Home > Uncategorized > Henri Barbusse: “You understand, I’m against all wars”

Henri Barbusse: “You understand, I’m against all wars”

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

Henri Barbusse: Selections on war

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Henri Barbusse
From Light (1918)
Translated by Fitzwater Wray

237 - HENRI BARBUSSE, LES HOMMES VERITABLES_Photos_237-Henri_Barbusse-2

“You understand, I’m against all wars.”

“All wars! But there’s times when war’s good. There’s defensive war.”

“No,” said Termite again, “there’s only offensive war; because if there wasn’t the offensive there wouldn’t be the defensive.”

***

We were not the only regiment in movement in these latitudes. The twilight depths were full. Across the spaces that surrounded the quarry men were passing without ceasing and without limit, their feet breaking and furrowing the earth like plows. And one guessed that the shadows also were full of hosts going as we were to the four corners of the unknown. Then the clay and its thousand barren ruts, these corpse-like fields, fell away. Under the ashen tints of early day, fog-banks of men descended the slopes. From the top I saw nearly the whole regiment rolling into the deeps. As once of an evening in the days gone by, I had a perception of the multitude’s immensity and the threat of its might, that might which surpasses all and is impelled by invisible mandates.

***

The waterlogged open country, with its dispirited pools and their smoke-like islets of trees, seemed nothing but a reflection of the leaden, cloud-besmirched sky. The walls of the trenches, pallid as ice-floes, marked with their long, sinuous crawling where they had been slowly torn from the earth by the shovels. These embossings and canals formed a complicated and incalculable network, smudged near at hand by bodies and wreckage; dreary and planetary in the distance. One could make out the formal but hazy stakes and posts, aligned in the distance to the end of sight; and here and there the swellings and round ink-blots of the dugouts. In some sections of trench one could sometimes even descry black lines, like a dark wall between other walls, and these lines stirred — they were the workmen of destruction. A whole region in the north, on higher ground, was a forest flown away, leaving only a stranded bristling of masts, like a quayside. There was thunder in the sky, but it was drizzling, too, and even the flashes were gray above that infinite liquefaction in which each regiment was as lost as each man.

We entered the plain and disappeared into the trench. The “open crossing” was now pierced by a trench, though it was little more than begun. Amid the smacks of the bullets which blurred its edges we had to crawl flat on our bellies, along the sticky bottom of this gully. The close banks gripped and stopped our packs so that we floundered perforce like swimmers, to go forward in the earth, under the murder in the air. For a second the anguish and the effort stopped my heart and in a nightmare I saw the cadaverous littleness of my grave closing over me.

At the end of this torture we got up again, in spite of the knapsacks. The last star-shells were sending a bloody aurora borealis into the morning. Sudden haloes drew our glances and crests of black smoke went up like cypresses. On both sides, in front and behind, we heard the fearful suicide of shells.

***

Through the heavy distant noise of our tramping, through the funereal consolation of our drowsiness, we heard the adjutant’s ringing voice, violently reprimanding this or the other. “Where have you seen, swine, that there can be patriotism without hatred? Do you think one can love his own country if he doesn’t hate the others?”

When some one spoke banteringly of militarism — for no one, except Termite, who didn’t count, took the word seriously — Marcassin growled despairingly, “French militarism and Prussian militarism, they’re not the same thing, for one’s French and the other’s Prussian!”

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