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Michel Corday: Millions of men killed to cure a single hypochondriac

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

Michel Corday: Selections from The Paris Front

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Michel Corday
From The Paris Front (1934)
Translator not identified

– N–, headmaster of a school, observes that the middle-class youths of fifteen to twenty are fond of sport and a life of activity. That led them in the direction of war, since, thus hardened, they had less fear of death. Still, that does not explain this outburst of fanatical patriotism, this passion for dying for their country. Especially when one reflects that they did nothing for that country in peacetime.

– A drawing in the Guerre Social. The question is put to a soldier in the trenches: “What were you doing before the war?” “Suffering from nerves.” Universal approbation. Thus, the war has awakened men’s energies. But, damn it all, this precious gentleman could quite easily have had his energies awakened during peacetime. For instance, all he needed to do was to visit hospitals, factories, slums. There he would have found plenty to keep him usefully employed. Ah, but no! They must plunge the whole world into murder and butchery before their little nervous complaints are thrown off. Marvellous result: millions of men killed to cure a single hypochondriac.

– The Medical Board again. They called up some young men of eighteen, two years before their time. They rushed them off as if they were criminals and convicts. They were told to hold their tongues and strip. They pushed them up on to the measuring-stand, jabbing them in the jaw. All that is excellent treatment for boys who are going to be led to the slaughter.

– What a crowd of captains with gold-braided trousers hang about the Ministry for War, wallowing in the commandeered limousines of millionaires! But for the war they would have known nothing of these delights. How many people there are who, however unconsciously, are grateful for the war!

– There must obviously be something shameful about the war when the first concern of all the belligerent nations is to prove that they were not the first to declare it, but were forced into it, compelled to fight in self-defence. To and fro across each frontier rings the cry: “We were attacked first.” In each country they are making strenuous efforts to prove from the diplomatic documents their own truth, the proof that they were compelled by their enemy to enter into the struggle.    

– A concert in a hospital for men wounded in the eyes. One blind man, with head bandaged, was led up to the platform by a comrade, and sang a song containing this refrain:

“Cursed be war that makes us deal
Such bastard blows at human weal!”

That same curse appeared again in another song. It is only the lips of the wounded which dare utter such phrases.

– Letters from the front give a false idea of the war. Their writer knows that they may be opened. And so his main object is to dazzle future readers. The newspapers especially will give a false idea of public opinion during the war. The fear of the Censorship, the necessity of flattering the lowest instincts, impels them to give utterance to nothing but hatred and insults; at the foot of every article they must excrete some ribaldry against the Germans. This incessant inculcation of hatred will remain one of the outstanding phenomena of our national life during the war. The Press will prove to have been, before and especially during the war, one of its chief instigators.

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