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Romain Rolland: Reawakening of old instincts of national pride, lapping of blood

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

Nobel prize in literature recipients on peace and war

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From Mother and Son (1926)
Translated by Van Wyck Brooks

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It was an exceptional time when all the estranged brothers, anarchists, socialists, syndicalists, all who were in revolt against the war, forgot their private quarrels in order to unite on this platform. There were so few of them! Hardly a handful! All the rest had deserted, through weakness before public opinion, through fear of detection, through the reawakening of old instincts of national pride or the lapping of blood, above all through confusion, the frightful confusion of those oratorical ideas with which democracies are stuffed like turkeys. No Jesuit, in the flourishing times of casuistry, made so fatuous a use of the distinguo which, when applied to everything, results in befuddling everything; war and peace, the rights of the individual, liberty and the abdication of all liberties. The surest result was that the minority of minds, which had just painfully begun to liberate themselves, returned to the convict-bench and rowed with backs bent under the whip. There were not a dozen in Paris, towards the close of 1914, who had succeeded in keeping clear of the chains.

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She exalted this war that had taken away her happiness and her life.  She thrilled as she extolled the problematical future this fighting was preparing, this misty Messianism of future justice and peace, through the slaughter and iniquities of to-day, and these millions of bereavements…the mocking future of this reign of God: the formless God of those who no longer have one, of the men of the Occident who have lost their God and want one at any price: universal Democracy.

But where could one flee on this earth? What had they made of this world?

The atmosphere of Paris, the atmosphere of the world, was unbreathable during these last days of the summer of 1916. The earth was an open jaw, baying after death. Its furious breath stank with the corpse of humanity. The tumbril-loads of flesh, ground up on the Somme and at Verdun, could not satiate it. Since the time of the religious slaughtering of peoples by the Aztecs, heaven had never inhaled such hecatombs. Two new neighboring nations had just joyously entered the dance of death. It was the thirty-second declaration of war in two years. The dancers were stamping their feet. The press, crouched on its heels about the circle, clapped its hands, beat the bones against the kettledrums and howled. In Germany they were singing the new Canticle of St. Francis, the hymn to our sister Hate:

“Faith, Hope and Hate have been given us. But the greatest of the three is Hate…”

In France, Science, jealous of the Ninety-three Intellectuals, wanted to have her own and published that monument to dishonorable insanity, The Germans and Science, in which the greatest leaders of thought – two names excepted – not only cast the Germans out of the European family, but doctorally analyzed their brains, their bones, their excrement and cut them off from the human race. One Master of Science wanted to see Berlin razed to the ground, “so as to leave in the center of that proud land an avenging oasis of ruins.” A Doctor of Laws established the legality of reprisals. One honest and respected mouthpiece of Liberal Catholicism in France congratulated French Catholics, “for not having hesitated in the name of Christ not to forgive the Catholics of Germany.” Another chorus-leader demanded the Emperor as his share of the spoils, so that he could put him in the bear-pit in the Jardin des Plantes. For the grotesque and the horrible were mingled, Tartuffe and Pere Ubu. And perhaps the worst of all was that, of the two, the grotesque had the leading part in the drama. Among the local fiddlers, the leaders of the dance, shameless hypocrisy rose to Himalayan heights. One canting minister, at a sitting of the Assembly, exalted in a tearful voice, to the applause of his enraptured associates, the august disinterestedness of the newspapers that he was himself bribing. And the Welsh boaster, Lloyd-George, that petty Cromwell, holding a Bible in one hand and a sword – somebody else’s sword – in the other, preached to his Baptist brethren the new Genesis. Comparing the first Creation with that of the war, of which he was the Lord, his thunder burst over those sons of iniquity, the pacifists: “For no inhumanity, no absence of pity, could be compared to their cruelty in holding up the war” – midway. Meanwhile, impassive America, rounding out her note, flooded the Old World with her articles of death. For the right hand is not supposed to know what the left is doing; and if it is written, “Thou shalt not kill,” it is nowhere written that thou shalt not honorably manufacture instruments for killing, provided they are of good quality and are well paid for.

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