Richard Le Gallienne: A nation is merely a big fool with an army

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

British writers on peace and war

Richard Le Gallienne: The Illusion of War

Richard Le Gallienne: Is this to be strong, ye nations, your vulgar battles to fight?

Richard Le Gallienne: A nation is merely a big fool with an army

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Richard Le Gallienne
From The Fallacy of a Nation

As a matter of fact, so-called national interests are merely certain private interests on a large scale, the private interests of financiers, ambitious politicians, soldiers, and great merchants. Broadly speaking, there are no rival nations – there are rival markets; and it is its Board of Trade and its Stock Exchange rather than its Houses of Parliament that virtually govern a country. Thus one seaport goes down and another comes up, industries forsake one country to bless another, the military and naval strengths of nations fluctuate this way and that; and to those whom these changes affect they are undoubtedly important matters – the great capitalist, the soldier, and the politician; but to the quiet man at home with his wife, his children, his books, and his flowers, to the artist busied with brave translunary matters, to the saint with his eyes filled with ‘the white radiance of eternity,’ to the shepherd on the hillside, the milkmaid in love, or the angler at his sport – what are these pompous commotions, these busy, bustling mimicries of reality? England will be just as good to live in though men some day call her France. Let the big busybodies divide her amongst them as they like, so that they leave one alone with one’s fair share of the sky and the grass, and an occasional, not too vociferous, nightingale.

The reader will perhaps forgive the hackneyed references to Sir Thomas Browne peacefully writing his Religio Medici amid all the commotions of the Civil War, and to Gautier calmly correcting the proofs of his new poems during the siege of Paris. The milkman goes his rounds amid the crash of empires. It is not his business to fight. His business is to distribute his milk – as much after half-past seven as may be inconvenient. Similarly, the business of the thinker is with his thought, the poet with his poetry. It is the business of politicians to make national quarrels, and the business of the soldier to fight them. But as for the poet – let him correct his proofs, or beware the printer.

The idea, then, of a nation is a grandiloquent fallacy in the interests of commerce and ambition, political and military. All the great and good, clever and charming people belong to one secret nation, for which there is no name unless it be the Chosen People. These are the lost tribes of love, art, and religion, lost and swamped amid alien peoples, but ever dreaming of a time when they shall meet once more in Jerusalem.

***

For what is ‘national greatness’ but the glory reflected from the memories of a few great individuals? and what is ‘public opinion’ but the blustering echoes of the opinion of a few clever young men on the morning papers?

For how can people in themselves little become great by merely congregating into a crowd, however large? And surely fools do not become wise, or worth listening to, merely by the fact of their banding together.

A ‘public opinion’ on any matter except football, prize-fighting, and perhaps cricket, is merely ridiculous – by whatever brutal physical powers it may be enforced – ridiculous as a town council’s opinion upon art; and a nation is merely a big fool with an army.

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William J. Locke: I’m good at killing things, I ought to have been a soldier

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

British writers on peace and war

William J. Locke: Following war

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William J. Locke
From Viviette

Once Katherine, escaping from Mrs. Ware’s platitudinous ripple, took pity on him, and asked him when he was going to redeem his promise and show her his collection of armour and weapons. Dick brightened. This was the only keen interest he had in life outside things of earth and air and stream. He had inherited a good family collection, and had added to it occasionally, as far as his slender means allowed. He had read deeply, and understood his subject.

“Whenever you like, Katherine,” he said.

“This afternoon?”

“I’m afraid they want polishing up and arranging. I’ve got some new things which I’ve not placed. I’ve rather neglected them lately. Let us say to-morrow afternoon. Then they’ll all be spick and span for you.”

Katherine assented. “I’ve been down here so often and never seen them,” she said. “It seems odd, considering the years we’ve known each other.”

“I only took it up after father’s death,” said Dick. “And since then, you know, you haven’t been here so very often.”

“It was only the last time that I discovered you took an interest an the collection. You hid your light under a bushel. Then I went to London and heard that you were a great authority on the subject.”

Dick’s tanned face reddened with pleasure.

“I do know something about it. You see, guns and swords and pistols are in my line. I’m good at killing things. I ought to have been a soldier, only I couldn’t pass examinations, so I sort of interest myself in the old weapons and do my killing in imagination.”

***

“Now, Dick, we’re all here. Put on your most learned and antiquarian manner. Ladies and gentlemen, I call on Mr. Richard Ware to deliver his interesting lecture on the ingenious instruments men have devised for butchering each other.”

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George Gissing: “Civilisation rests upon a military basis”

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

British writers on peace and war

George Gissing: Selections on war

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George Gissing
From Isabel Clarendon

There they found the gentleman in question conversing with Mrs. Stratton, a man of smooth appearance and fluent speech. His forte seemed to be politics, on which subject he discoursed continuously during luncheon. There happened to be diplomatic difficulties with Russia, and Mr. Lyster – much concerned, by-the-bye, with Indian commerce – was emphatic in denunciation of Slavonic craft and treachery, himself taking the stand-point of disinterested honesty, of principle in politics.

“We shall have to give those fellows a licking yet,” remarked Colonel Stratton, with confidence inspired by professional feeling.

“What I want to know,” exclaimed Mr. Lyster, “is whether England is a civilising power or not. If so, it is our duty to go to war; if not, of course we may prepare to go to the – ”

“Don’t hesitate, Mr. Lyster,” said Mrs. Stratton good-naturedly, “I’m sure we all agree with you.”

“Civilisation!” proceeded the politician, when the laugh had subsided; “that is what England represents, and civilisation rests upon a military basis, if it has any basis at all. It’s all very well to talk about the humanity of arbitration and fudge of that kind; it only postpones the evil day. Our position is the result of good, hard fighting, and mere talking won’t keep it up; we must fight again. Too long a peace means loss of prestige, and loss of prestige means the encroachment of barbarians, who are only to be kept in order by repeated thrashings. They forget that we are a civilising power; unfortunately we are too much disposed to forget it ourselves.”

“The mistake is,” remarked Frank Stratton, “to treat with those fellows at all. Why don’t we take a map of Asia and draw a line just where it seems good to us, and bid the dogs keep on their own side of it? Of course they wouldn’t do so – and then we lick’em!”

His mother looked at him with pride.

“I respect our constitution,” pursued Mr. Lyster, who was too much absorbed in his own rhetoric to pay much attention to the frivolous remarks of others; “but I’ve often thought it wouldn’t be amiss if we could have a British Bizmarck” – so he pronounced the name. “A Bizmarck would make short work with Radical humbug. He would keep up patriotism; he would remind us of our duties as a civilising power.”

“And he’d establish conscription,” remarked Frank. “That’s what we want.”

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George Gissing: Large-scale murder as fair sport

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

British writers on peace and war

George Gissing: Selections on war

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George Gissing
From Isabel Clarendon

Not many days later Mrs. Stratton arrived at Knights well, bringing her youngest boy, a ten-year-old, whose absence from school was explained by recent measles. This lady was the wife of an officer at present with his regiment in Africa; her regret at the colonel’s remoteness, and her anxiety on his behalf in a time of savage warfare, were tempered by that spirit of pride in things military which so strongly infuses a certain type of the British matron, destined to bring forth barbarians and heroes…

Young Stratton caught a glimpse of her at it in the park one day, and rushed to join the sport.

“After a rabbit, eh?” he shouted, coming up with them.

Ada at once dropped to a walk, and spoke to the dog, instead of answering the boy’s question.

“I say, you look here!” Edgar suddenly exclaimed in a whisper.

She turned, and saw him aiming with a catapult at a bird perched on a bush hard by. Before the aim was perfect, Ada had snatched the tool from his hands.

“Well, I call that!” cried the youngster, at a loss for words. “What do you want to spoil my shot for?”

“Can’t you amuse yourself without murdering!” returned the girl, hot in anger. “Shoot at that tree-trunk if you must shoot.”

“Murdering!” echoed the youth, in blank astonishment. “Come now, Miss Warren! Murdering a bird – I call that good!”

“What else is it? What right have you to rob the bird of its life? What is it that drives you to kill every creature that you safely may?”

“It’s fair sport!” urged the young Briton, in amaze at this outlandish mode of regarding things.

“Sport?”

She stood regarding him, the catapult still in her hand.

“What are you going to be when you grow up?”

“What am I going to be? A soldier, of course.”

“I thought so; then you can murder on a large scale.”

“You call killing the enemy in battle, murder?”

“What do you call it? Fair sport?”

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Hugh Walpole: Continual screaming, men without faces

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

British writers on peace and war

Hugh Walpole: The dark, crippling advent of war

Hugh Walpole: Dream of horror: the false reality of war

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Hugh Walpole
From The Dark Forest

The wagons waited there, the horses stamping now and then, and the wounded men on the only wagon that was filled, moaned and cried. Shrapnel whizzed overhead – sometimes crying, like an echo, in the far distance, sometimes screaming with the rage of a hurt animal close at hand. Groups of soldiers ran swiftly past me, quite silent, their heads bent. Somewhere on the high road I could hear motor-cars spluttering and humming. At irregular intervals Red Cross men would arrive with wounded, would ask in a whisper that was inhuman and isolating whether there were room on my carts. Then the body would be lifted up; there would be muttered directions, the wounded man would cry, then the other wounded would also cry – after that, there would be the dismal silence again, silence broken only by the shrapnel and the heavy plopping smothers of the rain…At the threat of every shrapnel I bent my head and shrugged my shoulders, at every cry of the wounded men – one man was delirious and sang a little song – a shudder trembled all down my body. I thought of the bridge between myself and the Otriad – how easily it might be blown up! and then, if the Division were beaten back what massacre there would be! I wanted to go home, to sleep, to be safe and warm – above all, to be safe! I saw before me some of the wounded whom I had bandaged to-day – men without faces or with hanging jaws that must be held up with the hand whilst the bandage was tied. One man blind, one man mad (he thought he was drowning in hot water), one man holding his stomach together with his hands. I saw all these figures crowding round me in the lane – I also saw the dead men in the forest, the skull, the flies, the strong blue-grey trousers…I shook so that my teeth chattered – a very pitiful figure.

***

Near the town-hall we found a company of fantastic creatures awaiting us. They were pressed together in a dense crowd as though they were afraid of some one attacking them. There were many old men, like the clowns in Shakespeare, dirty beyond belief in tattered garments, wide-brimmed hats, broad skirts and baggy trousers; old men with long tangled hair, bare bony breasts and slobbering chins. Many of the women seemed strong and young; their faces were on the whole cheerful – a brazen indifference to anything and everything was their attitude. There were many children. Two gendarmes guarded them with rough friendly discipline. I thought that I had seen nothing more terrible at the war than the eager pitiful docility with which they moved to and fro in obedience to the gendarmes’ orders. A dreadful, broken, creeping submission….

But it was their fantasy, their coloured incredible unreality that overwhelmed me. The building, black and twisted against the hard blue sky, raised its head behind us like a malicious monster. Before us this crowd, all tattered faded pieces of scarlet and yellow and blue, men with huge noses, sunken eyes, sharp chins, long skinny hands, women with hard, bright, dead faces, little children with eyes that were afraid and indifferent, hungry and mad, all this crowd swaying before us, with the cannon muttering beyond the walls, and the thin miserable thread of the funeral hymn trickling like water under our feet…

***

That! This!…there’s the Forest road hot like red-hot iron under the sun; it winds away into the Forest, but so far as the eye can see it is covered with things that have been left by flying men – such articles! Swords, daggers, rifles, cartridge-cases, of course, but also books, letters, a hair-brush, underclothes, newspapers, these tilings in thick, tangled profusion, rifles in heaps, cartridge-cases by the hundred! Under the sun up and down the road there are dead and dying, Russians and Austrians together. The Forest is both above and below the road and from out of it there comes a continual screaming. There is every note in this babel of voices, mad notes, plaintive notes, angry notes, whimpering notes. One wounded man is very slowly trying to drag himself across the road, and his foot which is nearly severed from his leg waggles behind him. One path that leads from the road to the Forest is piled with bodies and is a stream of blood. Some of the dead are lying very quietly in the ditch, their heads pillowed on their arms – every now and then something that you had thought dead stirs…And the screaming from the Forest is incessant so that you simply don’t hear the shell (now very close indeed)…

***

It seemed that we were the first Red Cross people to arrive. Oh! what rewards would I have offered for another ten wagons! How lamentably insufficient our three carts appeared standing there in the road with this screaming Forest on every side of one! As I waited there, overwhelmed by the blind indifference of the place, listening still to the incredible birds, seeing in the businesslike attentions of my sanitars only a further incredible indifference, a great stream of soldiers came up the road, passing into the first line of trenches, only a little deeper in the Forest. They were very hot, the perspiration dripping down their faces, but they went through to the position without a glance at the dead and wounded. No concern of theirs – that. Life had changed; they had changed with it…Meanwhile they did as they were told…

We worked there, filling our wagons. The selection was a horrible difficulty. All the wounded were Austrians and how they begged not to be left! It would be many hours, perhaps, before the next Red Cross Division would appear. An awful business! One man dying in the wood tore at his stomach with an unceasing gesture and the air came through his mouth like gas screaming through an “escape” hole. One Austrian, quite an old man, died in my arms in the middle of the road. He was not conscious, but he fumbled for his prayer-book, which he gave me, muttering something. His name “Schneidher Gyorgy Pelmonoster” was written on the first page.

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Hugh Walpole: Dream of horror: the false reality of war

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

British writers on peace and war

Hugh Walpole: Continual screaming, men without faces

Hugh Walpole: The dark, crippling advent of war

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Hugh Walpole
From The Dark Forest

In the early morning, when the light was so cold and inhuman, when the candles stuck in bottles on the window-sills shivered and quavered in the little breeze, when the big basin on the floor seemed to swell ever larger and larger, with its burden of bloody rags and soiled bandages and filthy fragments of dirty clothes, when the air was weighted down with the smell of blood and human flesh, when the sighs and groans and cries kept up a perpetual undercurrent that one did not notice and yet faltered before, when again and again bodies, torn almost in half, faces mangled for life, hands battered into pulp, legs hanging almost by a thread, rose before one, passed and rose again in endless procession, then, in those early hours, some fantastic world was about one. The poplar trees beyond the window, the little beechwood on the hill, the pond across the road, a round grey sheet of ruffled water, these things in the half-light seemed to wait for our defeat. One instant on our part and it seemed that all the pain and torture would rise in a flood and overwhelm one…in those early morning hours the enemy crept very close indeed. We could almost hear his hot breath behind the bars of our fastened doors.

***

On the day following we did not know of what had happened. Trenchard was not with us, as he was sent about midday with some sanitars to bury the dead in a wood five miles from M – -. That must have been, in many ways, the most terrible day of his life and during it, for the first time, he was to know that unreality that comes to every one, sooner or later, at the war. It is an unreality that is the more terrible because it selects from reality details that cannot be denied, selects them without transformation, saying to his victim: “These things are as you have always seen them, therefore this world is as you have always seen it. It is real, I tell you.” Let that false reality be admitted and there is no more peace.

***

“It was there,” he told me, “when I scarcely knew what was real and what was not, that I saw that for which I was searching. I noticed first the dark grey-blue of the trousers, then the white skull. There was a horrible stench in the air. I called and the sanitars answered me. Then I looked at it. I had never seen a dead man before. This man had been dead for about a fortnight, I suppose. Its grey-blue trousers and thick boots were in excellent condition and a tin spoon and some papers were showing out of the top of one boot. Its face was a grinning skull and little black animals like ants were climbing in and out of the mouth and the eye-sockets. Its jacket was in good condition, its arms were flung out beyond its head. I felt sick and the whole place was so damp and smelt so badly that it must have been horribly unhealthy. The sanitars began to dig a grave. Those who were not working smoked cigarettes, and they all stood in a group watching the body with a solemn and serious interest. One of them made a little wooden cross out of some twigs. There was a letter just beside the body which they brought me. It began: ‘Darling Heinrich, – Your last letter was so cheerful that I have quite recovered from my depression. It may not be so long now before…’ and so on, like the other letters that I had read. It grinned at us there with a devilish sarcasm, but its trousers and boots were pitiful and human. The men finished the grave and then, with their feet, turned it over. As it rolled a flood of bright yellow insects swarmed out of its jacket, and a grey liquid trickled out of the skull. The last I saw of it was the gleam of the tin spoon above its boot…”

“We searched after that,” he told me, “for several hours and found three more bodies. They were Austrians, in the condition of the first. I walked in a dream of horror. It was, I suppose, a bad day for me to have come with my other unhappiness weighing upon me, but I was, in some stupid way, altogether unprepared for what I had seen. I had, as I have told you, thought of death very often in my life but I had never thought of it like this. I did not now think of death very clearly but only of the uselessness of trying to bear up against anything when that was all one came to in the end. I felt my very bones crumble and my flesh decay on my body, as I stood there. I felt as though I had really been caught at last after a silly aimless flight and that even if I had the strength or cleverness to escape I had not the desire to try…”

***

They came to the trench and to their surprise found it absolutely deserted. Then, plunging on, they arrived at the two wagons, climbed on to one of them, leaving Trenchard alone with the driver on the other. “I tell you,” he remarked to me afterwards, “I sank into that wagon as though into my grave. I don’t know that ever before or since in my life have I felt such exhaustion. It was reaction, I suppose – a miserable, wretched exhaustion that left me well enough aware that I was the most unhappy of men and simply forced me, without a protest, to accept that condition. Moreover, I had always before me the vision of the dead body. Wherever I turned there it was, grinning at me, the black flies crawling in and out of its jaws, and behind it something that said to me: ‘There! now I have shown you what I can do…To that you’re coming’…”

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Arnold Bennett: The miraculous lunacy of war

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

British writers on peace and war

Arnold Bennett: The Slaughterer

Arnold Bennett: War casualties and war profiteers

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Arnold Bennett
From The Pretty Lady

The story of the evacuation of Gallipoli had grown old and tedious…The Germans were discussing their war aims; and on the Verdun front they had reached Mort Homme in the usual way, that was, according to the London Press, by sacrificing more men than any place could possibly be worth; still, they had reached Mort Homme. And though our losses and the French losses were everywhere – one might assert, so to speak – negligible, nevertheless the steadfast band of thinkers and fact-facers who held a monopoly of true patriotism were extremely anxious to extend the Military Service Act, so as to rope into the Army every fit male in the island except themselves.

***

The group vanished, crestfallen, round another corner. G.J. laughed to Christine. Then the noise of guns was multiplied. That he was with Christine in the midst of an authentic air-raid could no longer be doubted. He was conscious of the wine he had drunk at the club. He had the sensation of human beings, men like himself, who ate and drank and laced their boots, being actually at that moment up there in the sky with intent to kill him and Christine. It was a marvellous sensation, terrible but exquisite. And he had the sensation of other human beings beyond the sea, giving deliberate orders in German for murder, murdering for their lives; and they, too, were like himself, and ate and drank and either laced their boots or had them laced daily. And the staggering apprehension of the miraculous lunacy of war swept through his soul.

***

He and Christine were in the air-raid, and in it they should remain. He had just the senseless, monkeyish curiosity of the staring crowd so lyrically praised by the London Press. He was afraid, but his curiosity and inertia were stronger than his fear. Then came a most tremendous explosion – the loudest sound, the most formidable physical phenomenon that G.J. had ever experienced in his life. The earth under their feet trembled. Christine gave a squeal and seemed to subside to the ground, but he pulled her up again, not in calm self-possession, but by the sheer automatism of instinct. A spasm of horrible fright shot through him. He thought, in awe and stupefaction:

“A bomb!”

He thought about death and maiming and blood. The relations between him and those everyday males aloft in the sky seemed to be appallingly close. After the explosion perfect silence – no screams, no noise of crumbling – perfect silence, and yet the explosion seemed still to dominate the air! Ears ached and sang. Something must be done. All theories of safety had been smashed to atoms in the explosion. G.J. dragged Christine along the street, he knew not why. The street was unharmed. Not the slightest trace in it, so far as G.J. could tell in the gloom, of destruction! But where the explosion had been, whether east, west, south or north, he could not guess. Except for the disturbance in his ears the explosion might have been a hallucination.

Suddenly he saw at the end of the street a wide thoroughfare, and he could not be sure what thoroughfare it was. Two motor-buses passed the end of the street at mad speed; then two taxis; then a number of people, men and women, running hard. Useless and silly to risk the perils of that wide thoroughfare! He turned back with Christine. He got her to run. In the thick gloom he looked for an open door or a porch, but there was none. The houses were like the houses of the dead. He made more than one right angle turn. Christine gave a sign that she could go no farther. He ceased trying to drag her. He was recovering himself. Once more he heard the guns – childishly feeble after the explosion of the bomb. After all, one spot was as safe as another.

The outline of a building seemed familiar. It was an abandoned chapel; he knew he was in St. Martin’s Street. He was about to pull Christine into the shelter of the front of the chapel, when something happened for which he could not find a name. True, it was an explosion. But the previous event had been an explosion, and this one was a thousandfold more intimidating. The earth swayed up and down. The sound alone of the immeasurable cataclysm annihilated the universe. The sound and the concussion transcended what had been conceivable. Both the sound and the concussion seemed to last for a long time. Then, like an afterthought, succeeded the awful noise of falling masses and the innumerable crystal tinkling of shattered glass. This noise ceased and began again…

G.J. was now in a strange condition of mild wonder. There was silence in the dark solitude of St. Martin’s Street. Then the sound of guns supervened once more, but they were distant guns. G.J. discovered that he was not holding Christine, and also that, instead of being in the middle of the street, he was leaning against the door of a house. He called faintly, “Christine!” No reply. “In a moment,” he said to himself, “I must go out and look for her. But I am not quite ready yet.” He had a slight pain in his side; it was naught; it was naught, especially in comparison with the strange conviction of weakness and confusion.

He thought:

“We’ve not won this war yet,” and he had qualms.

One poor lamp burned in the street. He started to walk slowly and uncertainly towards it. Near by he saw a hat on the ground. It was his own. He put it on. Suddenly the street lamp went out. He walked on, and stepped ankle-deep into broken glass. Then the road was clear again. He halted. Not a sign of Christine! He decided that she must have run away, and that she would run blindly and, finding herself either in Leicester Square or Lower Regent Street, would by instinct run home. At any rate, she could not be blown to atoms, for they were together at the instant of the explosion. She must exist, and she must have had the power of motion. He remembered that he had had a stick; he had it no longer. He turned back and, taking from his pocket the electric torch which had lately come into fashion, he examined the road for his stick. The sole object of interest which the torch revealed was a child’s severed arm, with a fragment of brown frock on it and a tinsel ring on one of the fingers of the dirty little hand. The blood from the other end had stained the ground. G.J. abruptly switched off the torch. Nausea overcame him, and then a feeling of the most intense pity and anger overcame the nausea. (A month elapsed before he could mention his discovery of the child’s arm to anyone at all.) The arm lay there as if it had been thrown there. Whence had it come? No doubt it had come from over the housetops…

He smelt gas, and then he felt cold water in his boots. Water was advancing in a flood along the street. “Broken mains, of course,” he said to himself, and was rather pleased with the promptness of his explanation. At the elbow of St. Martin’s Street, where a new dim vista opened up, he saw policemen, then firemen; then he heard the beat of a fire-engine, upon whose brass glinted the reflection of flames that were flickering in a gap between two buildings. A huge pile of debris encumbered the middle of the road. The vista was closed by a barricade, beyond which was a pressing crowd. “Stand clear there!” said a policeman to him roughly. “There’s a wall going to fall there any minute.” He walked off, hurrying with relief from the half-lit scene of busy, dim silhouettes. He could scarcely understand it; and he was incapable of replying to the policeman. He wanted to be alone and to ponder himself back into perfect composure. At the elbow again he halted afresh. And as he stood figures in couples, bearing stretchers, strode past him. The stretchers were covered with cloths that hung down. Not the faintest sound came from beneath the cloths.

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W.H. Davies: The blind hatred engendered by war

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

British writers on peace and war

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W.H. Davies
From The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp

This was at the time of the Boer War and Flanagan’s long dark beard and slouched hat gave him the exact appearance of one of those despised people. Therefore we seldom took a walk together but what we were stoned by boys in the street, and even grown up people passed insulting remarks. In fact everywhere we went we were regarded with suspicion. Our clothes not being of the best, drew the attention of attendants at museums and art galleries, and we, being swarthy and alien in appearance, never paused near a palace but what sentry and police watched our every movement. One morning we  were passing through Whitehall, what time a regiment of soldiers were being drilled and inspected by a gentleman in a silk hat. Now Flanagan was a man of great courage and never thought it necessary to whisper. Therefore a vein of savage satire broke in Flanagan’s heart when he beheld a man in a silk hat inspecting a troop of soldiers. “See!” he cried, “there’s a sight for the Boers.” A number of bystanders resented this remark, and there were loud murmurs of disapproval. On which Flanagan asked the following question: “Will the best man in the crowd step forward?” But no man seemed inclined to attempt Flanagan’s chastisement, without being assisted. Although I did not entirely approve of him on this occasion, still, seeing that the words could not be recalled, I was quite prepared to be carried with him half dead on a stretcher to the nearest hospital; for I liked the man, and he certainly seemed to like me, since he always took his walks alone when I did not accompany him.

***

[My] artificial leg would certainly not stand the strain of this enforced march from town to town on the country roads, that were so often rough and uneven. For even now it was creaking, and threatened at every step to break down. On mentioning these difficulties to a fellow lodger, he at once advised me to go to the Surgical Aid Society for a wooden leg, of the common peg sort; which, he was pleased to mention, would not only be more useful for such a knockabout life, but would not deceive people as to my true condition…I again consulted my fellow lodger, who had at first referred me to the Surgical Aid Society, and his explanation was, undoubtedly, reasonable and true. He explained that not only was the time of the year unfavourable, it being summer, and most of the subscribers were away from home on their holidays – but, unfortunately, the South African war was still in progress, and numbers of soldiers were daily returning from the front in need of artificial assistance one way or another.

***

In less than two hours we were at the gentleman’s lodge. Passing boldly through the gates we followed the drive until we saw before us a fine large mansion. Reaching the front door we rang the bell, which was soon answered by a servant. To our enquiries as to whether the master was in the servant replied in the negative, but intimated that the mistress was. Of course, this made not the least difference, as many a tramp knew, except that had we been old soldiers the lady not being able to test us by drill, would therefore not have given more than the civilian’s shilling. Now, almost unfortunately for us, the downrighter, knowing that the lady would not drill us, and thinking that there might be a possibility of getting the master’s double pay to old soldiers, without danger of drill or cross examination – suddenly made up his mind to say that we were two old soldiers. For, thought he, if it does no good, it cannot do any harm. Therefore, when the lady appeared smiling at the door Long John, being spokesman, told a straightforward tale of hardship, and added that we had both served our country on the battlefield as soldiers. He had scarcely mentioned the word soldiers when a loud authoritative voice behind us cried – “Shoulder Arms!” I was leaning heavily on a thick stick when this command was given, but lost my balance and almost fell to the ground. We both turned our faces towards the speaker and saw a tall military looking gentleman scrutinising us with two very sharp eyes. Giving us but very little time to compose ourselves he shouted again – “Present Arms!” This second command was no more obeyed than the first. Long John blew his nose, and I stood at ease on my staff, as though I did not care whether the dogs were set upon us or we were to be lodged in jail. After another uncomfortable pause the retired officer said, looking at us severely – “Two old soldiers, indeed! You are two imposters and scoundrels! Perhaps you understand this command” – and in a voice fiercer and louder than ever he cried, “Quick March!” Long John and I, although not old soldiers, certainly understood this command, for we started down the drive at a good pace, with the military looking gentleman following. When we reached the public road, he gave another command – “Halt!” But this was another of those commands which we did not understand. However, on its being repeated less sternly we obeyed. “Here,” said he, “you are not two old soldiers, but you may not be altogether scoundrels; and I never turn men away without giving them some assistance.” Saying which he gave us a shilling each. But what a narrow escape we had of being turned penniless away, all through Long John’s greed and folly!

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Osbert Sitwell: Totally out of place in a war-mad world

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

British writers on peace and war

Osbert Sitwell: Wilfred Owen, poetry and war

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Osbert Sitwell
From Noble Essences
Ronald Firbank

He felt himself totally out of place in a khaki-clad, war-mad world, where neither music nor gaiety existed, and in which one could no longer travel except about the business of death. He failed to summon up any enthusiasm whatever over the current war, protesting that for his part he had always found the Germans “most polite.” In fact, in after years, “that awful persecution was the phrase which it was most often his wont to use in alluding to the First World War. It had driven him to become more than ever a recluse: it had deprived him of all outside interests, until finally ennui forced him to write the book about which he had talked for so many years. These volumes were, therefore, far more truly than any others in the English language the product of the conflict. He was in the best, the least boring, sense a “war writer.”

***

From Violet Gordon Woodhouse

[George Bernard Shaw remarked]

“I hate all this destruction. Every time a bomb falls on Berlin or London it kills a number of young Europeans: a fact which, as an old European, I deplore.”

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Osbert Sitwell: Wilfred Owen, poetry and war

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

British writers on peace and war

Wilfred Owen: Selections on war

Osbert Sitwell: Totally out of place in a war-mad world

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Osbert Sitwell
From Noble Essences
Wilfred Owen

I did not know Wilfred Owen for long, hardly for more than a year, I suppose, notably with Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Ross, and the fact that we were deeply in sympathy in our views concerning the war and its conduct – a link of nonconformity that in those years bound together the disbelievers with almost the same force with which faith had knitted together the early Christians – soon matured our relationship…

The quality of greatness that differentiates him from other war poets is in the truth both of his poetry and of his response to war. If he can be properly called a War Poet – since, greater than that, he was a Poet – he may be the only writer who answers truly to that description; the first, as he may be the last, for the very phrase War Poet indicates a strange twentieth-century phenomenon, the attempt to combine two incompatibles. There had been no war poets in the Peninsular, Crimean or Boer wars. But war had suddenly become transformed by the effort of scientist and mechanician into something so infernal, so inhuman, that it was recognized that only their natural enemy, the poet, could pierce through the armor of horror with which they were encased, to the pity at the human core; only the poet could steadily contemplate the struggle at the level of tragedy…The invention of the atomic bomb again changed these values: for war has once more altered its character, and an Atomic-Bomb Poet is one not to be thought of…No, Owen was a poet – a War Poet only because the brief span of his maturity coincided with a war of hitherto unparalleled sweep, viciousness and stupidity…

Each war produces its own particular harvest of horrors for the soldier…

He had on him a collection of photographs of mutilated and wounded men which he had made in order to bring home to the unimaginative the horrors that others faced for them. (I remember those photographs. Robert Ross, too, used to carry some of them on him, and, when an acquaintance voiced views that seemed to him stupid, overenthusiastic for war and bellicose, would take them out of his pocket, saying, “Then these will interest you!”)

****

At the first meeting, he was inclined to be shy of me, although, as I have said, he was at ease with his own contemporaries, conscious of their esteem: but I had already had a different, and perhaps a larger, experience of the world. His shyness in my presence, however, soon wore off, for we possessed in common a delight in the company of our friends, a love of books, and a hatred of modern war and of those who did not feel its burden. Moreover, we shared the unspeakable experiences of the infantry officer of the time and an enormous pity for those engaged in this vile warfare. We both knew the look he had described: “…the very strange look on all faces in that camp; an incomprehensible look, which a man will never see in England, though wars should be in England; nor can it be seen in any battle…It was not despair, or terror, it was more terrible than terror, for it was a blindfold look, and without expression, like a dead rabbit’s. It will never be painted, and no actor will ever seize it. And to describe it, I think I must go back and be with them…”

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Voltaire: The laws of robbers and war

February 20, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Voltaire: Selections on war

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Voltaire
From Philosophical Dictionary
Translated by William F. Fleming

I was told that laws existed even among robbers, and that there were also laws in war. “They are,” said someone, “to hang up a brave officer for maintaining a weak post without cannon; to hang a prisoner if the enemy has hanged any of yours; to ravage with fire and sword those villages which shall not have delivered up their means of subsistence by an appointed day, agreeably to the commands of the gracious sovereign of the vicinage…I admit that these laws are severe, although their execution is a little severe; but I must acknowledge I am no friend to laws which authorize a hundred thousand neighbors to loyally set about cutting one another’s throats…

****

It is…very likely, after all the revolutions of our globe, that it was the art of working metals that made kings, as it is the art of casting cannon which now maintains them.

Our instinct, in the first place, impels us to beat our brother when he vexes us, if we are roused into a passion with him and feel that we are stronger than he is. Afterwards, our sublime reason leads us on to the invention of arrows, swords, pikes, and at length muskets to kill our neighbor with.

****

Were you ever acquainted with any king or republic that made either war or peace, that issued decrees, or entered into conventions from any other motive than that of interest?

****

Why, of all the various tribes of animals, has man alone the mad ambition of domineering over his fellow? Why and how could it happen, that out a thousand millions of men more than nine hundred and ninety-nine have been sacrificed to this mad ambition?

****

Since we write upon the rights of the people, on taxation, on customs, etc., let us endeavor, by profound reasoning, to establish the novel maxim that a shepherd ought to shear his sheep, and not to flay them.

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Voltaire: Why prefer a war to the happy labors of peace?

February 18, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Voltaire: Selections on war

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Voltaire
From Philosophical Dictionary
Translated by William F. Fleming

Why do we scarcely ever know the tenth part of the good we might do? It is clear that if a nation living between the Alps, the Pyrenees, and the sea had employed, in ameliorating and embellishing the country, a tenth part of the money it lost in the war of 1741, and one-half the men killed to no purpose in Germany, the state would have been more flourishing. Why was this done? Why prefer a war, which Europe considered unjust, to the happy labors of peace, which would have produced the useful and the agreeable?

****

There are whole nations that are not wicked: The Philadephians, the Banians, have never killed anyone. The Chinese, the people of Tonquin, Lao, Siam, and even Japan, for more than a hundred years have not been acquainted with war.

****

Assemble all the children of the universe; you will see in them only innocence, mildness, and fear; if they were born wicked, mischievous, and cruel, they would show some sign of it, as little serpents try to bite and little tigers to tear. But nature not having given to man more offensive arms than to pigeons and rabbits, she cannot have given them an instinct leading them to destroy.

****

We never heard a word of vampires in London, nor even in Paris. I confess that in both these cities there were stock-jobbers, brokers, and men of business who sucked the blood of the people in broad daylight; but they were not dead, though corrupted. These true suckers lived not in cemeteries, but in very agreeable palaces.

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Voltaire: Invoking the gods of war

February 16, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Voltaire: Selections on war

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Voltaire
From Philosophical Dictionary
Translated by William F. Fleming

At length all become armed with nearly the same description of weapons; and the blood flows from one extremity of the world to the other.

Men, however, cannot forever go on killing one another; and peace is consequently made, till either party thinks itself sufficiently strong to recommence the war. Those who cannot write draw up these treaties of peace; and the chiefs of every nation, with a view more successfully to impose upon their enemies, invoke the gods to attest with what sincerity they bind themselves to the observance of these compacts. Oaths of the most solemn character are invented and employed, and one party engages in the name of the great Somonocodom, and the other in that of Jupiter the Avenger, to live forever in peace and amity; while in the names of Somonocodom and Jupiter, they take the first opportunity of cutting one another’s throats.

****

In our own times, in the course of the wars that we frequently undertake for the sake of particular cities, or even perhaps villages, the Germans and the Spaniards, when they happened to be the enemies of the French, prayed to the Virgin Mary, from the bottom of their hearts, that she would completely defeat the Gauls and the Gavaches, who in their turn supplicated her, with equal importunity, to destroy the Maranes and the Teutons.

In England advocates of the red rose offered up to St. George the most ardent prayers to prevail upon him to sink all the partisans of the white rose to the bottom of the sea. The white rose was equally devout and importunate for the very opposite event. We can all of us have some idea of the embarrassment which this must have caused St. George; and if Henry VII. had not come to his assistance, St. George would never have been able to get extricated from it.

****

In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money from one part of the citizens to give to the other.

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Robert Burton: Hypocrites who make the trumpet of the gospel the trumpet of war

February 15, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Robert Burton: War’s nuptials, war’s justice

Robert Burton: We hate the hawk because it is always at war

Robert Burton: What fury first brought so devilish, so brutish a thing as war into men’s minds?

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Robert Burton
From Anatomy of Melancholy

When we see and read of such cruel wars, tumults, uproars, bloody battles, so many men slain, so many cities ruinated, etc. (for what else is the subject of all our stories almost, but bills, bows and guns?), so many murders and massacres, etc., where is charity? Or see men wholly devout to God, churchmen, professed divines, holy men, “to make the trumpet of the gospel the trumpet of war”…Are these Christians? I beseech you, tell me. He that shall observe and see these things may say to them as Cato to Caesar, Credo quae de inferis dicuntur falsa estimatas, Sure I think thou art of opinion there is neither heaven nor hell. Let them pretend religion, zeal, make what shows they will, give alms, peace-makers, frequent sermons if we may guess at by the tree by the fruit, they are no better than hypocrites…

***

Mars, Jupiter, Apollo, and Æculapius have resigned their interest, names, and offices to St. George

(Maxime bellorum rector, quem nostra juventus Pro Mavorte colit),

(O great lord of war, whom our youth worship in place of Mars,)

Dionysius of Halicarnassus

****

Because we are superstitious, irreligious, we do not serve God as we ought, all these plagues and miseries come upon us; what can we look for else but mutual wars, slaughters, fearful ends in this life, and in the life to come eternal damnation? What is it that hath caused so many feral battles to be fought, so much Christian blood to be shed, but superstition?

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Robert Burton: War’s nuptials, war’s justice

February 13, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Robert Burton: Hypocrites who make the trumpet of the gospel the trumpet of war

Robert Burton: We hate the hawk because it is always at war

Robert Burton: What fury first brought so devilish, so brutish a thing as war into men’s minds?

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Robert Burton
From Anatomy of Melancholy

Besides private miseries, we live in perpetual fear and danger of common enemies: we have Bellona’s whips, and pitiful outcries, for epithalamiums; for pleasant music, that fearful noise of ordnance, drums, and warlike trumpets still sounding in our ears; instead of nuptial torches, we have firing of towns and cities; for triumphs, lamentations; for joy, tears.

****

Thou shalt perceive that verified of Samuel to Agag (1 Sam. xv, 33): “Thy sword hath made many women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women.” It shall be done to them as they have done to others…[Let] them march on with ensigns displayed, let drums beat on, trumpets sound taratantarra, let them sack cities, take the spoil of countries, murder infants, deflower virgins, destroy, burn, persecute, and tyrannize, they shall be fully rewarded at last in the same measure, they and theirs, and that to their desert.

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John Chrysostom: God is not a God of war and fighting

February 12, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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St. John Chrysostom
From Homily XIV on Philippians
Oxford translation

God is not a God of war and fighting. Make war and fighting to cease, both that which is against Him, and that which is against your neighbor. Be at peace with all men, consider with what character God saves you. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9). Such always imitate the Son of God: you imitate Him too. Be at peace.

The more your brother wars against you, by so much the greater will be your reward. For hear the prophet who says, With the haters of peace I was peaceful (Psalm 120:7). This is virtue, this is above man’s understanding, this makes us near God; nothing so much delights God as to remember no evil. This sets you free from your sins, this looses the charges against you: but if we are fighting and buffeting, we become far off from God: for enmities are produced by conflict, and from enmity springs remembrance of evil.

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Cyprian: War cannot consist with peace

February 11, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Cyprian
From Treatise I
Translated by Robert Ernest Wallis

Therefore also the Holy Spirit came as a dove, a simple and joyous creature, not bitter with gall, not cruel in its bite, not violent with the rending of its claws, loving human dwellings, knowing the association of one home; when they have young, bringing forth their young together; when they fly abroad, remaining in their flights by the side of one another, spending their life in mutual intercourse, acknowledging the concord of peace with the kiss of the beak, in all things fulfilling the law of unanimity. This is the simplicity that ought to be known in the Church, this is the charity that ought to be attained, that so the love of the brotherhood may imitate the doves, that their gentleness and meekness may be like the lambs and sheep. What does the fierceness of wolves do in the Christian breast? What the savageness of dogs, and the deadly venom of serpents, and the sanguinary cruelty of wild beasts? We are to be congratulated when such as these are separated from the Church, lest they should lay waste the doves and sheep of Christ with their cruel and envenomed contagion. Bitterness cannot consist and be associated with sweetness, darkness with light, rain with clearness, battle with peace, barrenness with fertility, drought with springs, storm with tranquillity.

***

Among His divine commands and salutary teachings, the Lord, when He was now very near to His passion, added this one, saying, Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. John 14:27 He gave this to us as an heritage; He promised all the gifts and rewards of which He spoke through the preservation of peace. If we are fellow-heirs with Christ, let us abide in the peace of Christ; if we are sons of God, we ought to be peacemakers. Blessed, says He, are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the sons of God. Matthew 5:9 It behooves the sons of God to be peacemakers, gentle in heart, simple in speech, agreeing in affection, faithfully linked to one another in the bonds of unanimity.

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Democritus: Strange humor: Men covet war in time of peace

February 10, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Democritus
As cited by Robert Burton in Anatomy of Melancholy (from putative letters to Hippocrates)

“When men live in peace, they covet war, detesting quietness, deposing kings, and advancing others in their stead, murdering some men to beget children of their wives. How many strange humours are in men!”

“Some seek to destroy, one to build, another to spoil one country to enrich another and himself. In all these things they are like children, in whom there is no judgment or counsel, and resemble beasts, saving that beasts are better than they, as being contented with nature…”

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Origen: Vanquish all demons who stir up war

February 8, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Origen
From Reply to Celsus
Translator unknown

And as we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them…

***

If a revolt had indeed given rise to the Christian community, if Christians took their origins from the Jews, who were allowed to take up arms in defense of their possessions and to kill their enemies, the Christian Lawgiver would not have made homicide absolutely forbidden. He would not have taught that his disciples were never justified in taking such action against a man even if he were the greatest wrongdoer. [Jesus] considered it contrary to his divinely inspired legislation to approve any kind of homicide whatsoever. If Christians had started with a revolt, they would never have submitted to the kind of peaceful laws which permitted them to be slaughtered “like sheep” (Psalm 44:11) and which made them always incapable of taking vengeance on their persecutors because they followed the law of gentleness and love.

To those who ask about our origin and our founder we reply that we have come in response to Jesus’ commands to beat into plowshares the rational swords of conflict and arrogance and to change into pruning hooks these spears that we used to fight with. For we no longer take up the sword against any nation, nor do we learn the art of war any more. Instead of following the traditions that made us “strangers to the covenants” (Eph 2:12), we have become sons of peace through Jesus our founder.

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Robert Burton: We hate the hawk because it is always at war

February 7, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Robert Burton: Hypocrites who make the trumpet of the gospel the trumpet of war

Robert Burton: War’s nuptials, war’s justice

Robert Burton: What fury first brought so devilish, so brutish a thing as war into men’s minds?

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Robert Burton
From Anatomy of Melancholy

I hate wars if they be not ad populi salutem [for the salvation of the public] upon urgent occasion. Odimus accipitrim, quia semper vivit in armis [we hate the hawk because it is always at war]. Offensive wars, except the cause be very just, I will not allow of. For I do highly magnify that saying of Hannibal to Scipio, in Livy: “It had been a blessed thing for you and us, if God had given that mind to our predecessors, that you had been content with Italy, we with Africa. For neither Sicily nor Sardinia are worth such cost and pains, so many fleets and armies, or so many famous captains’ lives.” Omnia prius tentanda, fair means shall first be tried. Peragit tranquilla potestas, Quod violenta nequit [peaceful pressure accomplishes more than violence]. I will have them proceed with all moderation: but hear you, Fabius my general, not Minutius, nam qui Consilio nititur plus hostibus nocet, quam qui sini animi ratione, viribus [for strategy can inflict greater blows on the enemy than uncalculating force]. And in such wars to abstain as much as is possible from depopulations, burning of towns, massacring of infants, &c.

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Robert Burton: What fury first brought so devilish, so brutish a thing as war into men’s minds?

February 6, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Robert Burton: Hypocrites who make the trumpet of the gospel the trumpet of war

Robert Burton: War’s nuptials, war’s justice

Robert Burton: We hate the hawk because it is always at war

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Robert Burton
From Anatomy of Melancholy

If Democritus were alive now…

What would he have said to see, hear, and read so many bloody battles, so many thousands slain at once, such streams of blood able to turn mills: unius ob noxam furiasque, or to make sport for princes, without any just cause, for vain titles (saith Austin [Augustine]), precedency, some wench, or such like toy, or out of desire of domineering, vainglory, malice, revenge, folly, madness,(goodly causes all, ob quas universus orbis bellis et caedibus misceatur,) whilst statesmen themselves in the mean time are secure at home, pampered with all delights and pleasures, take their ease, and follow their lusts, not considering what intolerable misery poor soldiers endure, their often wounds, hunger, thirst, &c., the lamentable cares, torments, calamities, and oppressions that accompany such proceedings, they feel not, take no notice of it. So wars are begun, by the persuasion of a few debauched, hair-brain, poor, dissolute, hungry captains, parasitical fawners, unquiet hotspurs, restless innovators, green heads, to satisfy one man’s private spleen, lust, ambition, avarice, &c.; tales rapiunt scelerata in praelia causae. Flos hominum, proper men, well proportioned, carefully brought up, able both in body and mind, sound, led like so many beasts to the slaughter in the flower of their years, pride, and full strength, without all remorse and pity, sacrificed to Pluto, killed up as so many sheep, for devils’ food, 40,000 at once. At once, said I, that were tolerable, but these wars last always, and for many ages; nothing so familiar as this hacking and hewing, massacres, murders, desolations – ignoto coelum clangore remugit, they care not what mischief they procure, so that they may enrich themselves for the present; they will so long blow the coals of contention, till all the world be consumed with fire. The siege of Troy lasted ten years, eight months, there died 870,000 Grecians, 670,000 Trojans, at the taking of the city, and after were slain 276,000 men, women, and children of all sorts. Caesar killed a million, Mahomet the second Turk, 300,000 persons; Sicinius Dentatus fought in a hundred battles, eight times in single combat he overcame, had forty wounds before, was rewarded with 140 crowns, triumphed nine times for his good service. M. Sergius had 32 wounds; Scaeva, the Centurion, I know not how many; every nation had their Hectors, Scipios, Caesars, and Alexanders! Our Edward the Fourth was in 26 battles afoot: and as they do all, he glories in it, ’tis related to his honour. At the siege of Hierusalem, 1,100,000 died with sword and famine. At the battle of Cannae, 70,000 men were slain, as Polybius records, and as many at Battle Abbey with us; and ’tis no news to fight from sun to sun, as they did, as Constantine and Licinius, &c. At the siege of Ostend (the devil’s academy) a poor town in respect, a small fort, but a great grave, 120,000 men lost their lives, besides whole towns, dorps, and hospitals, full of maimed soldiers; there were engines, fireworks, and whatsoever the devil could invent to do mischief with 2,500,000 iron bullets shot of 40 pounds weight, three or four millions of gold consumed. Who (saith mine author) can be sufficiently amazed at their flinty hearts, obstinacy, fury, blindness, who without any likelihood of good success, hazard poor soldiers, and lead them without pity to the slaughter, which may justly be called the rage of furious beasts, that run without reason upon their own deaths: quis malus genius, quae furia quae pestis, &c.; what plague, what fury brought so devilish, so brutish a thing as war first into men’s minds? Who made so soft and peaceable a creature, born to love, mercy, meekness, so to rave, rage like beasts, and run on to their own destruction? how may Nature expostulate with mankind, Ego te divinum animal finxi, &c.? I made thee an harmless, quiet, a divine creature: how may God expostulate, and all good men? yet, horum facta (as one condoles) tantum admirantur, et heroum numero habent: these are the brave spirits, the gallants of the world, these admired alone, triumph alone, have statues, crowns, pyramids, obelisks to their eternal fame, that immortal genius attends on them, hac itur ad astra. When Rhodes was besieged, fossae urbis cadaveribus repletae sunt, the ditches were full of dead carcases: and as when the said Suleiman, great Turk, beleaguered Vienna, they lay level with the top of the walls. This they make a sport of, and will do it to their friends and confederates, against oaths, vows, promises, by treachery or otherwise;  – dolus an virtus? quis in hoste requirat? leagues and laws of arms, (silent leges inter arma,) for their advantage, omnia jura, divina, humana, proculcata plerumque sunt; God’s and men’s laws are trampled under foot, the sword alone determines all; to satisfy their lust and spleen, they care not what they attempt, say, or do, Rara fides, probitasque viris qui castra sequuntur. Nothing so common as to have father fight against the son, brother against brother, kinsman against kinsman, kingdom against kingdom, province against province, Christians against Christians: a quibus nec unquam cogitatione fuerunt laesi, of whom they never had offence in thought, word, or deed. Infinite treasures consumed, towns burned, flourishing cities sacked and ruinated, quodque animus meminisse horret, goodly countries depopulated and left desolate, old inhabitants expelled, trade and traffic decayed, maids deflowered, Virgines nondum thalamis jugatae, et comis nondum positis ephaebi; chaste matrons cry out with Andromache, Concubitum mox cogar pati ejus, qui interemit Hectorem, they shall be compelled peradventure to lie with them that erst killed their husbands: to see rich, poor, sick, sound, lords, servants, eodem omnes incommodo macti, consumed all or maimed, &c. Et quicquid gaudens scelere animus audet, et perversa mens, saith Cyprian, and whatsoever torment, misery, mischief, hell itself, the devil, fury and rage can invent to their own ruin and destruction; so abominable a thing is war, as Gerbelius concludes, adeo foeda et abominanda res est bellum, ex quo hominum caedes, vastationes, &c., the scourge of God, cause, effect, fruit and punishment of sin, and not tonsura humani generis as Tertullian calls it, but ruina. Had Democritus been present at the late civil wars in France, those abominable wars – bellaque matribus detestatawhere in less than ten years, ten thousand men were consumed, saith Collignius, twenty thousand churches overthrown; nay, the whole kingdom subverted (as Richard Dinoth adds). So many myriads of the commons were butchered up, with sword, famine, war, tanto odio utrinque ut barbari ad abhorrendam lanienam obstupescerent, with such feral hatred, the world was amazed at it: or at our late Pharsalian fields in the time of Henry the Sixth, betwixt the houses of Lancaster and York, a hundred thousand men slain, one writes; another, ten thousand families were rooted out, that no man can but marvel, saith Comineus, at that barbarous immanity, feral madness, committed betwixt men of the same nation, language, and religion. Quis furor, O civesWhy do the Gentiles so furiously rage, saith the Prophet David, Psal. ii. 1. But we may ask, why do the Christians so furiously rage? Arma volunt, quare poscunt, rapiuntque juventus? Unfit for Gentiles, much less for us so to tyrannise, as the Spaniard in the West Indies, that killed up in 42 years (if we may believe Bartholomeus a Casa, their own bishop) 12 millions of men, with stupend and exquisite torments; neither should I lie (said he) if I said 50 millions. I omit those French massacres, Sicilian evensongs, the Duke of Alva’s tyrannies, our gunpowder machinations, and that fourth fury, as one calls it, the Spanish inquisition, which quite obscures those ten persecutions, – saevit toto Mars impius orbe. Is not this mundus furiosus, a mad world, as he terms it, insanum bellum? are not these mad men, as Scaliger concludes, qui in praelio acerba morte, insaniae, suae memoriam pro perpetuo teste relinquunt posteritati; which leave so frequent battles, as perpetual memorials of their madness to all succeeding ages? Would this, think you, have enforced our Democritus to laughter, or rather made him turn his tune, alter his tone, and weep with Heraclitus, or rather howl, roar, and tear his hair in commiseration, stand amazed; or as the poets feign, that Niobe was for grief quite stupefied, and turned to a stone? I have not yet said the worst, that which is more absurd and mad, in their tumults, seditions, civil and unjust wars, quod stulte sucipitur, impie geritur, misere finitur…[V]alour is much to be commended in a wise man; but they mistake most part, auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus virtutem vocant, &c. (‘Twas Galgacus’ observation in Tacitus) they term theft, murder, and rapine, virtue, by a wrong name, rapes, slaughters, massacres, &c. jocus et ludus, are pretty pastimes, as Ludovicus Vives notes. They commonly call the most hair-brain bloodsuckers, strongest thieves, the most desperate villains, treacherous rogues, inhuman murderers, rash, cruel and dissolute caitiffs, courageous and generous spirits, heroical and worthy captains, brave men at arms, valiant and renowned soldiers, possessed with a brute persuasion of false honour, as Pontus Huter in his Burgundian history complains. By means of which it comes to pass that daily so many voluntaries offer themselves, leaving their sweet wives, children, friends, for sixpence (if they can get it) a day, prostitute their lives and limbs, desire to enter upon breaches, lie sentinel, perdu, give the first onset, stand in the fore front of the battle, marching bravely on, with a cheerful noise of drums and trumpets, such vigour and alacrity, so many banners streaming in the air, glittering armours, motions of plumes, woods of pikes, and swords, variety of colours, cost and magnificence, as if they went in triumph, now victors to the Capitol, and with such pomp, as when Darius’ army marched to meet Alexander at Issus. Void of all fear they run into imminent dangers, cannon’s mouth, &c., ut vulneribus suis ferrum hostium hebetent, saith Barletius, to get a name of valour, humour and applause, which lasts not either, for it is but a mere flash this fame, and like a rose, intra diem unum extinguitur, ’tis gone in an instant. Of 15,000 proletaries slain in a battle, scarce fifteen are recorded in history, or one alone, the General perhaps, and after a while his and their names are likewise blotted out, the whole battle itself is forgotten. Those Grecian orators, summa vi ingenii et eloquentiae, set out the renowned overthrows at Thermopylae, Salamis, Marathon, Micale, Mantinea, Cheronaea, Plataea. The Romans record their battle at Cannae, and Pharsalian fields, but they do but record, and we scarce hear of them. And yet this supposed honour, popular applause, desire of immortality by this means, pride and vainglory spur them on many times rashly and unadvisedly, to make away themselves and multitudes of others. Alexander was sorry, because there were no more worlds for him to conquer, he is admired by some for it, animosa vox videtur, et regia, ’twas spoken like a Prince; but as wise Seneca censures him, ’twas vox inquissima et stultissima, ’twas spoken like a Bedlam fool; and that sentence which the same Seneca appropriates to his father Philip and him, I apply to them all, Non minores fuere pestes mortalium quam inundatio, quam conflagratio, quibus, &c. they did as much mischief to mortal men as fire and water, those merciless elements when they rage. Which is yet more to be lamented, they persuade them this hellish course of life is holy, they promise heaven to such as venture their lives bello sacro, and that by these bloody wars, as Persians, Greeks, and Romans of old, as modern Turks do now their commons, to encourage them to fight, ut cadant infeliciterIf they die in the field, they go directly to heaven, and shall be canonised for saints. (O diabolical invention!) put in the Chronicles, in perpetuam rei memoriam, to their eternal memory: when as in truth, as some hold, it were much better (since wars are the scourge of God for sin, by which he punisheth mortal men’s peevishness and folly) such brutish stories were suppressed, because ad morum institutionem nihil habent, they conduce not at all to manners, or good life. But they will have it thus nevertheless, and so they put note of divinity upon the most cruel and pernicious plague of human kind, adore such men with grand titles, degrees, statues, images, honour, applaud, and highly reward them for their good service, no greater glory than to die in the field. So Africanus is extolled by Ennius: Mars, and Hercules, and I know not how many besides of old, were deified; went this way to heaven, that were indeed bloody butchers, wicked destroyers, and troublers of the world, prodigious monsters, hell-hounds, feral plagues, devourers, common executioners of human kind, as Lactantius truly proves, and Cyprian to Donat, such as were desperate in wars, and precipitately made away themselves, (like those Celts in Damascen, with ridiculous valour, ut dedecorosum putarent muro ruenti se subducere, a disgrace to run away for a rotten wall, now ready to fall on their heads,) such as will not rush on a sword’s point, or seek to shun a cannon’s shot, are base cowards, and no valiant men. By which means, Madet orbis mutuo sanguine, the earth wallows in her own blood, Savit amor ferri et scelerati insania belli; and for that, which if it be done in private, a man shall be rigorously executed, and which is no less than murder itself; if the same fact be done in public in wars, it is called manhood, and the party is honoured for it.

Prosperum et felix scelus,
Virtus vocatur. –
We measure all as Turks do, by the event, and most part, as Cyprian notes, in all ages, countries, places, saevitiae magnitudo impunitatem sceleris acquirit; the foulness of the fact vindicates the offender. One is crowned for that which another is tormented: Ille crucem sceleris precium tulit, hic diadema; made a knight, a lord, an earl, a great duke, (as Agrippa notes) for that which another should have hung in gibbets, as a terror to the rest,
et tamen alter,
Si fecisset idem, caderet sub judice morum.

A poor sheep-stealer is hanged for stealing of victuals, compelled peradventure by necessity of that intolerable cold, hunger, and thirst, to save himself from starving: but a great man in office may securely rob whole provinces, undo thousands, pill and poll, oppress ad libitum, flea, grind, tyrannise, enrich himself by spoils of the commons, be uncontrollable in his actions, and after all, be recompensed with turgent titles, honoured for his good service, and no man dare find fault, or mutter at it.

 

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Anatole France: War ruins all trades but its own

February 3, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Anatole France: Selections on war

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Anatole France
From Life of Joan of Arc
Translated by Winifred Stephens

At that time Jeanne was thirteen or fourteen. War everywhere around her, even in the children’s play; the husband of one of her godmothers taken and ransomed by men-at-arms; the husband of her cousin-german Mengette killed by a mortar; her native land overrun by marauders, burnt, pillaged, laid waste, all the cattle carried off; nights of terror, dreams of horror, – such were the surroundings of her childhood.

***

It was a fine war. On both sides the combatants laid hands on bread, wine, money, silver-plate, clothes, cattle big and little, and what could not be carried off was burnt. Men, women, and children were put to ransom. In most of the villages of Bassigny agriculture was suspended, nearly all the mills were destroyed.

***

From the Loire to the Seine and from the Seine to the Somme the only cultivated land was around châteaux and fortresses. Most of the fields lay fallow. In many places fairs and markets had been suspended. Labourers were everywhere out of work. War, after having ruined all trades, was now the only trade.

***

Unfortunately for the labourers of the castelleny of Vaucouleurs…there lived Robert de Saarbruck, Damoiseau of Commercy, who, subsisting on plunder, was especially given to the Lorraine custom of marauding. He was of the same way of thinking as that English king who said that warfare without burnings was no good, any more than chitterlings without mustard.

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Edward Bulwer Lytton: Ghouls on the field of slaughter

January 30, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Edward Bulwer Lytton: The heartless and miserable vanity from which arose wars neither useful nor honourable

Edward Bulwer Lytton: The sword, consecrating homicide and massacre with a hollow name

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Edward Bulwer Lytton
From The Last of The Barons

What woman will provoke war and bloodshed?…

They pursued their way, they cleared the wood; before them lay the field of battle; and a deeper silence seemed to fall over the world! The first stars had risen, but not yet the moon. The gleam of armour from prostrate bodies, which it had mailed in vain, reflected the quiet rays; here and there flickered watchfires, where sentinels were set, but they were scattered and remote. The outcasts paused and shuddered, but there seemed no holier way for their feet; and the roof of the farmer’s homestead slept on the opposite side of the field, amidst white orchard blossoms, whitened still more by the stars. They went on, hand in hand,- the dead, after all, were less terrible than the living. Sometimes a stern, upturned face, distorted by the last violent agony, the eyes unclosed and glazed, encountered them with its stony stare; but the weapon was powerless in the stiff hand, the menace and the insult came not from the hueless lips; persecution reposed, at last, in the lap of slaughter. They had gone midway through the field, when they heard from a spot where the corpses lay thickest piled, a faint voice calling upon God for pardon; and, suddenly, it was answered by a tone of fiercer agony, – that did not pray, but curse.

By a common impulse, the gentle wanderers moved silently to the spot.

The sufferer in prayer was a youth scarcely passed from boyhood: his helm had been cloven, his head was bare, and his long light hair, clotted with gore, fell over his shoulders. Beside him lay a strong-built, powerful form, which writhed in torture, pierced under the arm by a Yorkist arrow, and the shaft still projecting from the wound, – and the man’s curse answered the boy’s prayer.

“Peace to thy parting soul, brother!” said Warner, bending over the man.

“Poor sufferer!” said Sibyll to the boy; “cheer thee, we will send succour; thou mayest live yet!”

***

The boy yielded up his soul while Sibyll prayed, and her sweet voice soothed the last pang; and the man ceased to curse while Adam spoke of God’s power and mercy, and his breath ebbed, gasp upon gasp, away. While thus detained, the wanderers saw not pale, fleeting figures, that had glided to the ground, and moved, gleaming, irregular, and rapid, as marsh-fed vapours, from heap to heap of the slain. With a loud, wild cry, the robber Lancastrian half sprung to his feet, in the paroxysm of the last struggle, and then fell on his face, a corpse!

The cry reached the tymbesteres, and Graul rose from a body from which she had extracted a few coins smeared with blood, and darted to the spot; and so, as Adam raised his face from contemplating the dead, whose last moments he had sought to soothe, the Alecto of the battlefield stood before him, her knife bare in her gory arm. Red Grisell, who had just left (with a spurn of wrath – for the pouch was empty) the corpse of a soldier, round whose neck she had twined her hot clasp the day before, sprang towards Sibyll; the rest of the sisterhood flocked to the place, and laughed in glee as they beheld their unexpected prey. The danger was horrible and imminent; no pity was seen in those savage eyes. The wanderers prepared for death – when, suddenly, torches flashed over the ground. A cry was heard, “See, the riflers of the dead!” Armed men bounded forward, and the startled wretches uttered a shrill, unearthly scream, and fled from the spot, leaping over the carcasses, and doubling and winding, till they had vanished into the darkness of the wood.

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Walter Besant: Wisdom and war

January 24, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Walter Besant: War and the destruction of London, a city lone and widowed

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Walter Besant
From Dorothy Forster

I am sure that were our statesmen also scholars and persons versed in ancient history, the kingdoms of the world would be singularly preserved from external wars, civil tumults, and internal dissensions.

***

“When scholars become ministers and philosophers statesmen, the world shall be better ordered.”

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Romain Rolland: To Gandhi on mental unbalance leading whole world to destruction

January 22, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
Translated by R. A. Francis

From his diary, 1931

Gandhi tackled squarely and openly the two burning questions of capitalism and militarism…On the second, he said that all militarisms and all armies were to be condemned, and more than all the rest those of a nation claiming to be neutral and without aggressive intent. When someone raised the insidious objection: “If a foreign army wanted to cross Switzerland in order to attack another nation, would it not be the duty of Switzerland to stop it and block the way with its own army?” he replied: “Certainly it would be your duty to stop it. But the only true way of doing so would be by a wall of your own people, men, women and children, without arms. No army would dare to pass over their bodies, and if it did so once, it would not do so a second time, as it would be overwhelmed by the revolted conscience of the whole universe; thus your sacrifice would bear fruit.”

***

We are living in a fine age, despite all the disorders it brings with it. Happy the man who can live in it with a healthy body and a strong heart!

Gandhi assents, his eyes shining. And we touch on the underside of scientific grandeur, the dizzy whirlpool of murderous inventions, machines of destruction, poison gas, etc. Gandhi (confidently): This will kill itself. If such a war and such destructions take place and meet with no resistance, there will follow a revulsion against the horrible acts committed. It is not in human nature to advance without resistance and to fight, so to speak, in a vacuum. If a nation is heroic enough to submit to violence without responding to it, it will be the strongest possible object lesson. But it cannot be done without absolute faith.

***

I throw out the idea that Europe seems to be moving towards a privileged class of labourers with a sort of sacrificed proletariat below it for hard and repulsive jobs. This proletariat, recruited among foreigners and the conquered races of Africa and Asia in particular, would end up by forming a class of slaves, as in the time of the Roman Empire, when the Roman plebs unloaded its labour – and also its military defence – on to the plebs of the rest of the world. I also speak, uncomplimentarily, of Kalergi’s “Pan-Europe”.

***

From a letter to Mohandas Gandhi, 1933

At this tragic moment of history, when the whole world is exposed to the most atrocious violence, on the eve of world wars surpassing in cruelty and extent all that have gone before, – a moment when the whole of humanity is divided between oppressors and oppressed, and when the latter, maddened by their sufferings and by injustice, as if drunk by the violence which rends them, see no other recourse than in that very violence, – our self-immolation to that sacred Justice which is all love and no violence takes on a universal and holy value, – like the Cross.

Though, alas! the Cross has not saved the world, it has shown the world the way to save itself, and its rays have cast light on the night of millions of unfortunate people.

***

From a letter to Mohandas Gandhi, 1934

Europe, in which men’s minds are everywhere under excessive tension, is on the eve of a general war in which all the frenzy accumulated over the years risks being let loose, and it will be difficult then for the voices of reason and humanity to make themselves heard.

Permit me, in feverish Europe’s supreme hour of vigil, to appeal to you.

Of all forms of violence, the most crushing at the moment is that of a social state whose demon is Money. The power of Money was always great, but over the last half-century and even more so since the last war, it has become formidably extended by its close connection with the big industries (“heavy” industry, armaments, chemical products) and a colonial imperialism which spreads its exploitation over all the races of the earth. It has taken control of political affairs (governments have become nothing more than instruments in its hand), and its monstrous power has produced in those who wield it a mental unbalance which is leading the whole world to destruction. Large-scale industrial capitalism is fomenting war; it is speculating on the death of whole peoples (opium and its ever more murderous compounds, heroin, etc.). And unfortunately the middle classes are blindly sharing in the profits of these criminal speculations without being aware of it.

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Romain Rolland: Tragedy of scientists at the disposal of military powers

January 21, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
Translator unknown

From a letter to Rabindranath Tagore 1935

Dear Friend,
The World Committee Against War requests me to thank you for having kindly consented to join the Initiative Committee of the Universal Congress of Peace. They have asked me to send you the accompanying circular…It is only as a good example which is encouraging for the rest of the world that India should demonstrate her fraternal solidarity with other countries in this endeavour for a universal assemblage for the defense of Peace…

***

From a letter to Rabindranath Tagore 1940

The war has created a solitude around us. Communications are not easy, especially in winter…Unable to write in the newspaper, which the state of war does not permit, I work and write for happier days. I re-live and try to fix on paper my memories of the past century, – the days of my youth, and the first struggles, before 1900…

In a world handed over to blind violence and falsehood, we must preserve within us truth and peace.

***

From a discussion with Tagore 1930

Science in the modern world is probably the most international element, that is, the spirit of cooperation in scientific research. But the tragic thing is this, that scientists are at the disposal of military powers who are not in the least interested in the progress of human thought and culture. We have today poison gas at the disposal of politicians…

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Rolland Rolland: Letters to Tagore on peace

January 20, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From letters to Rabindranath Tagore
Translator unknown

After the disaster of this shameful world war which marked Europe’s failure, it has become evident that Europe alone cannot save herself. Her thought is in need of Asia’s, just as the latter profited from contact with European thought. These are the two hemispheres of the brain of mankind. If one is paralysed, the whole body degenerates. It is necessary to reestablish their union and their healthy development.
1919

Europe continues to struggle in confusion and it has not ended yet its trial of violence. It continues of its way to ruin…

But the mysterious working of the soul takes place in the midst of chaos and ruins. I am never troubled by the tragic and sneering spectacle of appearances. Under this inflated veil which is about to burst, I feel the roaring breath of a superhuman fate. And this fate itself is but the envelope of fire wrapping eternal Peace.
1922

For having defended during the war the highest soul of France, her genius for humanity, France denies me. The Théâtre-Français has just declared that they would never stage a work of the man who had written Au-dessus de la Mèlee. Such is the law, ironical and tragic. He who wishes to save his people is an enemy of the people, as is said in the beautiful play by Ibsen.
1925

In every country of the world, men like us are alone. I believe they have always been so. But considering that, in this our present age of paroxysms, all characters tend to become exaggerated and over-emphasized, the divergence appears wider between the crowd which exists from day to day, and the small number of men who keep in touch with the eternal.; between the clamorous riot of people who, by means of murderous war and hate, seek to assert, one against the other, their “Me” of the herd, their nations, and those who, having long passed that stage, seek to prepare the next, in order to receive therein the heirs to the present generation. The saying of Schiller, in Don Carlos, which I have taken for a motto in my Les prècurseurs, is always true of us:

…Iche lebe.
Ein Burger derer, welche kommen werden.

“I am a fellow-citizen of those who will come later.”
1925

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Romain Rolland: Mobilization of all the forces in the world for peace

January 19, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
Translated by R. A. Francis

From a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, 1936

It is entrusted to me to ask you as well as Gandhi to join a Universal Assembly for Peace which we are convening towards the end of this summer, probably in September at Geneva. It will be a vast and powerful Congress, a sort of mobilisation of all the forces in the world for peace. A number of great national and international organizations and personalities from France, England, United States, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Belgium, Holland and many other countries have already joined (in England Lord Robert Cecil, Major Attlee, Norman Angell, Philip Noel Baker, Alexander and Professor Laski; in France Herriot, Pierre Cot, Jouhaux, Cadrin, Racamond, Professor Langevin, etc.; in Czechoslovakia Benes, Hodza; in Spain Azana, Alvarez del Vago, etc.; in Belgium Louis de Brouckere, Henri Lafontaine, etc.). It will be a question of organizing, simultaneously on a national and international level, resistance against the catastrophic menace of a universal conflagration. Would you please talk about this to our friends in India, while conveying to them my cordial salutations? Their reply as well as yours can be sent either to me or to the head-office of the “World Committee for the Struggle against War and Fascism”, of which I was made Honorary President (237 rue Lafayette, Paris X).

***

From An Expression of Gratitude to Gandhi from a Man of the West (1939)

He appeared in the eyes of Europe at an hour when such an example seemed almost miraculous. Europe had scarcely emerged from four years of savage warfare, whose ravages, ruins and rancours were living on and breeding the germs of new wars yet more implacable.

But if his Word of wisdom and love, like that of the Master of the Sermon on the Mount, has touched the hearts of thousands of good people, it did not fall to them – any more than it was granted to the Master of Nazareth – to change the course of a world which has devoted itself to war and destruction. In order to be applied in politics, the doctrine of non-violence needs a moral climate very different from that which prevails in Europe today: it demands a total self-sacrifice, immense and unanimous, which has no chance of present success in face of the growing ferocity of the new regimes of totalitarian dictatorship which have established themselves in the world and proved themselves pitilessly in the blood of millions of men.

May the spirit of Gandhi, as of old that of the great founders of the Christian orders, St. Bruno, St. Bernard and St. Francis, maintain, amidst the furious torments of the age of crisis and transformation through which mankind is passing, the Civitas Dei, the love of humanity and of harmony!

For the rest of us, intellectuals, scientists, writers and artists, we who also work, as much as our feeble forces will allow, to prepare for the spirit this City of all men in which reigns the peace of God, we who are the third order (in the language of the Church) and who belong to the Pan-Humanist brotherhood, -we send our fervent tribute of love and veneration to Gandhi our master and brother, who in his heart and in his action realizes our ideal of the humanity to come.

***

Gandhi’s Statement on Romain Rolland’s Death (1945)

Having been once bitten, I am too shy to believe in Romain Rolland’s reported death. But it seems that this report is true. And yet for me as for many millions, Romain Rolland is not dead. He truly lives through his famous writings and perhaps more so through his many and nameless deeds. He lived for truth and non-violence as he saw and believed them from time to time. He responded to all sufferings. He revolted against the wanton human butchery called ‘War’.

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From Le Voyage Interieur

It was not only my cosmic dreams which I sought to nourish at the springs of clairvoyant India; I also bore thither my European concerns, the spectre of war, which had already ravaged the fields of the West and was still prowling round the charnel-house. I knew only too well that the Furies were still lurking behind the tombstones from which the red smoke of blood was still rising. And I was anxious to erect in their path, as at the conclusion of Aeschylus’ trilogy, a barrier built of sovereign reason which might bring the conflict to an end. This could hardly be expected of the victorious imperialisms of the West, intent on enjoying the spoils and gorged to stupefaction, who were neglecting even the most elementary precautions to keep what they held. I thought I had found the answer in the revelation brought to me in 1922 by Gandhi, the little Indian St. Francis. Did he bear, in the folds of his homespun robe, in his Ahimsa, the heroic Non-violence which resists and does not flee, the key to our liberation from future massacres? I so needed to believe it that for several years I did believe it passionately, and I generously worked to spread this faith. I was certain – and I retract nothing – that in this alone could be found the salvation of our world laden with crimes, past, present and future. But to make this possible the world had to will it, and first of all it had to find the strength for it; for such a faith demanded the consenting self-sacrifice of a people of heroes, and the post-war climate was not of a kind to encourage such a breed in the West…

***

From Introduction to Young India

I wanted to destroy a misunderstanding which would confine Gandhi within a nerveless pacifism. If Christ was the Prince of Peace, Gandhi is no less worthy of this noble title. But the peace which both of them bring to men is not the peace of passive acceptance, but the peace of active love and self-sacrifice…

A few weeks ago, after long debates about the Amnesty in the French Parliament, the public authorities, faced with little resistance from an opposition mediocre both in number and in quality, refused to include Conscientious Objectors in the proffered pardon – establishing as terms of their amnesty that it should apply only to those who fought.

Our politicians are wearing blinkers. They do not suspect that there is more than one battle going on in the modern world; and the most heroic is no longer the one being fought at the front by the national armies.

***

From The Christ of India

He [Gandhi] has come at the world’s darkest hour, at which the principles supporting Western civilization have been undermined. The tottering European world is abandoning itself to primitive and violent instincts of the most bestial kind, served by all the means of destruction which a highly refined science can offer. On the morrow of a terrible four-year war, and on the eve, not just of one war, but of ten related wars which will not leave a single neutral state in safety – between these suspended menaces, as between the parted waves of a Red Sea on the point of engulfing mankind as they close – there sits the frail sage of India…

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Romain Rolland: Letters on conscientious objection

January 18, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
Translated by R. A. Francis

From a letter to Jenny Guyot 1923

Look closely at the question of the Conscientious Objectors, Gandhi’s heroic non-violence, the International Civil Service. These are the rare roads to salvation available to a Europe infected by the spirit of violence, and pregnant with new wars which will inevitably destroy her great races unless there is a desperate effort on the part of their moral elite

***

From a letter to Pierre Cérésole 1923

I should greatly encourage young people looking for a thesis topic in history to study the origins and development of Conscientious Objectors. The movement seems to go back a long way. Gandhi in the Transvaal, twenty years ago, was referring to the English Conscientious Objectors whose activities had struck him. But in fact they must always have existed, ever since the early days of Christianity and the rebels against the orders of recantation issued by the Church rallying to the power of Constantine…

***

From a letter to Henri Barbusse 1922

But there is another arm, much more powerful and within everyone’s reach, high or low; an arm which has proved its effectiveness among other races, and it’s surprising that it’s never mentioned in France; the arm used by thousands of Conscientious Objectors among the Anglo Saxon nations, and by which Mahatma Gandhi is at present undermining the dominance of the British Empire in India. I refer to non-acceptance (and I’m not saying non-resistance), for make no mistake about it, this is the supreme resistance. To refuse consent and co-operation to the criminal State is the most heroic act open to a man of our time; it demands of him – just him, an individual, alone in face of the State colossus which can coldly throttle him behind closed doors – an energy and spirit of sacrifice incomparably greater than that of confronting death when your breath and the dying sweat on your brow are mingled with those of the throng. Such moral force is possible only if one kindles in the heart of man – each man individually – the fire of conscience, the quasi-mystic sense of the divinity which is in every mind and which, at the decisive hours of history, has raised the greatest races to the stars…

***

From a letter to B. De Ligt 1928

For a genuinely heroic soul like Vivekananda (whose life story I am at present writing), non-resistance is forbidden to anyone who hypocritically slips the slightest cowardly thought into it. For the question of the conscience, or perhaps one should say the salvation of the soul, has a much greater place in their thought than that of material social progress, for their concerns are those of the director of conscience. War is detestable in their eyes less for its ravages on the battlefield than for those it makes in the human heart.

***

From a letter to Eugen Relgis 1929

In general what seems to me most urgent, as also to Pierre Doyen, Han Ryner, Einstein, Delpeuch and Stefan Zweig, is to set aside all doctrines for the time being and come to an agreement on a precise action, a collective “No”! For war is an action, not a doctrine, and when it breaks out there will be no time for Byzantine discussions on the sex of the angels. We shall have to say ‘Yesl” or “No!” to war on the spot, and thereby accept all the terrible consequences for ourselves and those closest to us…Pacifist mobilization needs extensive preliminary intellectual exercises, so as to rehearse the parts to be played.

***

From a letter to Reginald Reynolds 1930

The “pacifism” of “good people” (It’s not very much to be “good people”! What we need is “brave people”) is fatal to all virtues, and above all else to energy, the mother of them all – energy of thought which does not evade the issue and dares to be sincere with itself – and energy of the will which dares to say what it believes to be true, and to act on what it says. The emasculated “pacifist” movement has allowed itself to be taken in by the deceptive mask of today’s democratic states, who are ruining their peoples producing armaments for the most ferocious of wars. This mask must be torn away; no dealings are possible with hypocrisy!

***

From a letter to Albert Einstein 1930

Nothing seems to me more appropriate to the celebration of one of India’s spiritual leaders than to express, as you wish to do, our moral adhesion to the principle of non-acceptance without violence, which in our civilization is translated into the refusal of military service. You know that this is my conviction as well. I should merely like to be sure that we never forget, and we never let those who listen to us forget, that in our violent Europe, on the eve of a new attack of delirium tremens, this refusal has, or will have, self-sacrifice as a necessary consequence. Those over whom we have spiritual charge must not be allowed to form illusions on the strength of our words; they must realize that we are leading them to almost certain martyrdom. If they agree to this, then so do we. In our hard human life, martyrdom is almost always the necessary stage through which reason must pass in order to progress into the world of facts.

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Romain Rolland: A little idealism to make the war booty more delectable

January 17, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From Liluli
Translator unknown

THE FAT MEN
…Money needs no bridge. Mercury has always had wings on his heels. [To the workmen, pointing to the people on the other bank.] Look, gentlemen, look over there; it’s appalling. They’re armed to the teeth. Cannons and catapults, muzzles pointing, ready to spit, their powder dry and their cord oiled. Halherds, muskets, a forest of surging arms. My flesh creeps, creeps at the sight. Prepare! It’s against us.

THE WORKMEN
No it isn’t, old fool. They’re playing. We’re doing just the same.

THE FAT MEN
They’re doing much more. Count, count! Ah! the brigands! They have seventy-one rifles, while we have only threescore and ten.

THE WORKMEN
But we have twenty-seven catapults against their twenty-six.

THE FAT MEN
Silence! Stop him!…The wretch! He is betraying the secrets of the defense.

THE WORKMEN
Defense against whom? We’re all good comrades.

THE FAT MEN
O, impious, impious! Abject creatures, can you be so far degraded that you don’t know how to hate your enemies?

THE WORKMEN
Faith, no! I neither love nor hate you.

THE FAT MEN
Men without a country! Can’t yon read? It is written: “Your enemies are the robbers who don’t belong here.”

THE WORKMEN
And what about the robbers here?

THE FAT MEN
The game is preserved here. I have a license to shoot.

THE WORKMEN
I don’t see the difference if I’m fleeced here or there.

THE FAT MEN
There’s a very great difference.

THE WORKMEN
Yes, certainly for you.

THE FAT MEN
Would you rather be fleeced here and there also? Listen a bit: isn’t it better that we should rob you in a friendly way, all in the family, leaving you for decency’s sake the breeches to your back? Rather than to see them adorning an alien’s behind? Understand, my lad: that you should be plucked, that is good, very good, and we have no fault to find; it’s the law of nature, the Law. But the law doesn’t demand that a goose should be plucked twice. Why the devil do you want to be? Upon my word I speak as your good friend; I am standing up for your rights…

***

THE CROWD OF GALLIP0ULET
It is God! God has come! God is among us! God is for us! God is ours!

The crowd has fallen into line and Master-God is seen advancing, wearing Gallipoulet uniform, epaulettes, gold braid and all, over his white robe – which makes him look like a sapper. Behind him, carried on a throne in the midst of the Dervishes and the Very-Fat, is Truth. She almost disappears under the heavy, stiff, gold-embroidered chasuble that hides her arms; her head droops under the weight of a massive tiara; a bright metallic veil covers her nose, mouth and chin as though she were an Arab woman: her eyes alone are free. With every appearance of veneration, the Very-Fat uphold the train of her long Byzantine mantle and the gold and silver cords attached to it. She is closely escorted by a bodyguard, bussolanti, journalists and diplomats, who allow no one to come near, and keep off the gapers.

MASTER-GOD
Yes, my friends, I am yours, wholly at your service, myself, my relations, my servants and my lady [He bows his head.] – the lady Truth, your queen and servant. Since one is your God, it is our duty to obey you. And, God’s truth, I love you; one is very comfortable staying in your house; the food is good; therefore your cause could not be bad. You laugh at me sometimes, I admit; but I can laugh too, and I can appreciate the worth of a good joke. Laugh away, my sons; you’ll pay for it later all the more; in the end you’re as meek as sheep. I love you, we love one another, we’re as thick as thieves. Therefore, since the time has come to take, let us take. But first a little idealism! The booty will seem the more valuable for that. Attention, please; for I am beginning…Your possessions, my friends, are sacred; so will other people’s be when they become yours, for you have Truth on your side (you can see her: she’s veiled so as not to spoil her complexion); and along with her you have Right, Mighty Liberty, Authority, Money and the Virtues (who, prudent girls, never marry a beggar). Capital and the Ideal, the Spirit that flies, hands that filch – in a word, the monopoly of Civilization. Everything about you is holy, holy, and you are holy little saints yourselves. Consequently anyone who attacks you is accursed and you may suppress him: ’tis an act of piety. Now it is obvious that you are being attacked: Truth has the proofs in a sealed envelope: but we mayn’t show them you: it’s a secret. Besides, it would really be undignified to discuss them: you are in the right; you have all the trumps in your hand; so you ought to be attacked. And attacked you are. Attack away, then; you will only be doing so to defend yourselves. What say I, yourselves alone? You will be defending Justice, the Virtues and myself, by God! whom you represent – I am not being modest – far better than We could ever do. On then, courage, kill, kill! For that is war. It is quite true that in my books it is written: “Thou shalt not kill. Love thy neighbor.” But the enemy is not your neighbor. And defending oneself isn’t killing. It’s only a matter of coming to a proper understanding of the question. My servants are here to set your hearts at rest. Cheerily, cheerily! my sons, come on; let’s fight!

ONE OF THE THIN MEN
But, my Lord, here’s Truth. Why does Truth not speak?

MASTER-GOD
She’s afraid of the air, my dear child. Her throat is delicate and she has toothache. But if you care to ask one of these gentlemen carrying her, the journalists of the escort, they know her from top to toe; they have viewed her between a pair of sheets.

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Romain Rolland: Letter to Gandhi on confronting age of global wars

January 16, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From a letter to Mohandas Gandhi
April 16, 1928
Translated by R. A. Francis

However great would be my joy to see you and speak with you, I still believe that it would be neither right nor fair for you to come to Europe solely for that.

But it would be right and it would be fair for you to come to Europe in order to make contact with the youth of Europe, which needs your help, your advice and your enlightenment.

And it is necessary in either case (whether you come or not), it is indispensable that you should give an absolutely clear, precise and definitive formulation to the listening world of your doctrine, your faith, on the matter of war and non-acceptance.

We are both of us fairly old and of suspect health; we may disappear any day. It is important that we should leave a precise testament to the youth of the world which it can use as a rule of conduct, for it will have a terrible burden to bear in the coming half-century. I see fearful trials building up in front of them. It no longer seems to me a matter of doubt that there is in preparation an era of destruction, an age of global wars beside which all those of the past will seem only children’s games, of chemical warfare which will annihilate whole populations. What moral armour are we offering to those who will have to face up to the monster which we shall not live to see? What immediate answer to the riddle of the murderous Sphinx, who will not wait? What marching orders?

Our words must not be equivocal. We have the sad example of Christ, whose admirable Gospels contain too many passages which, though not contradictory in fundamental content, at least appear so in form, and lend them selves to the self-interested interpretations of the worst Pharisees. In the last war we saw in all countries how hypocrites, fanatics, statesmen like Lloyd George, bishops and pastors, false believers and, worst of all, true believers, could by chosen passages from the New Testament justify themselves for extolling war, vengeance and holy murder. In the coming crises, there must be no doubt about Gandhi’s thought.

Then again, it is necessary to weigh all the consequences of the orders given, to weigh the forces of the men to whom they will be entrusted. The young men of Europe are aware of the trials waiting for them. They don’t want to be duped about the imminence of the danger, which too many “pacifists” are trying not to see and to put out of their minds. They want to look it clearly in the face, and they ask: “To what extent is it reasonable, to what extent is it human, not to accept? Must the sacrifice be total, absolute, without exception, without any consideration either for ourselves or for the things which surround us and depend on us? And in all honesty to ourselves, can we be sure that this total sacrifice will diminish the sum total of future human sufferings – does it not risk handing over man’s destiny to a barbarity without counterweight?”

I’m asking the questions (some of the questions) which I feel are being turned over in the minds of the young. I’m not giving my own answers. I don’t count. My importance in this matter is secondary alongside yours. The man of pure thought (pure in the intellectual sense) has no more than a weak effect on the present; his forecasts have only a long-term chance of working themselves out. But you as a man of active faith are the direct intermediary between the forces of Eternity and present movements. You are on the poop-deck; you have the power to give direct orders to the sailors how to steer the ship in the storm. Give those orders! Let’s stop thinking about the port we have left (that 1914 war, about which we seem unable to reach understanding and which risks confusing all our discussions) and look to the port we must reach – in the future! My dear friend, I’m sorry to be always speaking to you so freely. I am aware of my moral inferiority. I am not worthy to touch your feet. But I know the anxiety and the doubts which assail the best men in Europe, and I am passing on what they say.

Assuring you of my respectful affection,
Romain Rolland

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Stefan Zweig: A single conscience defies the madness of war

January 15, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

In the eyes of the patriots, Rolland’s first crime was that he openly discussed the moral problems of the war. On ne discute pas la patrie. The first axiom of war ethics is that those who cannot or will not shout with the crowd must hold their peace. Soldiers must never be taught to think; they must only be incited to hate. A lie which promotes enthusiasm is worth more in wartime than the best of truths.

***

Would the war between European brethren have ever broken out if every townsman, every countryman, every artist, had looked within to enquire whether the mines of Morocco and the swamps of Albania were truly precious to him? Would there have been a war if every one had asked himself whether he really hated his brothers across the frontier as vehemently as the newspapers and the professional politicians would have him believe? The herd instinct, the pattering of others’ arguments, a blind enthusiasm on behalf of sentiments that were never truly felt, could alone render such a catastrophe possible.

***

The war-current rose yet higher, the stream being fed by new and ever new blood flowing from innocent victims. Again and again some additional country became involved in the carnage. At length, as the clamor still grew louder, Rolland paused for a moment to take breath. He felt that it would be madness were he to continue the attempt to outcry the cries of so many madmen.

***

The spiritual character of the new work [Clerambault] recalls a long-forgotten tradition, the meditations of the old French moralists, the sixteenth century stoics who during a time of war-madness endeavored in besieged Paris to maintain their intellectual serenity by engaging in Platonic dialogues. The war itself, however, was not to be the theme, for the free soul does not strive with the elements. The author’s intention was to discuss the spiritual accompaniments of this war, for these to Rolland seemed as tragical as the destruction of millions of men. His concern was the destruction of the individual soul in the deluge produced by the overflowing of the mass soul.

***

The quiet suburban household is suddenly struck as by a thunderbolt with the news of the outbreak of war. Clerambault takes the train to Paris; and no sooner is he sprinkled with spray from the hot waves of enthusiasm, than all his ideals of international amity and perpetual peace vanish into thin air. He returns home a fanatic, oozing hate, and steaming with phrases. Under the influence of the tremendous storm he begins to sound his lyre: Theocritus has become Pindar, a war poet. Rolland gives a marvelously vivid description of something every one of us has witnessed, showing how Clerambault, like all persons of average nature, really takes a delight in horrors, however unwilling he may be to admit it even to himself. He is rejuvenated, his life seems to move on wings; the enthusiasm of the masses stirs the almost extinguished flame of enthusiasm in his own breast; he is fired by the national fire; he is physically and mentally refreshed by the new atmosphere. Like so many other mediocrities, he secures in these days his greatest literary triumph. His war songs, precisely because they give such vigorous expression to the sentiments of the man in the street, become a national property. Fame and public favor are showered upon him, so that (at this time when millions of his fellows are perishing) he feels well, self-confident, alive as never before.

“Forgive us, ye Dead,” the dialogue of the country with its children, is published. At first no one heeds the pamphlet. But after a time it arouses public animosity. A storm of indignation bursts upon Clerambault, threatening to lay his life in ruins. Friends forsake him. Envy, which had long been crouching for a spring, now sends whole regiments to the attack. Ambitious colleagues seize the opportunity of proclaiming their patriotism in contrast with his deplorable sentiments. Worst of all for Clerambault in that his innocent wife and daughter have to suffer on his account. They do not upbraid him, but he feels as if he had aimed a shaft against them. He who has hitherto sunned himself in the warmth of family life and has enjoyed the comforts of modest fame, is now absolutely alone.

He perseveres in his pilgrimage even when he has lost faith in his power to help his fellow men, for this is no longer his goal. He passes men by, marching onward towards the unseen, towards truth; his love for truth exposing him ever more pitilessly to the hatred of men. By degrees he becomes entangled in a net of calumnies; his troubles develop into a “Clerambault affair”; at length a prosecution is initiated. The state has recognized its enemy in the free man. But while the case is still in progress, the “defeatist” meets his fate from the pistol bullet of a fanatic. Clerambault’s end recalls the opening of the world catastrophe with the assassination of Jaurès.

***

For five years Romain Rolland was at war with the madness of the times. At length the fiery chains were loosened from the racked body of Europe. The war was over, the armistice had been signed. Men were no longer murdering one another; but their evil passions, their hate, continued. Romain Rolland’s prophetic insight celebrated a mournful triumph. His distrust of victory, his reiterated warnings that conquerors are merciless, were more than justified by the revengeful reality. “Victory in arms is disastrous to the ideal of an unselfish humanity. Men find it extraordinarily difficult to remain gentle in the hour of triumph.” These forecasts were terribly fulfilled. Forgotten were all the fine words anent the victory of freedom and right. The Versailles conference devoted itself to the installation of a new regime of force and to the humiliation of a defeated enemy. What the idealism of simpletons had expected to be the end of all wars, proved, as the true idealists who look beyond men towards ideas had foreseen, the seed of fresh hatred and renewed acts of violence.

***

Strange has been the rhythm of this man’s life, surging again and again in passionate waves against the time, sinking once more into the abyss of disappointment, but never failing to rise on the crest of faith renewed. Once again we see Romain Rolland as prototype of those who are magnificent in defeat. Not one of his ideals, not one of his wishes, not one of his dreams, has been realized. Might has triumphed over right, force over spirit, men over humanity.

Yet never has his struggle been grander, and never has his existence been more indispensable, than during recent years; for it is his apostolate alone which has saved the gospel of crucified Europe; and furthermore he has rescued for us another faith, that of the imaginative writer as the spiritual leader, the moral spokesman of his own nation and of all nations. This man of letters has preserved us from what would have been an imperishable shame, had there been no one in our days to testify against the lunacy of murder and hatred. To him we owe it that even during the fiercest storm in history the sacred fire of brotherhood was never extinguished. The world of the spirit has no concern with the deceptive force of numbers. In that realm, one individual can outweigh a multitude. For an idea never glows so brightly as in the mind of the solitary thinker; and in the darkest hour we were able to draw consolation from the signal example of this poet. One great man who remains human can for ever and for all men rescue our faith in humanity.

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Romain Rolland: The intellectual drunkeness of war propaganda

January 14, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From a letter to Mohandas Gandhi
February 17, 1929
Translated by R. A. Francis

All I should like to do is to offer you a few reflections on the fearful days which India faces.

You know the conditions of modern combat. You know that the first act of the modern state in warfare is to ruin its adversary in the opinion of the rest of the world; to this end it stifles its enemy’s voice and fills the world with its own. You know that the British Empire is past master in this art, and that it has all the wherewithal to blockade India and cut her off from the rest of the world, which it can then flood with its own propaganda. The process has already started. For the last month events in Bombay have served as a pretext for making the world think that India is in flames, and every day the main French papers, with a docility which I suspect is well-paid, receive the reports coming from England and carry stories with large headlines about “Hell in Bombay” and the “sinister tally” of each day – as if the trouble extended to the whole of India and as if there were no evil, crimes or massacres anywhere but in India – as if the salvation of all humanity depended on the good gaoler keeping the prison doors well bolted, to protect the world from the Indian hydra which he alone in his heroism is able to keep in chains! It is easy to imagine how shrill this propaganda will become as the decisive hour approaches, and when the gauntlet is down it will know no bounds.

Now I have already seen far too much evidence of the terrifying intellectual passivity in which the peoples of Europe are at present lying. Ever since the first day of the 1914 war their poor brains have been subjected to so much daily intoxication from the whole of their press that they have become unable to react. This is another type of intellectual alcoholism, no less ravaging in its effects than the other. There is hardly a free newspaper left in the West. There is not one where a free man like myself can write (except for a few poor news-sheets with no circulation and one or two large reviews which do not reach a wide public because they appear at infrequent intervals and cost quite a lot).

***

No one fights alone today. The whole world is involved in every conflict, and it throws the enormous weight of its opinion into one of the trays of the balance – either for or against. It was largely by this weight of opinion, well directed and well manipulated by the Allies, that the German Empire was crushed.

It would be unwise of the Indian leaders to neglect these great forces. It seems to me indispensable that they should use this year to prepare European opinion, to open the eyes of the thousands of men here who are blindfolded by their domesticated press.

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From his diary, June 1930

The British Empire may use whatever arms it wishes, but its days are numbered. Let us not be deceived by its displays of power and bluster! From this day forth it is a hunted animal fighting for its life. The British Empire was built on a pile of monstrous injustices, on the murderous exploitation of millions of men; these millions of men have rediscovered their own strength. They only have to shrug their shoulders and the British Empire is already trembling on its foundations. We all see it crumble, and may all empires based on pillage follow in its fall! We too need to settle our accounts with humanity!

***

From his diary, 1931

For our enemy is almost impossible to grasp, and has no name. It is not a foreign master, creeping in like a maggot under a nation’s skin, nor is it a national master, with whom one can, and must, settle accounts man to man. It is an international combination of capitalist interests and enterprises, secretly including the great industrial and commercial tycoons of a whole bloc of nations (even nations officially hostile to each other, like France and Germany) and spreading its net over the whole world. For twenty or thirty years now it has been working in the shadows. Its intrigues in the pre-war years have been precisely traced, and during the war it strengthened its position in monstrous fashion, as revealed by a large number of publications and even public revelations in parliamentary debates – subsequently strangled and stifled by occult financial powers. During the war, national policies and even, in some circumstances (such as the Briey mining basin in Lorraine), troop movements were subordinated to them. In the last twelve years their supremacy has become established; most national governments on the continent are no more than screens for their activities, and nearly all the European press is subject to them. How can one fight? Pacifist organizations are senile almost as soon as they are born; they waste all their energy, most of which is merely verbal anyway, against false targets; for the hidden masters of politics and the shady international businessmen use peace as well as war, one after another, to serve their profits and their domination.

We can no longer count as we used to do on the slow evolutionary rhythm of events. The same accelerated movement which carries along the European machine-age and its inventions is also arousing peoples and states. A social conflict or a world war which in the past would have taken decades or a half-centuries to ripen now takes shape, swells and erupts like an abscess in a few years. Resistance and defence must be just as prompt – and, if necessary, as overwhelming – as the attack.

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Stefan Zweig: Idea of human brotherhood buried by the grave-diggers of war

January 13, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

The events of August 2, 1914, broke Europe into fragments. Therewith collapsed the faith which the brothers in the spirit, Jean Christophe and Olivier, had been building with their lives. A great heritage was cast aside. The idea of human brotherhood, once sacred, was buried contemptuously by the grave-diggers of all the lands at war, buried among the million corpses of the slain.

***

In Jean Christophe, Romain Rolland had delivered his message to this fated hour. To make the confession a live thing, he had to give something more, himself. The time had come for him to do what Jean Christophe had done for Olivier’s son. He must guard the sacred flame; he must fulfil what his hero had prophetically foreshadowed. The way in which Rolland fulfilled this obligation has become for us all an imperishable example of spiritual heroism, which moves us even more strongly than we were moved by his written words. We saw his life and personality taking the form of an actually living conviction. We saw how, with the whole power of his name, and with all the energy of his artistic temperament, he took his stand against multitudinous adversaries in his own land and in other countries, his gaze fixed upon the heaven of his faith.

Rolland had never failed to recognize that in a time of widespread illusion it would be difficult to hold fast to his convictions, however self-evident they might seem. But, as he wrote to a French friend in September, 1914, “We do not choose our own duties. Duty forces itself upon us. Mine is, with the aid of those who share my ideas, to save from the deluge the last vestiges of the European spirit…Mankind demands of us that those who love their fellows should take a firm stand, and should even fight, if needs must, against those they love.”

For five years we have watched the heroism of this fight, pursuing its own course amid the warring of the nations. We have watched the miracle of one man’s keeping his senses amid the frenzied millions, of one man’s remaining free amid the universal slavery of public opinion. We have watched love at war with hate, the European at war with the patriots, conscience at war with the world. Throughout this long and bloody night, when we were often ready to perish from despair at the meaninglessness of nature, the one thing which has consoled us and sustained us has been the recognition that the mighty forces which were able to crush towns and annihilate empires, were powerless against an isolated individual possessed of the will and the courage to be free. Those who deemed themselves the victors over millions, were to find that there was one thing which they could not master, a free conscience.

Vain, therefore, was their triumph, when they buried the crucified thought of Europe. True faith works miracles. Jean Christophe had burst the bonds of death, had risen again in the living form of his own creator.

***

We do not detract from the moral services of Romain Rolland, but we may perhaps excuse to some extent his opponents, when we insist that Rolland had excelled all contemporary imaginative writers in the profundity of his preparatory studies of war and its problems. If to-day, in retrospect, we contemplate his writings, we marvel to note how, from the very first and throughout a long period of years, they combined to build up, as it were, a colossal pyramid, culminating in the point upon which the lightnings of war were to be discharged. For twenty years, the author’s thought, his whole creative activity, had been unintermittently concentrated upon the contradictions between spirit and force, between freedom and the fatherland, between victory and defeat. Through a hundred variations he had pursued the same fundamental theme, treating it dramatically, epically, and in manifold other ways. There is hardly a problem relevant to this question which is not touched upon by Christophe and Olivier, by Aërt and by the Girondists, in their discussions. Intellectually regarded, Rolland’s writings are a maneuvering ground for all the incentives to war. He thus had his conclusions already drawn when others were beginning an attempt to come to terms with events. As historian, he had described the perpetual recurrence of war’s typical accompaniments, had discussed the psychology of mass suggestion, and had shown the effects of wartime mentality upon the individual. As moralist and as citizen of the world, he had long ere this formulated his creed. We may say, in fact, that Rolland’s mind had been in a sense immunized against the illusions of the crowd and against infection by prevalent falsehoods.

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Romain Rolland: Gandhi vs Einstein: War must be stopped before it starts

January 12, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

Romain Rolland: Gandhi and the Satanic nature of war

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Romain Rolland
From his diary, 1931
Translated by R. A. Francis

I tell Gandhi at some length about the moral and social state of continental Europe, and France in particular. I go back briefly to the period of 1900-1914, to explain the double bankruptcy during and after the war of the so-called realists (the politicians) and the idealists, symbolized by the final failure of both Clemenceau and Wilson – hence the bitter disillusionment of the following generations. I show him the true hidden face of politics, which we began to suspect only about the middle of the war: Money, the great adventurers and industrial tycoons (Zaharoff, Deterding), the international trusts and cartels, – and their daily growing supremacy over the nation states, and over public opinion through the press which they control. I give some of the more striking examples: the Comite des Forges, the Briey affair during the war, the steelworks, the oil and petrol companies, the Hugenberg-Reynaud negotiations, the worst kind of war-mongering nationalism stimulated and made drunk by business internationalism. I consider what form of opposition may today be set up against this cancer, gnawing at the West and America, and seeking to eat away the rest of the world. The democracies have no means of defending themselves: Money has corrupted them to the core, bribed, divided and emasculated them…

***

(Quoting Gandhi) “The problems you have placed before me are terrible. Whereas non-violence is effective and will continue to be so in India, it may well be that in Europe it will fail. But this does not embarrass me. I believe non-violence has a universal application. But I do not believe that I myself can give this message to Europe…I have spoken with many sincere Englishmen, and foreigners too, and I say to them: You must not budge an inch if you do not have faith within you. But I should still believe even if the whole world did not believe. After having seen the difficulties, after yesterday’s conversation, it remains my faith that non-violence alone can save Europe. Otherwise all is lost…From what I have seen of Europe, I believe that Europe cannot avoid the need for non-violence. Luckily no extensive organization is necessary; all that is required is one man who will be faith and non-violence incarnate. Until that man appears you must wait, hope and prepare the atmosphere.”

***

England is a privileged country. The situation is different elsewhere. But there is one more danger in Europe and America, in the existence of a middle class living at the expense of the oppressed peoples of other nations. After the victory, we were told in France that “Germany will pay”. Now all the peoples of the West are being told: “The world – Asia and Africa – will pay.” Armies of coloured men are being trained for the coming wars. We are returning to the system of the Roman Empire with its privileged people, who unloaded all their burdens on to the people they enslaved. At present my people, in France, are still enjoying a well-being based on world poverty. Even our most open-minded intellectuals prefer not to look too closely; they gain too much from the situation and don’t want the present order, based on force, to be disturbed.

Gandhi: Is not the remedy in the hands of the exploited peoples? In non-co-operation with the exploiters?…

R. R.: For people without religion this is impossible. The workers will be tempted by high salaries to make the arms and ammunitions which will be used against their brothers in other lands. First of all we ought to preach to them a gospel of poverty, selflessness and abnegation, a gospel of love. But it is more difficult to preach poverty and abnegation to victors and conquerors than it is to the vanquished and the oppressed.

***

The main discussion is about the “Theory and Practice of Non-violence”, and a report of it can be read in the “Letters from Europa” sent by Desai to Young India. I shall report here only the parts of it relevant to Einstein’s thesis, about which I have written myself, and the objections to it from Gandhi’s point of view. “How to carry out nonviolence effectively.” Should one simply refuse to carry arms? Einstein has made an appeal to men not to take part in war…Gandhi replies humorously: “Really, if I may say this about a great man, it seems that Einstein has stolen my method. But if you want me to go to the heart of the matter, I should say that simply refusing military service is not enough. To refuse military service when the time has come is to leave action until the time available for combating the evil has practically passed. Military service is only a symptom of a deeper evil. All those not inscribed for military service still participate equally in the crime if they support the state in other ways. Anyone who supports, directly or indirectly, a state with a military organization participates in the crime. Every man, young or old, participates in the crime if he contributes to the maintenance of the state by paying taxes…That is why all those who wish to stop military service should do it by withdrawing all co-operation from the state. The refusal of military service is much more superficial than non-co-operation with the whole system supporting the state. But then the opposition becomes so sharp and effective that you risk not only being put in prison, but also being thrown into the street…What Einstein says can happen only once a year and with a very small number of people, but I suggest non-co-operation with the state as your first duty.”

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Stefan Zweig: The whole world of feeling, the whole world of thought, became militarized

January 11, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

During the five years of the war Romain Rolland remained in Switzerland, Europe’s heart; remained there that he might fulfil his task, “de dire ce qui est juste et humain.” Here, where the breezes blow freely from all other lands, and whence a voice could pass freely across all the frontiers, here where no fetters were imposed upon speech, he followed the call of his invisible duty. Close at hand the endless waves of blood and hatred emanating from the frenzy of war were foaming against the frontiers of the cantonal state. But throughout the storm, the magnetic needle of one intelligence continued to point unerringly towards the immutable pole of life – to point towards love.

***

In Rolland’s view it was the artist’s duty to serve his fatherland by conscientious service to all mankind, to play his part in the struggle by waging war against the suffering the war was causing and against the thousandfold torments entailed by the war. He rejected the idea of absolute aloofness. “An artist has no right to hold aloof while he is still able to help others.” But this aid, this participation, must not take the form of fostering the murderous hatred which already animated the millions. The aim must be to unite the millions further, where unseen ties already existed, in their infinite suffering. He therefore took his part in the ranks of the helpers, not weapon in hand, but following the example of Walt Whitman, who, during the American Civil War, served as hospital assistant.

Romain Rolland was one of the first to offer personal assistance. The Musée Rath was quickly made available for the purposes of the Red Cross. In one of the small wooden cubicles, among hundreds of girls, women, and students, Rolland sat for more than eighteen months, engaged each day for from six to eight hours side by side with the head of the undertaking, Dr. Ferrière, to whose genius for organization myriads owe it that the period of suspense was shortened. Here Rolland filed letters, wrote letters, performed an abundance of detail work, seemingly of little importance. But how momentous was every word to the individuals whom he could help, for in this vast universe each suffering individual is mainly concerned about his own particular grain of unhappiness. Countless persons to-day, unaware of the fact, have to thank the great writer for news of their lost relatives. A rough stool, a small table of unpolished deal, the turmoil of typewriters, the bustle of human beings questioning, calling one to another, hastening to and fro – such was Romain Rolland’s battlefield in this campaign against the afflictions of the war. Here, while other authors and intellectuals were doing their utmost to foster mutual hatred, he endeavored to promote reconciliation, to alleviate the torment of a fraction among the countless sufferers by such consolation as the circumstances rendered possible. He neither desired, nor occupied, a leading position in the work of the Red Cross; but, like so many other nameless assistants, he devoted himself to the daily task of promoting the interchange of news. His deeds were inconspicuous, and are therefore all the more memorable.

When he was allotted the Nobel peace prize, he refused to retain the money for his own use, and devoted the whole sum to the mitigation of the miseries of Europe, that he might suit the action to the word, the word to the action. Ecce homo! Ecce poeta!

***

Too well did he know as historian that in the initial outbursts of war passion the veneer of civilization and Christianity would be rubbed off; that in all nations alike the naked bestiality of human beings would be disclosed; that the smell of the shed blood would reduce them all to the level of wild beasts. He did not conceal from himself that this strange halitus is able to dull and to confuse even the gentlest, the kindliest, the most intelligent of souls. The rending asunder of ancient friendships, the sudden solidarity among persons most opposed in temperament now eager to abase themselves before the idol of the fatherland, the total disappearance of conscientious conviction at the first breath of the actualities of war – in Jean Christophe these things were written no less plainly than when of old the fingers of the hand wrote upon the palace wall in Babylon.

***

During the opening days of the war, Rolland was horrified to note how all previous wars were being eclipsed in the atrocity of the struggle, in its material and spiritual brutality, in its extent, and in the intensity of its passion. All possible anticipations had been outdone. Although for thousands of years, by twos or variously allied, the peoples of Europe had almost unceasingly been warring one with another, never before had their mutual hatreds, as manifested in word and deed, risen to such a pitch as in this twentieth century after the birth of Christ. Never before in the history of mankind did hatred extend so widely through the populations; never did it rage so fiercely among the intellectuals; never before was oil pumped into the flames as it was now pumped from innumerable fountains and tubes of the spirit, from the canals of the newspapers, from the retorts of the professors. All evil instincts were fostered among the masses. The whole world of feeling, the whole world of thought, became militarized. The loathsome organization for the dealing of death by material weapons was yet more loathsomely reflected in the organization of national telegraphic bureaus to scatter lies like sparks over land and sea. For the first time, science, poetry, art, and philosophy became no less subservient to war than mechanical ingenuity was subservient. In the pulpits and professorial chairs, in the research laboratories, in the editorial offices and in the authors’ studies, all energies were concentrated as by an invisible system upon the generation and diffusion of hatred. The seer’s apocalyptic warnings were surpassed.

A deluge of hatred and blood such as even the blood-drenched soil of Europe had never known, flowed from land to land. Romain Rolland knew that a lost world, a corrupt generation, cannot be saved from its illusions. A world conflagration cannot be extinguished by a word, cannot be quelled by the efforts of naked human hands. The only possible endeavor was to prevent others adding fuel to the flames, and with the lash of scorn and contempt to deter as far as might be those who were engaged in such criminal undertakings. It might be possible, too, to build an ark wherein what was intellectually precious in this suicidal generation might be saved from the deluge, might be made available for those of a future day when the waters of hatred should have subsided. A sign might be uplifted, round which the faithful could rally, building a temple of unity amid, and yet high above, the battlefields.

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Percy Bysshe Shelley: Peace, love and concord once shall rule again

January 10, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Selections on war

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Percy Bysshe Shelley
From Essay on the Existing State of Things

If he who murders one to death is due,
Should not the great destroyer perish too?
The wretch beneath whose influence millions bleed?
And yet encomium is the villain’s meed.

***

The fainting Indian, on his native plains,
Writhes to superior power’s unnumbered pains;
The Asian, in the blushing face of day.
His wife, his child, sees sternly torn away;
Yet dares not to revenge, while war’s dread roar
Floats, in long echoing, on the blood-stain’d shore.
In Europe too wild ruin rushes fast:
See! like a meteor on the midnight blast,
Or evil spirit brooding over gore,
Napoleon calm can war, can misery pour.
May curses blast thee; and in thee the breed
Which forces, which compels, a world to bleed;
May that destruction, which ’tis thine to spread,
Descend with ten-fold fury on thy head.

***

Oppressive law no more shall power retain,
Peace, love, and concord, once shall rule again,
And heal the anguish of a suffering world;
Then, then shall things, which now confusedly hurled,
Seem Chaos, be resolved to order’s sway,
And error’s night he turned to virtue’s day.

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Romain Rolland: Civilized warfare allows victims choice of how to be slaughtered

January 9, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From Liluli
Translator unknown

THE WORKMEN coming back from either side with the planks of the bridge which they proceed to lay down; singing.

THE DIPLOMATS lifting up their hands in horror.
A bridge?…A bridge!…They’re making a bridge!…a bridge!

THE DIPLOMATS
By what right? In whose name? Did you ask for authorization?

THE WORKMEN
Strong enough? Our bridge. You could go across, three men, four women and five geese abreast.

THE DIPLOMATS
Men! It isn’t a question of men. The question with a proper bridge is, in primis: that cannons can pass over it!

THE WORKMEN
Cannons? Why? To shoot partridges, or wild boars, or what?

THE DIPLOMATS peremptorily.
No reason. Just to try.

THE FAT MEN with authority.
It’s always done.

THE DIPLOMATS
Back! No one may cross a bridge before the inauguration.

THE WORKMEN
Will it take long?

THE DIPLOMATS
It will take as long as is proper.

THE THIN MEN resignedly.
O, well, everything must end by coming to an end.

POLONIUS mounts the rostrum.
Dear fellow citizens, brothers of both banks, of this bank and the other and of yet a third (I don’t know if there is one; but it doesn’t matter…) All men are but a single body. Men and women…[A guffaw.] In all modesty, all honor, I speak. I come here to give my blessing to this future union. The future is not tomorrow. By no means, no, understand me well. That is what makes it so charming, so unexacting, so little troublesome. A good subject for toasts and after-dinner speeches. I know all about it. I am a delegate of the Peace Congress…[He introduces himself.] Polonius, Modeste-Napoleon. Napoleon is my Christian name. Modeste was added so as not to frighten people; I am a simple, kindly man. You see my ribbons, my decorations. [He shows them.]

There’s the order of Kamchatka now, with the Kattegat; here is the Karatschi and the Gaurisanka. [He turns round and shows his back.] I have more there. [He turns back again, satisfied.] I speak in all honor, all modesty. It commits one to nothing. Well, then, my friends, my brothers – my brothers of to-morrow, or rather of the day after to-morrow – I have come to pay my tribute to this bridge, this bridge, this prodigious bridge, this bridge so long and pompous…

ALL HANDS
Abridge, abridge! . . .

POLONIUS
This bridge of love and alliance which stretches through the air like a rainbow in the firmament. Touching symbol of the great day that is to come (it will come! it will come!…but don’t let us be in any hurry!) when States shall disarm, when the walls shall crumble, the walls of those prisons – those nations – when peoples shall fall into one another’s arms, when the ravening wolf and the gentle lamb shall crop the grass of the meadow side by side , casting sweet eyes at one another, when the workers shall have a long snooze every mornings when the rich shall share their beds and their cellars with the workmen, when arms, armies and treaties shall be put away in the museum, and to the museum the concession-mongers, governors and contractors – when hens shall have teeth…The day will come, will come, indeed it will! But we haven’t got there yet. Advance must come step by step. We make no rash pretensions that we’re going to deprive you, before the hour has struck, of war, poverty, business and land sharks. The birch is a necessary evil for children. Young folks must pass. Let us pass it by, scratching ourselves in the process.

THE ASS, rolling on the ground.
Hee-haw!

POLONIUS
The point, then, my good friends, in these happy days in which we lire is to choose, like the rabbit, with what sauce you wish your giblets stewed. Do you prefer being slaughtered above ground, under ground, in the air or in the water? (For my part, I don’t like water; good wine is more in my line.) Do you long to get in the belly a round bullet or a painted one, brown or plated, shrapnel, shell-splinter, crump or bomb, or rather the good cold steel, which is clean and pleasant? Which would you like best, to be disemboweled, broiled, punctured, squashed, boiled, roasted, or – the last fashion – electrocuted? We will deny you nothing. We only draw the line, for your own good, at the barbarous, the common – at submarines and stinking gases; in a word, badly-bred death and uncivilized war. But you’ll lose nothing by that. We police war. Let us polish it, gentlemen, and re-polish it! What should we be without war? It is through war that peace has its price. And it is by means of war that we are building up in saecula per pocula the Society of Nations. For everything hangs together; follow me carefully. Without nations, there could be no Society of Nations. And no nation, no war! No war, no nation! Well, then, all is very well and will h% much better. Count on us! Give us a free hand. We know so well how to mix black and white, right and might, peace and war, concocting war-like peaces and peace-bringing wars; we shall embellish nature for you so skillfully that yon won’t be able to recognize her at all.

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Stefan Zweig: War, the ultimate betrayal of the intellectuals

January 8, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

While the masses, deceived by words, were raging against one another in blind fury, the artists, the writers, the men of science, of Germany, France, and England, who for centuries had been coöperating for discoveries, advances, ideals, could combine to form a tribunal of the spirit which, with scientific earnestness, should devote itself to extirpating the falsehoods that were keeping their respective peoples apart. Transcending nationality, they could hold intercourse on a higher plane. For it was Rolland’s most cherished hope that the great artists and great investigators would refuse to identify themselves with the crime of the war, would refrain from abandoning their freedom of conscience and from entrenching themselves behind a facile “my country, right or wrong.” With few exceptions, intellectuals had for centuries recognized the repulsiveness of war. More than a thousand years earlier, when China was threatened by ambitious Mongols, Li Tai Peh had exclaimed: “Accursed be war! Accursed the work of weapons! The sage has nothing to do with these follies.” The contention that the sage has naught to do with such follies seems to rise like an unenunciated refrain from all the utterances of western men of learning since Europe began to have a common life. In Latin letters (for Latin, the medium of intercourse, was likewise the symbol of supranational fellowship), the great humanists whose respective countries were at war exchanged their regrets, and offered mutual philosophical solace against the murderous illusions of their less instructed fellows. Herder was speaking for the learned Germans of the eighteenth century when he wrote: “For fatherland to engage in a bloody struggle with fatherland is the most preposterous, barbarism.” Goethe, Byron, Voltaire, and Rousseau, were at one in their contempt for the purposeless butcheries of war. To-day, in Rolland’s view, the leading intellectuals, the great scientific investigators whose minds would perforce remain unclouded, the most humane among the imaginative writers, could join in a fellowship whose members would renounce the errors of their respective nations.

Such was the mood in which Rolland took up his pen for the first time after the outbreak of war. He wrote an open letter to Hauptmann, to the author whom among Germans he chiefly honored for goodness and humaneness. Within the same hour he wrote to Verhaeren, Germany’s bitterest foe. Rolland thus stretched forth both his hands, rightward and leftward, in the hope that he could bring his two correspondents together, so that at least within the domain of pure spirit there might be a first essay towards spiritual reconciliation, what time upon the battlefields the machine-guns with their infernal clatter were mowing down the sons of France, Germany, Belgium, Britain, Austria-Hungary, and Russia.

***

During these days, Rolland may well have recalled sacred memories of the time when Leo Tolstoi‘s letter came to give him a mission in life. Tolstoi had stood alone in the utterance of his celebrated outcry, “I can no longer keep silence.” At that time his country was at war. He arose to defend the invisible rights of human beings, uttering a protest against the command that men should murder their brothers. Now his voice was no longer heard; his place was empty; the conscience of mankind was dumb. To Rolland, the consequent silence, the terrible silence of the free spirit amid the hurly-burly of the slaves, seemed more hateful than the roar of the cannon. Those to whom he had appealed for help had refused to answer the call. The ultimate truth, the truth of conscience, had no organized fellowship to sustain it. No one would aid him in the struggle for the freedom of the European soul, the struggle of truth against falsehood, the struggle of human loving-kindness against frenzied hate. Rolland once again was alone with his faith, more alone than during the bitterest years of solitude.

***

To understand the ethical import, the heroic character, of these manifestoes, we must recall to mind the frenzy of the opening year of the war, the spiritual infection which was devastating Europe, turning the whole continent into a madhouse. It has already become difficult to realize the mental state of those days. We have to remember that maxims which now seem commonplace, as for instance the contention that we must not hold all the individuals of a nation responsible for the outbreak of a war, were then positively criminal, that to utter them was a punishable offense…Men were still so drunken with the fumes of the first bloodshed that they would have been fain, as Rolland himself has phrased it, “to crucify Christ once again should he have risen; to crucify him for saying, Love one another.”

***

This faith in a lofty ideal soars like a sea-mew over the ocean of blood. Rolland is well aware how little hope there is that his words can make themselves audible above the clamor of thirty million warriors. “I know that such thoughts have little chance of being heard to-day. I do not speak to convince. I speak only to solace my conscience. And I know that at the same time I shall solace the hearts of thousands of others who, in all lands, cannot and dare not speak for themselves.” As ever, he is on the side of the weak, on the side of the minority. His voice grows stronger, for he knows that he is speaking for the silent multitude.

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Romain Rolland: Letter to Gandhi on total inadmissibility of war

January 7, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
Translated by R. A. Francis

There are two sorts of pacifism: pacifism by renunciation, out of impoverished vitality, and pacifism by calm trust in one’s strength, out of superabundance of vitality.

Diary 1921

***

Tagore sees a universal symbol in the tragedy of Hamlet: the drama of a great idealist wanting to do his duty by means of a criminal action, who is ruined as soon as he dabbles in crime, even in intention; with his integrity, he has lost his force and his reasons for existence. This, Tagore says (in his eyes, at any rate), is the drama of Gandhi. Ever since the compromise which, during the Great War, led him to recruit soldiers for England, it has been a story of moral collapse (Tagore thinks). He honestly thought that in this way he could achieve his great object, the liberation of his people; but in vain.

Diary 1926

***

Even Gandhi, whom I revere, has made mistakes. Shall I tell him how many times I’ve had the job of calming the worries of his obscure Western disciples upset by his attitude during the 1914 war and his attempts to conciliate nonviolence with his preaching inciting people to take part in the British Empire’s war!

Letter 1927

***

From Letter to Mohandas Gandhi 1928

I (or rather my sister) have read in Young India of 16 February your examination of the part you played in the 1914 war. Forgive me if I tell you that though I should dearly love to enter into your thoughts and approve of them, I have not been able to do so!

I can understand…that men who do not believe in the nation and are horrified by war, but who cannot avoid it other than by getting themselves shot and have not enough moral force or faith to welcome this sacrifice which dishonours them in the eyes of the mass of their fellow-citizens, should weaken and allow themselves to be enlisted. I pity them, I suffer with them, and I have no right to reproach them. Each man must act according to his strength.

But for a man of great courage and absolute faith like yourself, who uncompromisingly condemns human bloodshed and national warfare, to take part in such activities – and out of choice, without being forced – in that case, nothing in the world can make me either admit or even understand it. And the reasons you cite (forgive me!) do not seem to me good ones. I could even go so far as to say that I should better understand your action without reasons than with the reasons you give!

Let us look at them:

You set out three alternatives:

1. As a citizen (either willing or by accepted force) of the British Empire, enjoying its protection and aspiring to obtain from it Home Rule for your people within the Imperial framework, you feel yourself obliged to share in its trials and injustices as well as its sufferings, – even in its crimes; and you think that from this evil heroically accepted there may come a good: that of Imperial recognition of the independence of your people, which, once master of itself, may impose on the Empire in its turn, by spiritual force alone, the law of justice and humanity called Ahimsa…Events have given you your answer – from the practical point of view. If you consider only the results, this most frank opportunism has been of no use to you; but even if it had led to practical success, to the recognition of your people’s independence, my friend, allow me to tell you quite bluntly that independence bought at that price, at the price of an accepted share in the bloody sacrifice of millions of men, would be a crime before God.

2. Boycott of the war and the Empire, which you rightly judge impracticable.

3. Individual civil disobedience, bringing with it the penalty of imprisonment. This you merely state, without dwelling on it. Why not? I don’t understand. It seems to me the only one of the three alternatives which is morally acceptable, if not adequate. And in many other circumstances you have set the example of accepting it – simply, without great gestures or phrases, without calculating the practical results – as the only way open to a conscience which has no accounts to render to anyone but God. Why not, then, have recourse to it at the hour of this “worst of crimes”, this mutual slaughter of peoples driven to the butchery by their bad shepherds. I don’t understand! And what grieves me is that an example like yours may and certainly will be exploited by our political masters as an acquiescence, as consent to the most loathsome of their crimes, which is the enlistment to help in their wars of sordid interest, of the wretched human masses of Asia and Africa, which they exploit and use as cannon and machine-gun fodder, as a substance less precious than European flesh. I’m writing to you just as I feel…I hope that one day soon we may better clarify our thought on this matter, and I rejoice in the dream that Europe – and my own eyes – may see you this year.

I assure you of my respectful and profound affection,
Romain Rolland

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Percy Bysshe Shelley: The fatal trump of useless war to swell

January 6, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Selections on war

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Percy Bysshe Shelley
From Essay on the Existing State of Things

If he who murders one to death is due,
Should not the great destroyer perish too?
The wretch beneath whose influence millions bleed?
And yet encomium is the villain’s meed.

***

When glory’s views the titled idiot guide,
Then will oppression’s iron influence show
The great man’s comfort as the poor man’s woe,
Is’t not enough that splendour’s useless glare,
Real grandeur’s bane, must mock the poor man’s stare;
Is’t not enough that luxury’s varied power
Must cheat the rich parader’s irksome hour,
While what they want not, what they yet retain,
Adds tenfold grief, more anguished throbs of pain
To each unnumbered, unrecorded woe,
Which bids the bitterest tear of want to flow;
But that the comfort, which despotic sway
Has yet allowed, stem War must tear away.

Ye cold advisers of yet colder kings,
To whose fell breast no passion virtue brings,
Who scheme, regardless of the poor man’s pang,
Who coolly sharpen misery’s sharpest fang,
Yourselves secure, your’s is the power to breathe
O’er all the world the infectious blast of death,
To snatch at fame, to reap red murder’s spoil,
Receive the injured with a courtier’s smile,
Make a tired nation bless the oppressor’s name,
And for injustice snatch the meed of fame.
Were fetters made for anguish, for despair?
Must starving wretches torment, misery bear?

***

Though hot with gore from India’s wasted plains,
Some Chief, in triumph, guides the tightened reins
Though disembodied from this mortal coil,
Pitt lends to each smooth rogue a courtier’s smile;
Yet does not that severer frown withhold,
Which, though impervious to the power of gold,
Could daunt the injured wretch, could turn the poor
Unheard, unnoticed, from the statesman’s door.
This is the spirit which can reckless tell
The fatal trump of useless war to swell;
Can bid Fame’s loudest voice awake his praise,
Can boldly snatch the honorary bays,
Gifts to reward a ruthless, murderous deed,
A crime for which some poorer rogue must bleed.

 

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Stefan Zweig: Opposition to war, a higher heroism still

January 5, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

He only who had contemplated the coming European war as an abyss towards which the mad hunt of recent decades, making light of every warning, had been speeding, only such a one could command his soul, could refrain from joining the bacchanalian rout, could listen unmoved to the throbbing of the war drums. Who but such a man could stand upright in the greatest storm of illusion the world has ever known?

Thus it came to pass that not merely during the first hour of the war was Rolland in opposition to other writers and artists of the day. This opposition dated from the very inception of his career, and hence for twenty years he had been a solitary. The reason why the contrast between his outlook and that of his generation had not hitherto been conspicuous, the reason why the cleavage was not disclosed until the actual outbreak of war, lies in this, that Rolland’s divergence was a matter not so much of mood as of character. Before the apocalyptic year, almost all persons of artistic temperament had recognized quite as definitely as Rolland had recognized that a fratricidal struggle between Europeans would be a crime, would disgrace civilization. With few exceptions, they were pacifists. It would be more correct to say that with few exceptions they believed themselves to be pacifists. For pacifism does not simply mean, to be a friend to peace, but to be a worker in the cause of peace, an εἱρηνοποιὁς, as the New Testament has it. Pacifism signifies the activity of an effective will to peace, not merely the love of an easy life and a preference for repose. It signifies struggle; and like every struggle it demands, in the hour of danger, self-sacrifice and heroism. Now these “pacifists” we have just been considering had merely a sentimental fondness for peace; they were friendly towards peace, just as they were friendly towards ideas of social equality, towards philanthropy, towards the abolition of capital punishment. Such faith as they possessed was a faith devoid of passion. They wore their opinions as they wore their clothing, and when the time of trial came they were ready to exchange their pacifist ethic for the ethic of the war-makers, were ready to don a national uniform in matters of opinion. At bottom, they knew the right just as well as Rolland, but they had not the courage of their opinions. Goethe’s saying to Eckermann applies to them with deadly force. “All the evils of modern literature are due to lack of character in individual investigators and writers.”

Thus Rolland did not stand alone in his knowledge, which was shared by many intellectuals and statesmen. But in his case, all his knowledge was tinged with religious fervor; his beliefs were a living faith; his thoughts were actions. He was unique among imaginative writers for the splendid vigor with which he remained true to his ideals when all others were deserting the standard; for the way in which he defended the European spirit against the raging armies of the sometime European intellectuals now turned patriots. Fighting as he had fought from youth upwards on behalf of the invisible against the world of reality, he displayed, as a foil to the heroism of the trenches, a higher heroism still. While the soldiers were manifesting the heroism of blood, Rolland manifested the heroism of the spirit, and showed the glorious spectacle of one who was able, amid the intoxication of the war-maddened masses, to maintain the sobriety and freedom of an unclouded mind.

***

Of a sudden it seemed as if his whole life had become meaningless. Vain had been his exhortations, vain the twenty years of ardent endeavor. He had feared this disaster since early boyhood. He had made Olivier cry in torment of soul: “I dread war so greatly, I have dreaded it for so long. It has been a nightmare to me, and it poisoned my childhood’s days.” Now, what he had prophetically anticipated had become a terrible reality for hundreds of millions of human beings. The agony of the hour was nowise diminished because he had foreseen its coming to be inevitable. On the contrary, while others hastened to deaden their senses with the opium of false conceptions of duty and with the hashish dreams of victory, Rolland’s pitiless sobriety enabled him to look far out into the future. On August 3rd he wrote in his diary: “I feel at the end of my resources. I wish I were dead. It is horrible to live when men have gone mad, horrible to witness the collapse of civilization. This European war is the greatest catastrophe in the history of many centuries, the overthrow of our dearest hopes of human brotherhood.” A few days later, in still greater despair, he penned the following entry: “My distress is so colossal an accumulation of distresses that I can scarcely breathe. The ravaging of France, the fate of my friends, their deaths, their wounds. The grief at all this suffering, the heartrending sympathetic anguish with the millions of sufferers. I feel a moral death-struggle as I look on at this mad humanity which is offering up its most precious possessions, its energies, its genius, its ardors of heroic devotion, which is sacrificing all these things to the murderous and stupid idols of war. I am heartbroken at the absence of any divine message, any divine spirit, any moral leadership, which might upbuild the City of God when the carnage is at an end. The futility of my whole life has reached its climax. If I could but sleep, never to reawaken.”

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Anthony Trollope: Leader appointed to save the empire – with warships

January 4, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Anthony Trollope: How wars are arranged

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Anthony Trollope
From The Prime Minister

Sir Orlando’s present idea of a policy was the building four bigger ships of war than had ever been built before, – with larger guns, and more men, and thicker iron plates, and, above all, with a greater expenditure of money. He had even gone so far as to say, though not in his semi-official letter to the Prime Minister, that he thought that “The Salvation of the Empire” should be the cry of the Coalition party. “After all,” he said, “what the people care about is the Salvation of the Empire!” Sir Orlando was at the head of the Admiralty; and if glory was to be achieved by the four ships, it would rest first on the head of Sir Orlando.

***

Sir Orlando Drought had not been allowed to build his four ships, and was consequently eager in his fears that the country would be invaded by the combined forces of Germany and France, that India would be sold by those powers to Russia, that Canada would be annexed to the States, that a great independent Roman Catholic hierarchy would be established in Ireland, and that Malta and Gibraltar would be taken away from us; – all which evils would be averted by the building of four big ships.

***

In those days Sir Orlando was unhappy and irritable, doubtful of further success as regarded the Coalition, but quite resolved to pull the house down about the ears of the inhabitants rather than to leave it with gentle resignation. To him it seemed to be impossible that the Coalition should exist without him. He too had had moments of high-vaulting ambition, in which he had almost felt himself to be the great man required by the country, the one ruler who could gather together in his grasp the reins of government and drive the State coach single-handed safe through its difficulties for the next half-dozen years. There are men who cannot conceive of themselves that anything should be difficult for them, and again others who cannot bring themselves so to trust themselves as to think that they can ever achieve anything great. Samples of each sort from time to time rise high in political life, carried thither apparently by Epicurean concourse of atoms; and it often happens that the more confident samples are by no means the most capable. The concourse of atoms had carried Sir Orlando so high that he could not but think himself intended for something higher.

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Romain Rolland: Oh, fair diplomats, you rid us of irksome peace

January 3, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From Liluli
Translator unknown

THE FAT MEN among themselves.
Lord! Do you hear what these beggars are saying? No more frontiers, it’s scandalous…Look at them passing round the loving-cup, drinking out of the same jug and lapping out of the same dish…Ugh, ugh! The ideal of these swine would be to impose on every man of them one trough, one hovel, one dung-hill. These sharers are dangerous. I want each man to have his own; give me mine – and the others can have what’s left. Good God! Good God! Better and better! And see, they’re dancing now, hugging one another…It’s scandalous!…If they were all united it would be a calamity…The pee-pul wouldn’t want to work any more. Zounds, god’s blood, then we should have to sweat and work! No more rich, no more poor, no more states, no more nations. It would be, it would be sheer topsy-turvydom!…If we let them do as they liked, why, there would be no more war; why, there’d be no more God. It’s enough to make one tear one’s hair…no more anything, no more property! Every one would only think of being happy. It’s scandalous!…What an insolent pretension! To want to eliminate evil from this earth! Then what would be left for honest folk to rest their heads on? Not a stone…God created evil, pestilence, patriotism, wealth and war. He knew very well why! The earth needs manuring. Evil, that is the manure. There must be enrichment. There most be common people. There must be beggars. And there must be poverty for plow and hatred for goad,so that they may drive their furrow…Gee, haw! get along! These oxen must be made to go.

But you, gentlemen of the Diplomatic Corps, you prickers of oxen, what the devil are you doing with the goad? We had charged you with the task of watching over our safety, of maintaining the order and injustice consecrated by the past, the abuses, the traditions and the disunion of nations…And that’s the way you conduct the pee-pul for us! Oho, gentlemen, that isn’t good…straight into one another’s arms! Is it for this noble result…ha, ha!…that you’ve been paid, gilded and braided before, behind, from top to toe, covered with honor and stars! Now, then, gentlemen of the Diplomatic Corps!

THE DIPLOMATS
It’s a game. Leave us to act with our partners, the gentlemen of the Service on the other side.

THE FAT MEN
Are you in agreement, then?

THE DIPLOMATS
According to the rules, one must be: we have our game. Diplomacy is a game of chess. The roles demand that, to win, one must lose pawns. The pawns are there [pointing to the peoples]; we have only to put them on the chess-board.

CHORUS
O fair Diplomacy, thou angel sent from heaven to temper the wearisomeness of life, to rid us of irksome peace, of happiness and love, which are things all too vulgar; thou dost undo the work of nature (for nature is good for beasts); thou makest enemies of those who are united; and those who cannot bear with one another thou knittest together. None so well as thou knows the art of finding in a hayloft the solitary needle. If it be not there, thou puttest it there: thus Joseph slipping a cup into Benjamin’s wallet. We owe it to thy conjuring tricks in the manner of Robert Houdin that, on rising each morning we never know what thou wilt have done with us by evening. Through thee we are acquainted with war and its delights – ravished wife, ravaged fields, my skin punctured (ow! ow!), but then I puncture other people’s – the exquisite joys of envy (how sweet it is to get the jaundice through coveting one’s neighbor’s goods! We shall take him and destroy him; taking is very good; destroying is better; destroying is a feast for the gods.)…With thy wondrous fingers thou knowest how to tangle the thread as thou windest it, to make knots in the skein. Clever must be he who shall undo them! No one has the right to nose out the secrets of the green table. Thou playest with us, our money, our goods, our skins, our souls and our children, and none may penetrate thy game…It’s stunning!…And when, afterwards, I am beaten, pounded, fleeced and thoroughly contented, thou presentest me with a lovely treaty, covered with signed initials, and the bill, to be paid cash down. And we pay, and we say: “Thank you, thank you! Till next time.” When one’s the oyster, one must be swallowed, mustn’t one? And I am, and I shall be. It makes me gape with pleasure and pride…O lovely Diplomacy, what would life be without thee. A wine without dregs. A pleasure without envy. A summer day without rain…A most insipid contentment.

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Stefan Zweig: Origin of the Nobel Peace Prize

January 2, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

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Stefan Zweig
From The World of Yesterday
Translated by Benjamin W. Huebsch and Helmut Ripperger

In Germany, it was Werfel who gave world brotherhood its strongest lyric accent with Der Weltfreund; Rene Schickele, an Alsatian, placed by fate between the two nations, laboured passionately for an understanding; from Italy, G. A. Borgese hailed us as a comrade, and encouragement came from thee Scandinavian and the Slavic countries as well. “Why don’t you come over here!” a great Russian writer said in a letter. “Show the Panslavists who are trying to egg us into the war that you Austrians are against it.” Oh, we loved our inspired time well enough and we loved our Europe ! But this blind belief, that reason would baulk the madness at the last minute, established itself as our one shortcoming. True, we did not regard the handwriting on the wall with sufficient misgiving, but is it not the very essence of youth not to be distrustful but to believe? We relied on Jaurès, on the Socialist International, we believed that the railroad men would rather tear up the tracks than transport their comrades to the front as so much cattle to be slaughtered, we counted on the women, who would refuse to sacrifice their children and husbands to Moloch, we were convinced that the spiritual and moral forces of Europe would reveal themselves triumphantly at the critical moment. Our common idealism, our optimism based on progress, led us to misjudge and contemn the common danger.

***

The Balkan War, where Krupp and Schneider-Creusot rehearsed their guns against foreign “human material,” as later the Germans and Italians rehearsed their planes in the Spanish Civil War, drew us closer and closer to the cataract. Again and again we started up, only to breathe again: “Not yet, this time – and let us hope, never!”

***

By chance, the very next day I met Berta von Suttner, that majestic and grandiose Cassandra of our time. An aristocrat of one of the first families, in her early youth she had experienced the cruelty of the War of 1866 in the vicinity of her family seat in Bohemia. And with the passion of a Florence Nightingale she saw but one task for herself in life: to hinder a second war, or any war at all. She wrote a novel. Lay Down Your Arms, which met with universal success; she organized countless pacifist meetings, and the triumph of her life was that she had aroused the conscience of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, to such an extent that, to compensate for the evil that he had caused with his dynamite, he had established the Nobel Prize for Peace and International Understanding. She came up to me in great excitement. “The people have no idea of what is going on !” she cried quite loudly in the street, although she usually spoke quietly and with deliberation. “The war is already upon us, and once again they have hidden and kept it from us. Why don’t you do something, you young people? It is your concern most of all. Defend yourselves! Unite! Don’t always let a few old women to whom no one listens do everything.” I told her that I was going to Paris ; perhaps one could really attempt a common manifesto. “Why only ‘perhaps’?” she pressed on. “Things are worse than ever, the machine is already in motion.” Being disturbed myself, I had difficulty in quieting her.

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Percy Bysshe Shelley: Titled idiot kindles flames of war

January 1, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Selections on war

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Percy Bysshe Shelley
From Declaration of Rights

Man has no right to kill his brother, it is no excuse that he does so in uniform. He only adds the infamy of servitude to the crime of murder.

****

From Essay on the Existing State of Things

Destruction marks thee! o’er the blood-stain’d heath
Is faintly borne the stifled wail of death;
Millions to fight compell’d, to fight or die
In mangled heaps on Mar’s red altar lie.
The sternly wise, the mildly good, have sped
To the unfruitful mansions of the dead.
Whilst fell Ambition o’er the wasted plain
Triumphant guides his car – the ensanguin’d rein
Glory directs; fierce brooding o’er the scene,
With hatred glance, with dire unbending mien.
Fell Despotism sits by the red glare
Of Discord’s torch, kindling the flames of war.
For thee then does the Muse her sweetest lay
Pour ’mid the shrieks of war, ’mid dire dismay;
For thee does Fame’s obstrep’rous clarion rise,
Does Praise’s voice raise meanness to the skies.
Are we then sunk so deep in darkest gloom,
That selfish pride can virtue’s garb assume?
Does real greatness in false splendour live?
When narrow views the futile mind deceive,
When thirst of wealth, or frantic rage for fame,
Lights for awhile self-interest’s little flame,
When legal murders swell the lists of pride;
When glory’s views the titled idiot guide.

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Romain Rolland: Tolstoy and peace among men

December 31, 2018 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From Life of Tolstoy (1911)
Translated by Bernard Miall

Ours it was by its ardent love of life, by its quality of youth; ours by its irony, its disillusion, its pitiless discernment, and its haunting sense of mortality. Ours by its dreams of brotherly love, of peace among men; ours by its terrible accusation of the lies of civilisation; ours by its realism; by its mysticism ours; by its savour of nature, its sense of invisible forces, its vertigo in the face of the infinite.

***

Tolstoy the Christian, forgetting the patriotism of his first narrative [Sebastopol], curses this impious war:

“And these men, Christians, who profess the same great law of love and of sacrifice, do not, when they perceive what they have done, fall upon their knees repentant, before Him who in giving them life set within the heart of each, together with the fear of death, the love of the good and the beautiful. They do not embrace as brothers, with tears of joy and happiness!”

***

Russia should withdraw from all warfare because she must accomplish “the great revolution.”

***

For a long time the Old Believers, known in Russia as the Sectators, had been obstinately practising, in spite of persecution, non-obedience to the State, and had refused to recognise the legitimacy of its power. The absurdity of the Russo-Japanese war enabled this state of mind to spread without difficulty through the rural districts. Refusals of military service became more and more general; and the more brutally they were punished the more stubborn the revolt grew in secret.

***

Those are blind who do not perceive the miracle of this great mind, the incarnation of fraternal love in the midst of a people and a century stained with the blood of hatred!

***

His article on War, written on the occasion of the Universal Peace Congress in London in 1891, is a rude satire on the peacemakers who believe in international arbitration:

“This is the story of the bird which is caught after a pinch of salt has been put on his tail. It is quite as easy to catch him without it. They laugh at us who speak of arbitration and disarmament by consent of the Powers. Mere verbiage, this! Naturally the Governments approve: worthy apostles! They know very well that their approval will never prevent their doing as they will.” (Cruel Pleasures.)

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Anthony Trollope: How wars are arranged

December 30, 2018 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Anthony Trollope: Leader appointed to save the empire – with warships

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Anthony Trollope
From The Prime Minister

Does not all the world know that when in autumn the Bismarcks of the world, or they who are bigger than Bismarcks, meet at this or that delicious haunt of salubrity, the affairs of the world are then settled in little conclaves, with greater ease, rapidity, and certainty than in large parliaments or the dull chambers of public offices? Emperor meets Emperor, and King meets King, and as they wander among the rural glades in fraternal intimacy, wars are arranged, and swelling territories are enjoyed in anticipation.

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Stefan Zweig: The army of the spirit, not the army of force

December 29, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

For Olivier there is but one true freedom, that which comes from within, the freedom which a man must win for himself. The illusion of the crowd, its eternal class struggles and national struggles for power, distress him, but do not arouse his sympathy. Standing quite alone, he maintains his mental poise when war between Germany and France is imminent, when all are shaken in their convictions, and when even Jean Christophe feels that he must return home to fight for his fatherland. “I love my country,” says the Frenchman to his German brother. “I love it just as you love yours. But am I for this reason to betray my conscience, to kill my soul? This would signify the betrayal of my country. I belong to the army of the spirit, not to the army of force.” But brute force takes its revenge upon the man who despises force, and he is killed in a chance medley…

Jean Christophe’s goodness is that of instinct; it is elemental, therefore, and liable to be interrupted by passionate relapses into hate. Olivier’s goodness, on the other hand, is intellectual and wise, and is tinged merely at times by ironical skepticism. But it is this contrast between them, it is the fact that their aspirations towards goodness are complementary, which draws them together. Christophe’s robust faith revives joy in life for the lonely Olivier. Christophe, in turn, learns justice from Olivier. The sage is uplifted by the strong, who is himself enlightened by the sage’s clarity. This mutual exchange of benefits symbolizes the relationship between their nations. The friendship between the two individuals is designed to be the prototype of a spiritual alliance between the brother peoples. France and Germany are “the two pinions of the west.” The European spirit is to soar freely above the blood-drenched fields of the past.

***

The defeat which had spiritualized French idealism, had, from the German side, as a victory, materialized German idealism. “What has victorious Germany given to the world?” asks Jean Christophe. He answers his own question by saying: “The flashing of bayonets; vigor without magnanimity; brutal realism; force conjoined with greed for profit; Mars as commercial traveler.” He is grieved to recognize that Germany has been harmed by victory. He suffers; for “one expects more of one’s own country than of another, and is hurt more by the faults of one’s own land.” Ever the revolutionist, Christophe detests noisy self-assertion, militarist arrogance, the churlishness of caste feeling.

***

“The fire which had been smouldering in the European forest was now breaking forth into flame. Extinguished in one place, it promptly began to rage in another. Amid whirlwinds of smoke and a rain of sparks, it leaped from point to point, while the parched undergrowth kindled. Outpost skirmishes in the east had already begun, as preludes to the great war of the nations. The whole of Europe, that Europe which was still skeptical and apathetic like a dead forest, was fuel for the conflagration. The fighting spirit was universal. From moment to moment, war seemed imminent. Stifled, it was continually reborn. The most trifling pretext served to feed its strength. The world felt itself to be at the mercy of chance, which would initiate the terrible struggle. It was waiting. A feeling of inexorable necessity weighed upon all, even upon the most pacific. The ideologues, sheltering in the shade of Proudhon the titan, hailed war as man’s most splendid claim to nobility.

“It was for this, then, that there had been effected a physical and moral resurrection of the races of the west! It was towards these butcheries that the streams of action and passionate faith had been hastening!”

***

Christophe recalls those earlier days when he and Olivier had been concerned about the prospect of war. At that time there were but distant rumblings of the storm. Now the storm clouds covered all the skies of Europe. Fruitless had been the call to unity; vain had been the pointing out of the path through the darkness. Mournfully the seer contemplates in the distance the horsemen of the Apocalypse, the heralds of fratricidal strife.

But beside the dying man is the Child, smiling and full of knowledge; the Child who is Eternal Life.

***

“Display everyday life to everyday people – the life that is deeper and wider than the ocean. The least among us bears infinity within him…Describe the simple life of one of these simple men; …describe it simply, as it actually happens. Do not trouble about phrasing; do not dissipate your energies, as do so many contemporary writers, in straining for artistic effects. You wish to speak to the many, and you must therefore speak their language…Throw yourself into what you create; think your own thoughts; feel your own feelings. Let your heart set the rhythm to the words. Style is soul.”

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Romain Rolland: Chorus of war’s secular high priests and intellectual carpet knights

December 28, 2018 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From Liluli
Translator unknown

THE GRAND DERVISH turning toward the Fat-of-Fats, the Diplomats, the Journalists, etc.
To your posts, gentlemen! The time has come for singing. Poets, philosophers, dry-as-dusts, pedants, penny-a-liners and literary men, lords of the inkhorn, you whose blood bears a flood of generous ink, come now, complete the chorus! Let there be no one heard but you. Fly on your best goose quills, fly to the rescue of Right! Holy guardians of the capitol, blow, blow your clarion notes! Be Brutuses, be Catos! Immolate all for the Fatherland – all except your lives, for you must be left to sing of those you kill. All honor to those magnificent voices of yours that crucify and resurrect, that make corpses and heroes!…In the baser ranks let us put the counterbasses: theologians, metaphysicians – my 18-inch howitzers, who crash upon the barbarians, the Jack Johnsons of the absolute and the aerial torpedoes of the ideal!…Above them come the baritones – the historians, the jurists, all the skillful camouflagers of the
Law and the Past. Let us also have a few ministers, economists and the big industrial journalists to send up the munition shares. A few Secretaries of State: they sing out of tune; but the croak of a bird with fine feathers sounds always sweet…And now my contraltos and tenors – the writers of every sex or of – no sex (they will be the sopranos): the Amazons of the pen who, like their grandmother Venus, burn for Mars; and the despised poets who, in their effort to regain lost love and lost laurels, are all dressed up as warriors…Ah! how handsome they are, my military men, quinquagenarians, tight-laced, be-medaled, marking time!…Left, right; left, right! Keep in step! They’re regular thunderbolts – on parade. What will they be like in a battle? But fortunately – I breathe again – they don’t fight. They are the guards, and, wisely, they remember that the guard’s first duty is to guard itself. All honor to the men of duty!…Finally, on top, at their posts among the timbrels and cymbals, we shall place the fanatics, the mystics, the Mad Mullahs of journalism; they can be delirious to order, can bark away for so much the yelp, and with their howling rouse the old instinct in the sleeping crowd, the lust of blood…As soloists, one Socialist and one Catholic shall sing a duet to celebrate the virtues according to the Church and the Councils. They are not of the same brew. But what matters the wine, so long as it has no water in it! And what matters the vintage so long as men believe and drink?

***

CHORUS OF INTELLECTUALS in doggerel verse. They chant in sprightly and monotonous tones, beating time with their whole body. At, isn’t it brave – to go down to the grave – when one’s quite a boy – one gets all life’s joy – and none of its worries, or flurries, or scurries. – If I were in – your youthful skin – how gladly I’d battle – or gladlier send – these stupid cattle – to meet their end. – For death and glory I thirst and hunger! – If only I were twenty years younger!

***

THE GRAND DERVISH
Nothing will come of this…Despite our holy efforts to disgust them with it, these common people, my word! set great store by their wretched mortal bodies! [To the Intellectuals.] And these fellows hold their tongue and don’t say a word!…Sing, I say, sing, O heroes of the brain!

THE INTELLECTUALS
But one must take breath! My tongue is quite sore with singing. What a trade! We’re exhausted. Give us a drink! It’s too hot…And to tell the truth, I’d rather sing another time: I’m not Tyrtaeus. The bugles and drums, beaten with might and main, to lead to the fight these poor dolts fairly burst my ears; I’d rather suck at the whispering flute with tip of tongue or else the rheumy oboe. For the poet is made to celebrate love and the fields and peace.

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