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Anatole France: Wars fought over territorial acquisition, commercial rivalries


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


Anatole France: Selections on war


Anatole France
From Introduction to The Life of Joan of Arc (1908)
Translated by Winifred Stephens


Recourse to arms is a necessity alike for whomsoever acquires or wishes to acquire territory. Hardly had the Frenchman come to enjoy the rights of a man and of a citizen, hardly had he entered into possession or thought he might enter into possession of a home and lands of his own, when the armies of the Coalition arrived “to drive him back to ancient slavery.” Then the patriot became a soldier. Twenty-three years of warfare, with the inevitable alternations of victories and defeats, built up our fathers in their love of la patrie and their hatred of the foreigner.

Since then, as the result of industrial progress, there have arisen in one country and another, rivalries which are every day growing more bitter. The present methods of production by multiplying antagonism among nations, have given rise to imperialism, to colonial expansion and to armed peace.

But how many contrary forces are at work in this formidable creation of a new order of things! In all countries the great development of trade and manufactures has given birth to a new class. This class, possessing nothing, having no hope of ever possessing anything, enjoying none of the good things of life, not even the light of day, does not share the fear which haunted the peasant and burgher of the Revolution, of being despoiled by an enemy coming from abroad; the members of this new class, having no wealth to defend, regard foreign nations with neither terror nor hatred. At the same time over all the markets of the world there have arisen financial powers, which, although they often affect respect for old traditions, are by their very functions essentially destructive of the national and patriotic spirit. The universal capitalist system has created in France, as everywhere else, the internationalism of the workers and the cosmopolitanism of the financiers.

I believe in the future union of nations, and I long for it with that ardent charity for the human race, which, formed in the Latin conscience in the days of Epictetus and Seneca, and through so many centuries extinguished by European barbarism, has been revived in the noblest breasts of modern times. And in vain will it be argued against me that these are the mere dream-illusions of desire: it is desire that creates life and the future is careful to realise the dreams of philosophers. Nevertheless, that we to-day are assured of a peace that nothing will disturb, none but a madman would maintain. On the contrary, the terrible industrial and commercial rivalries growing up around us indicate future conflicts, and there is nothing to assure us that France will not one day find herself involved in a great European or world conflagration…

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