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Marguerite Yourcenar: Fruits of war are food for new wars

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

French writers on war and peace

Women writers on peace and war

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Marguerite Yourcenar
From Memoirs of Hadrian (1951)
Translated by Grace Frick

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I was not so sanguine as to think that it would always lie within our power to avoid all wars, but I wished them to be no more than defensive: I dreamed of an army trained to maintain order on frontiers less extended, if necessary, but secure. Every new increase in the vast imperial organism seemed to me like an unsound growth, like a cancer or dropsical edema which would eventually cause our death

Barbarian gold raised from the bed of the Danube, the five hundred thousand ingots of King Decebalus, had sufficed to defray the cost of a public bounty and donations to the army, of which I had my part, as well as the wild luxury of the games and initial expenses of the immense military projects in Asia. These baneful riches falsified the true state of the finances. The fruits of war were food for new wars.

I could see possibilities of Hellenizing the barbarians and Atticizing Rome…But to give the Greeks time to continue and perfect their work some centuries of peace were needed, with those calm leisures and discreet liberties which peace allows.

All nations who have perished up to this time have done so for lack of generosity: Sparta would have survived longer had she given her Helots some interest in that survival; there is always a day when Atlas ceases to support the weight of the heavens, and his revolt shakes the earth.

For the army, peace is only too often a period of turbulent idleness between two periods of combat; the alternative to inaction or to disorder is first, preparation for a war already determined upon, and then the war itself.

The achievements of my administration were not to be denied; the gates of the temple of Janus, open in time of war, remained closed; my plans were bearing fruit; the prosperity of the provinces flowed back upon the capital.

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