Cesare Pavese: Every war is a civil war
From The House of the Hill (Prima che il gallo canti) (1949)
Translated by R. W. Flynt
But I have seen the unknown dead, those little men of the Republic. It was they who woke me up. If a stranger, an enemy, becomes a thing like that when he dies, if one stops short and is afraid to walk over him, it means that even beaten our enemy is someone, that after having shed his blood, one must placate it, give this blood a voice, justify the man who shed it. Looking at certain dead is humiliating. One has the impression that the same fate that threw these bodies to the ground holds us nailed to the spot to see them, to fill our eyes with the sight. It’s not fear, not our usual cowardice. One feels humiliated because one understands – touching it with one’s eyes – that we might be in their place ourselves: there would be no difference, and if we live we owe it to this dirtied corpse. That is why every war is a civil war; every fallen man resembles one who remains and calls him to account.
I don’t believe it can end. Now that I’ve seen what war is, what civil war is, I know that everybody, if one day it should end, ought to ask himself: “And what shall we make of the fallen? Why are they dead?” I wouldn’t know what to say. Not now, at any rate. Nor does it seem to me that the others know. Perhaps only dead know, and only for them is the war really over.