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Ellen Key: Overcoming the madness of a world at war


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

Women writers on peace and war


Ellen Key
From the Preface to War, Peace and the Future (1916)
Translated by Hildegard Norberg

At the end of August, 1914, after the first three weeks of war, I was asked:

“In what way can humanity prevent war? Is it, according to your opinion, possible, and if so by what means?”

My answer was:

The belief that we some day shall be able to prevent war is to me one with the belief in the possibility of making humanity really human.

The first means of preventing war would be to let all education of the growing generation aim at eradicating the predatory instincts in which war, as shown at the outbreak of hostilities, has its roots.

But such an education will not be given either in the home or in the schools so long as both pedagogues and preachers teach us that war is part of God’s plan for the world, and that Christianity can go hand in hand with a warlike spirit and warlike acts. To take the name of God and Jesus thus in vain should be the only blasphemy legally indictable.

Another means against war would be to consider it the worst crime against the freedom of the press to use the press as a means of disseminating personal or party hatred within a nation or national hatred between nations.

A third means would be that, when a conflict threatens, public opinion demand that the Government publish the mutual negotiations before a declaration of war, not after, as is now the case.

Alliances for the purpose of mutual help in war and the rivalry among nations to outdo one another in preparing for war, are bound to breed war, especially when the foregoing peace-contract has violated national rights. It is such treaties that have kept Europe in that constant state of war-preparedness which has so impoverished our civilization both before and after the outbreak of this war.

Even since 1870 this narrow-minded statesmanship has prevailed in Europe, —the statesmanship that seeks to enlarge the political and economical spheres of nations by military means.

[N]arrow-minded statesmanship has for the last four decades divided the Powers of Europe and has now lined them up in a battle-formation that is contrary to all civilization. If war between the civilized Powers of Europe is to be prevented in future, they will have to eliminate the above-mentioned principle of might and let their political as well as their economical actions prove the antibarbaric recognition of right as the only might that should be practised between civilized peoples.

When this knowledge has become a living truth and is not an abstract thought only, one may hope that national self-assertion and rivalry between nations will cease to express themselves in economic and military wars. Then one may hope for an organization of labour and of politics that will give the people a new and higher power to ensure their prosperity, their rights, freedom, and peace.

That many generations must pass before this can come into effect no far-sighted person will doubt. But, at the same time, no one with a clear vision doubts that it is towards this goal — that is, solidarity — that progress is aiming.

I do not share the optimistic belief that the consequences of the present war will immediately further the cause of peace. It may be possible that as the women and the working-men attain political power, they will, in a measure, be able to modify the present barbaric ideas of national power, honour, and glory. But even after the women and the working-men have attained political power and responsibility, centuries will probably elapse before humanity by conscious efforts can overcome the madness of a world at war through a sane organization of that world.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Christopher Cruz
    October 2, 2011 at 1:01 am

    very touching


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