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Alexander Kuprin: Deciphering the military metaphysic

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

Russian writers on war

Alexander Kuprin: Selections on war

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Alexander Kuprin
From The Duel (1905)
Translator unknown

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…Romashov certainly probed slowly and fumblingly, but more and more deeply, into the great problem of life. Formerly everything seemed to him as simple as simple could be. The world was divided into two categories very different in size and importance. The one, the guild of officers, constituting the military caste, which alone attains power, honour and glory, the fine uniform of which confers an uncontested monopoly of bravery, physical strength, and unbounded contempt for all other living creatures; the other, the civilian element of society – an enormous number of indeterminable petty insects; another race, a pariah class hardly worthy to live, obscure individuals to be thrashed and insulted without rhyme or reason…

When Romashov thought, he stood apart from reality; when he viewed military life, as it were, from a secret corner through a chink in the wall, he gradually began to understand that the army and all that pertains to it, with its false glamour and borrowed plumes, came into the world through a mad, cruel confusion of ideas in mankind. “How,” Romashov asked himself, “can so large a class of society, in profound peace, and without doing the country the least good, be suffered to exist, to eat the bread of others, to walk in other men’s clothes, to dwell in other men’s houses, only with the obligation, in the event of war, to kill and maim living creatures of the same race?”

About this time drinking-bouts were arranged in the regiment. These, in spite of their quasi-official character, were not one whit inferior in coarseness to the regular and more private gatherings inter pocula. It is highly probable that such stimulating entertainments were felt a special necessity when men, who have been tied to one another by fate, through a soul-destructive inactivity or senseless cruelty toward their kind, have chanced to look somewhat more deeply into each other’s hearts, and then – in spite of prejudices, unscrupulousness, and spiritual darkness – suddenly realize in what a bottomless pit of darkness they all are. In order to deaden the pangs of conscience and remorse at a life ruined and thrown away, all their insidious, brutish instincts have to be let loose at once and all their passions satisfied.

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