Dana Burnet: The Deserter

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

American writers on peace and against war

Dana Burnett: Selections on war

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Dana Burnet
The Deserter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

British writers on peace and war

Joseph Fawcett: Selections against war

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Joseph Fawcett
From The Art of War

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

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

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

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Vincent Godfrey Burns: The Hun

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

American writers on peace and against war

Vincent Godfrey Burns: An Ex-Serviceman Makes a Vow

Vincent Godfrey Burns: Hell à la mode

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Vincent Godfrey Burns
The Hun

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

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

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

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

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

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Nathan Haskell Dole: Selections on peace

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

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

Women writers on peace and war

Bertha von Suttner: Selections on peace and war

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

Translated by T. Holmes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thomas Merton: Simone Weil and why nations go to war

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

American writers on peace and against war

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Octave Mirbeau: To the Soldiers of all Countries

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

French writers on war and peace

Octave Mirbeau: Selections on war

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Octave Mirbeau
To the Soldiers of all Countries
Unknown translator

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

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

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

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

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

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

After a silence, he added :

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

He spoke again:

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

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

“I would rather have died there!”

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

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

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

American writers on peace and against war

Ernest Hartsock: Let Mars and all his mangled mourners pass

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Ernest Hartsock
Christ at Eight

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

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

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

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

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Carl Sandburg: Selections on war

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Edwin Arnold Brenholtz: Peace, the Conqueror

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

American writers on peace and against war

Edwin Arnold Brenholtz: The Passion of Peace

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Edwin Arnold Brenholtz
Peace, the Conqueror

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Ida Whipple Benham: The White Prince of peace

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

Ida Whipple Benham: The Friend of Peace

Ida Whipple Benham: War’s weeding

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Ida Whipple Benham
The White Prince

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

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

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

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

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Dana Burnet: Sleep, Little Soldier, Sleep

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

American writers on peace and against war

Dana Burnett: Selections on war

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Dana Burnet
Sleep, Little Soldier, Sleep

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

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

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

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Storm

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

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

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

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Ernest Crosby: The Bugler in the Rear


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

American writers on peace and against war

Ernest Crosby: Selections against war, for peace

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Ernest Crosby
The Bugler in the Rear
To Rudyard Kipling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Joseph Fawcett: Law prosecutes single murder, ignores mass murder

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

British writers on peace and war

Joseph Fawcett: Selections against war

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Joseph Fawcett
From The Art of War

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

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

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

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

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

British writers on peace and war

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

Max Plowman: The God of War

Max Plowman: The Goddess of War

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Max Plowman
Letter to his battalion adjutant, 1918

Sir,

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

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

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

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

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

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Joseph Conrad: War makes earth a pagan planet

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

British writers on peace and war

Joseph Conrad: Selections on war

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Joseph Conrad
From A Warrior’s Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

Angela Morgan: In Spite of War

Angela Morgan: Mothers “Go, fashion the Future’s laws that war shall be no more”

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Angela Morgan
Battle Cry of the Mothers

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

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

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

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

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

American writers on peace and against war

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John McGovern
From The Golden Censer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Charles Edward Montague: The disconcerting bombs of Christian pacifism

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

British writers on peace and war

Charles Edward Montague: Selections on war and its aftermath

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Charles Edward Montague
From Disenchantment

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

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

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

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

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Robert Whitaker: The Starred Mother

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

American writers on peace and against war

Robert Whitaker: Whence Cometh War?

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Robert Whitaker
The Starred Mother

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

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

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

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

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Katrina Trask: After the Battle

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

Katrina Trask: Selections on war and peace

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Katrina Trask
From Free Not Bound

After the Battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I killed you? Don’t say that!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hermann Hagedorn: Selections against war

Categories: Uncategorized

Joseph Fawcett: Selections against war

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Bertha von Suttner: War’s sophistry. At last the monster creeps out.

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

Women writers on peace and war

Bertha von Suttner: Selections on peace and war

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

Translated by T. Holmes

“Treaty,” the word sounds so promising of peace. It was not till afterwards that I learned that international treaties very often only serve, by means of opportune violations of them, to introduce what is called a casus belli. Then it is only necessary for one party to charge the other with “a breach of treaty,” and immediately the swords spring out of their sheaths with all the appearance of a defence of violated rights.

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“Martha is frightened,” said Aunt Mary, who was present at this conversation, “of exposing her only son to danger, but she forgets that if one is destined to die, that fate will overtake one in one’s bed as surely as in battle – “

“Then, suppose 100,000 men to have fallen in a war, they would all have been killed in peace, too?”

Aunt Mary was not at a loss for an answer. “It was the destiny of these 100,000 to die in war.”

“But if men had the sense not to begin any war,” I suggested.

“Oh! but that is an impossibility,” cried my father, and then the conversation turned again into a controversy such as my father and I used often to wage, and always on the same lines. On the one side, the same assertions and principles; on the other, the same counter assertions and opposite principles. There is nothing to which the fable of the hydra is so applicable as to some standing difference of opinion. No sooner have you cut one head off the argument, and settled yourself to send the second the same way, when, lo! the first has grown again. Thus my father had one or two favourite positions in favour of war which nothing could uproot: –

  1. Wars are ordained by God Himself – the Lord of Hosts – see the Holy Scriptures.
  2. There have always been wars, and consequently there always will be wars.
  3. Mankind, without this occasional decimation, would increase at too great a rate.
  4. Continual peace relaxes, effeminates, produces – like stagnant water – corruption; especially the degeneration of morals.
  5. Wars are the best means for putting in practice self-sacrifice, heroism – in short, the firmer elements of the character.
  6. Men will always contend. Perfect agreement in all their views is impossible; divergent interests must be always impinging on each other, consequently everlasting peace is a contradiction in terms.

None of these positions – in particular none of the “consequentlies” contained in them – could be kept standing if stoutly attacked. But each of them served the defender as a bulwark, if compelled to let another of them fall, and while the new bulwark was being reduced to ruins he had been setting the old one up again. For example, if the champion of war, driven into a corner, has to confess that peace is more worthy of humanity, more rich in blessing, more favourable to culture, than war, he says: “Oh, yes; war is an evil, but it is inevitable”; and then follow Nos. 1 and 2. Then if one shows that it could be avoided and how – by alliances of states, arbitration courts and so forth – then comes the reply: “Oh, yes; war could be avoided, but it ought not”; and then come in Nos. 4 and 5. Then if the advocate of peace upsets these objections, and goes on to prove that on the contrary “war hardens men and dehumanises them”. “Oh, yes; I allow that, but – ” No. 3. This argument, too, is overthrown, for it is admitted that Nature herself will see that “the trees do not grow up to the sky,” and wants no assistance from man to that end. This, again, turns out not to be the result which the possessor of force has in view in making war. Granted, but No. 1. And so there is no end to the debate. The advocate of war is always in the right; his reasoning moves in a circle, where you may always follow, but can never catch him. “War is a horrible evil, but it must exist. I grant it is not a necessity, but it is a great good.” This want of consecutiveness, of logical honesty, all those people incur who defend a cause on principles which are not axiomatic, or else with no principles, merely from instinct, and to that end will make use of all such phrases or commonplaces as may have come to their ears, and which have obtained currency, in the maintenance of that cause. That these arguments do not proceed from the same points of view, that accordingly they not only do not support each other, but even do directly neutralise each other, makes no matter to them. It is not because this or that reasoning has originated from their own reflections, or is in harmony with their own convictions, that it comes into their train of argument; they merely use to bolster the latter up, without any selection, the conclusions which others have thought out.

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“…But if the others are going on still to behave themselves in an impudent and arrogant way, and so to make war inevitable, then our victory is assured, and with it conquests which are absolutely incalculable. It were to be wished that it would break out – “

“Oh yes! and you do wish it too, father, and the whole Council of War seems to be with you! Then, I should like it better if you said it out plainly! Only do not let us have this falsehood – this assurance to the people and the friends of peace that all this purchasing of weapons and demands for war-credits are only for the purpose of your beloved peace. If you are already showing your teeth and closing your fists, do not whisper soft words all the while. If you are trembling with impatience to draw the sword, do not make believe that it is only from precaution that you are laying your hand on the hilt.”

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Now followed a time of fluctuating hopes and fears. To-day it was “Peace is secure,” to-morrow “War inevitable”. Most persons were of the latter view. Not so much because the situation pointed to a bloody arbitrament, but on this account, that if once the word “war” has been pronounced there may be a good deal of debating one way and the other, but experience shows that the end always is war. The little invisible egg which contains the casus belli is brooded over so long that at last the monster creeps out of it.

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Mikhail Artsybashev: The death of a single soldier

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

Russian writers on war

Mikhail Artsybashev: Don’t talk to me about the beauty of war. No, no, your war is ugly.

Mikhail Artsybashev: A mother’s simple prescription against war

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Mikhail Artsybashev
From War
Translated by Thomas Seltzer

PRINCE [after rapidly glancing over the telegram, and looking at Semyonov with an expression of horror]. Good God! What’s to be done now? What does it mean?

SEMYONOV [He remains standing in the same position with his back to the Prince. He speaks hoarsely]. What? Killed! That’s all! – They’ve killed him. [He turns around swiftly, snatches the telegram from the Prince’s hands and sticks it in his pocket]. My! How stupid ! Why are you standing there like that? Go tell Nina Petrovna. She’ll know how to manage it better than we – and I’ll try to break it to Asya. – Well? Why aren’t you going? Go, please.

The Prince obediently crosses over to the door and goes out.

SEMYONOV. There! Volodya, too! The devil!

He bites his moustache, and remains standing in the middle of the room, sunk in thought. – A shrill, piercing cry is heard from a distance inside the house. Semyonov trembles, lets his moustache drop out of his mouth, and listens. The cry is repeated. Hurried steps are heard and the Prince runs in.

PRINCE. She heard me tell her. Do you hear? How terrible!

SEMYONOV. Who? Olga Petrovna?

PRINCE. Yes – I told Nina – she heard me. I think we must call a doctor.

SEMYONOV. What’s the good of a doctor? The devil! – And Asya will be here any minute, too.

The wild shriek draws nearer; the door opens noisily and Olga Petrovna rushes in with her gray hair undone, looking pitiful and terrible. Nina comes running after her, weeping, distracted and trying to quiet her.

NINA. Mamma! Dear Mamma! For Heaven’s sake!

OLGA. Where is it? Where? It is not true – not true! – Killed! – It’s not true! – Volodya killed! – Who said it?

She reels and falls. Nina and the Prince catch her and put her in a chair. Nina puts her arms around her neck, kisses her, strokes her head and cries.

NINA. Mamma! My dear little mother! Mamma! You mustn’t. – My darling mother.

PIOTR [entering, and with quick, firm steps crossing directly over to Olga. His face is gravely solemn and seems as though turned into stone]. Olga!

OLGA [flinging herself at him and clutching his hands]. Piotr – they are lying, aren’t they? Volodya killed! – Piotr! [She seizes him with her hands, but instantly pushes him back and tears herself away from Nina’s embrace.] It isn’t true. – It cannot be. – Leave me alone! – [She breaks away from her seat, runs into a corner, goes down on her knees and, as in a fit of madness, begins to bow her head rapidly to the ground.] Lord, Lord, Lord! – Lord!

Piotr Ivanovich drops heavily on a chair near the table and covers his face with his hands. Asya appears at the door, in a hat and jacket, pale and frightened. At sight of Olga Petrovna kneeling and bowing she stops as though anchored to the spot and her hands drop limply to her sides.

OLGA [bowing her head]. They have killed Volodya! Volodya! – Oh, Lord, Lord, help! – Help, Lord!

Piotr Ivanovich drops heavily on a chair near the table and covers his face with his hands. Asya appears at the door, in a hat and jacket, pale and frightened. At sight of Olga Petrovna kneeling and bowing she stops as though anchored to the spot and her hands drop limply to her sides.

OLGA [bowing her head]. They have killed Volodya! Volodya! – Oh, Lord, Lord, help! – Help, Lord!- [Seeing Asya.] Asya! – Asya darling! Our Volodya is no more. They have killed our Volodya! [Crawling to her on her knees, she takes both Asya’s hands and kisses them again and again.] Killed! Asya! – Asya darling! – No more Volodya. – Lord, Lord, Lord!

Asya stands absolutely rigid, wide-eyed, and staring blankly before her. Nina sits with her head on the table, sobbing. The Prince and Semyonov stand aside with bowed heads. Piotr Ivanovich sits at the table, his face buried in his hands, but dry-eyed.

====

NINA [quietly]. You must pardon my father, Prince. Volodya’s terrible death has made a perfect baby of him. He is only the wreck of his former self.

PRINCE [deferentially and sadly]. I understand, Nina Petrovna.

NINA [sitting down on the balustrade where her father had been sitting]. Papa cannot endure to hear anything about Volodya. You know, he never wept a tear. He just keeps quiet. And his silence is more horrible than the worst crying and sobbing. It is so awfully hard to look at him, so hard! Good God, when will this war end? When will it end? And will those who caused it never be brought to account for all the tears, all the misery?

PRINCE. I think they will.

NINA. Is it possible that after all these horrors there will again be wars and people will again die and be killed? Is it possible that the people will never come to their senses, never understand what they are doing?

PRINCE. I don’t think they ever will.

There is silence.

NINA [musingly]. Semyonov said that war can never be done away with because war is not opposed to human nature, but on the contrary is quite in keeping with human nature. Can that be true?

PRINCE. Oh, well, there may be a difference of opinion as to that.

NINA. I don’t see how there can be any difference of opinion. [With heat] If it were as Semyonov says, then I think the human race ought simply be wiped off the face of the earth. It would have no right to exist.

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Carl Sandburg: Statistics

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Carl Sandburg
Iron

Guns,
Long, steel guns,
Pointed from the war ships
In the name of the war god.
Straight, shining, polished guns,
Clambered over with jackies in white blouses,
Glory of tan faces, tousled hair, white teeth,
Laughing lithe jackies in white blouses,
Sitting on the guns singing war songs, war chanties.

Shovels,
Broad, iron shovels,
Scooping out oblong vaults,
Loosening turf and leveling sod.

I ask you
To witness –
The shovel is brother to the gun.

====

Statistics

Napoleon shifted,
Restless in the old sarcophagus
And murmured to a watchguard:
“Who goes there?”
“Twenty-one million men,
Soldiers, armies, guns,
Twenty-one million
Afoot, horseback,
In the air,
Under the sea.”
And Napoleon turned to his sleep:
“It is not my world answering;
It is some dreamer who knows not
The world I marched in
From Calais to Moscow.”
And he slept on
In the old sarcophagus
While the aeroplanes
Droned their motors
Between Napoleon’s mausoleum
And the cool night stars.

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Nathan Haskell Dole: The Reign of Peace

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

American writers on peace and against war

Nathan Haskell Dole: Selections on peace

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Nathan Haskell Dole
The Reign of Peace

1
In the ruthful Reign of Peace
When War’s red flag is furled.
When all Armies find release
Around the waking World,
When the battle-scars are healed.
War’s wicked waste redeemed,
Nobler powers shall be revealed
Than ever Prophet dreamed.

2
Fabled tales of Paradise,
The Poet’s Age of Gold,
Which in Fancy took their rise.
Shall be surpast tenfold.
Gold that winged Destruction’s blasts,
That idle armies fed.
That provided Death’s repasts
Of men untimely dead,
Turned to use beneficent
Will change the face of Earth,
Bring about, when wisely spent,
The end of Plague and Dearth;
Lay smooth roads across the land.
For traffic and for pride,
Where broad Rivers shall be spanned
With Bridges strong and wide;
Found Museums where shall glow
The richest stores of Art –
Schools where happy youth shall grow
In grace of Mind and Heart,
Colleges where Wisdom’s Fount
Shall flow serene and pure –
Libraries where fast shall mount
The books that will endure,
Noble Theatres where plays
Worthy of worthiest stage
Show how the Thespian art can raise
The standards of an age,
Where a school of Song shall claim
Great Operas that shall lift
Their composers into fame,
By reason of their gift.

3
Sun-scorched, arid Wastes shall smile.
With flowers and fruits and grain;
Water led by many a wile
Thro’ leagues of sandy plain
Shall awake the wilderness
To Beauty and to Gain,
Hosts of men to cheer and bless
Who once had toiled in vain.

4
Cities shall be beautified
With all that Art and Wealth
From the broad World can provide
For comfort, pleasure, health:
Parks where every tree and flower
Shall yield the eye delight.
Fountains where the crystal shower
Shall cool the Summer night;
Groves where joyous birds shall sing
And raptured lovers rove;
Halls where Eloquence shall bring
Her power to thrill and move;
Statues cast from richest bronze,
From purest marble hewed;
Splendid arches whose carved stones
With voices are endued,
Telling of the glorious lives
Heroic yeomen led
Thro’ whom Liberty survives.
And Happiness is spread.

5
Music shall sound everywhere,
Like founts of generous Wine,
Lightening human grief and care
With harmonies divine.
Poverty will be a name,
For Work shall hold for all;
Sweet Philanthropy shall flame
Where’er mischance befall;
Bitter rivalries of Trade,
Shall yield to saner ways;
Strikes shall cease with Justice made
The measurer of men’s days,
Arbitration sit on high
To settle feud and broil;
Wise Co-operation’s tie
Shall bind the sons of toil.

6
Education’s flower shall bloom.
In Childhood’s freshest time;
Children shall not meet their doom
By drifting into crime.
When the hand of Sympathy
Can lead them safe along
In the path of probity
And leave them wise and strong.

7
Prisons shall be tactful schools
Where weaker men may learn
Life’s inexorable rules –
The power and will to earn!
Wealth – the unearned increment –
Shall be a public trust.
Ne’er for selfish pleasure spent
Or kept for Lucre’s lust.

8
When the Golden Rule shall gain
The Sanction of mankind,
When the Son of God shall reign
O’er Heart and Soul and Mind,
Saints will not have prayed in vain
Nor Martyrs life resigned.

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Edith Matilda Thomas: The Flag

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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

Edith Matilda Thomas: Air war: They are not humans.

Edith Matilda Thomas: The Altar of Moloch

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Edith Matilda Thomas
The Flag

There were three colors in the banner bright
On which the maidens stitched and stitched all day.
Their needles glanced, for with the morrow-light
Each saw her hero-lover march away.

Save one, the maidens stitched with fond, proud haste;
And her they chide: “Why do thy fingers lag?
Think but how fair will gleam by farm and waste
The red, the white, the blue, of their loved flag.”

The maiden lifted not her hands, her eyes:
“The red of flowing blood I see,” she said;
“The white of faces upturned to the skies,
The blue of heaven wide above the dead.”

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Jessie Wiseman Gibbs: They say they are of Christ and do the works of Cain

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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

Jessie Wiseman Gibbs: Selections from the Peace Sonnets

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Jessie Wiseman Gibbs
From Peace Sonnets

XXIII
I said in haste, “O for the famine or
“The pestilence, to make us think on God!”
I knew not what I said, nor how his rod
Would smite the nations with this awful war!
If we have need of signs, what look we for
More than this bubbling blood, by blind hate sod,
Dishonored and cast out on every clod,
Which should be of Christ’s life inheritor?

O be thou wiser, my Beloved: know
They live by Him in whom his spirit dwells
Of faith and love! They triumph who dare show
The godlike deeds thereof! But Satan quells
Their valor, and they perish in defeat
Who doubt with doubt and hate with hatred meet!

XXIV
How shall we pray for them, O God, who say
They are of Christ, and do the works of Cain,
Who mind no more that they are men, nor chain
Within their bosoms the wild beasts of prey,
But let them forth to ravish and to slay,
Putting their trust in Satan and his train?
Yet are we of their kindred and their strain
For their peace and our own, we can but pray!

Yet not for peace alone, but righteousness
And truth, wherein are peace that shall endure,
And love, which is alone the perfect cure
Of all their ills and ours, the potent law
Of Heaven’s Kingdom, that must surely draw
The nations to its sway, ere Thou canst bless.

XXVI
I see through this most sacrilegious feast
Of lust and blood, a hand come on the wall
Of modern palaces and write the fall
Of kings; for from the greatest to the least,
They have been weighed in balances and ceased
From honor, having been found wanting, all,
Bringing the world again to brutish brawl:
Therefore shall they be cast out as the beast,

Until they know that God is more than they;
And these their kingdoms God shall take away
From them and give to Him who rules by right
Divine of love, and by its perfect might;
Who leads his subjects into peace, not strife,
And suffers death, Himself, to give them life.

XXVIII
The earth is God’s, the continents and seas,
The islands and the inland streams and lakes,
Each gloomy fern and golden fin that shakes
In water, each glad wing that beats the breeze
Of air, all ores and gems that melt and freeze
In hidden ducts of mountains; for He makes
Them all, and all the seeds of life, and wakes
Anew each year the beasts and grass and trees.

And ye, O Nations, do but hold in trust
A little while this wealth of his for all
His children, and should in one council call
On Him for strength to minister such stores
In honor; but ye slay the heirs and thrust
Them forth, to seize the inheritance for yours!

XXIX
Above the noise of battle and the cry
Of wounded and of dying, the vast groans
Of wasted provinces, the gathered moans
Of widows and of orphans, through the sky
I hear a Voice of lamentation high
As Heaven, a Voice of love and tears whose tones
Bewailed of old the city’s doomed stones,
That would not own her King when He was nigh.

How oft would I have gathered you, O States,
O Races, in my saving Kingdom’s fold,
But ye would not! – But still without the gates
Slew Me, nor knew your day of visitation,
Desiring this day, whereof I foretold
That it should bring such wrath and desolation!

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George Bernard Shaw: Religion as antidote to war

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

British writers on peace and war

George Bernard Shaw: Selections on war

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George Bernard Shaw
From a speech in Covent Garden, London, 1921

Are you going to tolerate secular education which for the last fifty years has meant the grossest materialism – are you going to allow what is called Neo-Darwinism to be taught to your children in schools at a time when their minds are being formed? There must be a state religion as a cultural institution. You will never have a Socialist state until you take education in hand, and education must have a religious basis.

All our vital and fundamental laws are religious at root, religion being the foundation of the essential duties. If you have people legislating without any religious foundation, you will get the sort of thing we have had from 1914 to 1920. When irreligious men control affairs the danger of war is greatly increased, especially now that the implements of war are so cheap. That is why Ireland is such a fearful danger to the British Empire. The only remedy for war is conscience, and you won’t have conscience until you have religion carefully taught and inculcated.

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Thomas Curtis Clark: Apparitions

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

American writers on peace and against war

Thomas Curtis Clark: Bugle Song of Peace

Thomas Curtis Clark: Who made war?

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Thomas Curtis Clark
Apparitions

Who goes there, in the night,
Across the storm-swept plain?
We are the ghosts of a valiant war –
A million murdered men!

Who goes there at the dawn,
Across the sun-swept plain?
We are the hosts of those who swear:
It shall not be again!

Categories: Uncategorized

George Meredith: Nations at war are wild beasts

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

British writers on peace and war

George Meredith: Selections on peace and war

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George Meredith
From The Adventures of Harry Richmond

“Dearest, you have nations fighting: a war is only an exaggerated form of duelling.”

“Nations at war are wild beasts,’ she replied. “The passions of these hordes of men are not an example for a living soul. Our souls grow up to the light: we must keep eye on the light, and look no lower. Nations appear to me to have no worse than a soiled mirror of themselves in mobs. They are still uncivilized: they still bear a resemblance to the old monsters of the mud. Do you not see their claws and fangs, Harry? Do you find an apology in their acts for intemperate conduct? Men who fight duels appear in my sight no nobler than the first desperate creatures spelling the cruel A B C of the passions.”

====

Fighting, I said, resembled butting, – a performance proper to creatures that grow horns instead of brains…not to allude to a multitude of telling remarks; and the question “Is man a fighting animal?” my answer being that he is not born with spurs on his heels or horns to his head and that those who insisted on fighting should be examined by competent anatomists, “ologists” of some sort, to decide whether they have the excrescences, and proclaim them…touching on these lighter parts of my theme with extreme delicacy.

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Hermann Hagedorn: The fourth estate turning the thoughts of our children to war

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

American writers on peace and against war

Hermann Hagedorn: Selections against war

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Hermann Hagedorn
From Makers of Madness
A Play in One Act and Three Scenes

POLLEN

[He picks up one of the papers off the floor.

I see you have been honoring me by reading them. Don’t my papers tell you that there’s going to be war?

CONROY

No one pretends, Pollen, that your papers are wonders of undecorated truth.

POLLEN

Well, this time, trust them. What if they do lie about facts occasionally? I am not interested in facts. Facts are always misleading. But I know something about psychology –

CONROY

And you’re sure?

GROSVENOR

How can you be sure?

POLLEN

[Standing at the window.

Because the people are smelling blood. That’s why. And now they won’t let up till they’re satisfied. I’ve watched the war-feeling growing for a year. I tried ’em out on headlines and editorials, first little mild fellows to set them thinking. Then, when their thoughts were set toward trouble, well, we increased the percentage of oxygen.

[Thoughtfully.

It’s been extremely interesting. The psychology of crowds is one of the most satisfying subjects I have ever studied. Say, fifteen, twenty millions, that individually hate you, but as a crowd, a body of readers, unconsciously, perhaps, even against their will, do exactly what you say. We’re going to have war, because the people have now got to a state in which they believe that nothing short of war will save them from utter ruin. They want war. I know it. The circulation of my papers has mounted by the hundred thousand daily. And it isn’t only because the people want the news. They want the excitement. It’s the gambling instinct in them. They’ve seen the ball rolling, and they can’t keep out of the game. The very bigness of the thing lures them on; the bigger the issue, the bigger the fascination. The millions of men and the billions of dollars – that lures them. And the awfulness – the dead, the wounded, the horrors, that lures them like nothing else. There was one thing missing until tonight.

GROSVENOR

[Fascinated.

What was that?

POLLEN

Fear. They were too cocksure. But I gave them fear in the eight o’clock extra. There was a rumor that the rest of Europe would take part.

GROSVENOR

[With a malicious glance.

That looks well for your business, Conroy.

CONROY

I’m not complaining.

POLLEN

We’re playing the thing up in the late editions all over the country. It’ll give the people a queer catch in the throat. They’ll see the possibility of a fierce struggle, even of defeat. There’ll be a wonderful wave of patriotism. You watch. The people’ll rise right up. In twenty-four hours there won’t be a man in the country that’ll be able to tell black from white. All they’ll see will be red.

[Pointing out of the window.

Look at the people out there, standing round. They can’t stay indoors. They’re waiting for the extras. They won’t believe ’em when they read ’em, but they can’t resist the excitement. Well, the bonfire’s ready. Nothing lacking now except the match.

====

POLLEN

[Laughing softly.

There you go.

[He presses a bell-button on the wall, bends over the writing-desk and writes a line which he encloses in an envelope.

You’re easy. And there are a hundred million like you. When it comes to war, reason goes to sleep. You both of you knew perfectly well that I had absolutely no later news than you, but you let yourself be hypnotized like children. I can do anything I want with you.

====

POLLEN

I merely advise you. It isn’t always considered patriotic when the people want war, for a Senator to want peace too hard. I shall strive to point that out to twenty million people or so tomorrow morning. Make your will, Senator. The avalanche is coming. You’ll be the loneliest voice that ever came out of the wilderness. I prophesy your swift demise.

HARRADAN

This is wartime. Most of us are ready to die, if necessary. Only some of us would rather die in the service of peace than in the service of war. You’re a very powerful man, Mr. Pollen. I don’t doubt at all that you can kill me if you put your mind on it. You have poisoned the whole nation. You are at liberty to kill me outright, but I won’t let you slow-poison me.

====

CONROY

[Bluntly.

And why shouldn’t we be down here? I’m in a legitimate business. Guns. And I’m looking after my interests. I’m not declaring war. But if there is a war I don’t see any reason why I should get left in the scramble.

HARRADAN

War! God, do you know what the word means? I’ve been in two wars. I’ve seen and heard and – smelt battlefields. And I’ve seen women and children waiting at home – and waiting.

POLLEN

I’ll give you a thousand dollars, Senator, for a thousand-word article on the horrors of war. You can’t make it strong enough.

MAYNARD

[Laughing.

That’s one on you, Senator.

====

HARRADAN

…You and your kind are stirring up the millions to dream of war, to shout about defending our national honor – What honor is there in murder? – stirring their blood with the fifes and drums of your rhetoric! Through your newspapers, you are turning the thoughts of our children to war, our children who should be to us the symbol of a nobler, purer future rising out of the sordid wreckage of the present – you make them drunk with your cant about national glory – glory! – until their innocent faces glow feverishly up to you, hungry for battle. You will not rest until you hear the terrible savage cry from their lips – War, war! You shall not hear it if I can prevent it! I am going to the Senate now. In fifteen minutes your names shall be a byword and a hissing among the nations. The best you can do is to take your vile guns and turn them on yourselves!

====

[The stage grows light again. In the foreground, a black group of trees may be dimly discerned; beyond are indistinct hills and the last glow of a bloody sunset. Smoke and dust blacken the scene. Even before the cloud breaks to reveal the valley for a moment, the low roar is suddenly broken by the rattle of musketry, followed by the booming of artillery and the drumming sound of the machine guns. A trumpet sounds the charge. The dust cloud breaks. A thickly crowded mass of men is vaguely seen through the twilight charging with cries and curses. The rear ranks press over the fallen, waver, shout and fall back. The rattle of musketry continues. The men return to the charge, are repulsed once more with awful slaughter and again return. The dust cloud passes over the scene. It is night now. The wounded are tossing on the field, shrieking. Ghouls prowl about. A flock of buzzards flies across the moon. In the distance is heard a shout of victory, then the national anthem once more, played by a trumpeter. A thousand voices seem to rise out of the ground, moaning, drowning out the music. Then a woman’s voice, clear and distinct.

VOICE

How long, O Lord? How long?

[Cries and wailings answer the cry. Silence. Again the bugle, drowned out by cries, cries, cries.

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Evgeny Bogat: Rembrandt’s girl

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

Russian writers on war

Evgeny Bogat: Hiroshima and Socrates

Evgeny Bogat: In a world of napalm and burning villages, love is the triumph over non-existence

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Evgeny Bogat
From Eternal Man
Translated by Christine Bushnell

The subject of “Night Watch” is famous: the Banning Cock Company is setting out on a march – one person is beating a drum, another is loading a musket, another is raising a flag. The atmosphere of the painting is permeated with military pride, and there is rather a dramatic touch in the depiction of happy people whose powder is already damp. It is one of Rembrandt’s most charming physical canvases and recently restoration work has wonderfully brought the figures to life. For long decades the painting hung in the Amsterdam infantry guild, where damp peat burned in the fireplace. It became darker from the smoke, as if true to its mysterious name: “Night Watch.” But a number of questions also arose. Recently, under the soot and later layers of paint the restorers discovered sunny Rembrandt tones. Thus the old name was curious, but there was another riddle – the girl in the crowd of armed people. What was she doing there, and why is she in that particular place on the canvas? It is the brightest and most radiant spot of the canvas, and a number of investigators interpreted her (before the restoration) as a ray of light contrasting with the somber tones. They were convinced Rembrandt was using the girl to light up the dark night. But it is night no longer, and the girl is still there. She has become even more of a riddle. Why did the artist depict her among those people, people who do not see her? The majority of the figures in the painting are shielded by one another and this brings forth the ire of some of the soldiers who are very close together pushing one another, practically standing on top of one another. But the girl is out in the open. Had this not been a group of burghers parading in full military dress, but a real battle in a moment of real danger, the girl would be an extremely easy target. Her defenselessness amidst gunpowder in this theatrical picture is shocking. But the world is not a riddle for me, she arouses my fear for her safety, alarm over a world in which beating a drum is more important than protecting a child….

In the girl standing out in the open I see Anne Frank, the girls from Auschwitz, from Hiroshima. I wish at least one of the figures of “Night Watch” would shield her with his own body, but they are all too busy with themselves. And their clothes, weapons, and bearing all express militarism.

====

[In an imaginary dialogue with Rembrandt]

We spent long hours talking about man and he told me things of infinite importance that have played a tremendous role in my understanding of the world. He helped me to better understand the people around me and these people helped me, in turn, to more fully understand his canvases. He said that most of his contemporaries could not realize their potential in verse, music, love and good deeds. He said that man, in his inner depths, is incomparable richer than he appears on the surface. With each epoch we must become more and more conscious of this difference and as mankind develops the difference will become less and less tragic. He told me about women who died without ever falling in love, or who fell in love but never came to know the fullness of life. He talked about poets who never wrote a line, and even about artists who did not leave one canvas behind. He spoke of people who did not create a hundredth of what they were capable of, of people who did not carry through what they were born to do. He helped me sense the very essence of man, to keenly perceive his unfulfilled promise. And I better understand the golden twilight of his paintings and their sorrow, He told me about burned manuscripts, ruined canvases, broken hearts, and unfulfilled promises.

====

There are many entirely similar men and women, but there are no children exactly alike. It would seem that differences among persons and differences in character should become more apparent as people grow older. But this is not the case. The differences sadly fade away, leaving only the memory of the wonderfully unique world of childhood. Where has the child gone? Can it really be that a despondent, untalented person who goes around with an ordinary expression on his face and stereotyped phrases – can it be that once he was a child? At times, one may think, the child has really departed, he quietly slipped away at daybreak so that he would not have to turn into this person. He is living somewhere else – drawing, making models, delighting in the world, loving dogs and sunshine. Is there, perhaps, somewhere, a fantastic land of boys and girls who run away to remain themselves? In this land of the eternal child there is no boy-Socrates, no boy-Tolstoy, for they did not need to run away, they live within eternal man. And perhaps in the future the population of this fantastic land will cease to grow, and not a single boy or girl will be added in the next 1,000 years, because man will, in the future, be able to keep the child within himself. The child will have no need to run away. And then the words “untalented person” will seems as absurd as “untalented child” seems today.

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Vincent Godfrey Burns: Hell à la mode

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

American writers on peace and against war

Vincent Godfrey Burns: An Ex-Serviceman Makes a Vow

====

Vincent Godfrey Burns
Hell à la mode

Zero hour!
Advance!
The military Power
Decrees….
Out from their trenches, mud-holes, trees,
The doughboys, trembling in a trance,
Knee-deep in mud
And blood,
Through dark like pitch
Pierced by stabs of flame,
Teeth-clenched and faces tense,
Move forward with that haunting sense
Of a horrible fear too wild to tame,
Fear like some mad shrieking witch
Driving them stumbling, staggering, stubbornly on –
On through the chaos and horrors of a million hells –
On through the shower of a million shells –
On, on through the dark and the mud and the thunder,
Thunder like one brazen wall of noise.
On, on, heels crunching out the brains of boys
As rank after rank goes under!
For before the hurtlings of that red-hot steel
Lines break like paper, bodies sway and reel,
Nothing can live on that bullet-swept plain,
Even tank or trench or tree is vain
To stand up against that iron rain,
(Rain for a crop grim Death will reap
When the scythe of War leaves its bloody heap….)
Like trees struck by lightning human bodies fall;
And the killing continues as cruel as fate
Until nothing is left on the field at all,
Nothing – but mud and blood and wire,
And in the slough of that awful mire,
Fragments of sons that were slaughtered and slain,
And cries of their anguish in the hellish gloom,
Cries that sound like the Day of Doom,
Cries of beings gone mad with pain,
Cries of suffering and terrible hate,
Cries of a host’s last gasping breath,
And over it all, at last, at last,
When the fearful fury of the battle is past,
The silence of wreckage and ruin and death!

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Edward Arnold Brenholtz: Selections on peace and war

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Clement Wood: Seedtime and harvest

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

American writers on peace and against war

Clement Wood: Victory – Without Peace

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Clement Wood
Seedtime

Not too deep we plant the grain,
So that it can rise again
To re-green the naked field,
Minting all its golden yield.

But these slaughtered men should sleep
Planted deep, planted deep.
They have had their share of pain,
And they would not rise again.

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Harvest

Out of the blood-washed trenches,
Leaving their bodies there,
The souls of the dead young soldiers
Float up the friendless air.

They do not seek the masters
Who herded them to this fate.
With hearts all hot for vengeance, –
They are too dead to hate.

But each one finds the maiden
He trembled for in life –
She who was yet his sweetheart.
She who was his young wife.

And she feels on her hungry bosom
The ghost of a dead caress.
As the soul of her lover scatters
Into gray nothingness.

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Dana Burnet: The Glory of War

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

American writers on peace and against war

Dana Burnett: Selections on war

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Dana Burnet
The Glory of War

Hoof-beat and trumpet blast,
And banners in the dawn!
And what of the grain in the fallow field
When the husbandman has gone?

Sword song and battle roar,
And the great grim fighting-line!
And what of the woman in the door
And the blown grape on the vine?

Drum-beat and draped flag
And he beneath his shield
And what of the woman weeping low,
And the dead grain in the field?

====

The Survivor

Have ye heard the thunder down the wind?
Have ye seen the smoke against the sky?
Nay, for my love goes from my arms
To march and die!

Have ye seen the scarlet battle flags,
The distant lightnings of the sword?
Nay, for my house hath lost its king,
My heart its lord.

Have ye heard the splendid lifting song
The wind-blown paean of the strife?
Nay, for they sing of Death – and I
Am chained to life!

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Ernest Crosby: Woman and War


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

American writers on peace and against war

Ernest Crosby: Selections against war, for peace

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Ernest Crosby
Woman and War

I saw a lamb gnashing its untried teeth,
Rending the fleece
Of its own brother, piece by piece.
Until beneath
Blood trickled red upon the heath,
And stained the mouth of that perverted lamb
That mouth not made to frighten,
But rather to whiten
With the innocent milk of its dam.

I heard a bobolink in June
Forget its limpid tune,
And choose the shriek and angry talk
Of a carrion hawk;
And I saw it swooping, mad, relentless, down,
Where in a tuft of long couch-grass
Lay an unprotected nest,
Hidden from those who pass,
But spied from above as a spot of brown
By the bird on its ruthless quest.

“Oh God,” I cried, “what ails the universe?
What hell-born curse
Has stirred these gentle hearts to strike?
What anti-natural taint
Makes devil and saint
In hate and cruelty alike?

God did not answer; yet He was not dumb.
He only said:
“The worst is still to come.”
And then I seemed to see
With eyes of dread
A sight most monstrous and unwarranted.
For there appeared to me,
Sadder than aught that I beheld before –
Oh, blasphemy!
A woman urging men to war
(Ah, that such a thing should be!) –
A pure-browed maiden urging men to war!

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The Epitaph

Above his grave they raised a stone
That towered toward the sky,
And on it they carved in shadows deep
These words that held mine eye:

“Here lies a patriot soldier bold,
Who at his country’s call
With joy laid down his youthful life;
Sweet is it thus to fall.”

That night by the ghostly moonlit stone
We saw an angel stand,
And he wiped that labored legend out
With a sweep of his silver hand.

Then with a finger that seemed to glow
Like a flame that was pale and blue
He traced a single white-hot word
That scorched us through and through.

“Angel of Truth,” we cried, aghast
(How did we know his name?),
“What means upon our hero’s tomb
This word of burning shame?

“Was he a ‘traitor’ who fought so well
Against his nation’s foe –
A “traitor,” who gave his life’s red blood
When his country bade it flow?

“He was a traitor,” like a bell
Of silver Truth replied:
“Traitor to more than country’s call
Or patriot’s loyal pride –

“Traitor to freedom when he sought
To subjugate the free –
Traitor to love when, steeped in hate,
He crossed the distant sea –

“Traitor to conscience when he stilled
Its cry of pain within –
Nay, traitor to his country too
For helping her to sin.”

Back toward the stars the angel rose,
And when he disappeared
We chiseled out that shameful word,
Tho deep the stone was seared,

And once again we carved the lines
Which told our hero’s deed.
So deep and clear the words appear
That he who runs may read.

And there they stay until this day
To publish his renown,
For, tho we feared the angel’s wrath,
He never again came down.

Yet, when I read those deep-cut lines,
Between them and behind
I see aflame another name
That burns into my mind.

Traitor to freedom, truth and love,
Traitor to good and right

What patriot boast can save his soul
Who falls in such a fight?

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Alexander Grin: A hellish nightmare, or rather a horrible reality

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

Russian writers on war

Alexander Grin: How a little girl stopped a world war

Alexander Grin: How two leaders ended war

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Alexander Grin
From The Poisoned Island
Translated by Barry Scherr

According to the tale told by Captain Tart, who had come to Akhuan Skap from New Zealand, and his statement to local authorities, corroborated by witnesses in his ship’s crew, the entire population on the little island of Farfont in the South Pacific agreed to and carried out a mass suicide pact – with the exception of two children, three and seven years old, who were left in the care of the ship Viola, commanded by Captain Tart.

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“It was very hard for us,” said Skorrey, “to believe the words of Captain Brahms, who announced that Europe had been through a terrible war, while we, suspecting nothing, heard only the lapping of the waves and the rustling of the blossoming branches. However, Brahms showed us a newspaper which, though old, nonetheless convincingly said the very same thing.

“All night the captain and his comrades talked with us and initiated us – excited, shaken, and spellbound – into the very depths of the events. We found out that hundreds of millions of people had been involved in the war. We found out that many cities and entire countries had been destroyed. We found out that people fly in flocks on winged machines and drop bombs from above onto ships, houses, and forests. We found out that by means of a special asphyxiating wind the lungs of tens of thousands of soldiers are burned, and much else, and also that no one knew whether such a war would recur again.

“In the morning the captain and his crew set out for their ship to repair the damage while we continued to discuss what we had heard. Not one of us even thought of working that day. Each appraised the situation in his own way. Several averred that Brahms had not told the entire truth and that the war was probably continuing. Others asserted that a propitious time for pirates had arisen and that in all probability we would soon have to repel an attack. In general, we were suspicious and depressed. Each person was obsessed with presentiments and spewed out his conjectures regarding events in Europe we could only dimly imagine.

“Somebody – I don’t remember who – said that very possibly in a year or two we would remain the only inhabitants on the earth, since the belligerents would undoubtedly destroy one another with their monstrous inventions….”

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“‘Look, look!'” shouted my sister just then, and, following the direction of her frightful glance, we saw that the entire sky was covered by rapidly darting, mysterious ships with a strange rigging of a type never before seen; it was reminiscent of a sailing vessel and in the air beneath it had appeared to be a reflection. A whistling and roar were audible from there, as were thuds and the prolonged ringing of bells; soon everything was covered by the smoke of firing, which resounded in our ears like a death sentence. Women fainted, ran into their houses, or sobbed. We men stood as if bound and lacked strength to move from the spot. Finally the last sterns of the monsters disappeared beyond the cliffs, and when we had again gathered together we could fearfully and woefully admit to each other our common despair. Nobody could explain what was happening. That night only the children slept.

“A month and two weeks passed accompanied with the same uninterrupted oppressive, ruthless, and threatening phenomena; finally we became half-crazed and thoroughly pathetic. We were afraid to go far from home lest we be left alone; work was abandoned; disturbing and oppressive dreams haunted those who had thrown themselves into bed to find rest; the children, who were frightened more than the others by the storm which had destroyed our quiet life, cried, as did their mothers, who had grown thin from the continuous fear; and we men, resolving to shake off the power of the warring forces, would make the rounds of the island together in order to convince ourselves that we were its sole masters, and every time that we became convinced of it would fall prey to still more acute despair. A dull, rumbling thunder resounded above our heads day and night; something like distant explosions cut people short in mid-conversation, and groans and howling – now quiet and plaintive, now loud, full of anger and pain – filled the air. At night a powerful cannonade could be heard in the west as if an endless battle were going on there: people who had come out to look at the sea saw dark masses of vessels of unknown nationality pursuing one another. We no longer knew any peace. What was happening to us? What surrounded us? We were tired of asking each other questions. Finally, one night when we had assembled in his home, my second cousin Allen Skorrey told us that he did not see any way out of our helpless situation except death: ‘We can neither stay awake nor sleep. We have fallen under the power of a hellish nightmare, or rather of a horrible reality, which has become totally elusive through methods unknown to us; cut off from the whole world, knowing nothing, innocent, losing our reason, we will soon go mad and fill the air with savage howls. Why? That we cannot know. I promise that we will die voluntarily.'”

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In conclusion the author describes the island’s beautiful vegetation, its mild climate, and the unique enchantment of its unpretentious and harmless desolation; he ends his article with this note:

“These were the happiest people on the entire earth, who were killed by the echo of long-silenced salvos that are unparalleled in history.”

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Bertha von Suttner: Armaments, without fighting each other the nations would all come to ruin in making preparations for war

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

Women writers on peace and war

Bertha von Suttner: Selections on peace and war

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

Translated by T. Holmes

True, the war was over. That is, it had been proclaimed that peace was concluded. A word is sufficient to unchain the horrors, and thence one is apt to think that a word will also suffice to remove them again, but no spell has in reality that power. Hostilities may be suspended, and yet hostility may persist. The seed of future war is sown, and the fruit of the war just ended spreads still further, in wretchedness, savagery, and plagues. Yes, no falsehood and no “not thinking of it” was any good now, the cholera was raging through the country.

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“…The heartless egotism, which is capable of rejoicing over material gains that proceed out of the ruin of others – this impulse which every individual, even if he is base enough to feel it, still takes all possible care to hide – is proudly and openly confessed by nations and dynasties. ‘Thousands have perished in untold sufferings; but we have thereby increased in territory and in power: so let there be praises and thanks to Heaven for the successful war!’”

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“I have,” he said, “renounced the trade of war, and that I have done from convictions gained in actual war. I will now work for these convictions. I enter the service of the peace army. A very small army indeed, it is true, and one whose combatants have no other shield or sword than the sentiment of justice and the love of humanity. Still, everything which has ultimately become great has started from small or invisible beginnings.”

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“Well, the meaning of that is, that if we had had more material, the material which our enemy had would not have served him. Ergo – if the Landwehr were introduced everywhere it would not benefit anybody. The war game would be played with more pieces, but the game nevertheless depends still on the luck and the ability of the players. I will suppose that all the European powers have introduced the obligation of universal defence; the proportion of forces in that case remains exactly the same, the only difference would be that, in order to come to a decision, instead of hundreds of thousands, millions would have to be slaughtered.”

“But do you think it just and fair that a part only of the population should sacrifice themselves in order to protect the dearest possessions of the others, and that these others, chiefly because they are rich, should be entitled to stop quietly at home? No, no; that will cease with this new law. Then there will be no more buying-off – every one will have to take his part. And it is especially the educated – the students – those who have some learning, who will contribute the elements of intelligence and therefore of victory.”

“The other side has the same elements ready to hand, and so the advantages to be gained from educated petty officers neutralise each other. On the other hand, what remains (and equally to both sides) is the loss of material of priceless mental worth, of which the country is deprived by the fact that the most educated, those who might have promoted its civilisation by means of inventions, works of art, or scientific inquiry, are set up in rank and file to be marks for the enemy’s shot – ”

“There would be something to say for that, if it fell less heavily on individuals on that account. But that would not be the case; the blood tax would not be divided by that measure, but increased. I hope the project may not be carried out. There is no seeing whither it may lead. One state would then try to outvie the other in strength of army, till at last there would no longer be any armies, but only armed nations. More people would be constantly drawn into the service; the length of service would be constantly increased; the incidence of war taxes and the costs of armaments constantly greater; – so that without fighting each other the nations would all come to ruin in making preparations for war!”

“But, dear Tilling, you look too far.”

“One can never look too far. Everything a man undertakes he ought to think out to its remotest consequence – at least as far as his mind reaches. We were likening war just now to a game at chess. Politics also is of the same nature, your excellency, and those are only very feeble players who look no further forward than a single move, and are quite pleased with themselves if they have got into a position in which they can threaten a pawn. I want to develop the thought of defensive forces constantly increasing and the universal extension of liability to military service still more widely, till we reach the extremest verge, i.e., where the mass becomes excessive. What then, if after the greatest numbers and the furthest limits of age are reached, one nation should take it into its head to recruit regiments of women too? The others must imitate it. Or battalions of boys? The others must imitate it. And in the armaments – in the means of destruction – where can the limit be? Oh this savage, blind leap into the pit!”

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Katrina Trask: Selections on war and peace

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George Shepard Burleigh: Martial Heroism

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

American writers on peace and against war

George Shepard Burleigh: When shall the crystal fount of Peace wash out the hideous stain of blood?

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George Shepard Burleigh
Martial Heroism

An eye, bloodshot and still, with angry glare
Threats Heaven – encaverned in the shaggy side
of brows that slope back to the steeps of pride;
His hard cheek scorns alike the lightning-glare
And Mercy’s sunshine, poured availless there;
Clenched teeth, and rigid lips, and nostrils wide,
As of a war-horse, and the pitiless gride
Of his armed heel on bosoms red and bare,
Betray the spirit of that iron frame,
Whose hand is welded to the steel it lifts.
Blood gurgles down the steep tracks of his fame,
From human clay, piled high in livid drifts.
Rash men adore him, and his image fold
In reverent arms, and crown with purple and gold .

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Ernest Crosby: Selections against war, for peace

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Margaret Widdemer: Men have to wage world-wars, children are left to die

April 30, 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

Margaret Widdemer: After War

Margaret Widdemer: A Mother to the War-Makers

Margaret Widdemer: War-March

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Margaret Widdemer
A Poor Child

The little dreamer is dead
Who would have woven for Man
Thread upon golden thread,
Span upon silver span,
Into the dark degrees
Of the great world-tapestries.

For God had given him dreams
That would have builded earth
To a place of heaven-schemes,
Of pity and peace and mirth
But the little dreamer is dead,
And the dreams of his childish head.

There were not under the stars
Riches enough for him;
Men have to wage world-wars,
Pile the great towers that dim
Beauty of sea and sky
The children are left to die.

In this our merciful day
Saints may not live to climb
Their crosses and who shall say
In what short pulse of time
With none to pity or hark
Christ-children die in the dark?

****

Uplift

Must I always sing at the walls to hearten the men who fight
In causes changeful as wind and as brief as a summer night;

Must I always praise the wisdom of Man who is blind, blind-led,
Of kings who are kings for a day and are dead when the day is dead;

Of right that is wrong to-morrow, of truths that were last year’s lies,
Of little strifes and upbuildings that die when a nation dies?

For Rome is withered, and Hellas; but leaves in the wind bow still
As they bowed for my brother’s dreaming who sang by some dead god’s hill,

And all Assyria’s captains are dead with the dead they made,
Dust of the gyve and anklet with dust of the casque and blade,

But wonderful dreams blow still in the swirl of gray smoke new-gone
As they blew from a fire at twilight for my brother in Ascalon;

And all of the mighty walls men have reared to sweep down again
Are thwarted shadows of visions some poet spun far from men.

I am tired of praising the deeds that are brief as a breath may be,
That change with the mocking turn of a day or a century:

I will go and spin useless dreams that shall last until men are hurled
Out into the space of the Timeless with ash of a burning world!

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James George Frazer: Saturn’s reign of peace

April 29, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

James George Frazer: Purifying the defilement of war

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James George Frazer
From The Golden Bough

This famous festival [the Saturnalia] fell in December, the last month of the Roman year, and was popularly supposed to commemorate the merry reign of Saturn, the god of sowing and of husbandry, who lived on earth long ago as a righteous and beneficent king of Italy, drew the rude and scattered dwellers on the mountains together, taught them to till the ground, gave them laws, and ruled in peace. His reign was the fabled Golden Age: the earth brought forth abundantly: no sound of war or discord troubled the happy world: no baleful love of lucre worked like poison in the blood of the industrious and contented peasantry. Slavery and private property were alike unknown: all men had all things in common. At last the good god, the kindly king, vanished suddenly; but his memory was cherished to distant ages, shrines were reared in his honour, and many hills and high places in Italy bore his name.

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Sergei Sartakov: No to eternal war

April 28, 2021 Leave a comment

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

Russian writers on war

Sergei Sartakov: I fervently wish for universal peace

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Sergei Sartakov
From The Philosophers’ Stone
Translated by Fainna Glagoleva

“I don’t think mankind will set out on a course of eternal warfare, because I believe in the inherent wisdom of man….The day will come when commanders and commissars will no longer be needed in the infantry, the artillery or the cavalry. They’ll be needed in other walks of life and will become leaders in industry, science and art.”

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“I still regret not having learned the language or more about the country and the meaning of everything that was happening there when I was in Russia. True, I crossed Russia bearing arms, but I never killed a single Russian, Václav!”

“Never kill anyone when you grow up, Václav!” Blažena echoed.

She was mortally frightened by the very sight of a gun. The first thing she had done after marrying Stašek was to demand that they get rid of everything that was in the least way connected with his former life as an officer. She had every reason to feel as she did, for her two elder brothers, brave soldiers of Emperor Franz Joseph, had both been killed in Galicia.

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The priest’s face softened….

“A great nation is rising from the ruins and destruction which the colonel saw when he was in Russia. He was awed and frightened by it. What does a new and rising Russia hold in store for mankind? The colonel thinks it will bring on a new war, or a second wave of revolutions in Europe. That, in his estimation, also means war. I didn’t argue with him. His profession demands that he thinks in terms of war and warfare. My calling, however, demands that I think in terms of peace….”

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General Hrudka, a serious-minded and business-like man, did not always agree with him, nor did he approve of Václav’s desire to devote himself entirely to scholarly research, something so far removed from everyday life. Yet, a general could not think otherwise. Being in the service of the god of war, his mind could not rise above the trajectory of an artillery shell or the lofty flight of the newest bomber.

General Hrudka never spoke of anything except the inevitability of war. He had been figuring out the period within which the second world war was bound to start, determining the countries that would definitely be drawn into the conflict and their war potential. He was positive that, all things accounted for, the next war would not by-pass his beloved Czechoslovakia….

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Why were innocent people in other countries being mown down by rounds of ruthless machine-gun fire? Whose way were they in?

No sooner would one war cease than another was begun in some other part of the world. War to war! How much more blood would have to be shed…?


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Joseph Fawcett: The contemptible wagers of civilized war

April 27, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Joseph Fawcett: Selections against war

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Joseph Fawcett
From The Art of War

Man
Was made to cherish, not to butcher man.
The sordid senator, who sells his breath
To wake the coals of war, she [Reason] doth proclaim,
Nor can his ear th’ accus’d patrician seal,
Accomplice in the murder of mankind.
When in the peaceful camp, while battle breathes ,
Their shouting the recumbent captains cease,
Oft to the letter’d leader of his band,
As, ruminating, silent he reclines,
She whispers audible “What dost thou here?
Is this a fair and honest scene around thee,
That shrinks not from the beam of piercing Truth?
Is this thy post of duty? Wert thou made
To be the saviour or the foe of life?”

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…’tis you alone,
Sons of Refinement, sons of Science, you!
Convicted stand of murder’s cruel crime.
And all the mild humanities that mix
With the rough horror of the hostile scene;
During each pause of intermittent Mars,
The courteous intercourse betwixt you chiefs,
Fair, interlucory civilities,
That deck and soften war’s stern rigid state;
But serve its iron ugliness to point.
Each streak of beauteous white that breaks its dark
Shows but in blacker night its ebon shade….

A madd’ning war of venom, stings and teeth;
Into whose dragon broil, and high-wrought rage,
(Prodigious discord!) all her out-sent soul
Alecto breath’d! oh, better far my fight
Could such complete, consistent scene sustain,
Than this strange mixture of our motley strife.
Urbanity, and battle! manners bland,
And murders bloody! thorns that deeply pierce,
And beautifully flower! soft courtly camps,
That kill, and smile, and smile, and kill again!

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Civiliz’d war! in every varied view,
Ill suits thee, fiend accurs’d! so fair a name.
Though in the field a smoother form thou wear
Than thy wild sister-hag of craggier shape,
A feller fury thou! for on thee wait
Severer sufferings; and a wider scene
With varied woes thy vaster mischief fills.
Ah, ’tis in cultur’d life, and chiefly there,
War is the scourge we call it; there alone
In thickest show’r of heaviest lashes felt,
It deeply lacerates and long furrows makes
On, bleeding Happiness! thy mangled frame.
What if the field of savage slaughter show
With blood a more obliterated green,
A redder plain and direr forms of death?
Its rage the savage soldier feels, nor fears:
Nurs’d in no silken lap, his lion-nerves,
Strings strong as steel, stiff and untrembling, know
To laugh at torment and to sing in death.
War is his sport; in ecstasy of soul
He whoops and hails the hour that bids him face
Its frowning front, its horrid dangers dare,
And hew in pieces whom his heart abhors.
Not with this prompt, exulting leap to arms
Europe’s cold hireling with her call complies:
Forth to the field, unused to suffer pain,
And long time lapp’d in soft and drowsy ease,
Fearful and loth he moves: the arms of Peace
He leaves reluctant, and reluctant lifts
The hostile spear: nor by hot malice spurr’d
‘Gainst whom he’s sent to slay, nor flaming love
Of whom he goes to serve, with sluggish step,
Heavy and homeward hanging, he obeys
His crested master’s bidding to depart.

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Till then (whate’er the gay-cloath’d coward prate,
Whose crest tremendous scares the sons of Peace)
In him who fights for pay, not love of fight,
Nor of the cause which his sold arm sustains,
Contemplative Compassion views a wretch,
When first he enters the dread, fateful field,
A cold, recoiling wretch, that, pale, regrets
He e’er forsook the safe domestic scene.
In fancy slain by every slaught’rous sound,
Lifeless he hears the loud disploded deaths,
And ‘mid the thunder dies a thousand times.

Ah cruel lusts! wherever ye have lain,
Lodg’d in whatever bosoms, founts of wars,
That myriads thus have mercilessly sent
From life’s smooth walks and humanized scenes
To freeze with horror amid forms they hate;
To wear white faces in the field of death,
Without a cause to kindle scorn of life;
Dire ills to work, where ill to none they wish;
Hurt whom they hate not, whom they know not crush,
And act the fiend by fury uninspir’d!

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Edna St. Vincent Millay: Lament

April 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

Edna St. Vincent Millay: Conscientious Objector

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Edna St. Vincent Millay
Lament

Listen, children:
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I’ll make you little jackets;
I’ll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There’ll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank;
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.

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Thomas Hardy: War’s annals will fade into night

April 25, 2021 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Thomas Hardy: Selections on war

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Thomas Hardy
In the Time of “The Breaking of Nations”

I
Only a man harrowing clods be
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk.

II
Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.

III
Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by:
War’s annals will fade into night
Ere their story die.

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