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Johann Gottfried von Herder: Hardly dare name or write the terrible word “war”

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

Johann Gottfried von Herder: Selections on war

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Johann Gottfried von Herder
Letters for the Advancement of Humanity
From Letter 119
Translated by Michael N. Forster

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War, when it is not forced self-defence but a mad attack on a peaceful, neighboring nation, is an inhuman, worse-than-animal thing to start, in that it not only threatens the nation that it attacks, in its innocence, with murder and devastation, but also sacrifices the nation which conducts it just as undeservedly as terribly. Can there be a more horrible sight for a higher being than two armies standing in opposition to each other which without having suffered abuse murder each other? And in the train of war, more terrible than war itself, come diseases, military hospitals, starvation, plague, robbery, violence, desolation of lands, degeneration of minds into savagery, destruction of families, spoiling of ethics for long generations. All noble human beings should spread this disposition with warm human feeling, fathers and mothers should imbue their children with their own experiences on the subject, so that the terrible word “war” which people articulate with such ease not only becomes hateful to human beings but people, with the same horror as in the case of St. Vitus’s Dance, plague, famine, earthquake, the black death, hardly dare to name it or write it.

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