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Georges Duhamel: World where now there are more graveyards than villages


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


Delivered from romanticism, the nineteenth century toward its close and the twentieth century at its beginning, exalted an image full of the pride of physical life, of impetuous health.

Never had humanity seemed more intoxicated with its carnal development, with its splendid animality, than at the very moment when the war broke out. Our humanity! behold it now, covered with wounds so deep that for long decades the sight of them will baffle us and fill our pity with despair.

Behold it now, like a vast race of invalids. It creeps over a world where now there are more graveyards than villages.

We have had an unparalleled experience of sorrow and renunciation.


It has come, the time of affliction!

Whatever may be the outcome of this war, it marks a period of profound despair for humanity. However great may be the pride of victory, however generous such a victory may be, under whatever light the distant consequences may be presented to us, we live, none the less, in a blighted age, on an earth that will be devastated for long years, in the midst of a society that is decimated, ruined, crushed by its wounds.

Among all our disillusionments, if there is one that remains especially painful to us it is the sort of bankruptcy of which our whole civilization is convicted.


In the last year or two it has expressed its discomfiture through millions of simple lips. It has asked with anguish how “a century so advanced in civilization” could give birth to this demoralizing catastrophe. Stupefied, it sees turning against itself all those inventions which, it had been told, were made for its happiness. For hardly one is absent. Even those that seemed the highest in moral significance, even they, have contributed in some degree to the disaster. Only the fear of creating an uncontrollable situation has prevented certain of the belligerents from forming an alliance with the very germs of epidemic diseases and thus debasing the noblest of all the acquisitions of science.

A doubt has grown up in all hearts: what, after all, is this civilization from which we draw such pride and which we claim the right to impose upon the peoples of the other continents? What is this thing that has suddenly revealed itself as so cruel, so dangerous, as destitute of soul as its own machines?

Eyes have been opened, spirits have been illuminated: never did barbarism, in all its brutality and destructiveness, attain results as monstrous as those of which our industrial and scientific civilization has proved itself capable. Is it indeed anything but a travesty on barbarism?

What inclines one to believe this is that the peoples which have dedicated to the gods of the factory and the laboratory the most fervent and the most vainglorious worship have shown themselves in this way by far the cruellest, the most fertile in inhumane and disgraceful inventions.


Let us cease humiliating moral culture, the only pledge we have of peace and happiness, before the irresponsible and unruly genius that haunts the laboratories. Scientific civilization, let us say, to allow it to keep this name for a moment, has been for us so prodigal in bitterness that we can no longer abandon it uncontrolled to its devouring activity. We must make use of it as a servant and cease any longer to adore it as a goddess.


The old civilization seems condemned. To break with it, we must first of all seek our individual satisfaction outside money, our happiness outside the whirlpool of pleasure. We must flee deliberately from the tyranny of luxury. In this way even the events of the present oblige us to seek our true path. Must we keep blindly and obstinately to the ways of slavery? We have slighted the best sources of interest, joy and wealth; shall we misprize them now that they remain the only fresh and faithful things in the aridity of our time? Shall we neglect our souls again to seek a false fortune that can only betray us? Shall we contend with exasperated brutes over possessions we know to be unstable and deceptive?

No! No! Here should lie the lesson and the one benefit of this war: that we should undeceive ourselves about ourselves and about our ends! Let us not devote our courage to choosing a ferocious discipline devoid of the ideal. Let us once for all reject our calculating and demoralizing intelligence. Let us organize, in the peace that returns, the reign of the heart.


If the future laws governing labor do not allow enough time for the cultivation and the flourishing of the soul, a sacred struggle will become inevitable.

The organizers of the modern world, who have shown themselves powerless to avert war and did not realize the vanity of our old civilization, do not yet seem to foresee the urgency of radical changes in the moral education of the peoples.

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