Home > Uncategorized > Saint-Exupéry: Charred flesh of children viewed with indifference

Saint-Exupéry: Charred flesh of children viewed with indifference

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

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
From Needed: A Language for Speaking the Truth (1938)
Translator unidentified

Those days we spent crowding around the loudspeakers were hard. It was rather like queuing up outside the factory gate for jobs to be handed out. Men turned out in droves to listen to Hitler, and they could already see themselves herded into freight cars and shipped off to man the glistening steel machines in the factory that war today has become. They behaved as though they had already been impressed into some gigantic slave gang…We were already uprooted, disoriented and hurled pell-mell into the millrace.

We did not act this way out of any spirit of sacrifice; we were abandoning ourselves to the absurd. We were drowned in contradictions we could no longer resolve and discouraged by the incoherence of events no language could clarify. We were ready to accept the bloody tragedy blindly because the duties it would lay upon on us would be simple duties.

We did realize that any war, since war is now waged with benefit of bombs and mustard gas, could result only in the destruction of Europe. However, people are much less sensitive to descriptions of catastrophes than we often suppose. Week after week, in the upholstered comfort of our movie houses we witnessed bombardments in Spain and China. We heard explosions that were shaking whole cities to their foundations, and we remained untouched. We stared half-admiringly at the twisting fringes of soot and ashes that these volcanic lands spiraled slowly toward the sky. And yet! And yet! It was grain from the granaries, it was the heritage of generations, the charred flesh of children which was being squandered in that smoke, which was slowing fattening that black cloud!

However, the impact of these horrors does not carry from screen to spectator. We watch indifferently as the bomber’s load plummets noiselessly earthward to gut these living habitations.

So and so many dead, more or less…What number may we deem acceptable? We will never establish peace on the basis of such wretched arithmetic…We talk about “necessary sacrifice” or speak of “the grandeur and tragedy of war.” Actually, we possess no language that enables us to sort the various kinds of death into categories unless we resort to complicated rationalizations.

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