Home > Uncategorized > Anatole France: Why should not humanity abolish the law of murder?

Anatole France: Why should not humanity abolish the law of murder?

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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 A Mummer’s Tale (Histoire Comique) (1903)
Translated by Charles E. Roche

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“Doctor,” inquired Constantin Marc, “are you by chance one of those who do not admire War? It is nevertheless a magnificent thing, when you come to think of it. The animals merely eat one another. Men have conceived the idea of beautiful massacres. They have learnt to kill one another in glittering cuirasses, in helmets topped with plumes, or maned with scarlet. By the use of artillery, and the art of fortification, they have introduced chemistry and mathematics among the necessary means of destruction. War is a sublime invention. And, since the extermination of human beings appears to us the only object of life, the wisdom of man resides in this, that he has made this extermination a delight and a splendour. After all, doctor, you cannot deny that murder is a law of nature, and that it is consequently divine.”

To which Dr. Socrates replied:

“We are only miserable animals, and yet we are our own providence and our own gods. The lower animals, whose immemorial reign preceded our own upon this planet, have transformed it by their genius and their courage. The insects have traced roads, excavated the soil, hollowed the trunks of trees and rocks, built dwellings, founded cities, metamorphosed the soil, the air, and the waters. The labour of the humblest of these, that of the madrepores, has created islands and continents. Every material change produces a moral change, since morals depend upon environment. The transformation to which man in his turn has subjected the earth is undoubtedly more profound and more harmonious than the transformation wrought by other animals. Why should not humanity succeed in changing nature to the extent of making it pacific? Why should not humanity, miserably puny though it is and will be, succeed, some day, in suppressing, or at least in controlling the struggle for life? Why indeed should not humanity abolish the law of murder?…

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