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Alain: Why is there war?


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

French writers on war and peace


From Men of Action (1910)
Translated by Robert D. and Jane E. Cottrell

Power has no pity, not even for itself.

Why is there war? Because in war men become engulfed in action. Their thought is like those electric lights that dim as soon as the streetcar starts; I mean their rational thought. This accounts for the formidable power of action; and it is self-justifying by virtue of the fact that it extinguishes the inner light of reason…But Justice, too, is extinguished in the course of action…That is why there were torturers who turned the screws and judges who heard the confessions. That is why there were galley slaves chained to their benches, who suffered in agony and then died, while moving in rhythm with the oars; and other men, who cracked the whip. Those who cracked the whip thought of nothing but the whip. Any kind of barbarism, once established, will last. A police commissioner is the happiest of men; I would not say that he is the most useful of men. Idleness is the mother of all vices, but also of all virtues.

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