G. J. Whyte-Melville: Death is gathering his harvest – and the iron voice tolls on

October 27, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

G. J. Whyte-Melville: A soldier who fattens a battlefield, encumbers a trench, has his name misspelled in a gazette

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G. J. Whyte-Melville
From The Interpreter: A Tale of the War

Boom! – there it is again! Every eye lightens at that dull, distant sound. Every man’s pulse beats quicker, and his head towers more erect, for he feels that he has arrived at the real thing at last. No sham fighting is going on over yonder, not two short leagues from where he stands – no mock bivouac at Chobham, nor practice in Woolwich Marshes, nor meaningless pageant in the Park: that iron voice carries death upon its every accent. For those in the trenches it is a mere echo – the unregarded consequence that necessarily succeeds the fierce rush of a round-shot or the wicked whistle of a shell; but for us here at Balaklava it is one of the pulsations of England’s life-blood – one of the ticks, so to speak, of that great Clock of Doom which points ominously to the downfall of the beleaguered town.

Boom! Yes, there it is again; you cannot forget why you are here. Day and night, sunshine and storm, scarce five minutes elapse in the twenty-four hours without reminding you of the work in hand. You ride out from the camp for your afternoon exercise, you go down to Balaklava to buy provisions, or you canter over to the monastery at St. George’s to visit a sick comrade – the iron voice tolls on. In the glare of noon, when everything else seems drowsy in the heat, and the men lie down exhausted in the suffocating trenches – the iron voice tolls on. In the calm of evening, when the breeze is hushed and still, and the violet sea is sleeping in the twilight – the iron voice tolls on. So when the flowers are opening in the morning, and the birds begin to sing, and reviving nature, fresh and dewy, seems to scatter health and peace and good-will over the earth – the iron voice tolls on. Nay, when you wake at midnight in your tent from a dream of your far-away home – oh! what a different scene to this! – tired as you may be, ere you have turned to sleep once more, you hear it again. Yes, at midnight as at noon, at morn as at evening, every day and all day long, Death is gathering his harvest – and the iron voice tolls on.

***

Tonight he is as gay, as lively, as cheerful as usual; tomorrow he will be but a form of senseless clay, shot through the head in the trenches.

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H. Lavinia Baily: A Lost Song?

October 26, 2021 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

H. Lavinia Baily: By the Sea. An Argument for Peace.

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H. Lavinia Baily
A Lost Song?

Horror of combat, and tumult and dread;
Thunder of cannon and bursting of bomb;
Moans of the wounded (who envy the dead)
Lost in the clamor of trumpet and drum.
O where is the song of the angels?
O when shall we hear it again?
“Peace on earth,” rang the chorus seraphic,
“And good will evermore among men.”

Here is fierce anger and hatred and death,
Pitiless slaughter of pitiless foe;
Blessings and curses poured forth in a breath;
Brave self-forgetting, and measureless woe.
But where is the song of the angels?
O when shall we hear it again?
“Peace on earth,” rang the chorus seraphic,
“And good will evermore among men.”

Blue waves of ocean are reddened with gore,
Victor and victim earth holds to her breast;
Hearts that will thrill with ambition no more;
Heads that so lately fond mothers caressed.
O where is the song of the angels?
O when shall we hear it again?
“Peace on earth,” rang the chorus seraphic,
“And good will evermore among men.”

Victory, purchased at infinite cost,
Honors and titles so fearfully won,
Fame, at the price of lives blighted and lost,
Graves, all unnoted, unnumbered, unknown.
O where is the song of the angels?
Dear Christ, let us hear it again;
“Peace on earth,” send the chorus seraphic,
“Peace on earth, and good will among men.”

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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: War has tricked us

October 25, 2021 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Saint-Exupéry: Charred flesh of children viewed with indifference

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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
From Peace or War?
Translated by Adrienne Foulke

We must never forget that modern warfare trafficks in the bomb and in mustard gas. War is no longer delegated to a group that garners heroes’ laurels along the national frontier.

Let war be declared, and the next instant our stations, bridges, and factories will be pulverized. Our asphyxiated cities will retch and spew their populations over the countryside. Europe is an organism of two hundred million men. In the first moment of war, it will lose its entire nervous system, exactly as if it were burned out by acid; its control centers, regulatory glands. and semicircular canals will be one enormous cancer that will commence at once to corrode the whole. And how are two hundred million men to be fed? Grub as they will, they will never find roots enough.

Men can, of course, be stirred into life by being dressed up in uniforms and made to blare out chants of war. It must be confessed that this is one way to break bread with comrades and to find what they are seeking, which is a sense of something universal, of self-fulfillment. But of this bread men die.

In a world become a desert we thirst for comradeship. It is the savor of bread broken with comrades that makes us accept the values of war. But there are other ways than war to bring us the warmth of a race, shoulder to shoulder, toward an identical goal. War has tricked us. It is not true that hatred adds anything to the exaltation of the race.

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Maurice Druon: Why I exhort you not to threaten each other with your armaments

October 24, 2021 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Maurice Druon: A contempt for all things military

Maurice Druon: The dual prerogatives of minting coins and waging wars

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Maurice Druon
From Memoirs of Zeus
Translated by Humphrey Hare

Nature for man is a school of wisdom, and he who watches over the harvest knows the value of peace.

Wild or cultivated, a flower is a mysterious manifestation of passing beauty. It invites you to marvel, ad therefore to gratitude; it invites you to thought, and therefore to tolerance. A fragile culmination, it is a moment of happiness, and demands restraint in action. I often see you, mortals my children, proudly clasping a weapon or a purse; but I see you all too rarely carrying a flower in your hands.

***

Do you not think it a miracle that in the great lottery of life, among the millions of billions of numbers, yours should have been drawn? To be born, my sons, is to be one of the elect!

Two thousand million threads, two thousand million spindles! Think of the immense amount of work Lachesis has; and understand why it is I recommend you not to procreate without reflection, why I advise you to be very careful in your enterprises, of your food, of every step you take, and why I exhort you not to threaten each other with your armaments.

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Henri Bosco: Man kills just for the sake of killing

October 23, 2021 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

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Henri Bosco
From The Farm Théotime
Translated by Mervyn Savill

“We have frightened the tribes of the air,” he declared.

“In the time of Monsieur Clodius, your predecessor,” he went on, “these little creatures could never have received any visitors. That is why our presence frightens them today. Man kills for a trifle, just for the sake of killing – you know that as well as I do. And the birds know it too. They are certainly watching us from the tops of the trees, and just waiting for our departure before they start singing again. But I am afraid that they will no longer sing in the same carefree manner: in future they will live in a state of uneasiness.” He sighed once or twice, and repeated sadly: “It’s a pity.”

***

There is peace in the pure alone, and it is probably only the solitary who are pure. This is the reason why I, who am stamped with mediocrity, aspire to my appeasement through the paths of solitude to which, alas! my savage nature alone and not a natural elevation of the spirit has disposed me. I know myself.

***

One does not attain to the peace of the heart, if it is of this world, except by untiring work, frequent disappointment, and the sentiment of a true humility.

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G. J. Whyte-Melville: A soldier who fattens a battlefield, encumbers a trench, has his name misspelled in a gazette

October 22, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

G. J. Whyte-Melville: Death is gathering his harvest – and the iron voice tolls on

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G. J. Whyte-Melville
From The Interpreter: A Tale of the War

“Any news, Ropsley?” says Sir Harry, observing the pile of letters at his friend’s elbow; “no officials, I hope, to send you back to London.”

“None as yet, thank Heaven, Sir Harry” replies his friend; “and not much in the papers. We shall have war, I think.”

“Oh, don’t say so, Mr. Ropsley,” observes Constance, with an anxious look. “I trust we shall never see anything so horrid again.”

***

“Your health, Vere, and mon enfant, and vive le guerre!”

Vive le guerre!” I repeated; but the words stuck in my throat, for I had already seen something of the miseries brought by war into a peaceful country, and I could not look upon the struggle in which we were engaged with quite as much indifference as my volatile friend.

***

But what was I, to dream thus? A mere adventurer, at best a poor soldier of fortune, whose destiny, sooner or later, would be but too fatten a battle-field or encumber a trench, and have his name misspelled in a Gazette.

***

Young soldiers were they, mostly striplings of eighteen and twenty summers, with the smooth cheeks, fresh colour, and stalwart limbs of the Anglo-Saxon race – too good to fill a trench! And yet what would be the fate of at least two-thirds of that keen, light-hearted draft? Vestigia nulla retrorsum. Many a time has it made my heart ache to see a troop-ship ploughing relentlessly onward with her living freight to “the front,”- any a time have I recalled Æsop’s fable, and the foot-prints that were all towards the lion’s den, – many a time have I thought how every unit there in red was himself the centre of a little world at home; and of the grey heads that would tremble, and the loving faces that would pale in peaceful villages far away in England, when no news came from foreign parts of “our John,” or when the unrelenting Gazette arrived at last and proclaimed, as too surely it would, that he was coming back “never, never no more.”

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Jean Blewett: The doves are nesting in the cannons grim

October 21, 2021 Leave a comment

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

Women writers on peace and war

Jean Blewett: Above the din of martial clamor, a crying in the dark

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Jean Blewett
Quebec

Quebec, the gray old city on the hill,
Lies, with a golden glory on her head,
Dreaming throughout this hour so fair, so still,
Of other days and her belovèd dead.
The doves are nesting in the cannons grim,
The flowers bloom where once did run a tide
Of crimson when the moon rose pale and dim
Above a field of battle stretching wide.
Methinks within her wakes a mighty glow
Of pride in ancient times, her stirring past,
The strife, the valor of the long ago
Feels at her heart-strings. Strong and tall, and vast
She lies, touched with the sunset’s golden grace,
A wondrous softness on her gray old face.

***

Peace

Unbroken peace, I ween, is sweeter far
Than reconciliation. Love’s red scar,
Though salved with kiss of penitence, and tears,
Remains, full oft, unhealed through all the years.

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Hilaire Belloc: War, propaganda and lies

October 20, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Hilaire Belloc: After the tempest and destruction of universal war, permanence

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Hilaire Belloc

The war has produced propaganda. Truth took to its bed in the spring of 1915 and died unregretted, with few attendants, about a year later. Everything since then has been propaganda.

It is an imperative duty to serve one’s country, and one’s country in danger of death had to be served by silence and by lies. But now the root has struck, and all this lying and all this silence has become a habit. So to-day, when you read this or that in a paper, you know very well that you are not reading any cold truth, but an advertisement.

On Truth and the Admiralty

They had put it up for a trophy. Never was a war with trophies so promiscuous!…But I never see a Bavarian or a Prussian gun stuck up mournfully in a little English town without thinking of the English and French guns which are knocking about somewhere among the German states.

Ultimata Ratio

I asked him whether he had made Harmsworth’s phrase “Rolling the French in mud and blood.” He said yes, but he had originally written it with a blank – “Rolling the (blank) in mud and blood,” and had hawked it all round London for years according as our foreign policy changed. The mud and the blood made a very good rhyme, and any old nation would do to fit into the blank. He had used the words “Russians” and “Spaniards.” and even – I say it with horror – “Yankees,” for he was at work as long ago as the Alabama claim, which I wasn’t. He only wished he had lived long enough to put “Germans,” but it happened just to fit in with the French at the moment he wrote it. He sold it to Harmsworth (he told me), and it came out in his papers, “We will roll the French in mud and blood.” It did great service, for it frightened the French to death and kept them out of Morocco in 1899.

On a Tag Provider

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Jean Renoir: War’s solemn human sacrifice

October 19, 2021 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

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Jean Renoir
From The Notebooks of Captain Georges
Translated by Norman Denny

At first I thought he was simply responding out of kindness with a similar tale of his own. However he continued with it, in the offhand manner with which I had become familiar, but which I knew to be only an appearance. He asked me to stop him if he was boring me. “After all,” he said, “this gorse and bracken is really more interesting than our human ups and downs. The struggle for life goes on forever, unlike the high-flown sentiments that inspire our wars.”

***

On the other hand, the war which we are now fighting does not hold up. Everybody knows that as soon as the echoes of gunfire have died down the former adversaries will be dancing in a ring around the golden calf.

***

Sixteen grindstones had been set up in the barracks square, one for each platoon. The armorers went back and forth, showing officers and men how to use them. It might have been the ritual of some barbaric religion. Each man piously held his blade against the stone, which he operated with treadle. The scream of steel against stone was like the wailing of wind through a thicket. Blunt in times of peace, the blades were now given their cutting edge, no longer to be aimed at straw-stuffed dummies but at human breasts. The regiment was passing from the frivolity of horsemanship to the solemnity of human sacrifice.

***

I might have stayed in the army, but I hated war and we may as well admit that the one exists only for the other.

***

War had hardened me. I had killed Germans who had done me no harm. I remember to this day a round-cheeked boy into whom I thrust my bayonet, like killing a baby.

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Angela Morgan: The Summons

October 18, 2021 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

Angela Morgan: Selections on war and peace

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Angela Morgan
The Summons

Hate is the thing that will save mankind;
We love too much in our witless way,
Pulpit, sinner and state allied,
We are far too smug in our peace and pride,
Nation of blind men leading blind
We are all too dull in the psalms we say,
In the hymns we sing and the prayers we pray –
Insults flung in the face of Him
And His flaming cherubim.
Hate is the call we are waiting for,
Trumpeting high o’er the boom of war,
A hate so strong and a hate so wide
No wrong can stand in its ruthless tide.
Hate of tyranny, hate of lies.
Hate of the world’s hypocrisies.
Hate of arrogance, hate of sword.
Hate of systems that mock the Lord;
Hate of prayers to the Prince of Peace
For terror and war to cease.

Love is the thing that will save mankind.
We hate too much in the sordid way,
Pulpit, sinner and state the same
Our wrath is fanning the brutal flame : –
Hate of Germany, furious, blind;
Hate of English, or hate of Slav;
Hate of foes and the gains they have…
We are far too fierce in the prayers we pray
In the deeds we do and the things we say –
Insults flung in the face of God
While war is drenching the sod!
Love is the call we are waiting for,
Trumpeting high o’er the boom of war –
Not love that sits in a silken pew
And plays the game of the fattened few
Pleading for peace that man must make
While shells are sold for the Lord Christ’s sake,
But love that hates with a hate divine
The savage call of the firing line
Where man, whose every pulse is love
Must kill, kill! For the kings above;
Kill, kill! Though his sad heart break.
Kill, kill! For his country’s sake.
Hate is the power that will save the world;
We hold too hard to the outworn things.
Nations bending before the rod
In the blood-red path their fathers trod.
Keeping the time-worn flag unfurled: –
Love of “honor” and love of kings,
Love of war and the wrath it brings.
Love of money and love of creed
In face of the sad world’s need.

Hate is the summons, loud and late…
Hate that is love, love that is hate.
A hate so strong and a love so wide
No wrong can stand in their ruthless tide.
Love for the peoples wrecked by war,
Hate of the goals they grovel for.
Hate of jealousy, hate of strife.
Love for the humblest human life.
O Christ, most passionate Lover of all,
Help us to answer thy trumpet call…
Rally all nations under the sun.
Thy warring peoples pledge as one
In a great world-oath of brotherhood
To toil for the Future’s good.
If we hate with a hate that is pure enough.
And love with a love that is sure enough.
Thy Dream for man shall yet have birth.
Thy kingdom come on earth!

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W. H. Hudson: A mother’s plea

October 17, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

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W. H. Hudson
From Far Away and Long Ago

These pleasant adventures with Dardo on the plain were suddenly put a stop to by the war. One morning a number of persons on foot and on horseback were seen coming to us over the green plain from the shepherd’s ranch, and as they drew nearer we recognized our old Alcalde on his horse as the leader of the procession, and behind him walked Dona Nata, holding her son by the hand; then followed others on foot, and behind them all rode four old gauchos, the Alcalde’s henchmen, wearing their swords.

What matter of tremendous importance had brought this crowd to our house? The Alcalde, Don Amaro Avalos, was not only the representative of the “authorities” in our parts – police officer, petty magistrate of sorts, and several other things besides – but a grand old man in himself, and he looms large in memory among the old gaucho patriarchs in our neighbourhood. He was a big man, about six feet high, exceedingly dignified in manner, his long hair and beard of a silvery whiteness; he wore the gaucho costume with a great profusion of silver ornaments, including ponderous silver spurs weighing about four pounds, and heavy silver whip-handle. As a rule he rode on a big black horse which admirably suited his figure and the scarlet colour and silver of his costume.

On arrival Don Amaro was conducted to the drawing-room, followed by all the others; and when all were seated, including the four old gauchos wearing swords, the Alcalde addressed my parents and informed them of the object of the visit. He had received an imperative order from his superiors, he said, to take at once and send to headquarters twelve more young men as recruits for the army from his small section of the district. Now most of the young men had already been taken, or had disappeared from the neighbourhood in order to avoid service, and to make up this last twelve he had even to take boys of the age of this one [15-years-old], and Medardo would have to go. But this woman would not have her boy taken, and after spending many words in trying to convince her that she must submit he had at last, to satisfy her, consented to accompany her to her master’s house to discuss the matter again in her master and mistress’s presence.

It was a long speech, pronounced with great dignity; then, almost before it finished, the distracted mother jumped up and threw herself on her knees before my parents, and in her wild tremulous voice began crying to them, imploring them to have compassion on her and help her to save her boy from such a dreadful destiny. What would he be, she cried, a boy of his tender years dragged from his home, from his mother’s care, and thrown among a crowd of old hardened soldiers, and of evil-minded men – murderers, robbers, and criminals of all descriptions drawn from all the prisons of the land to serve in the army!

It was dreadful to see her on her knees wringing her hands, and to listen to her wild lamentable cries; and again and again while the matter was being discussed between the old Alcalde and my parents, she would break out and plead with such passion and despair in her voice and words, that all the people in the room were affected to tears. She was like some wild animal trying to save her offspring from the hunters. Never, exclaimed my mother, when the struggle was over, had she passed so painful, so terrible, an hour! And the struggle had all been in vain, and Dardo was taken from us.

***

The young officer, whose home was more than a day’s journey from our district, had visited the neighbourhood on a former occasion and remembered that he had relations in it; and when he broke away from the men, divining that it was their intention to murder him, he made for the old Alcalde’s house. He succeeded in keeping ahead of his pursuers until he arrived at the gate, and throwing himself from his horse and rushing into the house, and finding the old Alcalde surrounded by the women of the house, addressed him as uncle and claimed his protection. The Alcalde was not, strictly speaking, his uncle but was his mother’s first cousin. It was an awful moment: the nine armed ruffians were already standing outside, shouting to the owner of the place to give them up their prisoner, and threatening to burn down the house and kill all the inmates if he refused. The old Alcalde stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by a crowd of women and children, his own two handsome daughters, aged about twenty and twenty-two respectively, among them, fainting with terror and crying for him to save them, while the young officer on his knees implored him for the sake of his mother’s memory, and of the Mother of God and of all he held sacred, to refuse to give him up to be slaughtered.

The old man was not equal to the situation: he trembled and sobbed with anguish, and at last faltered out that he could not protect him – that he must save his own daughters and the wives and children of his neighbours who had sought refuge in his house. The men outside, hearing how the argument was going, came to the door, and finally seizing the young man by the arm led him out and made him mount his horse again and ride with them. They rode back the way they had gone for half a mile towards our house, then pulled him off his horse and cut his throat.

On the following day a mulatto boy who looked after the flock and went on errands for the Alcalde, came to me and said that if I would mount my pony and go with him he would show me something. It was not seldom this same little fellow came to me to offer to show me something, and it usually turned out to be a bird’s nest, an object which keenly interested us both. I gladly mounted my pony and followed. The broken army had ceased passing our way by now, and it was peaceful and safe once more on the great plain. We rode about a mile, and he then pulled up his horse and pointed to the turf at our feet, where I saw a great stain of blood on the short dry grass. Here, he told me, was where they had cut the young officer’s throat: the body had been taken by the Alcalde to his house, where it had been lying since the evening before, and it would be taken for burial next day to our nearest village, about eight miles distant.

The murder was the talk of the place for some days, chiefly on account of the painful facts of the case – that the old Alcalde, who was respected and even loved by everyone, should have failed in so pitiful a way to make any attempt at saving his young relation. But the mere fact that the soldiers had cut the throat of their officer surprised no one; it was a common thing in the case of a defeat in those days for the men to turn upon and murder their officers. Nor was throat-cutting a mere custom or convention: to the old soldier it was the only satisfactory way of finishing off your adversary, or prisoner of war, or your officer who had been your tyrant, on the day of defeat.

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Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: Peace till war and crime shall cease

October 16, 2021 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: Selections on peace and war

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Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
From Only a Word

Till our world, so sad and weary,
Finds the balmy rest of peace –
Peace to silence all her discords –
Peace till war and crime shall cease.

Peace to fall like gentle showers,
Or on parchéd flowers dew,
Till our hearts proclaim with gladness:
Lo, He maketh all things new.

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Angela Morgan: Beauty thy call must wait (while world is furrowed by graves of precious youth who died in vain)

October 15, 2021 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

Angela Morgan: Selections on war and peace

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Angela Morgan
Beauty, Thy Call Must Wait

Beauty, thy call must wait
Let others sing
Of hills and stars and every lovely thing –
The world needs all too sadly what they bring
Of solace and enchantment. I would lift
A reverent heart and glad, to praise their gift
Of beautiful, imperishable words –
Amazing voices, eloquent as birds
Singing at nighttime. But for me
There sounds another and a louder plea ;
It soundeth early and it soundeth late –
Beauty, thy call must wait.
Beauty, thou hast such soft, endearing ways,
Such tender melody of nights and days.
My spirit scarce can hold its eager praise –
The doe-brown dusk that mellows to its close
Within the evening’s amber afterglows;
Blue billowing mist
Forever keeping tryst
With mountains blurring as they rise
And fall in rounded symphonies…
These are thy ministers and give thee voice.
Yearning as I. Yet I have made my choice.
For, look! The furrows of thy velvet plain
Are graves of precious youths, who died in vain.

Beauty, thy song will keep.
Another song is sounding in my sleep
And in my waking. All my pulses leap
To hear it trumpeting from every hedge
And every mountain ledge
Where streaming sumach bleeds.
Greatly it pleads
Where trees afire with silver in the sun
March every one
With plumed helmet and with flashing shield
To tell the tumult of the battlefield.
Even thy storming jewels on the sea
Seem but the blazonry of war to me;
And while my eyes rejoice,
My ears must listen to that other Voice,
My soul must suffer and my heart must break
For justice’ sake.

Beauty, thy flame will wait.
Another torch is burning at the gate.
It burneth early and it burneth late;
Another fire is seething in my soul;
Till I have said the whole
It bids me say. Beauty, thy flame must wait.
Beauty, thy universe is wide
And passionate with myriad suns that stride
Illimitable space. I may not hide
From thee, for thou art everywhere
And thou art rapturous even in despair.
Endless thou art, like to the radiant sand
Running obedient to my hand
And to my fingers tame.
Yet, though my spirit to thy rhythmic name
Flows like a river, every thought shall bend
Its pleading to another end.
And if, for just this while
Beauty, I leave thy smile
To answer the insistent human call,
I shall return again unto thy thrall.
The world’s great wound must heal,
Her tears must dry, ere I may feel
The sanction of my spirit, to relate
All I would say of thee. And so, Beauty,
Thy call must wait.

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Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: Selections on peace and war

October 13, 2021 Leave a comment
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Marguerite Steen: The wreckage of the wars

October 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

Marguerite Steen: The sheer destructiveness of war made him angry

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Marguerite Steen
From The Sun Is My Undoing

Along the waterfront, seeking the sunny patches, the bits of masonry that screened them from the wind, were the cripples, the one-legged, the one-eyed population whose minds (when these were capable of withdrawal from their empty stomachs) went ravelling over the eternal question: whether life were a thing to be glad of, or whether death were better than the lot a grateful nation prepares for its heroes. Clustered together in their misery, like heaps of human dung, the wreckage of the wars had caused the wharves to be avoided by decently clad individuals, whose appearance was signal for an instant outbreak of solicitation: Pity the blind, pity the lame, pity the starving. Half-naked children with wild eyes and little, claw-like hands ran about, begging from strangers, or lent their weakness to the support of some father or elder brother more helpless than themselves. Good-hearted people strove to spare a farthing; but there were others, pushing their shabby finery in and out of the quayside taverns, smart coats hanging like rags on deflated bodies, and an intimate acquaintance with hell in eyes that the prudent avoided.

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Frances Ellen Harper Watkins: Grant that peace and joy and gladness may like holy angels tread

October 11, 2021 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: Selections on peace and war

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Frances Ellen Harper Watkins
From Maceo

Men to stay the floods of sorrow
Sweeping round each war-crushed heart;
Men to say to strife and carnage –
From our world henceforth depart.

God of peace and God of nations,
Haste! oh, haste the glorious day
When the reign of our Redeemer
O’er the world shall have its sway.

When the swords now blood encrusted,
Spears that reap the battle field,
Shall be changed to higher service,
Helping earth rich harvests yield.

Where the widow weeps in anguish,
And the orphan bows his head,
Grant that peace and joy and gladness
May like holy angels tread.

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Paul Morand: You did not believe in the war

October 10, 2021 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Paul Morand: The magic disappearance of ten millions of war dead

Paul Morand: Nations never lay down their arms; death which is still combative

Paul Morand: The War for Righteousness ends in the burying of moral sense

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Paul Morand
From Clarisse
Translated by H. I. Woolf

You did not believe in the war. You said:

“Anyhow, it won’t last long.”

“It would be terrible….”

Or:

“But, it’s impossible, I’ve been in Munich.”

***

When I telephoned you that Germany was declaring war on Russia, you answered:

“I was in the garden cutting roses….”

You were anguished at the thought of all your relatives, your friends of France, but you could not free yourself from the security of dwellers in a place surrounded by water,

This country waked slowly to the war. The certainty of it came from without, at seeing the German Jews of the Commercial Road close their shutters, those of the West End hide their pictures, the drop of Consols in London, the fall of wool in Sydney, the flight of the Americans in nickelled carriages, and gold, still more timorous; at learning that arthritic diplomats were leaving the spas, in the middle of the cure, that kings were regaining their capitals, that other countries were closing their frontiers like bolted doors. Then it was the departure of French hair-dressers and cooks going down to the stations with a flag.

We saw warships leaving Portsmouth as every year for Cowes regatta, but their guns were unmuzzled and the German yachts were not there. The sea reacted first, then the coast where the coastguards climbed to the semaphores with their bundles wrapped in a green canvas bag. And the fever spread at last from the circumference to the center.

All this happened insensibly. England did not make acquaintance with that sleepless August night when millions of men kissed their wives with dry lips and burned their letters. She ignored the “clear for action,” did not close her port-holes, did not slip her moorings.

A policeman was merely put on point duty outside the German embassy.

And when it was understood, barracks were built.

But could it be understood other than slowly by this unscarred country where the children have never found the bullets of former wars bedded in the walls of their homes?

Would you hope to see the streets emptied of their walkers and their traffic at a given signal? Gowned advocates, amaranthyne-robed bailiffs, bewigged judges, book-makers in putty-colored overcoats with mother-of-pearl buttons, going on foot to the stations, on the road to inland garrisons, and peers guarding the bridges over which, as yet, no overfilled trains were passing toward our frontier?

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Gabriela Mistral: The Peace Round

October 8, 2021 Leave a comment

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

Women writers on peace and war

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Gabriela Mistral
The Peace Round
Translated by Alice Stone Blackwell

The mothers sit on their thresholds;
Of battles they tell, with dread.
The children out to the field have gone,
To gather the poppies red.

At the foot of their German mountains
The children at echoes play.
The children who dwell on the French side, too,
Break into a merry lay.

The song went all through the forests –
(The world seems a crystal clear) –
And with every song, the dancing groups
To each other have drawn more near.

They will meet ere long; the words of the song
They do not understand,
But when they look in each others; eyes,
They will soon join hand in hand.

The mothers will come out to seek them;
They will meet on the heights; I know
When they look on that living garland fair,
Their tears in a flood will flow.

The men will come out to seek them;
When so wide=spread a dance they view,
They will afraid to break it up,
They will laugh and join it too.

Then they will go down to the threshing floors,
And make bread, without a sigh;
And the circling dance, when the evening falls,
Will keep on still, on high.

====

Ronda de la paz
A don Enrique Molina.

Las madres, contando batallas,
sentadas están al umbral.
Los niños se fueron al campo
la piña de pino a cortar.

Se han puesto a jugar a los ecos
al pie de su cerro alemán.
Los niños de Francia responden
sin rostro en el viento del mar.

Refrán y palabra no entienden,
mas luego se van a encontrar,
y cuando a los ojos se miren
el verse será adivinar.

Ahora en el mundo el suspiro
y el soplo se alcanza a escuchar
y a cada refrán las dos rondas
ya van acercándose más.

Las madres, subiendo la ruta
de olores que lleva al pinar,
llegando a la rueda se vieron
cogidas del viento volar….

Los hombres salieron por ellas
y viendo la tierra girar
y oyendo cantar a los montes,
al ruedo del mundo se dan.

Después bajarán a las eras
A hacer sin sollozo su pan
Y cuando la tarde se apague
La ronda en lo alto estará.

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Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: Home from war

October 7, 2021 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: Selections on peace and war

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Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
Home, Sweet Home

Sharers of a common country,
They had met in deadly strife;
Men who should have been as brothers
Madly sought each other’s life.

In the silence of the even,
When the cannon’s lips were dumb,
Thoughts of home and all its loved ones
To the soldier’s heart would come.

On the margin of a river,
‘Mid the evening’s dews and damps,
Could be heard the sounds of music
Rising from two hostile camps.

One was singing of its section
Down in Dixie, Dixie’s land,
And the other of the banner
Waved so long from strand to strand.

In the land where Dixie’s ensign
Floated o’er the hopeful slave,
Rose the song that freedom’s banner,
Starry-lighted, long might wave.

From the fields of strife and carnage,
Gentle thoughts began to roam,
And a tender strain of music
Rose with words of “Home, Sweet Home.”

Then the hearts of strong men melted,
For amid our grief and sin
Still remains that “touch of nature,”
Telling us we all are kin.

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Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: Furl the banners stained with blood, ’till war shall be no more

October 6, 2021 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: Selections on peace and war

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Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
From Dedication Poem

To stay the floods of sin and shame
That sweep from shore to shore;
And furl the banners stained with blood,
‘Till war shall be no more.

Blame not the age, nor think it full
Of evil and unrest;
But say of every other age,
“This one shall be the best.”

The age to brighten every path
By sin and sorrow trod;
For loving hearts to usher in
The commonwealth of God.

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Claude Tellier: The king who drags his people to those vast slaughter-houses known as battle-fields is a murderer.

October 1, 2021 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Claude Tellier: At first sight you may think our enemies are men. You can tell them from human beings by the color of their uniforms.

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Claude Tellier
From My Uncle Benjamin
Translated by Marie Lorenz

“I believe, Monsieur Minxit, ” said he, “that the best thing for you to do is to put your sword back in the scabbard and your plumed hat in its box. War should be made only for extremely serious causes, and the king who drags a part of his people unnecessarily to those vast slaughter-houses known as battle-fields is a murderer. Perhaps it would flatter you, Monsieur Minxit, to be enrolled among the heroes. But what is the glory of a general ? Cities in ruins, villages in ashes, countries ravaged, women abandoned to the brutality of the soldiers, children led away captive, casks of wine in the cellars staved in. Have you not read Fénelon, Monsieur Minxit? All these things are atrocious. I shudder at the very thought of them.”

****

“My God, what is glory, and to whom does it go? The fuss they make about a name, is it so rare, so precious a blessing that peace, happiness, affection, the finest years of one’s life, and sometimes the peace of the world, should be sacrificed for it?”

****

“You are a brute thirsting for blood, a viper stinging for the mere pleasure of useless killing. And even the viper does not attack creatures of its own kind. When your adversary has fallen, you kneel in the blood-stained mud, you try to staunch the wounds you made, you act as if you were his best friend. Then why did you kill him, wretch? What good are your pangs of conscience? Will your tears replace the blood that you have shed? You, fashionable assassin, correct murderer, you find men to shake hands with you, mothers of families to invite you to their parties. Women who faint at the sight of the executioner are ready to press their lips to yours and let your head rest on their bosom. But these men and women, to be sure, judge things only by their names. If a man is killed by what is called murder, they are horrified. If he is killed by what is called a duel, they applaud. After all, how much time have you in which to enjoy this applause? Up on high ‘Murderer’ is inscribed after your name. On your brow is a blood-stain which all the kisses of your mistresses will not remove. No judge on earth has sentenced you; but up in heaven there is a judge awaiting you who will not be fooled by talk of honour….”

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Claude Tellier: At first sight you may think our enemies are men. You can tell them from human beings by the color of their uniforms.

September 30, 2021 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Claude Tellier: The king who drags his people to those vast slaughter-houses known as battle-fields is a murderer.

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Claude Tellier
From My Uncle Benjamin
Translated by Marie Lorenz

“They take a man in the heydey of youth, put a gun in his hands and a knapsack on his back, stick a cockade on his cap and say to him: ‘My brother of Prussia has wronged me. You are to attack all his subjects. I have warned them by my process server, whom I call a herald, that on the first of April next you will have the honour to present yourself at the frontier to cut their throats and they should be ready to welcome you properly. Between monarchs these are considerations that one owes the other. At first sight you may think our enemies are men. I warn you, they are Prussians. You can tell them from human beings by the colour of their uniforms. Try to do your duty well, for I shall be there sitting on my throne watching you. If bring back victory when you return to France, you will be led beneath the windows of my palace. I will appear in full uniform and say: ‘ Soldiers, I am satisfied with you.’ If you are one hundred thousand men, you will have a hundred-thousandth of these six words for your share. In case you should remain on the battlefield, which may very well happen, I will send your family the death certificate, so that they may mourn you, and that brothers may inherit your property. If you lose an arm or a leg, I will pay you what they are worth, but if you have the good or the ill fortune, whichever you may think it, to escape the bullet, and you no longer have the strength to carry your knapsack, I will dismiss you, and you can go die where you like. I have no further interest in the matter.“

“Exactly,” said the sergeant. ” When they have extracted the phosphorus of which they make their glory from our blood they throw us aside the way the wine-grower throws the grape skin on the muck heap, after he has pressed out the juice, or the way a child throws the pit of the fruit he has just eaten into the gutter. “

“…This is no laughing matter. Really, when I see these valiant soldiers, whose blood has made the glory of their country, obliged to spend the rest of their life in a cobbler’s hole of a workshop…while a multitude of gilded puppets snatch up all the taxes, and prostitutes have cashmere for their morning wrappers, a single one of which is worth the entire wardrobe of a poor housewife, I am furious at kings. If I were God, I would make them wear a uniform of lead, and condemn them to a thousand years of military service in the moon, with all their iniquities in their knapsacks. I’d make the emperors be corporals.”

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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

Marguerite Steen: The wreckage of the wars

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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.

****

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.

****

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.

****

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.

****

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.

****

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.

****

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….

****

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….

****

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

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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

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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

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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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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.

***

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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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

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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!

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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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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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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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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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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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