Home > Uncategorized > Henri Barbusse: “We must have a new Ministry: a new public opinion: War.”

Henri Barbusse: “We must have a new Ministry: a new public opinion: War.”


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

Henri Barbusse: Selections on war


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


No more peoples oppressed by predestined men, or by other peoples. And we understand very clearly now that quality is the immanent equilibrium of society, and the contrary of public misfortune. The multiplication of the beautiful, the elevation of material labor, the intimate probity of all religious effusion; no more funeral pyres, no more violent wrongs: now the personal temple, the support of humanity by humanity replace the savage law of war; the advance in the True and the Good accomplished by the idea of a wider country.


They surround us, growling harshly – they run around us. They are clad in black, a dusty, yellow, mildewed, rusty black, and draped in ragged cloaks. Their faces are grey and hungry, and in them roll eyes of war; distrustful, irritated. Their big hats look wounded on their heads, with their plumes of dirty feathers. They all lean one way, like trees in a mournful wind. Soldiers; soldiers!


“War has now become the lifeblood of the Spaniards. Chance – the game of war – ah! War is loved so well, desired so ardently, because it is a gamble. Over there they say of us: How great they are, how splendid! And those who come after us will say it sill more loudly – How splendid they were!”

He nodded “Yes” to himself, and expanded always in the same fatuous smile. Then he said:

“I, I am young!”

And abruptly, like a doll, he pirouetted, and cried: “War! It is the art of being a coward!”

On my shoulder he placed his grey, scaly, skinny hand: the hand of an old woman – or the claw of a hen.


“It is patriotism that would prevent change. The nations are the fissures in the world: they ensure everlasting war: they are the poison which counteracts the idea of human brotherhood. Love with beak and claws beating against the bars of its cage! Each nation is a separate world which gives its own meaning to the terms Right, Virtue, Truth. and this would mean madness, if it did not mean war. If anywhere generous men exist, the cry of ‘Fatherland’ rallies all others to their destruction…”

“The most remarkable fraud of the ages is to have given to dwarfing nationalism the appearance of enlargement, and to have imprisoned, by organising it, the need men feel for community. A nation is the rounding-out of an individual fortune; but it is also the illusion of prosperity thrown to the poor to make them partake in dream – in mockery – in the affairs of the great. All these high-sounding phrases are nothing but the chink of other people’s money. There have been many frauds during the centuries.”


The aged nobleman rises. Painfully, heroically, tightening quickly and bracing up his sinews by a princely effort of will, he retires. Under the high door, with the silhouettes of his servants outlined in the background, he turns round; his head hardly shaking, he lifts his finger, thin and noduled like a chess pawn.

“Be sure to cultivate religious principles.”

“Where find them better portrayed than in the idea of the fatherland? We have remade religion.”

“And meanwhile, in the lower layers of the populace, encourage love of war and lottery. ‘Get rich!’ That is the catchword that you must supply, so that they will let the innocence drop from their eyes, and bravely fall upon one another.:

We bow.

“Your Excellency…”

“Your Excellency…”


“We must have a new Ministry: a new public opinion: War.”

“War!” It burst out at last, above the others – that voice, the sharpest of all:

“The immediate future! You get hold of them all with the immediate future, which is always with us…The immediate future, double quick to demolish the over-great things that are in preparation, so that this humanist contagion may not spread everywhere. By bringing into play our command of immediate necessities, we shall be able to get hold of the masses of young people whom we fear, and lead them wherever we like, – without even paying them!”

Someone else said: “The monopoly of the ‘fait accompli’! and laughed…I heard the recoil of his laughter.


As I left the station I saw from the top of the iron door, through a row of poor and thickly scattered trees, some recruits drilling in an exercise ground at the foot of a barrack’s wall.

This simple sight that the workman swallows open-mouthed in the very midst of the complex, perfect town that is lit up, builded high, hollowed deep, which the shopkeeper, the old man, the child, the paralytic in his carriage, and the whole body of passers-by, think fine, that puts into the mouths of mothers the word which is the corporal cause of human sacrifice: – “It must be so” – this simple sight explains it.

There all begins, there all ends.

Shame to those who obey the laws, shame to those who live in this day.

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