Marguerite Steen: The sheer destructiveness of war made him angry

September 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

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Marguerite Steen
From The Sun Is My Undoing

His qualities of leadership would have made a fine officer, whose men would have followed him to the devil. An army career, however, was the last towards which Matthew aspired; apart from the fact that regimental society bored him, the sheer destructiveness and obstructivism of war made him angry and impatient. War meant the suspension of all financial activities apart from those immediately connected with war itself….

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Hugh Walpole: War killed Henry James

September 4, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Hugh Walpole: Selections on war

Henry James: War, the waste of life and time and money

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Hugh Walpole
From The Crystal Box

And yet, with all that absorption, there was perhaps no human being in the whole of Europe during the first years of the war who felt so poignantly, so directly, so personally the agony of it all as James. It would be true enough to say that the war killed him.

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For the first time a great curiosity sprang up in me and I watched grown ups with eager interest. I had absolute faith in their wisdom and knowledge but now they were not only wise and learned but mysterious – another order of beings. And that sense of the marvelous superior mystery continued long after I was grown up, continued in fact until the war and the persons who “managed” the war killed it once and forever.

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We are told that just now we must not talk or write about the war – there is a kind of conspiracy of “Hush,” and in some curious way it does seem that the after war troubles of these recent years have kept us in the war with a kind of against-our-will disgust.

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Ambrose Bierce: Demonic war

August 17, 2021 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Ambrose Bierce: Selections on war

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Ambrose Bierce
From The Devil’s Dictionary

ABATIS, n. Rubbish in front of a fort, to prevent the rubbish outside from molesting the rubbish inside.

ADMIRAL, n. That part of a war-ship which does the talking while the figure-head does the thinking.

BARRACK, n. A house in which soldiers enjoy a portion of that of which it is their business to deprive others.

BATTLE, n. A method of untying with the teeth of a political knot that would not yield to the tongue.

FLAG, n. A colored rag borne above troops and hoisted on forts and ships. It appears to serve the same purpose as certain signs that one sees on vacant lots in London – “Rubbish may be shot here.”

FREEBOOTER, n. A conqueror in a small way of business, whose annexations lack of the sanctifying merit of magnitude.

HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.

MALTHUSIAN, adj. Pertaining to Malthus and his doctrines. Malthus believed in artificially limiting population, but found that it could not be done by talking. One of the most practical exponents of the Malthusian idea was Herod of Judea, though all the famous soldiers have been of the same way of thinking.

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Thomas Hobbes: There was never such a time of war all over the world

August 5, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Thomas Hobbes: Divine law is the fulfilling of peace

Thomas Hobbes: There was never such a time of war all over the world

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Thomas Hobbes
From Leviathan

[Motivations to war]

Competition of Riches, Honour, command, or other power, enclineth to Contention, Enmity, and War: because the way of one Competitor, to the attaining of his desire, is to kill, subdue, supplant, or repell the other.

On the contrary, needy men, and hardy, not contented with their present condition; as also, all men that are ambitious of Military command, are enclined to continue the causes of warre; and to stirre up trouble and sedition: for there is no honour Military but by warre; nor any such hope to mend an ill game, as by causing a new shuffle.

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It may peradventure be thought, there was never such a time, nor condition of warre as this; and I believe it was never generally so, over all the world….

But though there had never been any time, wherein particular men were in a condition of warre one against another; yet in all times, Kings, and persons of Soveraigne authority, because of their Independency, are in continuall jealousies, and in the state and posture of Gladiators; having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is, their Forts, Garrisons, and Guns upon the Frontiers of their Kingdomes; and continuall Spyes upon their neighbours; which is a posture of War….

The Passions that encline men to Peace, are Feare of Death; Desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a Hope by their Industry to obtain them. And Reason suggesteth convenient Articles of Peace, upon which men may be drawn to agreement. These Articles, are they, which otherwise are called the Lawes of Nature….

The Lawes of Nature are Immutable and Eternal. For Injustice, Ingratitude, Arrogance, Pride, Iniquity, Acception of persons, and the rest, can never be made lawfull. For it can never be that Warre shall preserve life, and Peace destroy it.

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Nay, the same man, in divers times, differs from himselfe; and one time praiseth, that is, calleth Good, what another time he dispraiseth, and calleth Evil: From whence arise Disputes, Controversies, and at last War. And therefore so long as man is in the condition of meer Nature, (which is a condition of War,) as private Appetite is the measure of Good, and Evill: and consequently all men agree on this, that Peace is Good, and therefore also the way, ot means of Peace, which (as I have shewed before) are Justice, Gratitude, Modestty, Equity, Mercy & the rest of the laws of Nature are good’ that is to say, Morall Virtues….

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Thomas Hobbes: War, where every man is enemy to every man

August 4, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Thomas Hobbes: Divine law is the fulfilling of peace

Thomas Hobbes: There was never such a time of war all over the world

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Thomas Hobbes
From Leviathan

I put for a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetuall and restlesse desire of Power after power, that ceaseth onely in Death….And from hence it is, that Kings, whose power is greatest, turn their endeavours to the assuring it a home by Lawes, or abroad by Wars: and when that is done, there succeedeth a new desire; in some, of Fame from new Conquest….

For WARRE, consisteth not in Battell onely, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the Will to contend by Battell is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of Time, is to be considered in the nature of Warre; as it is in the nature of Weather. For as the nature of Foule weather, lyeth not in a showre or two of rain; but in an inclination thereto of many dayes together: So the nature of War, consisteth not in actuall fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is PEACE.

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Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.

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Erasmus: War is a betrayal of Christianity

August 2, 2021 Leave a comment

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

Erasmus: Selections on war

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Desiderius Erasmus
From In Praise of Folly
Unknown translator

Mars in battle gives complete victory but to one party; nay, he often makes them both losers.

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Farther, when the Christian church has been all along first planted, then confirmed, and since established by the blood of her martyrs, as if Christ her head would be wanting in the same methods still of protecting her, they invert the order, and propagate their religion now by arms and violence, which was wont formerly to be done only with patience and sufferings. And though war be so brutish, as that it becomes beasts rather than men; so extravagant, that the poets feigned it an effect of the furies; so licentious, that it stops the course of all justice and honesty, so desperate, that it is best waged by ruffians and banditti, and so unchristian, that it is contrary to the express commands of the gospel; yet maugre all this, peace is too quiet, too inactive, and they must be engaged in the boisterousness of war….And yet some of their learned fawning courtiers will interpret this notorious madness for zeal, and piety, and fortitude, having found out the way how a man may draw his sword, and sheathe it in his brother’s bowels, and yet not offend against the duty of the second table, whereby we are obliged to love our neighbours as ourselves.

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Erasmus: What is more foolish than war?

August 1, 2021 Leave a comment

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

Erasmus: Selections on war

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Desiderius Erasmus
From In Praise of Folly
Unknown translator

(Folly speaks)

To enlarge farther, I may well presume to aver, that there are no considerable exploits performed, no useful arts invented, but what I am the respective author and manager of: as first, what is more lofty and heroical than war? and yet, what is more foolish than for some petty, trivial affront, to take such a revenge as both sides shall be sure to be losers, and where the quarrel must be decided at the price of so many limbs and lives? And when they come to an engagement, what service can be done by such pale-faced students, as by drudging at the oars of wisdom, have spent all their strength and activity? No, the only use is of blunt sturdy fellows that have little of wit, and so the more of resolution: except you would make a soldier of such another Demosthenes as threw down his arms when he came within sight of the enemy, and lost that credit in the camp which he gained in the pulpit.

But counsel, deliberation, and advice (say you), are very necessary for the management of war: very true, but not such counsel as shall be prescribed by the strict rules of wisdom and justice; for a battle shall be more successfully fought by serving-men, porters, bailiffs, padders, rogues, gaol-birds, and such like tag-rags of mankind, than by the most accomplished philosophers….

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Thus if we enquire into the state of all dumb creatures, we shall find those fare best that are left to nature’s conduct: as to instance in bees, what is more to be admired than the industry and contrivance of these little animals?

While the horse, by turning a rebel to nature, and becoming a slave to man, undergoes the worst of tyranny: he is sometimes spurred on to battle so long till he draw his guts after him for trapping, and at last falls down, and bites the ground instead of grass….

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And indeed there is a two-fold sort of madness; the one that which the furies bring from hell; those that are herewith possessed are hurried on to wars and contentions, by an inexhaustible thirst of power and riches, inflamed to some infamous and unlawful lust, enraged to act the parricide, seduced to become guilty of incest, sacrilege, or some other of those crimson-dyed crimes….

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Baruch Spinoza: Selections on war and peace

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Baruch Spinoza: Fleeing peace for the despotic discipline of war

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

Baruch Spinoza: Selections on war and peace

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Benedictus (Baruch) Spinoza
From The Ethics
Translated by R. H. M. Elwes

In so far as men are influenced by envy or any kind of hatred, one towards another, they are at variance, and are therefore to be feared in proportion, as they are more powerful than their fellows.

Thus many from too great impatience of spirit, or from misguided religious zeal, have preferred to live among brutes rather than among men; as boys or youths, who cannot peaceably endure the chidings of their parents, will enlist as soldiers and choose the hardships of war and the despotic discipline in preference to the comforts of home and the admonitions of their father: suffering any burden to be put upon them, so long as they may spite their parents.


To cruelty is opposed clemency, which is not a passive state of the mind, but a power whereby man restrains his anger and revenge.


No deity, nor anyone else, save the envious, takes pleasure in my infirmity and discomfort, nor sets down to my virtue the tears, sobs, fear, and the like, which are signs of infirmity of spirit….


He who chooses to avenge wrongs with hatred is assuredly wretched. But he, who strives to conquer hatred with love, fights his battle in joy and confidence; he withstands many as easily as one, and has very little need of fortune’s aid. Those whom he vanquishes yield joyfully, not through failure, but through increase in their powers; all these consequences follow so plainly from the mere definitions of love and understanding, that I have no need to prove them in detail.


Everyone wishes to catch popular applause for himself, and readily represses the fame of others. The object of the strife being estimated as the greatest of all goods, each combatant is seized with a fierce desire to put down his rivals in every possible way, till he who at last comes out victorious is more proud of having done harm to others than of having done good to himself. This sort of honour, then, is really empty, being nothing.


… he that is strong hates no man, is angry with no man, envies no man, is indignant with no man, despises no man, and least of all things is proud.

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La Rochefoucauld: The petty causes of great wars

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

French writers on war and peace

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Francois de La Rochefoucauld
From Reflections or Sentences and Moral Maxims
Translated by J. W. Willis Bund

Great and striking actions which dazzle the eyes are represented by politicians as the effect of great designs, instead of which they are commonly caused by the temper and the passions. Thus the war between Augustus and Anthony, which is set down to the ambition they entertained of making themselves masters of the world, was probably but an effect of jealousy.

Valour in common soldiers is a perilous method of earning their living.

Most men expose themselves in battle enough to save their honor, few wish to do so more than sufficiently, or than is necessary to make the design for which they expose themselves succeed.

Love of glory, fear of shame, greed of fortune, the desire to make life agreeable and comfortable, and the wish to depreciate others are often causes of that bravery so vaunted among men.

There are crimes which become innocent and even glorious by their brilliancy, their number, or their excess; thus it happens that public robbery is called financial skill, and the unjust capture of provinces is called a conquest.

Reconciliation with our enemies is but a desire to better our condition, a weariness of war, the fear of some unlucky accident.

Philosophy triumphs easily over past evils and future evils; but present evils triumph over it.

If there is a pure love, exempt from the mixture of our other passions, it is that which is concealed at the bottom of the heart and of which even ourselves are ignorant.

To praise good actions heartily is in some measure to take part in them.

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Baltasar Gracián: Who are the true conquerors?

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

Baltasar Gracián
From The Art of Worldly Wisdom
Translated by Joseph Jacobs

Many have claimed the title “Great,” like Caesar and Alexander, but in vain, for without great deeds the title is a mere breath of air. There have been few Senecas, and fame records but one Apelles.

There are persons who make a war out of everything, real banditti of intercourse. All that they undertake must end in victory; they do not know how to get on in peace. Such men are fatal when they rule and govern, for they make government rebellion, and enemies out of those whom they ought to regard as children. They try to effect everything with strategy and treat it as the fruit of their skill. But when others have recognised their perverse humour all revolt against them and learn to overturn their chimerical plans, and they succeed in nothing but only heap up a mass of troubles, since everything serves to increase their disappointment. They have a head turned and a heart spoilt. Nothing can be done with such monsters except to flee from them, even to the Antipodes, where the savagery is easier to bear than their loathsome nature.

Man is born a barbarian, and only raises himself above the beast by culture….Thanks to it, Greece could call the rest of the world barbarians.

The most and best of us depend on others; we have to live either among friends or among enemies.

You may be obliged to wage war, but not to use poisoned arrows. A mean victory brings no glory, but rather disgrace.

To follow the times is to lead them.

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Horace Walpole: Selections on war and peace

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Horace Walpole: Oh! where is the dove with the olive-branch!

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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 (1780)

All chance of accommodation with Holland is vanished….All they who are to gain by privateers and captures are delighted with a new field of plunder. Piracy is more practicable than victory. Not being an admirer of war, I shall reserve my feux de joie for peace.

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We do not yet know the extent of our loss. You would think it very slight, if you saw how little impression it makes on a luxurious capital. An overgrown metropolis has less sensibility than marble; nor can it be conceived by those not conversant in one. I remember hearing what diverted me then; a young gentlewoman, a native of our rock, St. Helena, and who had never stirred beyond it, being struck with the emotion occasioned there by the arrival or one or two of our China ships, said to the captain, “There must be a great solitude in London as often as the China ships come away!” Her imagination could not have compassed the idea, if she had been told that six years of war, of the absence of an army of fifty or sixty thousand men of all our squadrons and a new debt of many, many millions, would not make an alteration in the receipts at the door of a single theatre in London. I do not boast of, or applaud, this profligate apathy. When pleasure is our business, our business is never pleasure; and, if four wars cannot awaken us, we shall die in a dream!

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Well! there ends another volume of the American war. It looks a little as if the history of it would be all we should have for it, except for forty millions of debt, and three other wars that have grown out of it, and that do not seem so near to a conclusion.

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Oh! where is the dove with the olive-branch! Long ago I told you that you and I might not live to see the end of the American war. It is very near its end indeed now – its consequences are far from a conclusion. In some respects they are commencing a new date, which will reach far beyond us. I desire not to pry into that book of futurity. Could I finish my course in peace….

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All our views are directed to the air. Balloons occupy senators, philosophers, ladies, everybody….Well! I hope these new mechanic meteors will prove only playthings for the learned and the idle, and not be converted into new engines of destruction to the human race, as is so often the case of refinements or discoveries in science.

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Horace Walpole: Peace and propagation

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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 (1778)

The ministers do not know the strength they have left (supposing they apply it in time), if they are afraid of making any peace. They were too sanguine in making war; I hope they will not be too timid of making peace.

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O, ye fathers of your people, do you thus dispose of your children? How many thousand lives does a king save, who signs a peace! It was said in jest of our Charles II., that he was the real father of his people, so many of them did he beget himself. But tell me, ye divines, which is the most virtuous man, he who begets twenty bastards, or he who sacrifices a hundred thousand lives? What a contradiction is human nature! The Romans rewarded the man who got three children, and laid waste the world. When will the world know that peace and propagation are the two most delightful things in it?

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Horace Walpole: How end all our victories?

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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 (1768)

I was told today that in London there are murmurs of a war. I shall be sorry if it prove so. Deaths! suspense, say victory; – how end all our victories? In debts and a wretched peace! Mad world, in the individual or the aggregate!

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I, who know nothing, am disposed to hope that both nations are grown rational; that is, humane enough to dislike carnage. Both kings are pacific by nature,and the voice of Europe now prefers legislators to heroes, which is but a name for destroyers of their species.

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Jerome K. Jerome: Go for a soldier

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

British writers on peace and war

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Jerome K. Jerome
From The Observations of Henry

“‘Go for a soldier,’ says I; ‘there’s excitement for you.’

“‘That would have been all right,’ says he, ‘in the days when there was real fighting.’

“‘There’s a good bit of it going about nowadays,’ I says. ‘We are generally at it, on and off, between shouting about the blessings of peace.’”

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“‘You bloodthirsty young scoundrel,’ I says; ‘do you mean you wouldn’t stick at murder?’

“‘It’s all in the game,’ says he, not in the least put out. ‘I take my risks, he takes his. It’s no more murder than soldiering is.’”

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Romain Rolland: He loathed brutal militarism

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

Nobel prize in literature recipients on peace and war

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From Jean-Christophe
Translated by Gilbert Cannan

He loathed the brutal militarism which he felt weighing down upon him, the sabers clanking on the pavement, the piles of arms, and the guns placed outside the barracks, their muzzles gaping down on the town, ready to fire. Scandalous novels, which were then making a great stir, denounced the corruption of the garrisons, great and small: the officers were represented as mischievous creatures, who, outside their automatic duties, were only idle and spent their time in drinking, gambling, getting into debt, living on their families, slandering one another, and from top to bottom of the hierarchy they abused their authority at the expense of their inferiors. The idea that he would one day have to obey them stuck in Christophe’s throat. He could not, no, he could never bear it, and lose his own self-respect by submitting to their humiliations and injustice….He had no idea of the moral strength in some of them, or of all that they might be suffering themselves: lost illusions, so much strength and youth and honor and faith, and passionate desire for sacrifice, turned to ill account and spoiled, – the pointlessness of a career, which, if it is only a career, if it has not sacrifice as its end, is only a grim activity, an inept display, a ritual which is recited without belief in the words that are said….

He got up from the table when the door opened and a handful of soldiers burst in. Their entry dashed the gaiety of the place. The people began to whisper. A few couples stopped dancing to look uneasily at the new arrivals. The peasants standing near the door deliberately turned their backs on them and began to talk among themselves; but without seeming to do so they presently contrived to leave room for them to pass. For some time past the whole neighborhood had been at loggerheads with the garrisons of the fortresses round it. The soldiers were bored to death and wreaked their vengeance on the peasants. They made coarse fun of them, maltreated them, and used the women as though they were in a conquered country. The week before some of them, full of wine, had disturbed a feast at a neighboring village and had half killed a farmer. Christophe, who knew these things, shared the state of mind of the peasant, and he sat down again and waited to see what would happen.

The soldiers were not worried by the ill-will with which their entry was received, and went noisily and sat down at the full tables, jostling the people away from them to make room; it was the affair of a moment. Most of the people, went away grumbling. An old man sitting at the end of a bench did not move quickly enough; they lifted the bench and the old man toppled over amid roars of laughter. Christophe felt the blood rushing to his head; he got up indignantly; but, as he was on the point of interfering, he saw the old man painfully pick himself up and instead of complaining humbly crave pardon. 

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Margaret Fuller: Fourth of July

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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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Margaret Fuller
From Fourth of July (1845)

Margaret_Fuller_by_Chappel

The bells ring; the cannon rouse the echoes along the river shore; the boys sally forth with shouts and little flags, and crackers enough to frighten all the people they meet from sunrise to sunset. The orator is conning for the last time the speech in which he has vainly attempted to season with some new spice the yearly panegyric upon our country; its happiness and glory; the audience is putting on its best bib and tucker, and its blandest expression to listen.

And yet, no heart, we think, can beat to-day with one pulse of genuine, noble joy. Those who have obtained their selfish objects will not take especial pleasure in thinking of them to-day, while to unbiassed minds must come sad thoughts of national honor soiled in the eyes of other nations, of a great inheritance risked, if not forfeited.

Much has been achieved in this country since the Declaration of Independence. America is rich and strong; she has shown great talent and energy; vast prospects of aggrandizement open before her. But the noble sentiment which she expressed in her early youth is tarnished; she has shown that righteousness is not her chief desire, and her name is no longer a watchword for the highest hopes to the rest of the world. She knows this, but takes it very easily; she feels that she is growing richer and more powerful, and that seems to suffice her.

These facts are deeply saddening to those who can pronounce the words “my country” with pride and peace only so far as steadfast virtues, generous impulses, find their home in that country. They cannot be satisfied with superficial benefits, with luxuries and the means of obtaining knowledge which are multiplied for them. They could rejoice in full hands and a busy brain, if the soul were expanding and the heart pure; but, the higher conditions being violated, what is done cannot be done for good.

Such thoughts fill patriot minds as the cannon-peal bursts upon the ear. This year, which declares that the people at large consent to cherish and extend slavery as one of our “domestic institutions,” takes from the patriot his home. This year, which attests their insatiate love of wealth and power, quenches the flame upon the altar.

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We know not where to look for an example of all or many of the virtues we would seek from the man who is to begin the new dynasty that is needed of fathers of the country. The country needs to be born again; she is polluted with the lust of power, the lust of gain. She needs fathers good enough to be godfathers – men who will stand sponsors at the baptism with all they possess, with all the goodness they can cherish, and all the wisdom they can win, to lead this child the way she should go, and never one step in another. Are there not in schools and colleges the boys who will become such men? Are there not those on the threshold of manhood who have not yet chosen the broad way into which the multitude rushes, led by the banner on which, strange to say, the royal Eagle is blazoned, together with the word Expediency? Let them decline that road, and take the narrow, thorny path where Integrity leads, though with no prouder emblem than the Dove. They may there find the needed remedy, which, like the white root, detected by the patient and resolved Odysseus, shall have power to restore the herd of men, disguised by the enchantress to whom they had willingly yielded in the forms of brutes, to the stature and beauty of men.

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Angela Morgan: God prays for peace

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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

Angela Morgan: Selections on war and peace

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Angela Morgan
From God Prays

Last night I tossed and could not sleep.
When sodden heavens weep and weep.
As they have wept for many a day.
One lies awake to fear and pray.
One thinks of bodies blown like hail
Across the sky where angels quail;
One’s sickened pulses leap and hark
To hear the Horror in the dark.
“What is thy will for the people, God?
Thy will for the people, tell it me!
For War is swallowing up the sod
And still no help from Thee.
Thou, who art mighty, hast forgot;
And art Thou Good, or art Thou not?
When wilt Thou come to save the earth
Where death has conquered birth?”

And the Lord God whispered and said to me,
“These things shall be, these things shall be.
Nor help shall come from the scarlet skies
Till the people rise!
Till the people rise, my arm is weak;
I cannot speak till the people speak;
When men are dumb, my voice is dumb –
I cannot come till my people come.”
And the Lord God’s presence was white, so white.
Like a pillar of stars against the night
“Millions on millions pray to me
Yet hearken not to hear me pray;
Nor comes there any to set me free
Of all who plead from night to day.
So God is mute and Heaven is still
While the nations kill.”

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“But Thou art mighty, and needst no aid.
Can God, the Infinite, be afraid?”
“They, too, are God, yet know it not.
‘Tis they, not I, who have forgot.
And War is drinking the living sod,”
Said God.

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Angela Morgan: Selections on war and peace

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Angela Morgan: Whether to yield in meekness to War’s devouring curse

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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

Angela Morgan: Selections on war and peace

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Angela Morgan
Resurgam

Out of the graves, a Summons;
Out of the ruins, a Voice: –
”O children of men
‘Tis the hour again
Of earth’s primeval choice
Whether to drift supinely
Where chaos rides unfurled.
Or gird the will divinely
To re-create the world.”
Out of the wreck, a wailing
And weeping in many lands;
Oh, bitter and unavailing
The plea of shrunken hands.
And cruel the sound of crying
Where children starve for bread….
Too soon the moan of the dying
Is the silence of the dead!

Out of the graves, a Summons;
Out of the sea, a Voice;
For the great world call
Hath garnered us all
In one immortal choice;
Whether to yield in meekness
To War’s devouring curse,
Swept downward in our weakness
With the crumbling universe,
Or, flaming with the vision
That gilds the future’s sky,
Render the great decision
That freedom shall not die!

Out of the lands, a moaning
And gnashing of souls in pain;
“O children of earth,
Ye may bring to birth
What the millions died to gain.
Never shall truth surrender
To the world’s chaotic sin;
But spur your souls to splendour
That law and right shall win.”
O people of earth, be lavish!
Let your love in rivers stream –
Yours is the power
To rear the tower
Of God’s triumphant dream.
O children of men, be noble!
Let your gold in plenty pour.
For the graves of the earth are many
And the wounds of the earth are sore.
No price may pay
For yesterday
But now rings trumpet dear.
To build the domes
Of the Future’s homes
Above the roads of fear.

Out of the tombs, a Summons,
And the sound of a high command:
“From the brutal waste
Of destruction’s haste
Ye shall build the promised Landl”

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Benjamin Musser: Paradox

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Benjamin Musser
Paradox

We are a regiment, whose martial cry
Is the cry of peace! Above war’s puppet dead
Our avenging banner trails above the sky,
Till the sky itself streams red.

For each bewildered soldier flung to your foe,
For every godlike man you force to a gun,
A comrade joins our army to overthrow
Your war till our war be won.

Trampling your law that kills, our steady tread
Is matched by a ghostly echo: keeping our stride,
A brother walks with each from your enemy’s dead,
Your own slain march at our side.

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Angela Morgan: Tell us the battlefields have lied, that men are still immaculate

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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

Angela Morgan: Selections on war and peace

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Angela Morgan
From Swing Out, My Soul

Swing out, my soul, swing boldly out
Through straits of sorrow, gulfs of doubt;
Wash from my lips the cruel taste
Of years that reek with human blood;
My spirit strangles in the flood,
Swept on in war’s transcendent waste.
Spurn the black trough of unbelief,
Scale the high waves of mortal grief,
Swing grandly forth, my soul, to find
The salt blue ocean of God’s Mind.
Undo the dream that men have died,
Unfashion all the deeds of hate.
Tell us the battlefields have lied,
That men are still immaculate.
Swing out, swing up to that high place
Where the great dreams of God come true;
Where Love shall bring the nobler race,
And all things are created new!

====

From It Is My Glory

Life is a harp with the strings gone!
My hands may reach, and reach eternally…
It is my glory that love, unanswered, hath thus extinguished me.
Love that were less, deserved no name of love;
Call it not weakness, ye who scoff and scorn;
And had ye love like mine, and had your sons and daughters, too, such love,
God would give beautiful people yet to the world.

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Philip M. Harding: White Feather

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Philip M. Harding
White Feather

Strike on, Great Nations, wage new armaments,
Spit on your swords! – I like the gesture well.
The “Field o’ Glory” beckons….Never think
That you may squeeze the bullets out in hell!

Conjure new gases, that the living wine
Of all that feed you – fish and fowl and grain –
May wither into smoke!…I only ask
To watch your bodies rotting clean again.

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Joseph Fawcett: Uncurs’d the ornamented murderers move

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

British writers on peace and war

Joseph Fawcett: Selections against war

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Joseph Fawcett
From The Art of War

Yet this fame deed, which e’en though singly done,
If naked seen, such shuddering horror moves,
When e’en on gasping myriads at a time
It is committed, yet when it is done
With all its tinsel on it, with its pomp
And robe about it, by a numerous troop
Whom ermin’d Mightiness commands and keeps;
Whose corporal forms the critic eye approves,
Select in stature, of proportions fair;
Whose trim attire, with nice adjustment neat,
Is pure from soil, and bright with showy dies;
Who to black scenes of lurid horror go,
In holiday and laughing colours clad,
Gay rainbow ruffians; on their guilty way;
That wear no hanging head, nor downcast eye,
But with a swelling chest and stately port
That strut to blood; amid the gaping throng,
Through whose long lines of dazzled looks they march,
With plumy pinnacles pre-eminent,
Tall above men; whose weapons luminous
Hold mirrors to the sun, return his rays,
And give the light their radiant face receives,
Doubling the day; all regularly rank’d
In system fair and symmetry of posts,
Amusive to the eye; with measur’d steps:
Harmonious moving, timing every tread
In symphony of feet; or elevate,
Mounted on manag’d and on mettled steeds,
Whose haughty arch of neck bears high their heads,
And hot, dilated nostrils shoot out smoke,
Panting with gen’rous fires, that snort and neigh,
And restless paw and champ the foamy bit,
And high curvet, impatient of the pace
Of grave procession’s solemn step of state;
While beauteous banners o’er the passing pomp
Unrol their silken sheets, that in rich streaks
Strive with the morning, and, in easy stream
And playful freedom, flutt’ring loose in air,
Flirt with the gamesome gale; and sprightly sounds
Of rousing music join the gorgeous show,
The thundering threat of drums, and the keen tones
Of the sharp fife, and high inciting sounds
Of trumpets that persuade the thrilling ear,
“’Tis honour calls to arms, and the big call
‘Tis heroes that obey:” – thus proudly cloath’d
In luxury of dress, with such a sweep
And swell of regal gown, all over cloak’d
In every part with amplitude of pall,
Voluminous disguise! this ugly act,
Foul hag of night, mishapen, monstrous thing,
Abhorr’d and loathsome to the sense of right,
As to the sight the ribs of bony Death,
Or hideous Scylla’s womb of howling hounds,
Fails to disgust; the amiable vice,
Hid in magnificence and drown’d in state,
Loses the fiend; receives the sounding name
Of Glorious War; and through th’ admiring throng
Uncurs’d the ornamented murderers move.

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Gaston Leroux: Poet and soldier

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

French writers on war and peace

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Gaston Leroux
From Secret of the Night
Translator unknown

“When a young man is a poet, it is useless to live like a soldier. Someone has said that, I don’t know the name now, and when one has ideas that may upset other people, surely they ought to live in solitude.”

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Nathan Haskell Dole: Peace’s exultation


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

American writers on peace and against war

Nathan Haskell Dole: Selections on peace

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Nathan Haskell Dole
From Peace and Progress: Two Symphonic Poems

Exultation

1
Ring out, exultant Bells!
Shout thro’ the echoing streets!
The joyous jargon swells;
Each tongue the note repeats: –

2
“The War is ended!
Peace plumes her wings!
The Victory splendid
Makes beggars Kings!

3
“War never more
In wrath shall soar
Above the lands!
And Foes of yore
Strike friendly hands!”

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From The Patriotic Hymn

In War’s hard Wilderness,
With bitter storm and stress,
We’ve tarried long.
Now Peace thy sons shall bless!
As on and up they press,
Freedom and Righteousness
Shall make them strong!

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From The Horror of War

Oh, the horror of War, and the waste!
Fair Countries deflowered and defaced!
Brave lives cut off in their prime.
Noble steeds ript open and maimed,
Foul passions of Fiends – every crime!
From the dimmest beginning of Time
The War-Gods’ altars have flamed
The War-Gods have triumpht unshamed.
The Valkyrior have not ceased
To bear to Valhalla’s red feast
The Souls of heroes death-tamed!
Never once on this globe for a day
Has Peace universal held sway!

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From It Is No Dream

Is it a dream – a poet’s fanciful dream?
Must the old World go on forever
Catching only the Glory’s vanishing gleam,
Mocking its blind and pathetic endeavour
As with the Cynic’s laugh of derision?
Is there no truth in the Vision ?

Art gives the answer! Dignified, glorious Art,
Seeking forever for Truth in expression,
Picturing Beauty and Grace to every Heart,
Holding the Universe in his possession:
*’Yea, it shall dawn, the new Era superb,
Which no War shall disturb.”

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Brotherhood, Kindness, Devotion,
Sympathy, Patience, and Love!
Peace on the Land, on the Ocean –
Peace with the wings of the Dove!
Organ – instruments – voices
Blend in ecstatic accord!
Chant of the Peace that rejoices,
Chant of the Love of the Lord.

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Elihu Burritt: Woman and War

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

American writers on peace and against war

Elihu Burritt: Dismantled Arsenals. Death, sin and Satan weep over the grave of their renowned confederate, War.

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Elihu Burritt
Woman and War

The history of the human race, especially for the last eighteen centuries, has been a history of blood; to which woman, like a mistaken religion, has contributed as much as she has suffered in its sanguinary annals. The Roman amphitheatre and a pagan age were not the only place and period, where and when scenes of horrid butchery were enacted for her entertainment. The trained gladiators, that without any personal animosity, cut each other to pieces in savage sport, and weltered and died in graceful contortions on the arena, were not the only victims selected from the human family to be immolated for her diversion. When Constantine abolished the arena, on its foundations arose another amphitheatre embracing the whole continent of Europe, where nations entered the lists, and kings, princes, and nobles fought for the guerdon of woman’s smile. It is an unpleasant fact in modern history, that her influence upon national character was first felt and perceptible in the field of battle. Her morning rays, like the rising sun of religion, lighted up the middle ages with the battle-torch, and inspired “the big-plumed wars” with a ferocious enthusiasm. It was more a rough impulse of chivalrous gallantry than a sentiment of Christian devotion, that deified the Virgin Mary, and enthroned her in the heavens, an impersonation of woman, retaining all the attributes of her sex, and whose favour was still accessible to her knighted admirers and champions on earth. Thus associated with divinity, she became to the warrior what Venus was to Eneas; the star that guided him to the fields of Palestine, and sat on his banner in the rifts of battle, in the breaches of Askalon, Gaza, and Jerusalem. It was not merely to rescue the site of the cross from the uncircumcised infidels of the East, that Europe poured forth her mailed myriads into the Holy Land. The divinity of those murderous wars in which millions fell, was a human divinity – the genius of woman. Their feats and deeds of arms were inspired by the light of her eye, more than by the eloquence of Peter the Hermit; and her smile and favour were more to the steel-clad warrior than the crown promised him in a future life. Had it not been for her presence and approbation, the tilts and tournaments, and all the institutions of an errant chivalry, could never have been sustained in Europe, in the age in which they flourished. Had military glory and ambition borrowed no fascination from music and love and the fine arts: had not the gentlest attributes of human nature been unsexed, and the most generous impulses of humanity perverted, the war-spirit, long ere this, would have been exterminated, as a coarse, degrading passion, from the brotherhood of Christian nations.

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Bertha von Suttner: Higher unity in which every war will appear impious fratricide

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

Women writers on peace and war

Bertha von Suttner: Selections on peace and war

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Bertha von Suttner
From Lay Down Your Arms
The Autobiography of Martha von Tilling

Translated by T. Holmes

The great majority of the people usually know nothing about why or how a war exists. They only see it coming for a certain time, and then it is there. And when it is there people make no more inquiries about the petty interests and differences of opinion which brought it about, but are then only busied with the mighty events to which its progress gives birth. And when it is over at last, what one remembers chiefly are the terrors and losses we have personally experienced, the conquests and triumphs that have marked its course, but on the political grounds for its origin no one wastes a thought. In the many works of history which appear after every campaign under the title of “The war of the year so and so historically and strategically described,” or something to that effect, all the old motives for the strife and all the tactical movements of the campaign in question are recounted, and any one who takes an interest in such things can pick out the explanation from the literature in which it is wrapped up, but in the remembrance of the people such histories certainly do not live. Even of the feelings of hatred and enthusiasm, of embitterment and hope of victory, with which the whole population greets the commencement of the war – feelings expressed in the common saying: “This is a very popular war”- even of these feelings all is wiped out after a year or two.

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March 31. Thank God! Austria declares that all the rumours in circulation about her secret preparations are false. It has never even entered into her head to attack Prussia. And on this she founds the demand that Prussia shall suspend her measures of warlike preparation. Prussia replies that she has not the remotest idea of attacking Austria, but that it has become compulsory, in consequence of the late preparations, to be prepared for attack.

And so the responsive song of the two voices goes on without pause: –

My preparations are defensive.
Your preparations are offensive.
I must prepare because you are preparing.
I am preparing because you prepare.
Then let us prepare,
Yes, let us go on preparing.

The newspapers give the orchestral accompaniments to this duet. The leading articles revel in what is called conjectural politics. It was all poking up, baiting, bragging, slandering. Historical works on the Seven Years’ War were published with the avowed intention of renewing the old enmity.

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Beside “the offensive” there are, I find, many other ways of commencing hostilities. There are demands and interventions regarding some small third country, and which have to be resisted as unfair; there are old treaties which are declared to be violated, and for the upholding of which recourse must be had to arms; and, finally, there is “the European equilibrium,” which would be endangered by the acquisition of power by one state or the other. And so energetic steps are demanded to prevent such acquisition. It is not avowed; but one of the most violent impulses to fight is the hate which has long been stirred up, and which at last presses on to the death-dealing combat, as ardently and with the same natural force as long-cherished love to the life-giving embrace.

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“The opposite party” is always the one that wishes for war. The “opposite party” are always charged with setting up force in the place of right. Why, then, is it anyhow possible, consistently with public law, that this can happen? An “impious” war, because it is one of “Germans against Germans”. Quite true. The point of view is a higher one, which, beyond “Prussia” and “Austria,” raises the wider conception of Germany. But take one step more and we shall reach that still higher unity in the light of which every war – men against men, especially civilised men against civilised – will necessarily appear an impious fratricide. And to “summon before the judgment-seat of history” – what is the use of that? History, as it has been managed hitherto, has never pronounced any other judgment than a worship of success. When any one comes out of a war as conqueror the guild of historical scribblers fall in the dust before him, and praise him as the fulfiller of his “mission of educative culture”. And “before the judgment-seat of Almighty God”. Yes; but is not this He who is represented as the producer of the fights, is not the same almighty, irresistible will equally concerned with the outbreak as with the course of the war? Oh, contradiction on contradiction! And this is what must certainly take place always, whenever the truth is hidden under hypocritical phrases – when an attempt is made to hold equally holy two principles which are mutually destructive, such as war and justice, or national hatred and humanity, or the God of Love and the God of Battles.

===

‘Enemy’s country;’ that is really a fossilised conception of those times when war was openly what its raison d’etre proclaims it, a piracy; and when the enemy’s country attracted the combatant as a land of prey which promised him a recompense.

===

When I picture to myself these two armies, composed of individuals with the gift of reason, and for the most part kind and gentle men, how they are rushing on each other, to annihilate each other, desolating at the same time the unfortunate land, in which they cast aside the villages they have ‘taken’ like cards in their game of murder. When I picture all this, I feel inclined to shriek out: ‘Do bethink you!’ ‘Do stop!’ And out of the 100,000, 90,000 individuals would certainly be glad to stop; but the mass is compelled to go on in its fury.

===

As long as there are wars men must be brought up to be war-loving soldiers; and so long as there are war-loving soldiers there must be war. Is that our eternal, inevitable circle? No, God be thanked!

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Dana Burnet: The Deserter

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

American writers on peace and against war

Dana Burnett: Selections on war

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Dana Burnet
The Deserter

There was a face at a window
As we went marching by
There was the face of a woman,
And I’ll see it till I die!

The drums beat like a strong man’s heart
As we swung down the hill;
The flags were snapping in the wind
And the fifes were blowing shrill….
And then I saw a woman’s face
And I knew I could not kill.

‘Twas gone again in half a flash –
I only saw her eyes
As I have sometimes seen a star
Fall blindly down the skies.
And then…I heard the beating drums,
And knew that they were lies.

I could not take another step
God help me! for my life;
A madness gripped my whirling brain,
And stung me like a knife….
I threw my lance down in the road
And cursed the blowing fife.

He beckoned. Soldiers took my arms
And dragged me to the rear.
I passed a thousand staring eyes,
I heard my comrades jeer;
They said that I had been afraid
They lied!
It was not fear….

An officer rode up…I saw
His naked sword outdrawn;
But he only sat his horse and smiled
With a face most strangely wan,
“I know,” he said, “I saw it, too.”
And then, “You’ll die at dawn!”

It was a woman’s stricken face
That looked across the sill
As we came down the iron road
With our fifes a-blowing shrill.
It was a face that looked at me
And would not let me kill.

And so I wait beneath the stars,
A soul condemned to die –
And down the curling road I hear
My comrades marching by.
And all the fifes and all the drums
I know to be a lie!

There was a face at a window
That looked out and was gone
There was the face of a woman,
And I’ll see it till the dawn!

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Joseph Fawcett: Broken hearts to broken limbs reply. War expands in space and time.

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

British writers on peace and war

Joseph Fawcett: Selections against war

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Joseph Fawcett
From The Art of War

The city feels the strife that’s in the field.
To the connected, sympathising scene
The battle’s blows their dire vibrations send
In other ruins rages there the war;
There falling fortunes answer falling lives,
And broken hearts to broken limbs reply:
Crash after crash resounds; fall follows fall;
And groan succeeds to groan; heav’d from the breast
Of tumbling traffickers, from splendour hurl’d
To beggary’s dark abyss; the wringing hands
Of ruin’d houses into Pity’s eyes
The tears continual call, that, scarcely wip’d,
Gush out again, and yet again are fill’d,
Replenish’d by the wretches as they rise
In long succession to her aching sight:
While, frequent, bursts upon the startled ear
The loud explosion from the tube of death,
‘Mid the domestic stillness thunder strange!

====

Ah! not so soon the eyes, which battle dims
On other shores, the tender dews dismiss.
There tremble long th’ untransitory tears:
The stabb’d Affections there bleed copious on
In countless breasts, war’s widest, deepest wounds!
When the stain’d sword, that drank the precious blood,
Or from their own, or the same fount that flow’d,
Or as their own was dear, hath long been wip’d
And to its sheath return’d – there, memory-bound,
Dwells deep affliction in full many a heart,
Month after month and year succeeding year;
And when the garb of Woe is worn no more,
Still mourns within, with grief that “passes show.”

Since such the foul offence, th’ enormous crime,
Gigantic guilt of war, exhausting all
Man’s powers of ill, that leaves him nothing more
Of monstrous to be done, – whence is it, say,
Whence is it, when the martial bands go forth,
Not to beat back, with righteous brav’ry nerv’d,
The lawless breaker into peaceful lands,
But distant men with tragic frown to front,
And blood that rolls in veins remote to spill;
Whence is it, as they pass, the public eye
Complacent on the long procession looks?
Where is the horror of the gazing throng,
That stuff the street, or, to the windows drumm’d,
Thick cluster there, whose theatre of looks
With placid smile the spectacle approve?
Why is it, that on all the faces round:
No frowns are seen? no palę abhorrence spreads?
No discomposure stirs? Whence comes the peace
On each calm countenance so sound that sleeps?
Lo! not a brow is knit! nor quits its rest
One quiet feature! nor one single eye
Shoots angry light, or wounded shrinks away
At such a monstrous scene! a concourse vast
Of homicides, thick thronging on the sight!
Whose train protracted satiates, as they pass,
E’en eyes, on shows that glistening long can gaze;
Each going forth to do that deed accurs’d,
Whose solitary act, in Fancy’s ear,
Excites the raven’s scream; while the dread spot,
Where violated life’s hoarse groans were heav’d,
Shows frightful shapes to Superstition’s eyes
And the dire tale, on winter’s witching eve,
In narrower ring the shivering circle knits
Close creeping to the warm protecting hearth.

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Vincent Godfrey Burns: The Hun

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

American writers on peace and against war

Vincent Godfrey Burns: An Ex-Serviceman Makes a Vow

Vincent Godfrey Burns: Hell à la mode

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Vincent Godfrey Burns
The Hun

He was just a prisoner,
One of a hundred human cattle,
Herded back through the lines
After a big push over the mud-hill
At Montfaucon.
Marvelous how he ever came through alive!
For he was covered with the thickest mud
From head to foot, even to his eyes!

Two hard-boiled medical corps “babies”
Carried him in,
And threw him across a bed
With as little care as if he’d been
A sack of sawdust.
When I came up to him
His head almost touched the floor
And a Frenchman (badly wounded himself),
Who had the next bunk,
Was vainly endeavoring to smash out his brains
With a bottle in his one free hand.

A doughboy cursed me roundly for paying attention
To a “Hun”!
But I went ahead and scraped his mud off,
To find he was a youth
Not more than sixteen,
A fair-haired, fair-skinned youth,
Still breathing,
But bleeding terribly from a deep wound in his chest.
When I had bathed and bound his wound
He opened his eyes, slowly, looked around.
“Where am I?” in a soft low-German accent.
“In good hands,” I said. “We’ll take good care of you.”
“Am I wounded badly?” anxiously he asked.
“No, you’ll be all right in a few days!”
But I had my doubts; it was a bad bayonet cut.

“Tell me,” I said, “how did you get cut up like this.”
He threw back his head and looked away.
“I put up my hands,” he said, “but the American
Stabbed me anyway!”
He was exhausted from loss of blood;
His breathing was labored;
His pain must have been great;
But there was no sign of complaint.
I cheered him up as best I could
And went on the rounds again….

In the morning the fair-haired youth,
With the blue eyes, was dead.
Some grieving mother in the home-land
Would never know how bravely a son had died.

Categories: Uncategorized

Nathan Haskell Dole: Selections on peace

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Bertha von Suttner: All Souls’ Day. Field of honor gives way to wasteland of broken hearts

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

Women writers on peace and war

Bertha von Suttner: Selections on peace and war

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Bertha von Suttner
From Lay Down Your Arms
The Autobiography of Martha von Tilling

Translated by T. Holmes

Crowds of graves, and the graves of crowds, were all around us. But a churchyard? – no. No pilgrim weary of life had there been invited to rest and peace; there, in the midst of their youthful fire of life, exulting in the fullest strength of their manhood, the waiters on the future had been cast down by force, and had been shovelled down into their grave mould. Choked up, stifled, made dumb for ever, all those breaking hearts, those bloody mangled limbs, those bitterly-weeping eyes, those wild shrieks of despair, those vain prayers.

On this field of war it was not lonely. There were many – very many – whom All Souls’ Day had brought hither, from friends’ and enemies’ country, who were come here to kneel down on the ground where what they loved most had fallen. The train itself which brought us was full of other mourners, and thus I had heard now for several hours weeping and wailing going on around me. “Three sons – three sons, each one more beautiful and better and dearer than the others, have I lost at Sadowa,” said to us an old man who looked quite broken down. Many others, besides, of our companions in the carriage mingled their complaints with his – for brother, husband, father. But none of these made so much impression on me as the tearless, mournful “Three sons – three sons” of the poor old man.

On the field one saw on all sides, and on all the roads, black figures walking, or kneeling, or painfully staggering along and breaking out from time to time into loud sobs. There were only a few there who were buried by themselves – few crosses or stones with an inscription. We bent down and deciphered, as well as the twilight permitted, some of the names.

“Major v. Reuss of the Second Regiment of the Prussian Guards.”

“Perhaps a relation of the one engaged to our poor Rosa,” I remarked.

“Count Grünne. Wounded, July 3. Died, July 5.”

What might he not have suffered in those two days! Was he, I wondered, a son of the Count Grünne who uttered, before the war, the well-known sentence: “We are going to chase the Prussians away – wet foot”? Ah, how frantic and blasphemous! how shrilly out of tune sounds of a surety every word of provocation spoken before a war when one stands on a place like this! Words, and nothing more, boasting words, scornful words, spoken, written and printed; it is these alone that have sown the seed of fields like these.

We walk on. Everywhere earth heaps, more or less high, more or less broad, and even there where the earth is not elevated, even under our feet, soldiers’ corpses are perhaps mouldering!

The mist grows thicker constantly. “Frederick, pray put your hat on, you will take cold.”

But Frederick remained uncovered, and I did not repeat my warning a second time.

Among the mourners who were wandering about here were also many officers and soldiers, probably such as had themselves shared in the nobly contested day of Königgrätz, and now were making a pilgrimage to the place where their fallen comrades were sleeping.

We had now come to the spot where the largest number of warriors, friend and foe together, lay entombed. The place was walled off like a churchyard. Hither came the greatest number of mourners, because in this spot there was most chance that their dear ones might be entombed. Round this enclosure the bereaved ones were kneeling and sobbing, and here they hung up their crosses and their grave-lights.

A tall, slender man, of distinguished, youthful figure, in a general’s cloak, came up to the mound. The others gave place reverently to him, and I heard some voices whisper: “The emperor”.

Yes, it was Francis Joseph. It was the lord of the country, the supreme lord of war, who had come on All Souls’ Day to offer up a silent prayer for the dead children of his country, for his fallen warriors. He also stood with uncovered and bowed head there, in agonised devotion, before the majesty of Death.

Long, long he stood without moving. I could not turn my eyes away from him. What thoughts must be passing through his soul, what feelings through his heart, which after all was, as I knew, a good and a soft heart? It came into my mind that I could feel with him, that I could think the thoughts at the same time as he, which were passing through that bowed head of his.

You, my poor, brave fellows, dead, and what for? No, we have not conquered. My Venice – lost. So much lost – ah, so much! and your young lives too. And you gave them so devotedly – for me. Oh, if I could give them back to you! I, for my part, never desired the sacrifice; it was for you, for your country, that you, the children of my country, were led forth to this war! And not by my means; no, not though it was at my order, for was I not compelled to give the order? The subjects do not exist for my sake. No, I was called to the throne for their sakes, and any hour have I been ready to die for the weal of my people. Oh, had I followed the impulse of my heart, and never said “Yes,” when all around me were shouting “War!” “War!” Still, could I have resisted them? God is my witness that I could not. What impelled me, what forced me, at this moment, I do not know exactly, only so much I know, that it was an irresistible pressure from without, from yourselves, ye dead soldiers! Oh, how mournful, mournful, mournful! How I have suffered for it all! and now you are lying here, and on other battlefields, snatched away by grape-shot and sabre-cuts, by cholera and typhus! Oh, if I had said “No!” You begged me to do so, Elizabeth. Oh, if I had said it! The thought is intolerable that – Oh, it is a miserable, imperfect world – too much, too much of woe!

During the whole time that I was thinking thus for him, I fastened my eyes on his features, and now – yes, just as I came to “too much – too much of woe” – now he covered his face with both hands, and broke out into a hot flood of tears.

So passed All Souls’ Day on the battlefield of Sadowa.

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Thomas Merton: Simone Weil and why nations go to war

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Thomas Merton
From The Answer of Minerva
Pacifism and Resistance in Simone Weil

Simone Weil’s love of peace was never sentimental and never quietistic; and though her judgment sometimes erred in assessing concrete situations, it was seldom unrealistic. An important article she wrote in 1937 remains one of the classic treatments of the problem of war and peace in our time. Its original title was “Let us not start the Trojan War all over again.” It appears in her Selected Essays as “The Power of Words.”…

But there is nothing mystical about this essay. It develops a theme familiar to Montaigne and Charron: the most terrible thing about war is that, if it is examined closely, it is discovered to have no rationally definable objective. The supposed objectives of war are actually myths and fictions which are all the more capable of enlisting the full force of devotion to duty and hatred of the enemy when they are completely empty of content. Let us briefly resume this article, since it contains the substance of Simone Weil’s ideas on peace and is (apart from some of her topical examples) just as relevant to our own time as it was to the late thirties.

…Simone Weil remarks that while our technology has given us weapons of immense destructive power, the weapons do not go off by themselves (we hope). Hence, it is a primordial mistake to think and act as if the weapons were what constituted our danger, rather than the people who are disposed to fire them. But more precisely still: the danger lies not so much in this or that group or class, but in the climate of thought in which all participate (not excluding pacifists). This is what Simone Weil set herself to understand. The theme of the article is, then, that war must be regarded as a problem to be solved by rational analysis and action, not as a fatality to which we must submit with bravery or desperation. We see immediately that she is anything but passively resigned to the evil of war. She says clearly that the acceptance of war as an unavoidable fatality is the root of the power politician’s ruthless and obsessive commitment to violence.

This, she believed, was the “key to our history.”

If, in fact, conflicting statesmen face one another only with clearly defined objectives that were fully rational, there would be a certain measure and limit which would permit of discussion and negotiation. But where the objectives are actually nothing more than capital letter slogans without intelligible content, there is no common measure, therefore no possibility of communication, therefore, again, no possibility of avoiding war except by ambiguous compromises or by agreements that are not intended to be kept. Such agreements do not really avoid war. And of course they solve no problems.

The typology of the Trojan War, “known to every educated man,” illustrates this. The only one, Greek or Trojan, who had any interest in Helen was Paris. No one, Greek or Trojan, was fighting for Helen, but for the “real issue” which Helen symbolized. Unfortunately, there was no real issue at all for her to symbolize. Both armies, in this war, which is the type of all wars, were fighting in a moral void, motivated by symbols without content, which in the case of the Homeric heroes took the form of gods and myths. Simone Weil considered that this was relatively fortunate for them, since their myths were thus kept within a well-defined area. For us, on the other hand (since we imagine that we have no myths at all), myth actually is without limitation and can easily penetrate the whole realm of political, social, and ethical thought.

Instead of going to war because the gods have been arguing among themselves, we go because of “secret plots” and sinister combinations, because of political slogans elevated to the dignity of metaphysical absolutes: “our political universe is peopled with myths and monsters – we know nothing there but absolutes.” We shed blood for high-sounding words spelled out in capital letters. We seek to impart content to them by destroying other men who believe in enemy-words, also in capital letters.

But how can men really be brought to kill each other for what is objectively void? The nothingness of national, class, or racial myth must receive an apparent substance, not from intelligible content but from the will to destroy and be destroyed. (We may observe here that the substance of idolatry is the willingness to give reality to metaphysical nothingness by sacrificing to it. The more totally one destroys present realities and alienates oneself to an object which is really void, the more total is the idolatry, i.e., the commitment to the falsehood that the nonentity is an objective absolute….

The will to kill and be killed grows out of sacrifices and acts of destruction already performed. As soon as the war has begun, the first dead are there to demand further sacrifice from their companions, since they have demonstrated by their example that the objective of the war is such that no price is too high to pay for its attainment. This is the “sledge hammer argument,” the argument of Minerva in Homer: “You must fight on, for if you now make peace with the enemy, you will offend the dead.”

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Octave Mirbeau: To the Soldiers of all Countries

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

French writers on war and peace

Octave Mirbeau: Selections on war

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Octave Mirbeau
To the Soldiers of all Countries
Unknown translator

I had occasion a few days ago to meet a Polish officer, a captain who had returned wounded from Manchuria. The captain told me tales of this shameful and atrociously useless war, tales that turn one sick, horrors which the most delirious imagination would be incapable of conceiving, even in the realms of nightmare. However hideous may have seemed to us certain episodes transmitted by the correspondents of the different newspapers, not one of them can approach the inconceivable ghastliness of those which were told me, of which I will select one, not having space in which to relate them all. And this is not the most terrible, but one can gain from it an idea of what others might have been. I dedicate this tale to the soldiers of all countries; and I leave the word to the Polish captain, and let him ask the soldiers of the world if they are not sick of killing and being killed.

“It was the evening after an engagement, which had turned out as usual unfortunate for us. We were in camp with gloomy faces, hopeless hearts and exhausted bodies. Nothing to eat, no ambulances, no wood for the fire – nothing! A frost of fifteen degrees below zero, which shredded the skin and froze the blood in our veins to ice. To remain immovable, to give way to sleep, was death. How many died that night! Imagine if you can this fearful thing – ten thousand men silent, ten thousand men motionless, not a footfall upon the frozen earth, not a voice, not a breath. Stragglers reaching the camp told us that they had heard in crossing the plain, to the right of them, to the left of them, behind them, before them, everywhere, cries, piteous complaints, frantic appeals, desperate shrieks…the wounded, the poor wounded ones lost in the black night. They had fallen across some, but had nothing upon which to carry them, and left them there!…And what would have been the good? What good?…But I exclaimed: ‘We must go and bring in the wounded, we cannot let them die there….Who will go with me?’ No answer. I spoke to the colonel ? he turned his back upon me. I appealed to a general?he passed by without a word. A surgeon of high grade, to whom I addressed myself, replied to me: ‘And where shall we put them? We have no stretchers, no bandages, no instruments, nothing! Let them alone!’ Not a word of justice, not one of pity, not one even of horror…nothing but complete indifference, because this is war, because all these men from colonel to soldier know that their turn will come to-morrow. But by dint of hard working I found a few old wheelbarrows, by dint of hot urging this lifeless mass, this frozen brute-life, yielded a hundred men. We set out…the night was very black…we had lighted torches, but after we had moved forward for an hour the cries of the wounded were better guides than the ghostly light of our torches. And from time to time we leapt back like frightened horses before piles of corpses, men and beasts. One moment I felt myself stopped, held, pinned to the ground. I felt two hands gripping my ankles like iron vices, I felt two hands creeping up my legs with iron clutches, clawing them, clenching them. And I felt a mouth biting the leather of my boots, snapping at it, tearing it, worrying it, and snarling like a dog. The soldiers ran towards me at my cries; they saw a wounded man with both legs torn off from the thighs twisting at my feet like a great human worm. They could not make him loose his hold, so they killed him with kicks of their boots and blows from their gun handles on the skull….And I lived through a minute, the horror of which, I assure you, I could never paint.”

He had become deathly pale. The pupils of his eyes were distended, as under the impression of a great horror. He continued:

“My heart swooned, my brain was torn with the madness of delirium. Frantic to escape from other visions of the night, I found strength to call the men about me. ‘Let them rot! Yes, let them rot, all of them,’ I shouted.

“We turned to go back to the camp, when all at once there arose upon our right a raving clamor, yells, roars, something more savage, more awe-striking than the shrieks of distress we had already heard. In spite of myself, so to say, I was drawn in the direction from which it seemed the sounds proceeded, and suddenly, springing from the shadows into the sickly light of the torches, I saw – not in fever, not in delirium – I saw ten, twenty, a hundred, two hundred men stark naked, gesticulating, grimacing, mouthing, laughing, shouting and dancing….Yes, in truth, in fifteen degrees of frost.

“I saw these naked bodies, with bleeding faces, with large red holes gaping in their breasts, with deep jagged cuts, with long purple gashes closed with lumps of black congealed blood…crawling over the earth, jumping upon raw bleeding stumps, some armed with revolvers and swords, which they brandished, shouting. And making towards us, who had come to their help, but whom they did not recognize, they cried, ‘Back! back !’ They were mad!”

After a silence, he added :

“Some shots were fired, one of our men fell. What was to be done ? We retreated. For many hours I remained with my escort at some distance from this crowd of the damned…their clamor rose higher still, then, little by little, it diminished…ceased….The frenzy of their madness had sunk, the frost had gripped them, in the morning they were dead…in the morning all the wounded upon the plain were dead!”

He spoke again:

“The next morning I was wounded myself…a bullet smashed the joint of my left shoulder….By a
miracle I escaped death, but I don’t know if I shall ever be cured. I am going to the south, where my family is. Since I saw that I don’t wish to live, for my life is horrible.

“Day or night it is impossible to escape from the torture of that ghastly nightmare…always…always that bloody human trunk gnawing at my feet. And always the madmen…the poor fools naked and bleeding in the night. You can never know….And I tell you….I ask myself sometimes whether I too am not going mad, whether I am not already mad!

“I would rather have died there!”

And while in the streets of Petersburg, Moscow, Vilna, Lodz and Batoum, while in all the rebellious towns of his vast empire, the Czar is commanding the soldiers to kill his people, that is what he is making of his soldiers in Manchuria.

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Ernest Hartsock: Who told you God raises sons to slay them all in battle?

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

American writers on peace and against war

Ernest Hartsock: Let Mars and all his mangled mourners pass

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Ernest Hartsock
Christ at Eight

Little boy, gentle boy,
Why so desolate?
Has Heaven’s proselyting joy
Converted you to hate?

Little lad with lips that lace
Like a butterfly,
Has that amaranth your face
Learned that flowers die?

Why do you look so quaintly wise,
Gold-haired little Master?
What sunken shadow traps your eyes
In delicate disaster?

Little lad, have Heaven’s guns
Hushed your earnest prattle? –
Who told you, Lad, God raises sons
To slay them all in battle!

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Carl Sandburg: Selections on war

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Edwin Arnold Brenholtz: Peace, the Conqueror

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

American writers on peace and against war

Edwin Arnold Brenholtz: The Passion of Peace

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Edwin Arnold Brenholtz
Peace, the Conqueror

The great and sole expansionist am I.
Naught but the whole, naught but the whole, I cry.
Away with these weak-kneed and doting Karls,
Who want a piece and tremble at the snarls
Snarled by their brother thieves; with them away!
Rejoice, O Earth, to see my bright’ning day!
Rejoice, O Man, to own my gentle sway!

Hark to my words, O dreaded man of War!
I have no need of thee.
Stand thou aside: six thousand years are more
Than Hell’s – are thine. No plea!
Away! away! away!
Rejoice, O Earth, now comes a gentle sway!

Ho, all ye toilers, come to work, to work.
‘Tis play that will no manly feelings irk.
Melt down these guns to bands of shining steel,
To make firm pathways for the Nation’s weal.
Add to it every pound from armored ships;
Lightened, they kiss the waves with peaceful lips,
And to their ensign every ensign dips.

Hark to my words, O dreaded man of force!
I have no need of thee.
‘Twixt kingdom mine and kingdom thine, divorce.
Love, erstwhile bound, is free.
Oh stay! oh stay! oh stay!
And hail, with love, the ever bright’ning day.

The poor ye have alway with ye, with ye,
Not in the kingdom ruled by me, for see
Here such equality and joy in life,
The nations vie with emulating strife
To come beneath the soft and kindly rule
Swayed – with a discard of the butcher’s tool –
By him, “The Prince of Peace,” whom War calls fool.

Hark to my words, O ye, ye dreaded twain!
I have much need of thee.
Transformed, join ye the servants of my train;
For Peace – make needed plea.
Oh pray! oh pray! oh pray
The hast’ning of the bright’ning, glorious day!

 

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Ida Whipple Benham: The White Prince of peace

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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

Ida Whipple Benham: The Friend of Peace

Ida Whipple Benham: War’s weeding

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Ida Whipple Benham
The White Prince

The White Prince! the White Prince!
He cometh to his own.
Repair each wall, each turret tall,
And let the fields be sown,
And set a watch above the gate,
And guard the silver throne!

A white dove, a white dove
With spotless wing and crest
And a gentle voice as soft and low
As if she watched her nest, –
A snowy dove the message brought
Safe folded in her breast.

O hail him! O hail him!
With banners white as snow,
Go meet him in the lilied fields
Where quiet waters flow!
Let drums beat quick for gladness.
And silver trumpets blow.

The White Prince! the White Prince!
Long may his realm increase!
He bringeth light and gladness,
He biddeth war to cease.
The Prince! the Prince! an endless reign
Of love, and joy, and peace!

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Dana Burnet: Sleep, Little Soldier, Sleep

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

American writers on peace and against war

Dana Burnett: Selections on war

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Dana Burnet
Sleep, Little Soldier, Sleep

Do you lie alone beneath the moon?
Sleep, little soldier, sleep.
A mother’s heart is broken soon –
Sleep, little soldier, sleep.
They say that you will come no more –
Yet I place my lamp within the door
Lest you look back from that other shore –
Sleep, little soldier, sleep.

Was there any hand to cool your brow?
Sleep, little soldier, sleep.
Where’s all the laughter of you now?
Sleep, little soldier, sleep.
Another year, with sun and rain,
The field will bear its golden grain,
But you will never smile again
Sleep, little soldier, sleep.

Oh, light his dreams, thou mother moon!
Sleep, little soldier, sleep.
A woman’s heart is broken soon –
Sleep, little soldier, sleep.
The King, he wears his royal crown,
The gay flags wave above the town;
But the little soldier lays him down –
Sleep, little soldier, sleep.

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Storm

Our of the thunder leaps a crooked sword
Bright as a serpent’s tongue – aye, bright as blood,
And men within the moment cast their cloths
And stand forth naked in a snarling brood.

The storm treads on like some great-booted god,
Roaring and slaying with its bloody fists,
And men are milled between its awful palms –
Their vaunted masteries are blown like mists….

We have not conquered elemental things,
Not chained the lightnings, nor controlled the skies –
The storm breaks and the world’s a beast again,
Snarling, at bay, with terror in its eyes!

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Ernest Crosby: The Bugler in the Rear


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

American writers on peace and against war

Ernest Crosby: Selections against war, for peace

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Ernest Crosby
The Bugler in the Rear
To Rudyard Kipling

Strong bugler, whose deep-chested strain
Has cheered the march of man
From Simla to the coast of Maine,
From Cork to Kordofan,
Oh, tell me, while your rhythmic flow
Still fascinates my ear,
Why is it that you choose to blow
Your bugle in the rear?

For clarion notes like yours should sound
The order to advance –
The prophet’s thunder-words profound
That voice the prophet’s glance –
The prophet’s glance that first beholds
The new-born day appear;
You spy not what the future holds,
A-bugling in the rear.

Your bugle-note is that which calls
King Ramses to the fight,
Sculptured on Karnak’s crumbling walls
At twenty times his height.
Again you blow his ancient horn,
That pygmy tribes may fear,
You’re harking back to times outworn,
A-bugling in the rear.

Like you, the narrow Jew looked down
Upon the Gentile bands;
Like you, proud Romans used to frown
On broad, “barbarian” lands;
And Attila and Genghis Khan
Knew well your bugle bold;
For pagan, Jew, and Mussulman
Have heard its blare of old.

And so the Norman, when he came
Across the narrow wave,
And made the Anglo-Saxon name
The synonym for “slave”;
And so the Corsican who hurled
His bolts like hell unpent,
And won the hatred of the world
To soothe his banishment:

These, all of these, from times remote,
In every land and clime,
Have heard your ancient bugle-note
Of war and waste sublime;
And, ere man’s footstep ever fell
On mountain, plain, or shore,
It echoed in the tiger’s yell
And in the lion’s roar.

Know, then, that man shall not return
And seek the brutish past –
The jungle he has left – to learn
To scale the heights at last.
And this shall ever be the sign
To mark the leader true:
The poet is the man divine
Who tells us something new –

The man who tells us something new,
And points the road ahead;
Whose tent is with the forward few,
And not among the dead.
Then come, strong bugler of the rear,
And lead us in the van,
And blow this blast, as pioneer,
“The Brotherhood of Man.”

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Joseph Fawcett: Law prosecutes single murder, ignores mass murder

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

British writers on peace and war

Joseph Fawcett: Selections against war

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Joseph Fawcett
From The Art of War

If but some few life-drops
Blush on the ground, for him, whose impious hand
The scanty purple sprinkled, a keen search
Commences straight; but, if a sea be spilt,
But if a deluge spread its spacious stain,
And fields be flooded from the veins of man,
O’er the red plain no solemn coroner
His inquisition holds. If but one corse,
With murder’s mark upon it, meet the eye
Of pale Discovery in the lonely path,
Justice begins the chace; when high are heap’d
Mountains of slain, the great, the full-grown guilt,
Safe in its size, too large for laws to lash,
Trembles before no bar. – Panting and pale,
A single culprit, hark! the hounds of Law
Hunt in full cry: but where’s the custody,
On culpable communities can shoot
The bulky bolt? for culprit empires where
The huge colossal constable, to whom
Such criminals will crouch? Where stands the court,
Of ample area, like the arch of heaven,
Within whose walls wide-swelling, plaintiff states
Offending states may sue, and nations wait
Their sentence; meek submitted to the mouth
Of so sublime a bench? Till this can be,
How poor the boast of Law! She wants an eye
More keen, to catch whom, caught, her arm can scourge;
And in her hand there needs a Michael-sword
Of vaster size her bigger foes to fell,
Smite Mountain-mischief, – Evil’s mightier fiend,
Satanic in his stature and his strength.

From lawless force, look round the world and see,
Defence how feeble legal force affords!
Assault and self-reliance for relief
Compose the scene of man. ‘Tis warfare all!

And is this civil life, where civil lands
So scant a sum of savage violence
Can whip within them, while, without them, all
Towards each other the barbarian play?
Where Fraud her sightings adds to those of Force,
And wars the city and the field infest?
Oh! when that voice, which dead confusion heard,
Shall human chaos hear? Oh! when shall cease,
Obedient to its call, this noise confus’d
Of various battle? this continuous din,
In war, of clashing steel; in peace, miscall’d,
Than a sweet name no more, of clashing aims?
Of selfish interests in eternal tilt
Contending? this extended tournament,
(Making all human life its boundless list,
And through all time prolong’d) of private views
To private views oppos’d; irregular
Against each other rushing; keeping up,
From age to age, one everlasting cloud
And clatter of encounter; to the friend
Of human kind presenting, as he sits
From the hot combat pensively apart,
A picture all confus’d of counter paths,
Each other crossing with collision loud!
A wildly shifting, ever-waving scene!
A sea of sinking and ascending heads,
Where all is undulation, rise and fall!
This, mounted high with płume and spear, that down,
Unhors’d amid the trampling, bruis’d and broke,
Biting with bankrupt-agony the ground;
While shouts and groans, in air tumultuous mix’d,
With harsh discordant noise distract the ear.
How long shall it be thus? – Say, Reason, say,
When shall thy long minority expire?
When shall thy dilatory kingdom come?
Haste, royal infant, to thy manhood spring!
Almighty, when mature, to rule mankind.
Weak are the outward checks, thy bridle’s place
Within the secret bosom, that supply.
Thine is the majesty; the victory thine,
For thee reserv’d, o’er all the wrongs of life.
The pigmy violence the private scene
That vexes, and that hides his head minute
From human justice, it is thine to end;
And thine, the tall and Titan-crimes that lift
Their heads to heaven and laugh at laws: to thee
All might belongs: haste, reach thy ripen’d years!
Mount thine immortal throne, and sway the world!

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Max Plowman: Resignation from war, enlistment in life. Killing men is always killing God.

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

British writers on peace and war

Max Plowman: The dead soldiers. Killing men is always killing God.

Max Plowman: The God of War

Max Plowman: The Goddess of War

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Max Plowman
Letter to his battalion adjutant, 1918

Sir,

I have the honour to request that you will lay before the Commanding Officer the following grave & personal matter.

For some time past it has been becoming increasingly apparent to me that for reasons of conscientious objection I was unfitted to hold my commission in His Majesty’s army & I am now absolutely convinced that I have no alternative but to proffer my resignation.

I have always held that (in the Prime Minister’s words) war is “a relic of barbarism”, but my opinion has gradually deepened into the fixed conviction that organised warfare of any kind is always organised murder. So wholly do I believe in the doctrine of Incarnation (that God indeed lives in every human body) that I believe that killing men is always killing God.

As I hold this belief with conviction, you will, I think, see that it is impossible for me to continue to be a member of any organisation that has the killing of men for any part of its end, & I therefore beg that you will ask the Commanding Officer to forward this my resignation for acceptance with the least possible delay.

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
Mark Plowman

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Joseph Conrad: War makes earth a pagan planet

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

British writers on peace and war

Joseph Conrad: Selections on war

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Joseph Conrad
From A Warrior’s Soul

“…His was fundamentally a fine nature. He grieved at the appalling amount of human suffering he saw around him. Yes, he was full of compassion for all forms of mankind’s misery in a manly way.

“Less fine natures than his own did not understand this very well. In the regiment they had nicknamed him the Humane Tomassov.

“He didn’t take offence at it. There is nothing incompatible between humanity and a warrior’s soul. People without compassion are the civilians, government officials, merchants and such like. As to the ferocious talk one hears from a lot of decent people in war time – well, the tongue is an unruly member at best and when there is some excitement going on there is no curbing its furious activity.”

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“I was no longer sleepy. Indeed, I had become awake with an exaggerated mental consciousness of existence extending beyond my immediate surroundings. Those are but exceptional moments with mankind, I am glad to say. I had the intimate sensation of the earth in all its enormous expanse wrapped in snow, with nothing showing on it but trees with their straight stalk-like trunks and their funeral verdure; and in this aspect of general mourning I seemed to hear the sighs of mankind falling to die in the midst of a nature without life. They were Frenchmen. We didn’t hate them; they did not hate us; we had existed far apart – and suddenly they had come rolling in with arms in their hands, without fear of God, carrying with them other nations, and all to perish together in a long, long trail of frozen corpses. I had an actual vision of that trail: a pathetic multitude of small dark mounds stretching away under the moonlight in a clear, still, and pitiless atmosphere – a sort of horrible peace.

“But what other peace could there be for them? What else did they deserve? I don’t know by what connection of emotions there came into my head the thought that the earth was a pagan planet and not a fit abode for Christian virtues.”

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Angela Morgan: For the moment’s red renown. Battle Cry of the Mothers.

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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

Angela Morgan: Selections on war and peace

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Angela Morgan
Battle Cry of the Mothers

Bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh,
Fruit of our age-long mother pain,
They have caught your life in the nations’ mesh,
They have bargained you out for their paltry gain
And they build their hope on the shattered breast
Of the child we sang to rest.
On the shattered breast and the wounded cheek –
O, God! If the mothers could only speak! –
Blossom of centuries trampled down
For the moment’s red renown.

Pulse of our pulse, breath of our breath,
Hope of the pang that brought to birth,
They have flung you forth to the fiends of death,
They have cast your flesh to the cruel earth,
Field upon field, tier upon tier
Till the darkness writhes in fear.
And they plan to marshal you more and more –
Oh, our minds are numb and our hearts are sore! –
They are killing the thing we cherish most,
They are driving you forth in a blinding host,
They are storming the world with your eager strength
But the judgment comes at length.

Emperors! Kings! On your heedless throne,
Do you hear the cry that the mothers make?
The blood you shed is our own, our own,
You shall answer, for our sake.
When you pierce his side, you have pierced our side –
O, mothers! The ages we have cried! –
And the shell that sunders his flesh apart
Enters our bleeding heart.

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John McGovern: War: three letters, fifty million plunged into worst misfortune

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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 McGovern
From The Golden Censer

The first great duty of society is to feed and clothe her individuals. This burden is just beginning to sit on her shoulders without galling weight. The next effort is to protect the more industrious against the forays of the wicked and the mistakes of the unwise. This is the problem with which the past century has had most to deal. It is an immeasurably greater question than is that of drunkenness, and it is immeasurably far from solution. For instance, a foolish statesman can to-day plunge fifty millions of people into war – a thing represented among words by three letters, but which among events entirely fails to find complete expression, from the lack of any other misfortune worthy of comparison. An angry statesman, acting like a boy, may stop, not a game of marbles, but ten thousand grain-laden ships.

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The whole history of human sickness is a continuous outcry of the goodness of woman. Wherever the red hand of war has risen to smite, there the white hand of woman has hastened to soothe. After the roar of the conflagration and amidst the ruins piled up by the earthquake ever has that sweet minister sought out the hungry and succored the suffering.

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Forced into geographical relations with the Irish, an unwarlike people with indomitable tongues, England has in the middle ages, naturally done to this unwarlike people just what a warlike people would do in the middle ages – taken everything. With painful volubility the unwarlike people has for centuries sounded its fate over the world, touching the heart of Gladstone and other good Englishmen, and tempting him and them to many struggles. Behold him at the next step, then, in the role of warring upon the unwarlike, of oppressing the oppressed, of answering an Irish clack with a British click! Is it not pitiful? Gladstone fell ill from it. He paid there and then for his illustrious name. And, next, of those brave Boers! God nerved their quick muscles and darted straight their wonderful eye; and when the single hand rose against the hundred hands of British Briarius they were not forsaken. Oh! how clearly that question seemed to an American! No geographical necessity was there – no race hatred, no hotbed to foment conspiracy against the sister country England. The independence of those Boers, if they desired it, ought to have been fought for by England, by Gladstone, willingly, irresistibly—in the very name of England’s own love of liberty for herself.

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Napoleon, possibly, never had a true friend in his life. He certainly never deserved one. Each year saw him surrounded by new associates, whom he meant to sacrifice, if he could.

Upon the bloody firld of Aspern and Essling, he offered up Marshal Lannes. He was forced to stand by that brave dying man and listen to his awful reproaches. So, again, in the terrible carnage of Spain at Eylau, at Borodino, Lutzen, Bautzen, Dresden, Leipsic, Hanau, everywhere, he was compelled to hear the outspoken protests of the men who had held the ladder for him—to stamp his foot at the constant declarations of “Dukes,” “Princes,” and “Kings,” that he was a monster whose thirst demanded only human blood. At last, the whole world cried out that it had had “enough of Bonaparte!”

The expression became a war-cry, and the world escaped from the baleful sceptre under whose shadow it had too long suspired. “What millions died that Cæsar might be great!” cries Campbell. “None think the great unhappy but the great,” says Young. They deserve their unhappiness. It is the mess of pottage to obtain which they have sold everything. Fame has always seemed to the philosopher like some mountain in a polar clime – cold, lonesome, inhospitable.

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A library of books, every one of which you have read, is a mine without “walls.” It is a merry assembly of old friends ever faithful. Grief cannot drive them away. Slander cannot alienate them. They cannot have rival interests. They cannot want anything you have got, and you can take all they have got, and not rob them at all.

If any members of your family have the love of books, aid them in satisfying it. Such are the salt of the earth. They are the blazed trees in the dark forests of the present generations, to mark out that course which shall, in future ages, be the highway of the whole world.

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Charles Edward Montague: The disconcerting bombs of Christian pacifism

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

British writers on peace and war

Charles Edward Montague: Selections on war and its aftermath

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Charles Edward Montague
From Disenchantment

“I’ve been a Christian all my life, but this war is a bit too serious.” So saying, a certain New Army recruit had folded up his religion in 1914, and put it away, as it were, in a drawer with his other civil attire to wait until public affairs should again permit of their use. He had said it quite simply. A typical working-class Englishman, literal, serious, and straight, he had not got one loop of subtlety or one vibration of irony in his whole mind. Like most of his kind he had, as a rule, left church-going to others. Like most of them, too, he had read the Gospels and found that whatever Christ had said mattered enormously: it built itself into the mind; when any big choice had to be made it was at least a part of that which decided. Not having ever been taught how to dodge an awkward home-thrust at his conscience, he felt, all unblunted, the point of what Christ had said about such things as wealth and war and loving one’s enemies. Getting rich made you bad; fighting was evil – better submit than resist. There was no getting over such doctrine, nor round it: why try?

Ever since those disconcerting bombs were originally thrown courageous divines and laymen have been rushing in to pick them up and throw them away, combining as well as they could an air of respect for the thrower with tender care for the mental ease of congregations occupied generally in making money and occasionally in making war. Yet there they lie, miraculously permanent and disturbing, as if just thrown. Now and then one will go off, with seismic results, in the mind of some St. Francis or Tolstoy. And yet it remains where it was, like the plucked Golden Bough: uno avulso, non deficit alter, ready as ever to work on a guileless mind like our friend’s.

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So, in his own way, the army chaplain, too, became a tributary brook feeding the general reservoir of disappointment and mistrust that was steadily filled by the surface drainage of all the higher ground of our British social landscape under the dirty weather of the war.

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Liberals he has, perhaps, come to figure as sombre and dry, all-round prohibitors, humanitarians but not humanists, people with democratic principles but not democratic sympathies, uncomradelike lovers of man, preaching the brotherhood of nations but not knowing how to speak without offence to a workman from their own village.

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Robert Whitaker: The Starred Mother

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

American writers on peace and against war

Robert Whitaker: Whence Cometh War?

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Robert Whitaker
The Starred Mother

Is there a madness underneath the sun
More strange, more terrible? or any one
More pitiful than this, that for a star
A mother sells her flesh and blood to war?

A son for slaughter, and a star for praise!
Not this the total madness of our days,
A son to slay some other mother’s son,
And by such murder mother’s blessing won!

The Hindi mother, by the Ganges tide
Drowning her babe, heart-broken, but with pride,
Poor blind purveyor to a Saurian feast,
Still spares her babe from murder’s maw, at least.

Is there debauchery more deep than this?
The State betraying mothers with a kiss?
Bribing the Marys of the world to sell,
For tinselled star, their flesh and blood to hell!

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Katrina Trask: After the Battle

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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

Katrina Trask: Selections on war and peace

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Katrina Trask
From Free Not Bound

After the Battle

The fiendish work had waxed since daybreak. Upon the fragrant, blossoming earth had passed the drama of a seething hell; shot had laid waste the fields; a pall of smoke, grim and grey, had eclipsed the sunshine. Blood and powder had changed the wild flowers, fresh at dawn, into a stained and blackened mass. The shrill death cries of horses, human groans of the dying, and loud appeals to God had rent the air. Men made in the image of their Maker had been trampled into dust. Now, the long shadows of dusk were falling; the battle was over; the day was won.

David Dearford was crossing the battle-field; triumphant joy marked the remembrance and the foretoken of the victory. But he recoiled with a shudder as he stood still and gazed upon the hideous horror in its ghastly details: charred garments, broken weapons, human fragments, dead and dying, awful in the gathering gloom.

“God! I am thirsty,” said a thick voice at David’s feet.

David stooped over a mangled human mass. From his canteen he poured some water into the hollow of his hand, and put it to the lips of one who, an hour before, had been an enemy. Who dares now call him enemy, who is going to a common God?

“What may I do for you, my friend?” said David.

“You have killed me; that’s sufficient, thank you,” replied the thick voice, laconically.

“I killed you? Don’t say that!”

“Don’t say what? Don’t speak the truth? I tell you, things look vastly different when you come to die. You are just one human soul going into the dark alone, and all the ideas and make believes of other men drop away from you just as the men themselves – my comrades – ran off and left me here to die. O God! I thought I was an atheist, but I’m not.”

David again stooped toward him, heavy of heart, but the dying man waved him off.

“Go! Go! You killed me, and I wasn’t ready to die.”

“Oh, don’t say I killed you!” David reiterated in a strained tone.

“Well, maybe you didn’t actually do it, but you did it all the same, and you’ll have to answer for it. You ‘ll see that, too, when you come to die. It is awful to die! Can you pray?”

David uncovered his head; he tried to pray; his own words seemed so piteously inadequate, he repeated the Lord’s Prayer.

“What a world of liars!” the dying man said hoarsely. “Millions of persons praying every day ‘Thy kingdom come on earth’ while they are doing everything they can to help on the kingdom of the Devil. Just look at this field! God forgive me my part in it – forgive me – as – I – forgive those who -” speech failed him, but he held out his hand to David.

Then came that ominous sound. David saw the end was near; he bathed the damp forehead, moistened the purple lips, and stood watching the battle in which he could take no part – the battle between flesh and spirit. When it was over, and the spirit had outsoared the flesh, David went back to camp….

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