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Tolstoy: Two Wars and Carthago Delenda Est

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From Two Wars (1898)
Translator not identified

Two wars are at the present time being waged in the Christian world. One, it is true, has been ended, while the other is still going on; but they were waged at one and the same time, and the contrast between the two is striking. The first, now ended, was an old, vainglorious, stupid, cruel, untimely, obsolete, pagan war, the Spanish-American War, which by the murder of one set of men decided how and by whom another set of men was to be ruled. The second war, which is still going on, and which will be ended only when all wars shall end, is a new, self-sacrificing, sacred war. It is based on nothing but love and reason – the war against war. As Victor Hugo expressed it at one of the congresses, the best and most advanced part of Christian humanity declared war long ago against the other coarse and savage part of the same Christian humanity.

*****

The other day I received a letter from Colorado, from a Mr. Jesse Glodwin, who asked me to send him “a few words or thoughts, expressive of my sentiments, in regard to the noble work of the American nation and the heroism of her soldiers and sailors.” This gentleman is, with the vast majority of the American nation, fully convinced that the action of the Americans (they beat a few thousand nearly unarmed men – in comparison with the armament of the Americans, the Spaniards were nearly unarmed) is unquestionably a “noble work,” and that those people who, having killed a large number of their neighbors, for the most part survived and were well and comfortably fixed in life, were heroes.

The Spanish-American War, to say nothing of the horrible things which the Spaniards had done in Cuba, and which served as the pretext for the war, resembles this: A decrepit and doting old man, who was brought up in the traditions of false honor, in order to settle a misunderstanding that arose between him and a young man, challenges this young man, who is in the full possession of his strength, to fisticuffs. The young man, who, to judge from his past and from what he has said more than once, should be above such a settlement of the question, accepts the challenge with knuckles in his clenched fist, jumps upon the decrepit and doting old man, knocks out his teeth, and breaks his ribs. He then ecstatically tells his exploits to a vast public of just such young men as he is, and this public rejoices and praises the hero who has maimed the old man.

Such is the one war that has occupied the minds of all in the Christian world. Nobody speaks of the other war. Hardly anyone knows anything about it. The other war is like this: All the states deceive the people, saying, “All of you who are ruled by me are in danger of being conquered by other nations. I look after your well being and security, and so demand that you shall annually give me millions of rubles, the fruits of your labors, which I am going to use for rifles, cannons, powder, and ships for your defense. I demand, besides, that you shall enter the organizations instituted by me, where they will make of you senseless pieces of an immense machine – the army – which I manage. While connected with this army you will cease being men and having your own wills, but will do everything I want you to do. What I want to do first of all is to rule. The means I use for ruling is murder, and so I am going to teach you to commit murder.”

The common people submit to this deception, give up their money for their own enslavement, and themselves enslave one another in spite of the obvious insipidity of the assertion that they are in danger of attack from the governments of other states; in spite of the degradation of that slavery to which men are subjected when they enter the army; and in spite of the cruelty of the business to which they are called. (The governments of other states assert that they, in spite of their desire for peace, are in the same danger.)

And here there appear people who say:

“What you say of the threatening danger and of your concern about protecting us against it is a deception. All the states affirm that they want peace, and at the same time arm themselves against one another. Besides, according to the law that you profess, all men are brothers and it makes no difference whether we belong to this state or to another, and so the attack of other states upon us, with which you frighten us, has no terror and no meaning for us. But the main thing is that, according to the law given to us by God, and which you, who demand of us a participation in murder, also profess, we are clearly forbidden to commit murder or even any acts of violence. We cannot and will not take part in your preparations for murder, will not give you any money for the purpose, and will not join the gangs you establish. You corrupt the reason and the conscience of men by changing them into instruments of violence, who are submissive to every evil man taking this instrument into his hands.”

In this consists the second war, which has for a long time been waged with the representatives of rude force….

*****

People praise the Spanish and American heroes of that savage war, who, wishing to distinguish themselves in the eyes of men and to receive rewards and glory, have killed a very large number of men, or who have died themselves in the process of slaying their neighbors. But no one speaks or knows of these heroes of the war against war; they are not seen or heard by anyone. They have died by being beaten with rods, in stinking cells, or in oppressive exile, and still to their very last breath they remain faithful to the good and to truth.

*****

They say, “These are useless sacrifices. These men will perish, but the structure of life will remain the same.” In the same way, I think, people spoke of the uselessness of Christ’s sacrifice and of the sacrifices of all the martyrs for the sake of truth. The people of our time, especially the scholars, have become so dense that they do not understand, and in their denseness cannot even understand, the significance and the influence of spiritual force. A charge of ten thousand pounds of dynamite sent into a crowd of living men – that they understand, and in that they see strength. But an idea, a truth, which has been realized, which has been introduced into life to the point of martyrdom, which has become accessible to millions, is not force according to their conception, because it does not boom and you do not see broken bones and puddles of blood.

Scholars (it is true, bad scholars) use all the power of their erudition to prove that humanity lives like a herd, which is guided only by economic conditions, and that reason is given to it only for amusement. Governments know what it is that moves the world, and so, from a sense of self-preservation, unerringly and zealously monitor the manifestation of spiritual forces, on which depends their existence or their ruin.

****

Such is the second war, which is being waged in our time, and such are its consequences. Its consequences are of importance, and not for the Russian government alone. Every government that is based on the army and on violence is struck in the same way by this weapon. Christ said, “I have conquered the world.” He really has conquered the world, if people will only believe in the power of the weapons that He has given to them.

The weapons are reason and conscience – for each man to follow his own reason and conscience.

This is so simple, so certain, and so obligatory for every single man. “You want to make me a participant in murder. You demand of me money for the preparation of the implements of murder, and you want me to become a participant in the organized gathering of murderers,” says a rational man, who has not sold or dimmed his conscience. “But I confess the same law with you, in which not only murder, but even every hostility, has long ago been forbidden, and so I cannot obey you.”

It is this means, which is so simple, that will conquer the world.

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Cathargo Delenda Est (1899)
Translated by Nathan Haskell Dole

*****

People complain of the evil conditions of life in our Christian world. But is it possible for it to be otherwise, when all of us acknowledge not only that fundamental divine law proclaimed some thousands of years ago, “Thou shalt not kill,” but also the law of love and brotherhood of all men, and yet, notwithstanding this, every man in the European world practically disavows this fundamental divine law acknowledged by him, and at the command of president, emperor, or minister, of Nicholas or William, arrays himself in a ridiculous costume, takes an instrument of murder and says, “Here I am, ready to injure, ruin, or kill any one I am ordered to”?

What must a society be like which is composed of such men? Such a society must be dreadful, and indeed it is so!

*****

La Vita Internationale and L’Humanite nouvelle have sent me the following letter :

“Sir, With the object of furthering the development of humanitarian ideas and civilization, La Vita international (of Milan), with the support of L’Humanite nouvelle (of Paris and Brussels), has deemed it necessary to concern itself with the difficult problem which has of late arisen in all its gravity and importance, owing to the delicate question about which France and the whole world has become so ardently impassioned, we mean the problem of war and militarism. With this aim in view, we beg all those in Europe that take part in politics, science, art, and the labor movement, and even those that occupy the foremost positions in the army, to contribute to this most civilizing task by replying to the following questions :

1. Is war among civilized nations still required by history, law, and progress?
2. What are the intellectual, moral, physical, economical, and political effects of militarism?
3. What, in the interests of the world’s future civilization, are the solutions which should be given to the grave problems of war and militarism?
4. What means would most rapidly lead to these solutions?”

I cannot conceal the feelings of disgust, indignation, and even despair which were aroused in me by this letter. Enlightened, sensible, good Christian people, who inculcate the principle of love and brotherhood, who regard murder as an awful crime, who, with very few exceptions, are unable to kill an animal, all these people suddenly, provided that these crimes are called war, not only acknowledge the destruction, plunder, and killing of people to be right and legal, but themselves contribute toward these robberies and murders, prepare themselves for them, take part in them, are proud of them.

Moreover, always and everywhere one and the same phenomenon repeats itself, viz., that the great majority of people, all working-people, those same people who carry out the robberies and murders, and on whom the burden falls neither devise, nor prepare, nor desire these things, but take part in them against their will, merely because they are placed in such a position and are so instigated that it appears to them, to each individual, that they would suffer more were they to refuse. Whereas those who devise and prepare for these plunders and murders, and who compel the working-people to carry them out, are but an insignificant minority, who live in luxury and idleness, upon the labor of the workers.

This deceit has already been going on for a long time, but lately the insolence of the impostors has reached its extremest development, and a great share of what labor produces is being taken away from the workers, and used for making preparations for plundering and killing. In all the constitutional countries of Europe the workers themselves all, without exception, are called upon to take part in these robberies and murders; international relations are purposely always more and more complicated, and this leads on to war; peaceful countries are being plundered without the least cause; every year, in some place or other, people murder and rob; and all live in constant dread of general mutual robbery and murder.

It seems evident that, if these things are done, it can only be because the great mass of people are deceived by the minority to whom this deceit is advantageous, and therefore that the first task of those who are anxious to free people from the evils caused by this societies like the Quakers, Mennonites, and Nazarenes, and recently by the Dukhobors, of whom a whole population of fifteen thousand are now for the third year resisting the powerful Russian government, and, notwithstanding all the sufferings to which they have been subjected, do not submit to its demands that they should take part in the crimes of military service.

But the enlightened friends of peace not only refrain from recommending this method, but cannot bear the mention of it; when it is brought before them they pretend not to have noticed it, or, if they cannot help noticing it, they gravely shrug their shoulders and express their pity for those uneducated and unreasonable men who adopt such an ineffectual, silly method, when such a good one exists, namely, to sprinkle salt on the bird one wishes to catch, i.e., to persuade the governments, who only exist by violence and deceit, to forsake both the one and the other.

They tell us that the misunderstandings which arise between governments will be settled by tribunals or arbitration. But the governments do not at all desire the settlement of misunderstandings. On the contrary, if there be none they invent some, it being only by such misunderstanding with the governments that they are afforded a pretext for keeping up the army upon which their power is based. Thus the enlightened friends of peace strive to divert the attention of the working, suffering masses from the only method that can deliver them from the slavery in which they are held (from their youth upward), first by patriotism, next by oaths administered by the mercenary priests of a perverted Christianity, and lastly, by the fear of punishment.

In our days of close and peaceful relations between peoples of different nationalities and countries, the deceit called patriotism (which always claims the preeminence of one state or nationality over the rest, and which is therefore always involving people in useless and pernicious wars) is too evident for reasonable people of our age not to free themselves from it; and the religious deceit of the obligation of the oath (which is distinctly forbidden by that very gospel which the governments profess) is, thank God, ever less and less believed in. So that what really prevents the great majority from refusing to take part in military service is merely fear of the punishments which are inflicted by the governments for such refusals. This fear, however, is only a result of the government deceit, and has no other basis than hypnotism.

The governments may and should fear those who refuse to serve, and, indeed, they are afraid of them because every refusal undermines the prestige of the deceit by which the governments have the people in their power. But those who refuse have no ground whatever to fear a government that demands crimes from them. In refusing military service every man risks much less than he would were he to enter it.

The refusal of military service and the punishment of imprisonment and exile is only an advantageous insurance of oneself against the dangers of the military service. In entering the service every man risks having to take part in war (for which he is being prepared), and during war he may be like a man sentenced to death, placed in a position in which under the most difficult and painful circumstances he will almost certainly be killed or crippled, as I have seen in Sevastopol, where a regiment marched to a fort where two regiments had already been destroyed, and stood there until it too was entirely exterminated. Another, more profitable, chance is that the man who enters the army will not be killed, but will only fall ill and die in the unhealthy conditions of military service. A third chance is that, having been insulted by his superior, he will be unable to contain himself, will answer sharply, will break the discipline, and will be subjected to punishment much worse than that to which he would have been liable had he refused military service.

The best chance, however, is that instead of the imprisonment or exile to which a person refusing military service is liable, he will pass three or five years of his life amid vicious surroundings, practising the art of killing, being all the while in the same captivity as in prison, and in humiliating submission to depraved people. This in the first place.

Secondly, in refusing military service, every man, however strange it may seem, can yet always hope to escape punishment upon his refusal being that last exposure of the government’s deceit which will render any further punishment for such a deed, the punishment of one who refuses to participate in their oppression, impossible. So that submission to the demands of military service is evidently only submission to the hypnotizing of the masses, the utterly futile rush of Panurge’s sheep into the water, to their evident destruction.

Moreover, besides the consideration of advantage, there is yet another reason which should impel every man to refuse military service who is not hypnotized and is conscious of the importance of his actions. No one can help desiring that his life should not be an aimless and useless existence, but that it should be of service to God and man; yet frequently a man spends his life without finding an opportunity for such service. The summons to accept the military service presents precisely such an opportunity to every man of our time.

Every man, in refusing to take part in military service or to pay taxes to a government which uses them for military purposes, is, by this refusal, rendering a great service to God and man, for he is thereby making use of the most efficacious means of furthering the progressive movement of mankind toward that better social order which it is striving after and must eventually attain. But not only is it advantageous to refuse participation in the military service, and not only should the majority of the men of our time so refuse; it is, moreover, impossible not to refuse, if only they are not hypnotized. To every man there are some actions which are morally impossible, as impossible as are certain physical actions. And the promise of slavish obedience to strangers, and to immoral people who have the murder of men as their acknowledged object, is, to the majority of men, if only they be free from hypnotism, just such a morally impossible action. And therefore it is not only advantageous to and obligatory on every man to refuse to participate in the military service, but it is also impossible for him not to do so if only he be free from the stupefaction of hypnotism.

“But what will happen when all people refuse military service, and there is no check nor hold over the wicked, and the wicked triumph, and there is no protection against savage people against the yellow race who will come and conquer us?”

I will say nothing about the fact that, as it is, the wicked have long been triumphing, that they are still triumphing, and that while fighting one another they have long dominated the Christians, so that there is no need to fear what has already been accomplished; nor will I say anything with regard to the dread of the savage yellow race, whom we persistently provoke and instruct in war, that being a mere excuse, and one-hundredth part of the army now kept up in Europe being sufficient for the imaginary protection against them. I will say nothing about all this, because the consideration of the general result to the world of such or such actions cannot serve as a guide for our conduct and activity.

To man is given another guide, and that an unfailing one, the guide of his conscience, following which he indubitably knows that he is doing what he should do. Therefore, all considerations of the danger that threatens every individual who refuses military service, as well as what menaces the world in consequence of such refusals – all these are but a particle of that enormous and monstrous deceit in which Christian mankind is enmeshed, and which is being carefully maintained by the governments who exist by the power of this deceit.

If man act in accordance with what is dictated to him by his reason, his conscience, and his God, only the very best can result for himself as well as for the world.

People complain of the evil conditions of life in our Christian world. But is it possible for it to be otherwise, when all of us acknowledge not only that fundamental divine law proclaimed some thousands of years ago, “Thou shalt not kill,” but also the law of love and brotherhood of all men, and yet, notwithstanding this, every man in the European world practically disavows this fundamental divine law acknowledged by him, and at the command of president, emperor, or minister, of Nicholas or William, arrays himself in a ridiculous costume, takes an instrument of murder and says, “Here I am, ready to injure, ruin, or kill any one I am ordered to”?

What must a society be like which is composed of such men? Such a society must be dreadful, and indeed it is so!

Awake, brethren! Listen neither to those villains who, from your childhood, infect you with the diabolic spirit of patriotism, opposed to righteousness and truth, and only necessary in order to deprive you of your property, your freedom, and your human dignity; nor to those ancient impostors who preach war in the name of a cruel and vindictive God invented by them, and in the name of a perverted and false Christianity; nor, even less, to those modern Sadducees who, in the name of science and civilization, aiming only at the continuation of the present state of things, assemble at meetings, write books, and make speeches, promising to organize a good and peaceful life for people without their making any effort! Do not believe them. Believe only the consciousness which tells you that you are neither beasts nor slaves, but free men, responsible for your actions, and therefore unable to be murderers either of your own accord or at the will of those who live by these murders.

And it is only necessary for you to awake in order to realize all the horror and insanity of that which you have been and are doing, and, having realized this, to cease that evil which you yourselves abhor, and which is ruining you. If only you were to refrain from the evil which you yourselves detest, those ruling impostors, who first corrupt and then oppress you, would disappear like owls before the daylight, and then those new, human, brotherly conditions of life would be established for which Christendom weary of suffering, exhausted by deceit, and lost in insolvable contradictions is longing. Only let every man without any intricate or sophisticated arguments accomplish that which to-day his conscience unfailingly bids him do, and he will recognize the truth of the Gospel words:

“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Toby Simmons
    September 4, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Fascinating! Great blog all-round, by the way.
    Let me know what you think of mine . . .
    http://apieceofcoffee.wordpress.com/
    Keep on posting!

    • richardrozoff
      September 6, 2011 at 6:58 pm

      Have just begun to read through material on your site. Thanks for the Kant, Schopenhauer (in his youth Kant’s loyal disciple) and other writers/thinkers.
      What a sensible, humane world would concentrate on if not for war and a pervasive debased pseudo-culture.

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