Home > Uncategorized > Henri Barbusse: I will wage war, even though I alone may survive

Henri Barbusse: I will wage war, even though I alone may survive


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

Henri Barbusse: Selections on war


Henri Barbusse
From Chains (Les Enchaînements) (1924)
Translated by Stephen Haden Guest


“It is you, you alone, who create, ye poor and oppressed: Power arms against you all your own acts, and it, that cannot make life, makes use of life. You have made with your sorrows the sorrowful legend of hope, as with your hands you have made the great pyramids and the great wars…”

“You have obeyed masters who used you to manufacture their own glory, their own beauty, and their own joy. And they themselves have proclaimed that their palaces, their crowned cities are cemented with your blood.

“You went out into the world and fought against one another, not for any great idea, – merely man for himself, for his personal glory, for his family, for his wealth. The masters lived upon the death of the masses – the masses which till now have been immortal. Force becomes exhausted and dies, so they made use of ruse. And this has been the whole history of man since the deluge.”


“And now the world is drawing to an end, vanquished by war, full of ruins. All roads lead to devastation. In every place there is nailed up like a malediction the name of some massacre, some destruction.”


“You have lived against yourselves. Enough of race-names and family names, enough of man assassinated by the words of man. Everything has culminated in war; and first of all the unequal war that hurls itself upon work; the task that is ever to do, the task that is ever to be begun anew, that grows again during the night, and that is never finished…Everything ended in the cudgel and the whip, in crucifixions, in human hearts thrown about like worthless scraps, in human children crushed by soldiers at street corners of towns, in the utter destruction of the two gentle things of life – love and friendship.”


“I perceive that among men are some few that are simple, reasonable, intelligible and intelligent, not mechanical like all the rest. They are the men of peace, the peace of nature, not that which kings conspicuously intersperse with their wars…”


An old, disabled soldier – he had only the stump of his right arm – was sitting, as was his custom every evening, in front of the barracks doorway. He rose up pugnaciously. One could see his savage anger.

“He does not hate the enemy! He would have us all, all of us, throw away our weapons as if war were a shameful thing. He casts aspersions even on war! For him a Scythian or a Parthian soldier is as good as a Roman. It is the defeat of his own country that he seeks. It is because Rome’s enemies bring him gold, at night, in a cave.”


It is by the roads that labour absorbs man, as does war, and by the roads they return conquered, as in war. This way love goes, and misery comes.


“We must declare war. Our shield, emblazoned with the dog’s head, the most beautiful and the most ancient of all, has received an affront…I will wage war, even though I alone may survive, even though I myself may have to devastate all the crops of my poor people of Elcho in order to starve the enemy. We shall say that one of our subjects has disappeared. We shall find a reason.”

Saying this, he turned toward me, pointing to me with that sickly thing at the end of his arm.

“Monseigneur,” said I, “God created the world, but it is left for princes to create reasons of state.”

He then waved his swollen hand, which was like a tongue, at Méliodon. He, starting up, re-echoed:

“Monseigneur,” he cried, “the war of justice.”

“My God!” exclaimed the Baron. “I pity the sufferings my people will have to endure, but my right is above everything. The war for my right, the just war, eh?”

One could hear him chuckling in his throat. He gazed closely at the dog’s head painted on the wall. His triumphant laughter fell like a cascade. This unhappy man who even in his paroxysm of laughter was still muttering the word: “War.” He brandished a crucifix threateningly.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. July 28, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    It isn’t the west, per se. It’s the oligarchial overlords who control it. Unless we in the U.S. fight them and regain control of our nation, first by kicking Obama and all he represents out of office and then shut down the Federal Reserve and begin minting our own money, backed by gold or other fungible standard, we and the rest of the world are pretty much SOL.

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