Home > Uncategorized > Arnold Zweig: Of course, one had to shoot at crowds of civilians, men, women and children

Arnold Zweig: Of course, one had to shoot at crowds of civilians, men, women and children


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

German writers on peace and war

Arnold Zweig: Selections on war


Arnold Zweig
From Young Woman of 1914 (1931)
Translated by Eric Sutton


The gay and cheerful notion of war implanted in his mind at school was little like the damnable reality. It was swimming in a pool, as against a conflict with North Sea rollers: and in that conflict they must live and endure. All experience outstripped the words that were meant to cover it. In August, for example, hundreds of people, were shot as francs-tireurs. And yet, in those nights there had been hot disputes between the officers of the dragoons and the Saxon infantry as to whether these mysterious bullets might not have been fired from carbines or rifles with slipped safety catches – that is, by Saxon infantry or dragoons. Of course, one had to shoot at crowds of civilians, men, women and children, all alike, when the order was given. There was no time to make much inquiry. Man and beast, officer and private, cavalry and infantry, were all a mass of quivering nerves, worn out by railway journeys, sleepless nights, badly cooked and bolted food, thirst and dust and heat, weary of riding they knew not whither, exasperated by warnings to beware of ambuscades of peasants shooting from the fields, or roofs, or cellars, and by incessant orders “to advance at all costs.”


“…And so it is with the War, Fräulein. It’s very hard for the likes of us to understand. The Lord God isn’t outside the world. And if you want to find out all about it, now that you’ve got to lie up for a time, you try the Apocalypse. You’ll find it all there, and in the prophet Daniel, too. No parson can ever get me to believe that our Lord Jesus would now be a sapper with the job of cutting barbed wire. We seemingly can’t make fools of ourselves without making a fool of the good God too, eh? What did Jesus say? I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He didn’t say, I’m doing all I know to help you in the war. Again: I saw a woman seated on the dragon, and the woman’s raiment was crimson, and she had three heads and three crowns, and the woman’s aspect was fearful and the Kings of the earth had committed whoredoms with her…”

“…When Christian men, Fräulein, begin to throw bombs and burning oil at each other, it looks as if the last day wasn’t very far off – and I’ve no use for a parson who says that it’s all right.”

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