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Anatole France: Emerging painfully from primitive barbarism, war

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

Anatole France: Selections on war

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Anatole France
From Monsieur Bergeret In Paris (1901)
Translated by B. Drillien

anatole_france

“No, I don’t believe that men are naturally good,” replied Monsieur Bergeret. “What I see is that they are emerging painfully and very slowly from their primitive barbarism, and that with great effort they are organizing a justice that is uncertain and a charity that is precarious. The time is yet far distant when they will be kind and gentle to one another. The time is yet far distant when they will not war upon one another, and when pictures representing battle scenes will be hidden away as affording an immoral and shameful spectacle. I believe that the reign of violence will last a long time yet, that for many years to come the nations will rend one another asunder for trivial reasons; that for many years to come the people of the same country will desperately snatch from one another the common necessaries of life, instead of equitable dividing them. But I also believe that men are least ferocious when they are least wretched, that in the long run the progress of industry will produce a certain softening of manners. A botanist has assured me that if a hawthorn be transplanted from a stony to a fruitful soil its thorns will change into flowers.”

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“My good friends, follow the example and behold a model in your chiefs, masters and rulers…It is good, profitable and necessary that you appear to desire a favourable, kind, assuaging and purging pacifism. What does it cost you? Naught. And you shall derive therefrom great profit. You that are not pacified shall appear pacified, and the other folk…who are in truth pacified, shall appear unpacified, corrupted, wayward, furious, wholly opposed and contrary to a gracious peace…And say not that this is difficult. It will be as you desire and you will make the simple folk believe that you desire peace. They will believe what you tell them, for they hearken unto you. If you say ‘I desire peace’ they will straightway believe that you do truly desire it. Say it then to give them pleasure, for ’twill cost you not.

“Nevertheless, for your enemies and adversaries which at first so piteously bleated ‘Peace! Peace!’ (for they be gentle as sheep, which cannot be gainsaid) it shall be lawful for you to brain them and say” ‘They desired not peace, therefore we have overthrown them. We do desire peace…’

“It is worthy of all praise pacifically to wage war. Cry ‘Peace, Peace!” and smite the while. This is Christian-like. ‘Peace, Peace, this man is dead! Peace, Peace! I have slain three men!’ Your intention was pacific and you will be judged according to your intention. The bells of the monasteries will ring a merry peal for you that love peace, and the praise of the peaceful citizens will follow you. They, seeing your victims’ gaping bellies lying upon the highway, will say: ‘That is well done! It is for peace’ sake. Long live peace! Without peace no man can live at ease.'” 

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