Home > Uncategorized > Anatole France: War is committing all crimes by which an individual dishonours himself: arson, robbery, rape, murder

Anatole France: War is committing all crimes by which an individual dishonours himself: arson, robbery, rape, murder

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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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Anatole France
From The Elm-Tree on the Mall (1897)
Translated by M.P. Willcocks

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“And why should an act so natural and so common as murder produce strange and uncommon results? To kill is common to animals, and especially to man. Murder was for long ages regarded in human civilisation as a courageous action, and there still remain in our morals and institutions certain traces of this ancient point of view.”

“What traces?” demanded M. de Terremondre.

“They are to be found in the honours,” replied M. Bergeret, “which are paid to soldiers.”

“That is not the same thing,” said M. de Terremondre.

“Certainly it is,” said M. Bergeret. “For the motive force of all human actions is hunger or love. Hunger taught savages murder, impelled them to wars, to invasions. Civilised nations are like hunting-dogs. A perverted instinct drives them to destroy without profit or reason. The unreasonableness of modern wars disguises itself under dynastic interest, nationality, balance of power, honour. This last pretext is perhaps the most extravagant of all, for there is not a nation in the world that is not sullied with every crime and loaded with every shame. There is not one of them which has not endured all the humiliations that fortune could inflict on a miserable band of men. If there yet remains any honour among the nations, it is a strange means of upholding it to make war — that is to say, to commit all the crimes by which an individual dishonours himself: arson, robbery, rape, murder. And as for the actions whose motive power is love, they are for the most part as violent, as frenzied, as cruel as the actions inspired by hunger; so much so that one must come to the conclusion that man is a mischievous beast. But it still remains to inquire why I know this, and whence it comes that the fact arouses grief and indignation in me. If nothing but evil existed, it would not be visible, as the night would have no name if the sun never rose.”

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