I’ll leave behind.”

Only a faint tinkle as he let the medals slide down the sloping roof. The medals tipped over as they fell from the roof into the gutter, and lay with their dull side uppermost.

“Why so shocked, child? They’re mine, and I can do what I want with them. Too late, and maybe not entirely. Let’s hope it’ll rain soon and the dirt will be washed down off the roof….”

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Eric Ambler: The Law did not think killing for money was insane

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

British writers on peace and war

Eric Ambler: It is not good for those who fight to know too much. Speeches, yes. The truth, no!

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Eric Ambler
From Journey into Fear

Watching the full self-conscious lips enunciating these absurdities, Graham wondered if an English jury, trying the man for murder, would find him insane. Probably not: he killed for money; and the Law did not think that a man who killed for money was insane. And yet he was insane. His was the insanity of the sub-conscious mind running naked, of the “throw back,” of the mind which could discover the majesty of God in thunder and lightning, the roar of bombing planes, or the firing of a five hundred pound shell; the awe-inspiring insanity of the primeval swamp.

***

“When a ruling class wishes a people to do something which that people does not want to do, it appeals to patriotism. And, of course, one of the things people most dislike is allowing themselves to be killed….”

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“The instinct for self-preservation is a wonderful thing. It is so easy for people to be heroic about laying down their lives for the sake of principles when they do not expect to be called upon to do so. When, however, the smell of danger is in their nostrils they are more practical. They see alternatives not in terms of honour or dishonour, but in terms of greater or lesser evils….:

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Villiers de L’Isle-Adam: Vox Populi

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

French writers on war and peace

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Villiers de L’Isle-Adam
Vox Populi

Grand review at the Champs-Elysees that day!

Twelve years have been suffered since that vision. A summer sun shattered its long arrows of gold against the roofs and domes of the ancient capital. Thousands of panes reflected its dazzling rays; the people, bathed in a powdery light, thronged the streets to gaze at the army.

Sitting upon a high wooden stool before the railing of the parvis of Notre Dame, his knees folded under black rags, his hands joined under the placard that legally sanctioned his blindness, the centenarian beggar, patriarch of the Misery of Paris – a mournful face of ashen tint, with skin fur rowed by wrinkles of the color of earth – lent his shadowy presence to the Te Deum of the surrounding festival.

All these people, were they not his brethren? The joyous passers-by, were they not his kin? Were they not human, like him? Besides, that guest of the sovereign portal was not entirely destitute: the State had recognized his right to be blind.

Clothed with the title and respectability implied in the official right to receive alms, enjoying, moreover, a voter’s privilege, he was our equal except in light.

And that man, forgotten, as it were, among the living, articulated from time to time a monotonous plaint – evident syllabification of the profound sighs of his whole life- time:

“Have pity on the blind, if you please!”

Around him, beneath the powerful vibrations fallen from the belfry – outside, yonder, beyond the wall of his eyes – the trampling of cavalry, the intermittent braying of trumpets, acclamations mingled with salvoes of artillery from the Invalides with the proud shouts of command, the rattle of steel, and the thunder of drums scanning the interminable march of the passing infantry, a rumor of glory reached him! His trained hearing caught even the rustle of the floating standards whose heavy fringes brushed against the cuirasses. In the mind of the old captive of obscurity a thousand flashes of sensation evoked visions foreknown yet indistinct. A sort of divination informed him of what fevered the hearts and thoughts of the city.

And the people, fascinated, as always, by the prestige that comes from strokes of boldness and fortune, clamored its prayer of the moment:

“Long live the Emperor!”

But during the lulls of the triumphal tempest a lost voice arose in the direction of the mystic railing. The old man, his neck thrown back against the pillory of bars, rolling his dead eyeballs towards the sky, forgotten by that people of which he seemed alone to express the genuine prayer, the prayer hidden under the hurrahs, the secret and personal prayer, droned, like an augural interceder, his now mysterious phrase:

“Have pity on the blind, if you please!”

Grand review at the Champs-Elysees that day!

Now ten years have flown since the sun of that festival – same sounds, same voices, same smoke. A sordine, however, tempered the tumult of the public rejoicings. A shad ow weighed on the eyes of all. The ceremonial salvoes from the platform of the Prytaneum were crossed this time by the distant growls of the batteries in our forts; and straining their ears, the people sought already to distinguish in the echoes the answer of the enemy’s approaching cannon.

The Governor, borne by the ambling trot of his thorough-bred, passed, smiling upon all. The people, reassured by the confidence which an irreproachable demeanor always inspires, alternated with patriotic songs the military applause with which they honored the presence of the soldier.

But the syllables of the furious cheer of yore had been modified; the distracted people preferred the prayer of the moment:

“Long live the Republic!”

And yonder, in the direction of the sublime threshold, could still be distinguished the solitary voice of Lazarus. The sayer of the hidden thought of the people did not modify the rigidity of his fixed plaint. Sincere soul of the festival, uplifting his extinguished eyes to the sky, he cried out, during the silences, with the accent of one making a statement:

“Have pity on the blind, if you please!”

Grand review at the Champs-Elysees that day!

Now nine months have been endured since that troubled sun. Oh ! same rumors, same clashing of arms, same neighing of horses, more muffled, however, than the pre vious year, but yet noisy.

“Long live the Commune!” shouted the people to the passing wind.

And the voice of the secular Elect of Misfortune still repeated, yonder upon the sacred threshold, his refrain that connected the unique thought of the people. Raising his trembling head to the sky, he moaned in the shadow:

“Have pity on the blind, if you please!”

And two moons later, when, to the last vibrations of the tocsin, the generalissimo of the regular forces of the State reviewed his two hundred thousand guns, still smoking, alas! from the sad civil war, the terrified people shouted, while gazing upon the edifices flaming afar:

“Long live the Marshal!”

Yonder, in the direction of the pure enclosure, the immutable voice of the veteran of human misery mechanically repeated his dolorous and piteous observation:

“Have pity on the blind, if you please!”

And since then, from year to year, from review to review, from vociferations to vociferations, whatever might be the name thrown to the hazards of space by the cheering people, those who listen attentively to the sounds of the earth have always distinguished, above the revolutionary clamors and the warlike festivals that followed, the far-away Voice, the true Voice, the intimate Voice of the terrible symbolical beggar, of the incorruptible sentinel of the citizens’ conscience, of him who restores integrally the occult prayer of the Crowd and expresses its sighs.

Inflexible Pontiff of fraternity, that authorized titulary of physical blindness, has never ceased, like an unconscious mediator, to invoke the divine charity upon his brethren in intelligence.

And when, intoxicated with fanfares, with peals of bells and with artillery, the people, dazed by the flattering uproar, endeavors vainly, under whatever syllables falsely enthusiastic, to hide from itself its veritable prayer, the beggar, groping through the sky, his arms uplifted, his face towards the heavy darkness, arises on the eternal threshold of the church, and in tones more and more lamentable, which seem, however, to carry beyond the stars, continues to cry his prophetic rectification:

“Have pity on the blind, if you please!”

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Eric Ambler: It is not good for those who fight to know too much. Speeches, yes. The truth, no!

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

British writers on peace and war

Eric Ambler: The Law did not think killing for money was insane

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Eric Ambler
From Journey into Fear

“Most armies commit what are called atrocities at some time or other. They usually call them reprisals.”

“Including the British army, perhaps?”

“You would have to ask an Indian or an Afrikaner about that. But every country has its madmen. And when you give a license to kill they are not always particular about the way they kill….”

***

“You are right. It is not for us to ask questions. And why? Because the only people who can give the answers are the bankers and the politicians at the top, the boys with the shares in the big factories who make war materials, They will not give us answers. Why? Because they know that if the soldiers of France and England knew those answers they would not fight.”

His wife reddened. “You are mad! Naturally the men of France would fight to defend us from the filthy Bosche.” She glanced at Graham. “It is bad to say France would not fight. We are not cowards.”

“No, but neither are we fools.” He turned quickly to Graham. “Have you heard of Briey, Monsieur? From the mines of the Briey district comes ninety per cent of France’s iron ore. In nineteen fourteen those mines were captured by the Germans, who worked them for the iron they needed. They worked them hard. They have admitted since that without the iron they mined at Briey they would have been finished in nineteen seventeen. Yes, they worked Briey hard. I, who was at Verdun, can tell you that. Night after night we watched the glare in the sky a few kilometres away; the blast furnaces that were feeding the German guns. Our artillery and our bombing aeroplanes could have blown those furnaces to pieces in a week. But our artillery remained silent; an airman who dropped one bomb on the Briey area was court-martialled. Why?” His voice rose. “I will tell you why, Monsieur. Because there were orders that Briey was not to be touched. Whose orders? Nobody knew. The orders came from someone at the top. The Ministry of War said that it was the generals. The generals said that it was the Ministry of War. We did not find out the facts until after the war. The orders had been issued by Monsieur de Wendel of the Comité des Forges who owned the Briey mines and blast furnaces. We were fighting for our lives, but our lives were less important than that the property of Monsieur de Wendel should be preserved to make fat profits. No, it is not good for those who fight to know too much. Speeches, yes. The truth, no!”

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Jun’ichirō Tanizaki: A day’s work, a night’s dream

April 30, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
From The Makioka Sisters
Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker

Meanwhile the world was shaken by new developments in Europe. In May came the German
invasion of the Low Countries and the tragedy of Dunkirk, and in June, upon the French surrender, an armistice was signed at Compiègne….And then one could never know when England, cut off from the continent, would be attacked from the air, and the possibility of air raids brought up the problem of Katharina, now living in a suburb of London. How unpredictable human destinies were!

***

Perhaps she was too tired, however, for there had been an air-raid drill that day and she had found herself in a bucket brigade. In any case, she would doze off and dream of the air-raid drill and wake up only to doze off and dream the same dream again. It seemed to be the Ashiya kitchen, and yet it was a far more up-to-date American-style kitchen, all white tiles and paint, and sparkling glass and chinaware. The air-raid siren would sound, and the glass and chinaware would begin snapping and cracking and breaking to bits. “Yukiko, Etsuko, O-haru, this is dangerous,” she would say, and flee into the dining room, away from the shiny particles in the air. Coffee cups and beer steins and wine glasses and wine and whisky bottles would be snapping and cracking in the dining room too. This is just as bad – she would lead them upstairs, where they would find all the light bulbs exploding. They would then run into a room with only wooden fixtures – and Sachiko would be awake. She had the same dream she did not know how many times.

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Alejo Carpentier: War’s long reach

April 26, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Alejo Carpentier
Explosion in a Cathedral (El siglo de las luces)
Translated by John Sturrock

At this moment the brisk trot of horses was heard. Remigio had appeared at the end of the avenue, sitting on the box of a mud-spattered carriage. But there was no one inside. Reining up abruptly when he saw Esteban, he told him that Jorge had been suddenly taken ill, and was in bed, struck down by a new epidemic that was afflicting the city, and was attributed to the great slaughter on the battlefields of Europe, whose mephitic infection had been brought over by some Russian ships recently arrived to barter goods they had never seen before for the tropical fruits that were very popular with the rich gentlemen of St. Petersburg.

***

She turned toward the harbour, and leaned her back against the gunwale. On the other shore gleamed the lights of districts she had never been to; beyond, mingling together, were lights of the vast baroque chandelier which was the city, with its red, green and orange glass shining among the arcades. To the left lay the dark channel that led to the blackness of the open sea, the sea of adventures, of hazardous voyages, of the endless wars and conflicts that had stained this many-islanded Mediterranean red with blood.

***

And he explained that the soldiers who had survived the plagues in Jaffa were suffering from a mysterious sickness, with which they had already contaminated half France, where the epidemic was wreaking havoc.

***

Although Toussaint Louverture was anxious to establish commercial relations with the United States, the North American traders distrusted the black chieftain’s solvency, and left this chancy market to the men who sold arms and ammunition – the only goods which were always paid for in cash, even when there was not enough flour to make dough for the daily bread.

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Francis Bebey: They all come into the world speaking the same language of peace and friendship

April 22, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Francis Bebey
From Agatha Moudio’s Son
Translated by Joyce A. Hutchinson

Children, whether they come from the sin of hell, or from the best molds of heaven, are all alike.They all descend from the same tree of life, the ones whose branches demonstrate the insignificance of race, and their leaves the thousand characters of man. Later, they will become men and women, who love or hate each other, often without reason, bringing the same zeal to distinguish skin defects and to making classes of pariahs, as they would to trying to bring down the moon, when they have not yet finished reaping the fruits of the earth; they come into the world, all of them, graceful and beautiful, speaking the same dumb language of peace and friendship. Later, alas, they will speak the so much more noisy and stupid language of unreasonable reason, which leads to war and racialism. But long live the shining present of the angels, black or white or red or yellow, who, all in the same way, smilingly approach the shifting sands of life, and sing with the same innocent thirst the mother’s milk of the first mornings of existence. Let them become later what they will become; so much the worse if they don’t become real men, they will at least have been children.

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Edgar Wallace: War

April 20, 2022 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Edgar Wallace: Or wars would be impossible

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Edgar Wallace
War

I.
A tent that is pitched at the base;
A wagon that comes from the night;
A stretcher – and on it a Case;
A surgeon, who’s holding a light,
The Infantry’s bearing the brunt –
O hark to the wind-carried cheer!
A mutter of guns at the front;
A whimper of sobs at the rear.
And it’s War! Orderly, hold the light.
You can lay him down on the table; so.
Easily – gently! Thanks – you may go,’
And it’s War! But the part that is not for show.

II.
A tent, with a table athwart,
A table that’s laid out for one;
A waterproof cover – and nought
But the limp, mangled work of a gun.
A bottle that’s stuck by the pole,
A guttering dip in the neck;
The flickering light of a soul
On the wondering eyes of The Wreck,
And it’s War! ‘Orderly, hold his hand.
I’m not going to hurt you, so don’t be afraid.
A ricochet! God! What a mess it has made!’
And it’s War! And a very unhealthy trade.

III.
The clink of a stopper and glass:
A sigh as the chloroform drips:
A trickle of – what? on the grass,
And bluer and bluer the lips.
The lashes have hidden the stare…
A rent, and the clothes fall away…
A touch, and the wound is laid bare…
A cut, and the face has turned grey…
And it’s War! ‘Orderly, take It out.
It’s hard for his child, and it’s rough on his wife.
There might have been – sooner – a chance for his life
But it’s War! And – Orderly, clean this knife!’

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Edgar Wallace: Or wars would be impossible

April 19, 2022 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Edgar Wallace: War

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Edgar Wallace
From The Angel of Terror

She gave a gesture of despair.

“You’re hopeless,” she said. “These things happened in the dark ages; men and women do not assassinate one another in the twentieth century.”

“Who told you that?” he demanded. “Human nature hasn’t changed for two thousand years. The instinct to kill is as strong as ever, or wars would be impossible. If any man or woman could commit one cold-blooded murder, there is no reason why he or she should not commit a hundred….”

***

“Killing is a matter of expediency. Permissible if you call it war, terrible if you call it murder. To me it is just killing.”

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John Buchan: That night I realized the crazy folly of war

April 5, 2022 2 comments

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

British writers on peace and war

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John Buchan
From Greenmantle

That night I realized the crazy folly of war. When I saw the splintered shell of Ypres and heard hideous tales of German doings, I used to want to see the whole land of the Boche given up to fire and sword. I thought we could never end the war properly without giving the Huns some of their own medicine. But that woodcutter’s cottage cured me of such nightmares. I was for punishing the guilty but letting the innocent go free….What good would it do Christian folk to burn poor little huts like this and leave children’s bodies by the wayside? To be able to laugh and to be merciful are the only things that make man better than the beasts.

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E. Philips Oppenheim: Black tragedy leaned over the land

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

British writers on peace and war

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E. Phillips Oppenheim
From The Great Impersonation

War, alternately the joke and bogey of the conversationalist, stretched her grey hands over the sunlit city. Even the lightest-hearted felt a thrill of apprehension at the thought of the horrors that were to come. In a day or two all this was to be changed. People went about then counting the Russian millions; the steamroller fetish was to be evolved. The most peaceful stockbroker or shopkeeper, who had never even been to a review in his life, could make calculations of man power with a stump of pencil on the back of an old envelope, which would convince the greatest pessimist that Germany and Austria were outnumbered by at least three to one. But on this particular morning, people were too stunned for calculations. The incredible had happened. The long-discussed war – the nightmare of the nervous, the derision of the optimist – had actually materialised. The happy-go-lucky years of peace and plenty had suddenly come to an end. Black tragedy leaned over the land.

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Leo Tolstoy: As if there were any rules for killing people

January 8, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From War and Peace
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

If the aim of the European wars at the beginning of the nineteenth century had been the aggrandizement of Russia, that aim might have been accomplished without all the preceding wars and without the invasion. If the aim was the aggrandizement of France, that might have been attained without the Revolution and without the Empire. If the aim was the dissemination of ideas, the printing press could have accomplished that much better than warfare. If the aim was the progress of civilization, it is easy to see that there are other ways of diffusing civilization more expedient than by the destruction of wealth and of human lives.

***

Napoleon felt this, and from the time he took up the correct fencing attitude in Moscow and instead of his opponent’s rapier saw a cudgel raised above his head, he did not cease to complain to Kutuzov and to the Emperor Alexander that the war was being carried on contrary to all the rules – as if there were any rules for killing people.

***

The troops were moving on, leaving about ten thousand wounded behind them. There were wounded in the yards, at the windows of the houses, and the streets were crowded with them. In the streets, around carts that were to take some of the wounded away, shouts, curses, and blows could be heard.

***

We need only confess that we do not know the purpose of the European convulsions and that we know only the facts – that is, the murders, first in France, then in Italy, in Africa, in Prussia, in Austria, in Spain, and in Russia – and that the movements from the west to the east and from the east to the west form the essence and purpose of these events, and not only shall we have no need to see exceptional ability and genius in Napoleon and Alexander, but we shall be unable to consider them to be anything but like other men….

***

“Yes – love,” he thought again quite clearly. “But not love which loves for something, for some quality, for some purpose, or for some reason, but the love which I – while dying – first experienced when I saw my enemy and yet loved him. I experienced that feeling of love which is the very essence of the soul and does not require an object. Now again I feel that bliss. To love one’s neighbors, to love one’s enemies, to love everything, to love God in all His manifestations. It is possible to love someone dear to you with human love, but an enemy can only be loved by divine love. That is why I experienced such joy when I felt that I loved that man. What has become of him? Is he alive?…”

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Leo Tolstoy: How is it that millions of men commit collective crimes – make war, commit murder, and so on?

January 7, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From War and Peace
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

In 1789 a ferment arises in Paris; it grows, spreads, and is expressed by a movement of peoples from west to east. Several times it moves eastward and collides with a countermovement from the east westward. In 1812 it reaches its extreme limit, Moscow, and then, with remarkable symmetry, a countermovement occurs from east to west, attracting to it, as the first movement had done, the nations of middle Europe. The counter movement reaches the starting point of the first movement in the west – Paris – and subsides.

During that twenty-year period an immense number of fields were left untilled, houses were burned, trade changed its direction, millions of men migrated, were impoverished, or were enriched, and millions of Christian men professing the law of love of their fellows slew one another.

What does all this mean? Why did it happen? What made those people burn houses and slay their fellow men? What were the causes of these events? What force made men act so? These are the instinctive, plain, and most legitimate questions humanity asks itself when it encounters the monuments and tradition of that period.

***

For reasons known or unknown to us the French began to drown and kill one another. And corresponding to the event its justification appears in people’s belief that this was necessary for the welfare of France, for liberty, and for equality. People ceased to kill one another, and this event was accompanied by its justification in the necessity for a centralization of power, resistance to Europe, and so on. Men went from the west to the east killing their fellow men, and the event was accompanied by phrases about the glory of France, the baseness of England, and so on. History shows us that these justifications of the events have no common sense and are all contradictory, as in the case of killing a man as the result of recognizing his rights, and the killing of millions in Russia for the humiliation of England. But these justifications have a very necessary significance in their own day.

These justifications release those who produce the events from moral responsibility. These temporary aims are like the broom fixed in front of a locomotive to clear the snow from the rails in front: they clear men’s moral responsibilities from their path.

Without such justification there would be no reply to the simplest question that presents itself when examining each historical event. How is it that millions of men commit collective crimes – make war, commit murder, and so on?

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Leo Tolstoy: “For what, for whom, must I kill and be killed?”

January 2, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From War and Peace
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

Several tens of thousands of the slain lay in diverse postures and various uniforms on the fields and meadows belonging to the Davydov family and to the crown serfs – those fields and meadows where for hundreds of years the peasants of Borodino, Gorki, Shevardino, and Semenovsk had reaped their harvests and pastured their cattle. At the dressing stations the grass and earth were soaked with blood for a space of some three acres around. Crowds of men of various arms, wounded and unwounded, with frightened faces, dragged themselves back to Mozhaysk from the one army and back to Valuevo from the other. Other crowds, exhausted and hungry, went forward led by their officers. Others held their ground and continued to fire.

Over the whole field, previously so gaily beautiful with the glitter of bayonets and cloudlets of smoke in the morning sun, there now spread a mist of damp and smoke and a strange acid smell of saltpeter and blood. Clouds gathered and drops of rain began to fall on the dead and wounded, on the frightened, exhausted, and hesitating men, as if to say: “Enough, men! Enough! Cease…bethink yourselves! What are you doing?”

To the men of both sides alike, worn out by want of food and rest, it began equally to appear doubtful whether they should continue to slaughter one another; all the faces expressed hesitation, and the question arose in every soul: “For what, for whom, must I kill and be killed?…You may go and kill whom you please, but I don’t want to do so any more!” By evening this thought had ripened in every soul. At any moment these men might have been seized with horror at what they were doing and might have thrown up everything and run away anywhere.

But though toward the end of the battle the men felt all the horror of what they were doing, though they would have been glad to leave off, some incomprehensible, mysterious power continued to control them, and they still brought up the charges, loaded, aimed, and applied the match, though only one artilleryman survived out of every three, and though they stumbled and panted with fatigue, perspiring and stained with blood and powder. The cannon balls flew just as swiftly and cruelly from both sides, crushing human bodies….

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Leo Tolstoy: He who kills most people receives the highest rewards

January 1, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From War and Peace
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

“If there was none of this magnanimity in war, we should go to war only when it was worthwhile going to certain death, as now. Then there would not be war because Paul Ivanovich had offended Michael Ivanovich. And when there was a war, like this one, it would be war! And then the determination of the troops would be quite different. Then all these Westphalians and Hessians whom Napoleon is leading would not follow him into Russia, and we should not go to fight in Austria and Prussia without knowing why. War is not courtesy but the most horrible thing in life; and we ought to understand that and not play at war. We ought to accept this terrible necessity sternly and seriously. It all lies in that: get rid of falsehood and let war be war and not a game. As it is now, war is the favorite pastime of the idle and frivolous. The military calling is the most highly honored.

“But what is war? What is needed for success in warfare? What are the habits of the military? The aim of war is murder; the methods of war are spying, treachery, and their encouragement, the ruin of a country’s inhabitants, robbing them or stealing to provision the army, and fraud and falsehood termed military craft. The habits of the military class are the absence of freedom, that is, discipline, idleness, ignorance, cruelty, debauchery, and drunkenness. And in spite of all this it is the highest class, respected by everyone. All the kings, except the Chinese, wear military uniforms, and he who kills most people receives the highest rewards.

“They meet, as we shall meet tomorrow, to murder one another; they kill and maim tens of thousands, and then have thanksgiving services for having killed so many people (they even exaggerate the number), and they announce a victory, supposing that the more people they have killed the greater their achievement. How does God above look at them and hear them?” exclaimed Prince Andrei in a shrill, piercing voice. “Ah, my friend, it has of late become hard for me to live. I see that I have begun to understand too much. And it doesn’t do for man to taste of the tree of knowledge of good and evil….Ah, well, it’s not for long!” he added.

***

And why do they all speak of a ‘military genius’? Is a man a genius who can order bread to be brought up at the right time and say who is to go to the right and who to the left? It is only because military men are invested with pomp and power and crowds of sycophants flatter power, attributing to it qualities of genius it does not possess. The best generals I have known were, on the contrary, stupid or absent-minded men. Bagration was the best, Napoleon himself admitted that. And of Bonaparte himself! I remember his limited, self-satisfied face on the field of Austerlitz. Not only does a good army commander not need any special qualities, on the contrary he needs the absence of the highest and best human attributes – love, poetry, tenderness, and philosophic inquiring doubt….God forbid that he should be humane, should love, or pity, or think of what is just and unjust. It is understandable that a theory of their ‘genius’ was invented for them long ago because they have power! The success of a military action depends not on them, but on the man in the ranks who shouts, ‘We are lost!’ or who shouts, ‘Hurrah!’ And only in the ranks can one serve with assurance of being useful.”

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Leo Tolstoy: War began, that is, an event took place opposed to human reason and to human nature

December 29, 2021 Leave a comment

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From War and Peace
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

On the twelfth of June, 1812, the forces of Western Europe crossed the Russian frontier and war began, that is, an event took place opposed to human reason and to human nature. Millions of men perpetrated against one another such innumerable crimes, frauds, treacheries, thefts, forgeries, issues of false money, burglaries, incendiarisms, and murders as in whole centuries are not recorded in the annals of all the law courts of the world, but which those who committed them did not at the time regard as being crimes.

What produced this extraordinary occurrence? What were its causes? The historians tell us with naïve assurance that its causes were the wrongs inflicted on the Duke of Oldenburg, the nonobservance of the Continental System, the ambition of Napoleon, the firmness of Alexander, the mistakes of the diplomatists, and so on.

To us it is incomprehensible that millions of Christian men killed and tortured each other either because Napoleon was ambitious or Alexander was firm, or because England’s policy was astute or the Duke of Oldenburg wronged. We cannot grasp what connection such circumstances have with the actual fact of slaughter and violence: why because the Duke was wronged, thousands of men from the other side of Europe killed and ruined the people of Smolensk and Moscow and were killed by them.

To us, their descendants, who are not historians and are not carried away by the process of research and can therefore regard the event with unclouded common sense, an incalculable number of causes present themselves. The deeper we delve in search of these causes the more of them we find; and each separate cause or whole series of causes appears to us equally valid in itself and equally false by its insignificance compared to the magnitude of the events, and by its impotence – apart from the cooperation of all the other coincident causes – to occasion the event. To us, the wish or objection of this or that French corporal to serve a second term appears as much a cause as Napoleon’s refusal to withdraw his troops beyond the Vistula and to restore the duchy of Oldenburg; for had he not wished to serve, and had a second, a third, and a thousandth corporal and private also refused, there would have been so many less men in Napoleon’s army and the war could not have occurred.

Millions of men, renouncing their human feelings and reason, had to go from west to east to slay their fellows, just as some centuries previously hordes of men had come from the east to the west, slaying their fellows.

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Leo Tolstoy: Then why those severed arms and legs and those dead men?

December 27, 2021 1 comment

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From War and Peace
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

On the narrow Augesd Dam where for so many years the old miller had been accustomed to sit in his tasseled cap peacefully angling, while his grandson, with shirt sleeves rolled up, handled the floundering silvery fish in the watering can, on that dam over which for so many years Moravians in shaggy caps and blue jackets had peacefully driven their two-horse carts loaded with wheat and had returned dusty with flour whitening their carts – on that narrow dam amid the wagons and the cannon, under the horses’ hoofs and between the wagon wheels, men disfigured by fear of death now crowded together, crushing one another, dying, stepping over the dying and killing one another, only to move on a few steps and be killed themselves in the same way.

Every ten seconds a cannon ball flew compressing the air around, or a shell burst in the midst of that dense throng, killing some and splashing with blood those near them.

Dolokhov – now an officer – wounded in the arm, and on foot, with the regimental commander on horseback and some ten men of his company, represented all that was left of that whole regiment. Impelled by the crowd, they had got wedged in at the approach to the dam and, jammed in on all sides, had stopped because a horse in front had fallen under a cannon and the crowd were dragging it out. A cannonball killed someone behind them, another fell in front and splashed Dolokhov with blood. The crowd, pushing forward desperately, squeezed together, moved a few steps, and again stopped.

***

Now he remembered Denisov with his changed expression, his submission, and the whole hospital, with arms and legs torn off and its dirt and disease. So vividly did he recall that hospital stench of dead flesh that he looked round to see where the smell came from. Next he thought of that self-satisfied Bonaparte, with his small white hand, who was now an Emperor, liked and respected by Alexander. Then why those severed arms and legs and those dead men?…

***

“We civilians, as you know, have a very bad way of deciding whether a battle was won or lost. Those who retreat after a battle have lost it is what we say; and according to that it is we who lost the battle of Pultusk. In short, we retreat after the battle but send a courier to Petersburg with news of a victory….”

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W. H. Auden: The shield of Achilles

December 24, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

W.H. Auden: A land laid waste, its towns in terror and all its young men slain

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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W. H. Auden
The Shield of Achilles

She looked over his shoulder
For vines and olive trees,
Marble well-governed cities
And ships upon untamed seas,
But there on the shining metal
His hands had put instead
An artificial wilderness
And a sky like lead.

A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.

Out of the air a voice without a face
Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

She looked over his shoulder
For ritual pieties,
White flower-garlanded heifers,
Libation and sacrifice,
But there on the shining metal
Where the altar should have been,
She saw by his flickering forge-light
Quite another scene.

Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
A crowd of ordinary decent folk
Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
As three pale figures were led forth and bound
To three posts driven upright in the ground.

The mass and majesty of this world, all
That carries weight and always weighs the same
Lay in the hands of others; they were small
And could not hope for help and no help came:
What their foes like to do was done, their shame
Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
And died as men before their bodies died.

She looked over his shoulder
For athletes at their games,
Men and women in a dance
Moving their sweet limbs
Quick, quick, to music,
But there on the shining shield
His hands had set no dancing-floor
But a weed-choked field.

A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
Were axioms to him, who’d never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.

The thin-lipped armorer,
Hephaestos, hobbled away,
Thetis of the shining breasts
Cried out in dismay
At what the god had wrought
To please her son, the strong
Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
Who would not live long.

Categories: Uncategorized

Stephen Leacock: War-Time Christmas

December 23, 2021 Leave a comment

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

Stephen Leacock: In the Good Time After the War

Stephen Leacock: Merry Christmas.

Stephen Leacock: The war mania of middle age and embonpoint

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Stephen Leacock
From War-Time Christmas 1941

Think back, as all people even in middle life can do, to what the world was like while world-war was just a dream….To realize this alteration, come back with me in recollection, to church together – to an evening service, on Christmas Eve….Quiet and dim the church seems, the lights low – and from the altar comes the voice, half reading, half intoned, and from the dimness of the body of the church the murmur of the responses….Give peace in our time, O Lord….Peace! why, it was always peace! What did we know then of world war, of world brutality, of the concentration camp and the mass-slaughter of the innocent….

From plague and famine….The voice is intoning the Litany now, the prayer for deliverance…from plague, pestilence and famine, from battle and murder and from sudden death…and the murmured response through the church….Good Lord, deliver us….The words are old, far older than the rubric of the church that uses them, handed down from prayer to prayer, since the days of the Barbarian Conquests of Europe, when they first went up as a cry of distress, a supplication….But can the ear not catch, in this new hour, the full meaning that was here – the cry of anguish that first inspired the prayers…to show thy mercy upon all prisoners and captives….In this too is now an infinity of meaning, of sympathy, of suffering…and as the service draws to its close…while there is time…intones the voice from the half-darkness, while there is time….What? What is that he’s saying – while there is time? Does it mean it may be too late?

***

From War-Time Christmas: Santa Claus

So, first I’ll tell Santa Claus that I don’t want any new presents, only just to have back some of the old ones that are broken – well, yes, perhaps I broke them myself. Give me back, will you, that pretty little framed certificate called Belief in Humanity; you remember – you gave them to ever so many of us as children to hang up beside our beds. Later on I took mine out to look what was on the back of it, and I couldn’t get it back in the frame and lost it.

Here, listen, this is what I want, Santa Claus, and here I’m speaking for of us, all of us, millions and millions. Bring us back the World We Had, and didn’t value at its worth – the Universal Peace, the Good Will Toward Men – all that we had and couldn’t use and broke and threw away.

Give us that. This time we’ll really try.

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Leo Tolstoy: Men attribute the greatest merit to skill in killing one another

December 19, 2021 Leave a comment

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From War and Peace
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

I have had a letter from my brother, who announces his speedy arrival at Bald Hills with his wife. This pleasure will be but a brief one, however, for he will leave us again to take part in this unhappy war into which we have been drawn, God knows how or why. Not only where you are – at the heart of affairs and of the world – is the talk all of war, even here amid fieldwork and the calm of nature – which townsfolk consider characteristic of the country – rumors of war are heard and painfully felt. My father talks of nothing but marches and countermarches, things of which I understand nothing; and the day before yesterday during my daily walk through the village I witnessed a heartrending scene….It was a convoy of conscripts enrolled from our people and starting to join the army. You should have seen the state of the mothers, wives, and children of the men who were going and should have heard the sobs. It seems as though mankind has forgotten the laws of its divine Saviour, Who preached love and forgiveness of injuries – and that men attribute the greatest merit to skill in killing one another.”

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Leo Tolstoy: Dialogues on war

December 16, 2021 2 comments

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From War and Peace
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

“If no one fought except on his own conviction, there would be no wars,” he said.

“And that would be splendid,” said Pierre.

Prince Andrew smiled ironically.

“Very likely it would be splendid, but it will never come about….”

“Well, why are you going to the war?” asked Pierre.

“What for? I don’t know. I must. Besides that I am going….” He paused. “I am going because the life I am leading here does not suit me!”

***

“And I am still arguing with your husband. I can’t understand why he wants to go to the war,” replied Pierre, addressing the princess with none of the embarrassment so commonly shown by young men in their intercourse with young women.

The princess started. Evidently Pierre’s words touched her to the quick.

“Ah, that is just what I tell him!” said she. “I don’t understand it; I don’t in the least understand why men can’t live without wars. How is it that we women don’t want anything of the kind, don’t need it?…”

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F. Marion Crawford: The real issue is between civilization and barbarism, between peace and war

December 15, 2021 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

F. Marion Crawford: When everyone understands war it will stop by universal consent

F. Marion Crawford: The world dreads the very name of war, lest it should become universal once it breaks out

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F. Marion Crawford
From An American Politician

“In our times there is much talk of civilization and culture. Two words define all that is necessary to be known about them. Civilization is peace. The uncivilized state of man is incessant war. Culture is conscience, because conscience means the exercise of honest judgment, and an ignorant people can form no honest judgment of their own which can be exercised.

“In a state of peace, educated and truthful men judge fairly, and act sensibly on their decisions. In other words, the majority is right and free. In times of war and in times of great ignorance majorities have rarely been either free or right.”

***

“The issue turns upon no such absurdities, neither does it rest with any consideration of so-called platforms – free trade, civil service, free navigation, tariff reform, and all the rest of those things. The real issue is between civilization and barbarism, between peace and war.”

***

“Civilization is peace, and to extend civilization is to increase the security of property in the world – of property and life and conscience. The natural and barbarous state of man is that where the human animal satisfies its cravings without any thought of consequences. The cultivated state is that where humanity has ceased to be merely animal, and considers the consequences first and the cravings afterwards. Civilization unites men so that they dwell together in harmony; to separate them into parties that strive to annihilate each other is to undo the work of civilization, to plunge the state into civil war; to hew it in pieces, and split it and tear it to shreds, till the magnificent body of thinking beings, acting as one man for the public good, is reduced to the miserable condition of a handful of hostile tribes, whose very existence depends upon successful robbery and well-timed violence.”

Categories: Uncategorized

Stephen Leacock: Merry Christmas

December 14, 2021 Leave a comment

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

Stephen Leacock: In the Good Time After the War

Stephen Leacock: The war mania of middle age and embonpoint

Stephen Leacock: War-Time Christmas

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Stephen Leacock
Merry Christmas (1917)

“My Dear Young Friend,” said Father Time, as he laid his hand gently upon my shoulder, “you are entirely wrong.”

Then I looked up over my shoulder from the table at which I was sitting and I saw him.

But I had known, or felt, for at least the last half-hour that he was standing somewhere near me.

You have had, I do not doubt, good reader, more than once that strange uncanny feeling that there is someone unseen standing beside you, in a darkened room, let us say, with a dying fire, when the night has grown late, and the October wind sounds low outside, and when, through the thin curtain that we call Reality, the Unseen World starts for a moment clear upon our dreaming sense.

You have had it? Yes, I know you have. Never mind telling me about it. Stop. I don’t want to hear about that strange presentiment you had the night your Aunt Eliza broke her leg. Don’t let’s bother with your experience. I want to tell mine.

“You are quite mistaken, my dear young friend,” repeated Father Time, “quite wrong.”

“Young friend?” I said, my mind, as one’s mind is apt to in such a case, running to an unimportant detail. “Why do you call me young?”

“Your pardon,” he answered gently – he had a gentle way with him, had Father Time. “The fault is in my failing eyes. I took you at first sight for something under a hundred.”

“Under a hundred?” I expostulated. “Well, I should think so!”

“Your pardon again,” said Time, “the fault is in my failing memory. I forgot. You seldom pass that nowadays, do you? Your life is very short of late.”

I heard him breathe a wistful hollow sigh. Very ancient and dim he seemed as he stood beside me. But I did not turn to look upon him. I had no need to. I knew his form, in the inner and clearer sight of things, as well as every human being knows by innate instinct, the Unseen face and form of Father Time.

I could hear him murmuring beside me, “Short – short, your life is short”; till the sound of it seemed to mingle with the measured ticking of a clock somewhere in the silent house.

Then I remembered what he had said.

“How do you know that I am wrong?” I asked. “And how can you tell what I was thinking?”

“You said it out loud,” answered Father Time. “But it wouldn’t have mattered, anyway. You said that Christmas was all played out and done with.”

“Yes,” I admitted, “that’s what I said.”

“And what makes you think that?” he questioned, stooping, so it seemed to me, still further over my shoulder.

“Why,” I answered, “the trouble is this. I’ve been sitting here for hours, sitting till goodness only knows how far into the night, trying to think out something to write for a Christmas story. And it won’t go. It can’t be done – not in these awful days.”

“A Christmas Story?”

“Yes. You see, Father Time,” I explained, glad with a foolish little vanity of my trade to be able to tell him something that I thought enlightening, “all the Christmas stuff – stories and jokes and pictures – is all done, you know, in October.”

I thought it would have surprised him, but I was mistaken.

“Dear me,” he said, “not till October! What a rush! How well I remember in Ancient Egypt – as I think you call it – seeing them getting out their Christmas things, all cut in hieroglyphics, always two or three years ahead.”

“Two or three years!” I exclaimed.

“Pooh,” said Time, “that was nothing. Why in Babylon they used to get their Christmas jokes ready – all baked in clay – a whole Solar eclipse ahead of Christmas. They said, I think, that the public preferred them so.”

“Egypt?” I said. “Babylon? But surely, Father Time, there was no Christmas in those days. I thought -”

“My dear boy,” he interrupted gravely, “don’t you know that there has always been Christmas?”

I was silent. Father Time had moved across the room and stood beside the fireplace, leaning on the mantelpiece. The little wreaths of smoke from the fading fire seemed to mingle with his shadowy outline.

“Well,” he said presently, “what is it that is wrong with Christmas?”

“Why,” I answered, “all the romance, the joy, the beauty of it has gone, crushed and killed by the greed of commerce and the horrors of war. I am not, as you thought I was, a hundred years old, but I can conjure up, as anybody can, a picture of Christmas in the good old days of a hundred years ago: the quaint old-fashioned houses, standing deep among the evergreens, with the light twinkling from the windows on the snow; the warmth and comfort within; the great fire roaring on the hearth; the merry guests grouped about its blaze and the little children with their eyes dancing in the Christmas fire-light, waiting for Father Christmas in his fine mummery of red and white and cotton wool to hand the presents from the yule-tide tree. I can see it,” I added, “as if it were yesterday.”

“It was but yesterday,” said Father Time, and his voice seemed to soften with the memory of bygone years. “I remember it well.”

“Ah,” I continued, “that was Christmas indeed. Give me back such days as those, with the old good cheer, the old stage coaches and the gabled inns and the warm red wine, the snapdragon and the Christmas-tree, and I’ll believe again in Christmas, yes, in Father Christmas himself.”

“Believe in him?” said Time quietly. “You may well do that. He happens to be standing outside in the street at this moment.”

“Outside?” I exclaimed. “Why don’t he come in?”

“He’s afraid to,” said Father Time. “He’s frightened and he daren’t come in unless you ask him. May I call him in?”

I signified assent, and Father Time went to the window for a moment and beckoned into the darkened street. Then I heard footsteps, clumsy and hesitant they seemed, upon the stairs. And in a moment a figure stood framed in the doorway – the figure of Father Christmas. He stood shuffling his feet, a timid, apologetic look upon his face.

How changed he was!

I had known in my mind’s eye, from childhood up, the face and form of Father Christmas as well as that of Old Time himself. Everybody knows, or once knew him – a jolly little rounded man, with a great muffler wound about him, a packet of toys upon his back and with such merry, twinkling eyes and rosy cheeks as are only given by the touch of the driving snow and the rude fun of the North Wind. Why, there was once a time, not yet so long ago, when the very sound of his sleigh-bells sent the blood running warm to the heart.

But now how changed.

All draggled with the mud and rain he stood, as if no house had sheltered him these three years past. His old red jersey was tattered in a dozen places, his muffler frayed and ravelled.

The bundle of toys that he dragged with him in a net seemed wet and worn till the cardboard boxes gaped asunder. There were boxes among them, I vow, that he must have been carrying these three past years.

But most of all I noted the change that had come over the face of Father Christmas. The old brave look of cheery confidence was gone. The smile that had beamed responsive to the laughing eyes of countless children around unnumbered Christmas-trees was there no more. And in the place of it there showed a look of timid apology, of apprehensiveness, as of one who has asked in vain the warmth and shelter of a human home – such a look as the harsh cruelty of this world has stamped upon the faces of its outcasts.

So stood Father Christmas shuffling upon the threshold, fumbling his poor tattered hat in his hand.

“Shall I come in?” he said, his eyes appealingly on Father Time.

“Come,” said Time. He turned to speak to me, “Your room is dark. Turn up the lights. He’s used to light, bright light and plenty of it. The dark has frightened him these three years past.”

I turned up the lights and the bright glare revealed all the more cruelly the tattered figure before us.

Father Christmas advanced a timid step across the floor. Then he paused, as if in sudden fear.

“Is this floor mined?” he said.

“No, no,” said Time soothingly. And to me he added in a murmured whisper, “He’s afraid. He was blown up in a mine in No Man’s Land between the trenches at Christmas-time in 1914. It broke his nerve.”

“May I put my toys on that machine gun?” asked Father Christmas timidly. “It will help to keep them dry.”

“It is not a machine gun,” said Time gently. “See, it is only a pile of books upon the sofa.” And to me he whispered, “They turned a machine gun on him in the streets of Warsaw. He thinks he sees them everywhere since then.”

“It’s all right, Father Christmas,” I said, speaking as cheerily as I could, while I rose and stirred the fire into a blaze. “There are no machine guns here and there are no mines. This is but the house of a poor writer.”

“Ah,” said Father Christmas, lowering his tattered hat still further and attempting something of a humble bow, “a writer? Are you Hans Andersen, perhaps?”

“Not quite,” I answered.

“But a great writer, I do not doubt,” said the old man, with a humble courtesy that he had learned, it well may be, centuries ago in the yule-tide season of his northern home. “The world owes much to its great books. I carry some of the greatest with me always. I have them here—”

He began fumbling among the limp and tattered packages that he carried. “Look! The House that Jack Built – a marvellous, deep thing, sir – and this, The Babes in the Wood. Will you take it, sir? A poor present, but a present still – not so long ago I gave them in thousands every Christmas-time. None seem to want them now.”

He looked appealingly towards Father Time, as the weak may look towards the strong, for help and guidance.

“None want them now,” he repeated, and I could see the tears start in his eyes. “Why is it so? Has the world forgotten its sympathy with the lost children wandering in the wood?”

“All the world,” I heard Time murmur with a sigh, “is wandering in the wood.” But out loud he spoke to Father Christmas in cheery admonition, “Tut, tut, good Christmas,” he said, “you must cheer up. Here, sit in this chair the biggest one; so – beside the fire. Let us stir it to a blaze; more wood, that’s better. And listen, good old Friend, to the wind outside – almost a Christmas wind, is it not? Merry and boisterous enough, for all the evil times it stirs among.”

Old Christmas seated himself beside the fire, his hands outstretched towards the flames. Something of his old-time cheeriness seemed to flicker across his features as he warmed himself at the blaze.

“That’s better,” he murmured. “I was cold, sir, cold, chilled to the bone. Of old I never felt it so; no matter what the wind, the world seemed warm about me. Why is it not so now?”

“You see,” said Time, speaking low in a whisper for my ear alone, “how sunk and broken he is? Will you not help?”

“Gladly,” I answered, “if I can.”

“All can,” said Father Time, “every one of us.”

Meantime Christmas had turned towards me a questioning eye, in which, however, there seemed to revive some little gleam of merriment.

“Have you, perhaps,” he asked half timidly, “schnapps?”

“Schnapps?” I repeated.

“Ay, schnapps. A glass of it to drink your health might warm my heart again, I think.”

“Ah,” I said, “something to drink?”

“His one failing,” whispered Time, “if it is one. Forgive it him. He was used to it for centuries. Give it him if you have it.”

“I keep a little in the house,” I said reluctantly perhaps, “in case of illness.”

“Tut, tut,” said Father Time, as something as near as could be to a smile passed over his shadowy face. “In case of illness! They used to say that in ancient Babylon. Here, let me pour it for him. Drink, Father Christmas, drink!”

Marvellous it was to see the old man smack his lips as he drank his glass of liquor neat after the fashion of old Norway.

Marvellous, too, to see the way in which, with the warmth of the fire and the generous glow of the spirits, his face changed and brightened till the old-time cheerfulness beamed again upon it.

He looked about him, as it were, with a new and growing interest.

“A pleasant room,” he said. “And what better, sir, than the wind without and a brave fire within!”

Then his eye fell upon the mantelpiece, where lay among the litter of books and pipes a little toy horse.

“Ah,” said Father Christmas almost gayly, “children in the house!”

“One,” I answered, “the sweetest boy in all the world.”

“I’ll be bound he is!” said Father Christmas and he broke now into a merry laugh that did one’s heart good to hear. “They all are! Lord bless me! The number that I have seen, and each and every one – and quite right too – the sweetest child in all the world. And how old, do you say? Two and a half all but two months except a week? The very sweetest age of all, I’ll bet you say, eh, what? They all do!”

And the old man broke again into such a jolly chuckling of laughter that his snow-white locks shook upon his head.

“But stop a bit,” he added. “This horse is broken. Tut, tut, a hind leg nearly off. This won’t do!”

He had the toy in his lap in a moment, mending it. It was wonderful to see, for all his age, how deft his fingers were.

“Time,” he said, and it was amusing to note that his voice had assumed almost an authoritative tone, “reach me that piece of string. That’s right. Here, hold your finger across the knot. There! Now, then, a bit of beeswax. What? No beeswax? Tut, tut, how ill-supplied your houses are to-day. How can you mend toys, sir, without beeswax? Still, it will stand up now.”

I tried to murmur by best thanks.

But Father Christmas waved my gratitude aside.

“Nonsense,” he said, “that’s nothing. That’s my life. Perhaps the little boy would like a book too. I have them here in the packet. Here, sir, Jack and the Bean Stalk, most profound thing. I read it to myself often still. How damp it is! Pray, sir, will you let me dry my books before your fire?”

“Only too willingly,” I said. “How wet and torn they are!”

Father Christmas had risen from his chair and was fumbling among his tattered packages, taking from them his children’s books, all limp and draggled from the rain and wind.

“All wet and torn!” he murmured, and his voice sank again into sadness. “I have carried them these three years past. Look! These were for little children in Belgium and in Serbia. Can I get them to them, think you?”

Time gently shook his head.

“But presently, perhaps,” said Father Christmas, “if I dry and mend them. Look, some of them were inscribed already! This one, see you, was written ‘With father’s love.’ Why has it never come to him? Is it rain or tears upon the page?”

He stood bowed over his little books, his hands trembling as he turned the pages. Then he looked up, the old fear upon his face again.

“That sound!” he said. “Listen! It is guns – I hear them.”

“No, no,” I said, “it is nothing. Only a car passing in the street below.”

“Listen,” he said. “Hear that again – voices crying!”

“No, no,” I answered, “not voices, only the night wind among the trees.”

“My children’s voices!” he exclaimed. “I hear them everywhere – they come to me in every wind – and I see them as I wander in the night and storm – my children – torn and dying in the trenches – beaten into the ground -I hear them crying from the hospitals – each one to me, still as I knew him once, a little child. Time, Time,” he cried, reaching out his arms in appeal, “give me back my children!”

“They do not die in vain,” Time murmured gently.

But Christmas only moaned in answer:

“Give me back my children!”

Then he sank down upon his pile of books and toys, his head buried in his arms.

“You see,” said Time, “his heart is breaking, and will you not help him if you can?”

“Only too gladly,” I replied. “But what is there to do?”

“This,” said Father Time, “listen.”

He stood before me grave and solemn, a shadowy figure but half seen though he was close beside me. The fire-light had died down, and through the curtained windows there came already the first dim brightening of dawn.

“The world that once you knew,” said Father Time, “seems broken and destroyed about you. You must not let them know – the children. The cruelty and the horror and the hate that racks the world to-day -keep it from them. Some day he will know” – here Time pointed to the prostrate form of Father Christmas – “that his children, that once were, have not died in vain: that from their sacrifice shall come a nobler, better world for all to live in, a world where countless happy children shall hold bright their memory for ever. But for the children of To-day, save and spare them all you can from the evil hate and horror of the war. Later they will know and understand. Not yet. Give them back their Merry Christmas and its kind thoughts, and its Christmas charity, till later on there shall be with it again Peace upon Earth Good Will towards Men.”

His voice ceased. It seemed to vanish, as it were, in the sighing of the wind.

I looked up. Father Time and Christmas had vanished from the room. The fire was low and the day was breaking visibly outside.

“Let us begin,” I murmured. “I will mend this broken horse.”

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F. Marion Crawford: When everyone understands war it will stop by universal consent

December 13, 2021 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

F. Marion Crawford: The real issue is between civilization and barbarism, between peace and war

F. Marion Crawford: The world dreads the very name of war, lest it should become universal once it breaks out

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F. Marion Crawford
From An American Politician

“I don’t understand politics,” said the old lady….

“Nobody understands politics,” said Vancouver. “When people do, there will be an end of them. Politics consist in one half of the world trying to drive paradoxes down the throats of the other half.”

Joe laughed a little.

“I do not know anything about politics here,” she said, “though I do at home, of course. I must say, though, Mr. Harrington did not seem so very paradoxical.”

“Oh no,” answered Vancouver, blandly, “I did not mean in this case. Harrington is very much in earnest. But it is like war, you see. When every one understands it thoroughly, it will stop by universal consent. Did you ever read Bulwer’s ’Coming Race’?”

“Yes,” said Joe. “I always read those books. Vril, and that sort of thing, you mean? Oh yes.”

“Approximately,” answered Vancouver. “It was an allegory, you know. A hundred years hence people will write a book to explain what Bulwer meant. Vril stands for the cumulative power of potential science, of course.”

“I think Bulwer’s word shorter, and a good deal easier to understand,” said Joe, laughing.

“It is a great thing to be great,” remarked Miss Schenectady. “Sarah, I think you might bring us some tea, please, and ask John if he couldn’t stir the furnace a little. And then to have people explain you. Goethe must be a good deal amused, I expect, when people write books to prove that Byron was Euphorion.” Miss Schenectady was fond of German literature, and the extent of her reading was a constant surprise to her niece.

“What a lot of things you know, Aunt Zoë!” said Joe. “But what had Bulwer to do with war, Mr. Vancouver?”

“Oh, in the book – the ‘Coming Race,’ you know – they abolished war because they could kill each other so easily.”

“How nice that would be!” exclaimed Joe, looking at him.

“Why, you perfectly shock me, Joe,” cried Miss Schenectady.

“I mean, to have no war,” returned Joe, sweetly.

“Oh; I belonged to the Peace Conference myself,” said her aunt, immediately pacified.

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Lucy Aikin: Freedom and Peace with radiant smile now carol o’er the dungeon vile

December 12, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

Lucy Aikin: Gentle Peace with healing hand returns

Lucy Aikin: Sickening I turn on yonder plain to mourn the widows and the slain

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Lucy Aikin
From Ode to Ludlow Castle

But see! beneath yon shattered roof
What mouldy cavern, sun-beam proof,
With mouth of horror yawns?
O sight of grief! O ruthless doom!
On that deep dungeon’s solid gloom
Nor hope nor daylight dawns.

Yet there, at midnight’s sleepless hour,
While boisterous revels shook the tower,
Bedewed with damps forlorn,
The warrior-captive pressed the stones,
And lonely breathed unheeded moans,
Despairing of the morn.

That too is past: unsparing Time,
Stern miner of the tower sublime,
Its night of ages broke;
Freedom and Peace with radiant smile
Now carol o’er the dungeon vile
That cumbrous ruins choke.

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Louise Imogen Guiney: The voice of Peace

December 11, 2021 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

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Louise Imogen Guiney
From The Two Voices

A grateful spirit would fain bestow on the glorious voice an ardent welcome, and on the gentle voice a lingering caress. Both I loved, and unto both my soul hearkened; for they were the voices of angels, and one was Joy, and one was Peace.

Then, as in a vision, I beheld a fair prospect before me, and in the centre of its green beauty arose two hills, from whose separate summits the voices ruled perennially, showering blessings, healing sorrow, banishing care, cheering and solacing the earth. Now the weak needed not to rely on the strong; and pity and protection were scarcely asked or given; for music, “the most divine striker of the senses,” – music alone was the arbitress of the world. And all day, past twilight into the deep gloom, were the voices singing, not incapable of being wearied, but revivified forever by the smiles and tears of pilgrims who departed from the hill-top with hearts made whole.

I watched, time on time, soldiers marching to the wars, sustained by the glad voice, and hastening forwards with its spell upon them like a consecration; and again, the weary troops returning, with tattered colors and broken ranks, pausing in the lovely courts of the grave voice, to chant with it a song of memory and reparation and thanksgiving….

It may be that even in my day-dream I might have called my beloved singers by their earthly names; and that so I might this hour, were it not for a clinging scruple. For I have been made wiser, and know verily that both are angels, and that one is Joy, and one is Peace.

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Nathaniel Hawthorne: Selections on war

December 10, 2021 Leave a comment
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Henri Fauconnier: A chance encounter on the evening of a day of slaughter

December 9, 2021 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

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Henri Fauconnier
From Malaisie
Translated by Eric Sutton

“Listen. When I went off to the war I merely thought of killing Germans. But, later on, when I heard the rattle of our machine guns I thought that a Goethe or Schumann might be in the trenches opposite.”

***

Those fugitive war-time contacts that suddenly revealed the abysses of a man’s soul, are an estranging influence afterwards, from fear of the mechanical intercourse of everyday. Him I still pictured in the light of the flares that seared the treacherous night around us. We were alone in a shell-hole; a chance encounter on the evening of a day of slaughter. Our machine-gun post was stationed near one of those calvaries that stand just outside every Picardy village. There the struggle is hottest; much blood flows at the foot of a crucifix. At that moment a vast silence had fallen, and the stranger realised that I was overwhelmed by that awful silence. He spoke to me and asked me questions. He knew what I was going through. He probed my flayed soul with gentle fingers that seem to pour out a corrosive drug. He seemed pleased to observe that I was as empty as that plain was ravaged. I had lost faith, love, and even self-respect; I had gone beyond contempt, which still offers some support, I knew no longer why I suffered since I was indifferent to life and to death….

I fell silent again because I distrusted my voice, and it is ridiculous to talk heroics in a voice that trembles. I wondered if I were not like those old women who do not weep when they think of their misfortunes but only when they talk about them….

***

“Did you ever find yourself,” he went on calmly, “in open country, standing before a line of sputtering machine gun fire. The whole earth quakes; you are helpless in the meshes of that network of steel. Then you suddenly have the sense of disembodiment, an exhilarating impression. That is what is called heroism. It is no more than that.”

“Do you mean to say you enjoy war?”

“No, I hate it. You’ve missed the point. You might as well say I was anxious to die.”

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Nathaniel Hawthorne: Did iron-hearted War itself ever do so hard and cruel a thing as this before?

December 8, 2021 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Selections on war

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Nathaniel Hawthorne
From Grandfather’s Chair

Among all the events of the old French War, Grandfather thought that there was none more interesting than the removal of the inhabitants of Acadia. From the first settlement of this ancient province of the French, in 1604, until the present time, its people could scarcely ever know what kingdom held dominion over them. They were a peaceful race, taking no delight in warfare, and caring nothing for military renown. And yet, in every war, their region was infested with iron-hearted soldiers, both French and English, who fought one another for the privilege of ill-treating these poor, harmless Acadians. Sometimes the treaty of peace made them subjects of one king, sometimes of another.

The Acadians were about seven thousand in number. A considerable part of them were made prisoners, and transported to the English colonies. All their dwellings and churches were burned, their cattle were killed, and the whole country was laid waste, so that none of them might find shelter or food in their old homes after the departure of the English.

“If such an incident did happen, Shirley, reflecting what a ruin of peaceful and humble hopes had been wrought by the cold policy of the statesman and the iron band of the warrior, might have drawn a deep moral from it. It should have taught him that the poor man’s hearth is sacred, and that armies and nations have no right to violate it. It should have made him feel that England’s triumph and increased dominion could not compensate to mankind nor atone to Heaven for the ashes of a single Acadian cottage. But it is not thus that statesmen and warriors moralize.”

“Grandfather,” cried Laurence, with emotion trembling in his voice, “did iron-hearted War itself ever do so hard and cruel a thing as this before?”

“You have read in history, Laurence, of whole regions wantonly laid waste,” said Grandfather….

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Elizabeth Inchbald: War, a choice of words

December 7, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

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Elizabeth Inchbald
From Nature and Art

In addition to his ignorant conversation upon many topics, young Henry had an incorrigible misconception and misapplication of many words. His father having had but few opportunities of discoursing with him, upon account of his attendance at the court of the savages, and not having books in the island, he had consequently many words to learn of this country’s language when he arrived in England. This task his retentive memory made easy to him; but his childish inattention to their proper signification still made his want of education conspicuous.

He would call compliments, lies; reserve, he would call pride; stateliness, affectation; and for the words war and battle, he constantly substituted the word massacre.

“Sir,” said William to his father one morning, as he entered the room, “do you hear how the cannons are firing, and the bells ringing?”

“Then I dare say,” cried Henry, “there has been another massacre.”

The dean called to him in anger, “Will you never learn the right use of words? You mean to say a battle.”

“Then what is a massacre?” cried the frightened, but still curious Henry.

“A massacre,” replied his uncle, “is when a number of people are slain -”

“I thought,” returned Henry, “soldiers had been people!”

“You interrupted me,” said the dean, “before I finished my sentence. Certainly, both soldiers and sailors are people, but they engage to die by their own free will and consent.”

“What! all of them?”

“Most of them.”

“But the rest are massacred?”

The dean answered, “The number who go to battle unwillingly, and by force, are few; and for the others, they have previously sold their lives to the state.”

“For what?”

“For soldiers’ and sailors’ pay.”

“My father used to tell me, we must not take away our own lives; but he forgot to tell me we might sell them for others to take away.”

“William,” said the dean to his son, his patience tired with his nephew’s persevering nonsense, “explain to your cousin the difference between a battle and a massacre.”

“A massacre,” said William, rising from his seat, and fixing his eyes alternately upon his father, his mother, and the bishop (all of whom were present) for their approbation, rather than the person’s to whom his instructions were to be addressed – “a massacre,” said William, “is when human beings are slain, who have it not in their power to defend themselves.”

“Dear cousin William,” said Henry, “that must ever be the case with every one who is killed.”

After a short hesitation, William replied: “In massacres people are put to death for no crime, but merely because they are objects of suspicion.”

“But in battle,” said Henry, “the persons put to death are not even suspected.”

The bishop now condescended to end this disputation by saying emphatically,

“Consider, young savage, that in battle neither the infant, the aged, the sick, nor infirm are involved, but only those in the full prime of health and vigour.”

As this argument came from so great and reverend a man as the bishop, Henry was obliged, by a frown from his uncle, to submit, as one refuted; although he had an answer at the veriest tip of his tongue, which it was torture to him not to utter. What he wished to say must ever remain a secret….

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Nathaniel Hawthorne: Every warlike achievement involves an amount of physical and moral evil

December 6, 2021 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Selections on war

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Nathaniel Hawthorne
From Grandfather’s Chair

Since Grandfather began the history of our chair, little Alice had listened to many tales of war. But probably the idea had never really impressed itself upon her mind that men have shed the blood of their fellow-creatures. And now that this idea was forcibly presented to her, it affected the sweet child with bewilderment and horror.

***

“The English Parliament,” replied Grandfather, “agreed to pay the colonists for all the expenses of the siege. Accordingly, in 1749, two hundred and fifteen chests of Spanish dollars and one hundred casks of copper coin were brought from England to Boston. The whole amount was about a million of dollars. Twenty-seven carts and trucks carried this money from the wharf to the provincial treasury. Was not this a pretty liberal reward?”

“The mothers of the young men who were killed at the siege of Louisburg would not have thought it so,” said Laurence.

“No; Laurence,” rejoined Grandfather; “and every warlike achievement involves an amount of physical and moral evil, for which all the gold in the Spanish mines would not be the slightest recompense….”

***

“Oh Grandfather,” cried Charley, “you must tell us about that famous battle.”

“No, Charley,” said Grandfather, “I am not like other historians. Battles shall not hold a prominent place in the history of our quiet and comfortable old chair….”

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Horace Walpole: I wish there were an excuse for not growing military mad

December 5, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Horace Walpole: Selections on war and peace

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Horace Walpole
From his correspondence

We are going to send many more troops thither; and it is so much the fashion to raise regiments, that I wish there were such a neutral kind of beings in England as abbès, that one might have an excuse for not growing military mad, when one has turned the heroic corner of one’s age. I am ashamed of being a young rake, when my seniors are covering their gray toupees with helmets and feathers, and accoutering their pot-bellies with cuirasses and martial masquerade habits.

I am much obliged for the notice of Sir Compton’s illness; if you could send me word of peace too, I should be completely satisfied on Mr. Conway’s account.

Till the campaign is ended, I shall be in no humour to smile. For the war, when it will be over, I have no idea. The peace is a jack o’ lanthorn that dances before one’s eyes….

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Nathaniel Hawthorne: How glorious it would have been if our forefathers could have kept the country unspotted with blood!

December 4, 2021 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Selections on war

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Nathaniel Hawthorne
From Grandfather’s Chair

What with recruiting and drilling of soldiers, there was now nothing but warlike bustle in the streets of Boston. The drum and fife, the rattle of arms, and the shouts of boys were heard from morning till night….

“The people of New England were probably glad of some repose; for their young men had been made soldiers, till many of them were fit for nothing else. And those who remained at home had been heavily taxed to pay for the arms, ammunition; fortifications, and all the other endless expenses of a war. There was great need of the prayers of Cotton Mather and of all pious men, not only on account of the sufferings of the people, but because the old moral and religious character of New England was in danger of being utterly lost.”

“How glorious it would have been,” remarked Laurence, “if our forefathers could have kept the country unspotted with blood!”

“Yes,” said Grandfather; “but there was a stern, warlike spirit in them from the beginning. They seem never to have thought of questioning either the morality or piety of war.”

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C. S. Lewis: The folly and danger of noble and humanitarian war

November 25, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

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C. S. Lewis
From The Four Loves

Rulers must somehow nerve their subjects to defend them or at least to prepare for their defence. Where the sentiment of patriotism has been destroyed this can be done only by presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light. If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for “their country” they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilisation, or humanity. This is a step down, not up. Patriotic sentiment did not of course need to disregard ethics. Good men needed to be convinced that their country’s cause was just; but it was still their country’s cause, not the cause of justice as such. The difference seems to me important. I may without self-righteousness or hypocrisy think it just to defend my house by force against a burglar; but if I start pretending that I blacked his eye purely on moral grounds – wholly indifferent to the fact that the house in question was mine – I become insufferable….If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world.

***

If ever the book which I am not going to write is written it must be the full confession by Christendom of Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery. Large areas of “the World” will not hear us till we have publicly disowned much of our past. Why should they? We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the service of Moloch.

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Horace Walpole: We peaceable folks are now to govern the world

November 22, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Horace Walpole: Selections on war and peace

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Horace Walpole
From his correspondence (1761)

You may frown if you please at my imprudence, you who are gone with all the disposition in the world to be well with your commander; the peace is in a manner made, and the anger of generals will not be worth sixpence these ten years. We peaceable folks are now to govern the world, and you warriors must in your turn tremble at our Subjects the mob, as we have done before your hussars and court-martials.

Good night! mine is a life of letter-writing; I pray for a peace that I may sheath my Pen.

In spite of you, and all the old barons our ancestors, I pray that we may have done with glory, and would willingly burn every Roman and Greek historian who have don nothing but transmit precedents for cutting throats.

I am writing, I am building – both works that will outlast the memory of battles and heroes!

If it produces a peace, I shall be happy for mankind – if not, shall content myself with the single but pure joy of Mr. Conway’s being safe.

You have heard our politics; they do not mend, sick of glory, without being tired of war, and surfeited with unanimity before it had finished its work, we are running into all kinds of confusion. The city have bethought themselves, and have voted that they will still admire Mr. Pitt; consequently, be, without the cheek of seeming virtue, may do what he pleases. An address of thanks to him has been carried by one hundred and nine against fifteen, and the city are to instruct their members; that is, because we are disappointed of a Spanish war, we must have one at home.

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John Erskine: Dedication

November 20, 2021 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

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John Erskine
Dedication

When imperturbable the gentle moon
Glides above war and onslaught through the night,
When the sun burns magnificent at noon
On hate contriving horror by its light,
When man, for whom the stars were and the skies,
Turns beast to rend his fellow, fang and hoof
Shall we not think, with what ironic eyes
Nature must look on us and stand aloof?
But not alone the sun, the moon, the stars,
Shining unharmed above man’s folly move;
For us three beacons kindle one another
Which waver not with any wind of wars:
We love our children still, still them we love
Who gave us birth, and still we love each other.

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William Morris: The role of soldiers and how they will disappear

November 18, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

William Morris: No man knew the sight of blood

William Morris: Protecting the strong from the weak, selling each other weapons to kill their own countrymen

William Morris: War abroad but no peace at home

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William Morris
From lectures on art

The magistrate, the judge, the policeman, and the soldier are the sword and pistol of this modern highwayman, and I may add that he is also furnished with what he can use of the name of morals and religion.

…a mere nation is the historical deduction from the ancient tribal family in which there was peace between the individuals composing it and war with the rest of the world. A nation is a body of people kept together for purposes of rivalry and war with other similar bodies, and when competition shall have given place to combination, the function of the nation will be gone.

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C. P. Snow: Their day is done

November 14, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

C.P. Snow: Selections on war

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C. P. Snow
From The Light and The Dark

The news glared at him – for his melancholy was the melancholy of his nature, but it had drawn him into the horror of war.

Most of the college was uncomfortable and strained about the prospect of war: only one or two of the very old escaped….

***

They found themselves in a strong and sudden sympathy about the prospect of war. They could see no way out, and they were full of a revulsion almost physical in its violence….

“It will be frightful,” said Roy. Throughout he had spoken moderately and sensibly; he had said no more than many men were saying: he had remarked quietly that he did not know his own courage – it might be adequate, he could not tell.

“It will be frightful,” Lord Boscastle echoed the phrase. And I saw his eyes leave Roy and turn with clouded, passionate anxiety upon his son. Humphrey Bevill was good-looking in his frail, girlish way; his skin was pink, smooth and clear; he has his father’s beakish nose, which somehow did not distract from his delicacy. His eyes were bright blue, like his mother’s….

Lord Boscastle stared at his son with anxiety and longing; for Lord Boscastle could not restrain his strong instinctive devotion, and for him war meant nothing less than danger to his beloved son.

***

“No, Lewis, I’m afraid that Humphrey will always be innocent. He’s like his father. They’re quite unfit to cope with what will happen to them.”

“What will happen to them?”

“You know as well as I do. Their day is done. It will finish this time – if it didn’t in 1914, which I’m sometimes inclined to think….”

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