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Leo Tolstoy: Murder and vengeance are not the will of the people

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From Anna Karenina (1877)
Translated by Constance Garnett

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“So it is with the unanimity of the press. That’s been explained to me: as soon as there’s war their incomes are doubled…”

“I don’t care for many of the papers, but that’s unjust,” said Sergey Ivanovitch.

“I would only make one condition,” pursued the old prince. “Alphonse Karr said a capital thing before the war with Prussia: ‘You consider war to be inevitable? Very good. Let everyone who advocates war be enrolled in a special regiment of advance-guards, for the front of every storm, of every attack, to lead them all!'”

“A nice lot the editors would make!” said Katavasov, with a loud roar, as he pictured the editors he knew in this picked legion.

“But they’d run,” said Dolly, “they’d only be in the way.”

“Oh, if they ran away, then we’d have grape-shot or Cossacks with whips behind them,” said the prince.

He [Levin] saw that it was impossible to convince his brother and Katavasov, and he saw even less possibility of himself agreeing with them. What they advocated was the very pride of intellect that had almost been his ruin. He could not admit that some dozens of men, among them his brother, had the right, on the ground of what they were told by some hundreds of glib volunteers swarming to the capital, to say that they and the newspapers were expressing the will and feeling of the people, and a feeling which was expressed in vengeance and murder. He could not admit this, because he neither saw the expression of such feelings in the people among whom he was living, nor found them in himself (and he could not but consider himself one of the persons making up the Russian people), and most of all because he, like the people, did not know and could not know what is for the general good, though he knew beyond a doubt that this general good could be attained only by the strict observance of that law of right and wrong which has been revealed to every man, and therefore he could not wish for war or advocate war for any general objects whatever.

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