Home > Uncategorized > Louis Aragon: Children scattering flowers will some day scatter deadly flowers, grenades

Louis Aragon: Children scattering flowers will some day scatter deadly flowers, grenades

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

Louis Aragon: Selections on war

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

louis-aragon-02

[The] conversation turned to a very distressing subject: the taxi strike which continued.

“I have only indirect interests in the matter,” said Wisner…”And then business in Paris is paralyzed. It’s disastrous for the oil interests, for instance. The City loses enormous sums on taxes every day. You may say that it does not appreciably affect the world market insofar as actual oil sales are concerned. But this comes just at a time when a battle that may be decisive is going on! You know that Rockefeller, who is a great friend of France, is fighting the German oil interests. The whole issue at stake is whether the German market, which our American friends, and consequently we, used to control, is going to get away from us or not. If the German Government decides to maintain the State monopoly which the Reichstag voted last year, the game is lost. It means the triumph of the Deutsche Bank group over the Rockefeller group. Of course what we are counting on is that the necessity for armaments will make it impossible for German capital to invest in the oil industry. And we consider it an incalculable advantage that France is in the hands of a firm, energetic ministry which by developing our country’s armaments, makes it impossible for Wilhelm II to give way to all his imperial dreams…”

“Rockefeller, my dear friend – after all we can’t drop him. Frankly. Have you seen what he has just done? 55,000 francs sent to France to buy Pasteur’s birthplace, in Dole, I believe. My dear, it’s simply magnificent! Poincaré was moved to tears…”

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Georges was not very superstitious, nor very sentimental. But as he said himself, he was a good audience. The son of small merchants in a suburb of Nice, he had kept from his early background the faculty of being stirred by melodrama. In Basel, as it was preparing for festivities, there was a strange mingling of the past and the future which struck him. Deep down he felt only contempt for these pacifist demonstrations, which he regarded as sheer histrionics. Did he know – he, the intimate of Wisner, he who had loaned money on security to so many ministers and generals – did he know where war and peace were decided? The green-cloth-covered table around which boards of directors gather is less romantic than all this Gothic make-believe in one of the most rheumatic joints in all of Europe…

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All were converging towards the barracks. There was a crowd around the building in which the Congress was meeting. The delegates came out at noontime in the midst of a pressing curiosity, as the voice of the cathedral grew louder, more imperious, interminable. In vain one tried to convince oneself that the cathedral was part of it all, that it was within the cathedral that the challenge of peace would be sounded – the clamor of the bells insistently assumed the accents of a tocsin. They sounded war, danger. They could not break themselves of a century-old habit. They moaned heavily as in the time of Charles the Bold. Was it still not from the Holy Empire that the menace came?

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Some day the history textbooks will relate the noble speeches and the great thoughts that were voiced at the Congress of Basel…Yet in this festival, from which rises an odor compounded of incense and putrescence, foreboding the slaughter-houses of Masurenland and Verdun, I do not laugh at the gesture of the children scattering flowers. What will some day become of these young choristers of 1912? Their hands will learn to hold guns. They will some day scatter deadly flowers, grenades, with these same hands.

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It is frightful, like a suburban train on Sunday, if one knew beforehand towards what catastrophe it was going. For instance, that group of Base peasants…

…He was a native of Bade, I do believe, that youngster of the class of ’19 outside the town of Oulchy-la-Ville, on August 2d, 1918. The French cannons had flooded the plateau with new asphyxiating gases whose effects we know nothing about, and when this lad of nineteen, lost, blinded, came upon us where we lay in the shelter of the road-bank, his hands held out before him, I saw that there was something abnormal about his face. For a moment he hesitated, then like a person with a severe headache he brought his left palm to his face and pressed it a little with his fingers. When his hand came down again it held something bloody, indescribable: his nose. Just try to imagine for a moment what had become of his face…

Since that time I have never altogether forgotten the smell of gangrene, which is not the same on a man’s carcass as on a horse’s. I sometimes sense it in my dreams. It wakes me up…

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