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Louis Aragon: The military: parasite and defender of parasitism


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

French writers on war and peace

Louis Aragon: Selections on war


Louis Aragon
From The Bells of Basel (1934)
Translated by Haakon Chevalier


“If I lend money not to Pierre de Sabran but to the Turks to massacre the Greeks, or to the English to make hash of the Hindus, or to the French – let’s not forget the French! – to enable them to treat themselves to morocco leather vests? Then I’m no longer a usurer, I ‘live on my income,’ I go and clip my coupons, I am respected by my concierge. I can do even better if I chuck enough cash into some racket or other in which the government is interested. I’ll be given the Legion of Honor on the 14th of July, and I’ll have the right to be buried at the state’s expense with a lot of poor idiots in the procession who’ve been grabbed for two years to be taught to defend the Gauloise bicycle, Job cigarette paper, and Meunier chocolates!”

“An anti-militarist to boot!” General Dorsch managed to stammer.

“You’ve got me wrong, General! The Army is an institution that is much too useful to usurers for me to be an anti-militarist. I see no objection to maintaining armed bands who year in and year out do nothing but pretend to work, present arms, do right and left turns and indulge in other pastimes that combine the useful and the agreeable, provided these bands with their chiefs and subordinates are ready to protect me, my complicated operations and my usurer’s’s rates, as in case of need they will protect Monsieur Peugeot, and the Isola brothers, and the owner of the Dufayel Establishments and the Chabanais brothel. Labor leaders, agitators, strikers, and other rabble rousers have hit on the idea of lumping all of us together as parasites – you as well as me, General, Monsieur Lebaudy as well as the nearest grocer – and they’re right. Why not admit it? I don’t see anything shocking about it. I’d like to know why it’s any better to be the animal afflicted with parasites than the parasite on the animal’s back. On the contrary, I personally think this is what is called civilization. We have reached a period of culture and refinement which necessitates a great division of labor. Why, just look – commerce used to be despised, it was closed to the nobility. All that has completely changed. Parasitism is a superior form of sociability, and the future belongs to parasitism – the whole problem is continually to invent new forms! I drink to parasitism, and you’ll agree that I’m right!”

General Dorsch was trying to find some gesture by which he could get out of this gracefully. He accordingly took the glass of fine Napoléon (which Brunel was handing him, remarking that there was a fellow – Napoleon – who had been a parasite of the first water) and, raising it, with a certain majesty, he finally found a formula:

“I drink,” he said, “to patriotism!”

“There! exclaimed Georges, “just what I said!”


“Get this my friend: right now all our resources are none too great to help carry out the armirable work which France is undertaking in Morocco…

“Old man, you’ve got to understand that it’s not that I believe in all the twaddle, all the big words that are used to stir up the crowds…When I say France, it’s a very simple manner of speak, which means we – a certain group of common interests…It’s at least a little more exciting to lend money for an enterprise of this kind than to play your little skin game at 100 per cent interest with boobs like Sabran, who spoils the whole show by blowing out his brains. In my game, hundreds of Sabrans are pawns in a game that is incomparably more interesting, and if any of them break their necks at it, well, at least it’s not for nothing! Killed in action on the field of honor – that’s much more swanky than suicide! And after the smoke has cleared away you still have left a real honest-to-goodness colony, mines, cultivated land, towns, ports, roads, railways…”

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