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Anatole France: How the U.S. Congress deliberates on wars

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

Anatole France: Selections on war

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Anatole France
From Penguin Island (1908)
Translation by A.W. Evans

Excerpt

After a voyage of fifteen days his steamer entered, during the night, the harbor of Titanport, where thousands of ships were anchored. An iron bridge thrown across the water and shining with lights, stretched between two piers so far apart that Professor Obnubile imagined he was sailing on the seas of Saturn, and that he saw the marvellous ring which girds the planet of the Old Man. And this immense conduit bore upon it more than a quarter of the wealth of the world. The learned Penguin, having disembarked, was waited on by automatons in a hotel forty-eight stories high. Then he took the great railway that led to Gigantopolis, the capital of New Atlantic….

“Here,” thought the doctor, “is a people far too much engaged in industry and trade to make war. I am already certain that the New Atlantans pursue a policy of peace. For it is an axiom admitted by all economists that peace without and peace within are necessary for the progress of commerce and industry.”

….

“The war for the opening of the Mongol markets being ended to the satisfaction of the States, I propose that the accounts be laid before the finance committee.…”

“Is there any opposition?…”

“The proposal is carried.”

“The war for the opening of the markets of Third-Zealand being ended to the satisfaction of the States, I propose that the accounts be laid before the finance committee.…”

“Is there any opposition?…”

“The proposal is carried.”

“Have I heard aright?” asked Professor Obnubile. “What? you an industrial people and engaged in all these wars!”

“Certainly,” answered the interpreter, “these are industrial wars. Peoples who have neither commerce nor industry are not obliged to make war, but a business people is forced to adopt a policy of conquest. The number of wars necessarily increases with our productive capacity. As soon as one of our industries fails to find a market for its products a war is necessary to open new outlets. It is in this way we have had a coal war, a copper war, and a cotton war. In Third-Zealand we have killed two-thirds of the inhabitants in order to compel the remainder to buy our umbrellas and braces.”

At that moment a fat man who was sitting in the middle of the assembly ascended the tribune.

“I claim,” said he, “a war against the Emerald Republic, which insolently contends with our pigs for the hegemony of hams and sauces in all the markets of the universe.”

“Who is that legislator?” asked Doctor Obnubile.

“He is a pig merchant.”

“Is there any opposition?” said the President. “I put the proposition to the vote.”

The war against the Emerald Republic was voted with uplifted hands by a very large majority.

“What?” said Obnubile to the interpreter; “you have voted a war with that rapidity and that indifference!”

“Oh! it is an unimportant war which will hardly cost eight million dollars.”

“And men.…”

“The men are included in the eight million dollars.”

Then Doctor Obnubile bent his head in bitter reflection.

“Since wealth and civilization admit of as many causes of poverty as war and barbarism, since the folly and wickedness of men are incurable, there remains but one good action to be done. The wise man will collect enough dynamite to blow up this planet. When its fragments fly through space an imperceptible amelioration will be accomplished in the universe and a satisfaction will be given to the universal conscience. Moreover, this universal conscience does not exist.”

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