Home > Uncategorized > Anatole France: Ceaselessly repeating that war is abominable, avoiding all the tortuous intrigues which might provoke it

Anatole France: Ceaselessly repeating that war is abominable, avoiding all the tortuous intrigues which might provoke it

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

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Anatole France: Selections on war

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From The Opinions of Anatole France (1922)
Recorded by Paul Gzell
Translated by Ernest A. Boyd

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On War

M. Bergeret [fictional alter ego of Anatole France] has always detested war. In several of his books, Le Lys rouge, L’Orme du Mail and Le Mannequin d’Osier, for example, he has expressed his hatred with an irony even more powerful than rage. Before the storm broke [World War I] he would sometime say that he did not believe in it, because formidable armaments would make it too horrible, and because the governments of Europe, all more or less tinged with democracy, would hesitate before the risks of warfare. At other times, however, like all of us, he was filled with dread.

“It would be madness,” he wrote in the preface of Jeanne d’Arc, “to pretend that we are assured of a peace which nothing can disturb. The terrible industrial and commercial rivalries which are growing up around us, on the contrary, give us a foreboding of future conflicts, and there is no guarantee that France will not be involved one day in a European or world-wide conflagration.”

A tragic prophecy which was to be confirmed only too soon, alas!

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[A]s for the pretence that the French love war; it is not true. No people ever love war. No people ever wanted to fight. At bottom, the crowd always looks upon fighting without enthusiasm.

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Our enemy was in no wise different from ourselves. Few of them were heroes. Many witnesses saw German soldiers weeping when they were sent into dangerous zones. And why mock at those tears? They were probably aroused by the memory of young wives who would never see their husbands again, of little children who would never kiss their fathers.

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It really seems to me quite impossible that the plain people can ever be infected with the jingoism which infects our middle-classes from time to time. On the contrary, I notice that anti-militarism is bolder than ever. Formerly the deserters, and the slackers, never tried to defend their conduct. “We are betrayed,” they would shout. “We are sold!” That was their only justification.

Now they have a theory and reasoned motives. “Le Chant du Départ” has been replaced by a hymn “Pour ne pas Partir.” To set one’s refusal to music is to become glorious.

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I admit that our country would deserve to be passionately defended, if it were threatened. And then, we must clearly see in what way it has a right to our affection. If by the word country is meant the sum of great ideas and profound feelings, which differ from one country to another, and constitute French wit, English good sense, German dialectics, that is certainly a treasure which should be dear to every nation. It is a flag of light planted on each territory. The finest geniuses of each race have borne it higher and higher. After the event, they have given a magnificent spiritual significance to these groups which the fortuitous circumstances of history had originally brought together haphazardly.

But these moving national doctrines, if they differ, are not divergent, at least. The most eminent thinkers clasp hands across frontiers. They have neither the same tendencies nor the same thoughts, yet they are brought together by their humanity, by their compassion for their fellow-men. It is, therefore, by a culpable deception that people try to oppose one national consciousness against another. On the contrary, in their most serene expression they are complementary. A man can adore his own country while revering others.

Unfortunately, a country is not only a collection of radiant ideas. It is also the business address of a host of financial enterprises of which many have little to recommend them. More than anything else it is the antagonism of capitalistic appetites, often most illegitimate, which drives the nations into conflict, and causes modern wars. Nothing could be sadder. From the bottom of my soul I wish my country to abstain from all greed which might make her in the slightest degree responsible for a struggle.

THE OLD POET. – “…Chauvinism has its good points.”

FRANCE. (emphatically) – Not at all! It is criminal folly. When the jingos say that war is sublime, that it is the school of all the virtues, that it refashions and regenerates men, that Providence gives victory to the most worthy, and that the greatness of a people is measured by its victories, by massacres in which its own children perish with the enemy, they are ridiculous and odious.

THE OLD POET. – “But how will you persuade people to sacrifice themselves to their country?”

France. – By making the country always better, always more just, more maternal towards the people…more loyal, more fraternal towards other nations…by ceaselessly repeating that war is abominable, by carefully avoiding all the tortuous intrigues which might provoke it…by proving by the striking frankness of our conduct that we do not wish to take up arms, that we shall use them only to defend our liberty.

Then the people will love their country which will be identified in their hearts with the finest future of the human race. And if, by any misfortune, it is attacked, they will not allow it to succumb.

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