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Louis Aragon: War, signal for the coming massacre of the sacrificial herd

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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 Residential Quarter (Les Beaux Quartiers) (1936)
Translated by Haakon Chevalier

aragon-louis-1935

“Liseron, my darling, there are people who want war…”

He had said this in a hollow, breathless voice. The woman raised herself up on her elbows and leaned over him. His head was against her breasts, he felt their panting movement.

“Richard! What are you saying? Who could? The Germans, the Kaiser?”

He felt the uplifted flesh. The living being. The woman. He passed his hand slowly, familiarly, down along her body.

“No,” he said finally. “A lot of people. A lot more than you would think. And not riff-raff. People like you and me. Frenchmen…It seems extraordinary to me…”

“But what? What happened?”

“Oh! It would be difficult to explain to you…For months, now, I’ve been pushing this idea out of my mind…I’ve been telling myself that it’s a stupid business…But it’s there just the same, I can’t help seeing it. No, it’s not one thing more than another. Nothing that I can really tell you. But it’s as if everything…Anyway, the fact is that the idea of war seems to frighten certain circles less and less. There are even people who speak of war as an eventuality to be desired, or at least as something that it would be better to precipitate so that it won’t be too terrible, so as to have everything in our favor…”

“But, Richard, what are you saying? Why, it’s abominable…Who?”

“Abominable…I think it’s abominable, too. Yet it’s so difficult to decide, to know. Not bad people, you know. Very human, very kind people. People I esteem…Sometimes one wonders what to think. It’s the double man, chances are. The social man coldly faces the necessary catastrophes. Man pure and simple can’t make up his mind to it…It’s very strange…”

“Richard, you don’t think that way? No, not you. Listen. War! Why, just imagine what happens to the Lises and the Ricos, to all the Lises and the Ricos, in a war! Good God, you saw in the moving pictures what it was like in the Balkans! The horror of it! Richard, after that you can’t be a double man, can you?”

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War! That specter has slumbered, forgotten, with the werewolves. Is it possible that it is at hand, making ready for the approaching tragedy? Down with the Three Years! Down with the Three Years! The roar prolongs the speech and fills the implacable sky. For one hundred and fifty thousand men the Three Years and the war are one and the same thing. They know that the vote of the men who claim to be their representatives, a vote that will send the young men to the barracks for three years, will be the signal for the race, the signal for the coming massacre. They have hope only in themselves, they know themselves to be betrayed on all sides. They refuse to become the sacrificial herd for the incomprehensible maneuvers of the rich. Down with the Three Years! Their imprecation made cloudless Paris tremble, and the whole landscape extending toward the Northern dunes. They cry out against those absurd parades which will end one day in a famous dispatch: “We are holding fast from the Somme to the Vosges…” They shout: Down with the Three Years! before the shady dealers in iron, dynamite, and oil. Before the Clemenceaux, one of whom will lead them to the end of the butchery while the other, the brother, piously administers the Nobel Company – oh, irony of a pacific name! – for the manufacture of explosives. Before the de Wendels of France and the von Wendels of Germany. Before the faceless underworld whose crimes are quoted on the stock markets, and not on the calendars of the law-courts. They shout: Down with the Three Years! because that is still all they can think of to say, they who have not understood the example of 1905, and the great lesson of the days of the Russian-Japanese war. Down with the Three Years! nevertheless sums up perfectly the great will to peace of the people of France, and their mad desire to live, and to conquer their masters, the ones who unleash the tempests, whom they fear no less than their Gallic ancestors feared the thunder-wielders.

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Where was this France, on which side of the fiery gesture that cleaved the rows of the Chamber – on the side of the Schneiders, the Quesnels, the Schoelzer-Bachmanns, the Finalys, the Wendels, who win on all the tables of Europe where people are being killed, from the bloody mines of the Lena to the Dardanelles, from Macedonia in flames to the Pennaroya of Spain, who win on German blood and on French blood, on Morocco and Tripolitania, on the side of Poincaré, who speaks in the name of the industrialists of the Meuse, of Millerand, jack-of-all-trades of the Comité des Forges, of Tardieu, whose shark-head appears over Africa and Asia Minor?

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