Home > Uncategorized > Stefan Zweig: The fear of opposing military hysteria

Stefan Zweig: The fear of opposing military hysteria

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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 Beware of Pity (1938)
Translated by Anthea Bell

I listened in astonishment, my interest particularly aroused by the vehemence with which he now went on: ‘Don’t let us deceive ourselves. If in any country whatever a recruiting campaign were to be launched today for some utterly preposterous war, a war in Polynesia or in some corner of Africa, thousands and hundreds of thousands would rush to the colours without really knowing why, perhaps merely out of a desire to run away from themselves or from disagreeable circumstances. But as for any effective opposition to a war – I wouldn’t care to put it above zero. It always demands a far greater degree of courage for an individual to oppose an organized movement than to let himself be carried along with the stream – individual courage, that is, a variety of courage that is dying out in these times of progressive organization and mechanization. During the war practically the only courage I came across was mass courage, the courage that comes of being one of a herd, and anyone who examines this phenomenon more closely will find it to be compounded of some very strange elements: a great deal of vanity, a great deal of recklessness and even boredom, but, above all, a great deal of fear – yes, fear of staying behind, fear of being sneered at, fear of independent action, and fear, above all, of taking a stand against the mass enthusiasm of one’s fellows. It was not until later on in civil life that I personally realized that most of those reputed to be the bravest at the front were very questionable heroes – oh, please don’t misunderstand me!’ he said, turning politely to our host, who was pulling a wry face. ‘I do not by any means except myself.‘

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