Home > Uncategorized > Georges Duhamel: The possession of the world is not decided by guns. It is the noble work of peace.

Georges Duhamel: The possession of the world is not decided by guns. It is the noble work of peace.


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

Georges Duhamel: Selections on war


Georges Duhamel
From The Heart’s Domain (La Possession du monde) (1919)
Translated by Eleanor Stimson Brooks


The possession of the world is not decided by guns. It is the noble work of peace. It is not involved in the struggle which is now rending society.

Even so, men will find themselves engaged in an undertaking that will threaten to overwhelm them with suffering and despair.

Fate has assigned to me during the war a place and a task of such a character that misery has been the only thing I have seen; it has been my study and my enemy every moment. I must be forgiven for thinking of it with a persistence that is like an obsession.

The whole intelligence of the world is absorbed by the enterprise and the necessities of the war; there is little chance of rousing it now from this in favor of the happiness of the race, in favor of that happiness which is compromised for the future and destroyed for the present. It is to the heart one must address oneself. It is to all the generous hearts that one must make one’s appeal.

So, if I am spurred by an ambition, it is to beg the world to seek once more whatever can lighten the present and the future distress of mankind, to seek the springs of interest that exist for the soul in a life harassed with difficulties, perils and disillusionments, to honor more than ever the faithful and incorruptible resources of the inner life.

The inner life!

It has never ceased to shine, a precious, quivering flame, devoting all its ardor in a struggle against the breath of these great events, resisting this tempest which has had no parallel.

It has never ceased to shine, but its shy and faithful light trembles in a sort of crypt into which we fear to venture.

What has happened has seized upon us as upon its prey. During the first months of the war, during the first years perhaps, all our physical and moral energies were overwhelmed in this maelstrom. How, indeed, could one refuse oneself to the appetite of the monster? We did not even try to snatch from him our hours of leisure, our dreams. We simply abandoned such things, as we abandoned our plans, our welfare, and the whole of our existence.

You remember! It was a time when solitude found us more shaken, more disarmed, than peril. We reproached ourselves for distracting a single one of our thoughts from the universal distress. We gave ourselves day and night to this agonizing world; and when our work was suspended, when the wild beast unloosed its clutch, as if in play, and we returned for a few minutes to ourselves, we did not always dare to look the quivering inner flame in the face. What it lighted up in us seemed at times too foreign to our anxiety, or too filled with limpid serenity. And so we returned to our wretchedness, experiencing it to the point of intoxication, to the point of despair.

When I think of the year 1915, it seems to me that I still hear all those noble comrades saying to me with a sort of dejection: “I can’t think of anything else! I can neither read, nor work, nor seek to distract myself to any purpose. When I ‘m off duty I think about these days, I think about them unceasingly, till I feel seasick, till I feel dizzy. I’ve just had two hours of liberty. Once upon a time I should have given them to Pascal or to Tolstoy. Today I have employed them in reading some documentary works on the manufacture of torpedoes and on European colonial methods. They are subjects that will always be outside my line, subjects I shall never be interested in. But how can I think of anything else? ”

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