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Roger Martin du Gard: “Drop your rifles. Revolt!”

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

Nobel prize in literature recipients on peace and war

French writers on war and peace

Roger Martin du Gard: Selections on war

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Roger Martin du Gard
From Summer 1914 (1936)
Translated by Stuart Gilbert

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His faith, anyhow, was inviolate as ever, and it exalted him above the herd. Misunderstood though he might be, an outcast, yet he felt stronger, single-handed, in his rebellion than all those people doped with lies and tamely acquiescent. Justice and truth were in him; reason and the dark forces of the future, on his side. This momentary defeat of pacifist ideals could not impair their grandeur or imperil their final victory. No force in the world could prevent what was happening today from being an absurdity, a monstrous error, even though millions of victims chose to endorse it, to accept it with courageous stoicism. “No force in the world,” he told himself, in a rush of mingled confidence and despair, “can prevent a true idea from being true. A day will come, when, despite these setbacks, despite conspiracies to stifle it, truth will break through and triumph.”

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He knew the decisive act he was to carry out unaided, an act which after these long days of aimless drifting, sterile agitation, would enable him to battle for his faith, declare war on war. An act which would undoubtedly involve the sacrifice of his life. That he had been aware of from the start and accepted without indulging in heroics, without even taking stock of his courage. His sole motive was a mystic faith that this plan of his, for which he was ready to give up his life, was now the one and only way of rousing the masses from their torpor, of abruptly changing the course of events and countering the forces that had combined against the toilers of the earth, against fraternity and justice.

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“There’s nothing to be done behind the lines. For the present, anyhow. There’s no fighting against the governments; against martial law, press censorship, the patriotic war-fever. But at the front it’s another matter. It’s possible to act upon the man who’s being marched up to the firing-line. And that’s the man we’ve got to get at.” Meynestrel made a slight movement which Jacques took as indicating doubt, but which was only a nervous twitch. “No. let me explain. Oh, I know very well how things are today. The ‘Marseillaise,’ the ‘Wacht am Rhein,’ roses stuck in the rifle-slings. But what of tomorrow? Tomorrow that man who is singing as he marches to the front will be no more than a poor devil up against the realities of war. A man who’s underfed, whose feet are bleeding, who’s dropping with fatigue and scared out of his wits by the first bombardments, the first attacks, the first wounds and corpses he sets eyes on. That’s the man to whom we can speak. That’s the man to whom we’ve got to say: ‘You fool, you’re being exploited once again. They’re trading on your patriotism, your loyalty, your courage. Everyone’s humbugged you. Even the men who had your trust, the men who you chose to defend your rights. Now, anyhow, you can see what they wanted of you. Revolt! Refuse to let them rob you of your rights. Refuse to kill. Hold out your hand to your brothers in the opposite lines, men who’ve been fooled and exploited just as you were. Drop your rifles. Revolt!'”

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