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Henri Barbusse: Jesus on the battlefield

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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

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I had seen Jesus Christ on the margin of the lake. He came like an ordinary man along the path. There is no halo round his head. He is only disclosed by his pallor and his gentleness. Planes of light draw near and mass themselves and fade away around him. He shines in the sky, as he shone on the water. As they have told of him, his beard and hair are the color of wine. He looks upon the immense stain made by Christians on the world, a stain confused and dark, whose edge alone, down on His bare feet, has human shape and crimson color. In the middle of it are anthems and burnt sacrifices, files of hooded cloaks, and of torturers, armed with battle-axes, halberds and bayonets; and among long clouds and thickets of armies, the opposing clash of two crosses which have not quite the same shape. Close to him, too, on a canvas wall, again I see the cross that bleeds. There are populations, too, tearing themselves in twain that they may tear themselves the better; there is the ceremonious alliance, “turning the needy out of the way,” of those who wear three crowns and those who wear one; and, whispering in the ear of Kings, there are gray-haired Eminences, and cunning monks, whose hue is of darkness.

I saw the man of light and simplicity bow his head; and I feel his wonderful voice saying:

“I did not deserve the evil they have done unto me.”

Robbed reformer, he is a witness of his name’s ferocious glory. The greed-impassioned money-changers have long since chased Him from the temple in their turn, and put the priests in his place. He is crucified on every crucifix.

Yonder among the fields are churches, demolished by war; and already men are coming with mattock and masonry to raise the walls again. The ray of his outstretched arm shines in space, and his clear voice says:

“Build not the churches again. They are not what you think they were. Build them not again.”

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There is no remedy but in them whom peace sentences to hard labor, and whom war sentences to death. There is no redress except among the poor.

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