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Arnold Zweig: Reason is the highest patriotism and militarism is evil its very essence

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

German writers on peace and war

Arnold Zweig: Selections on war

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

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“For nearly fifty years I have admired our Prussians, and thought a soldier’s tunic the finest wear in the world; and I would not listen to people who talked about militarism – including yourself, Father. Well, it’s never too late to learn. Reason is the highest patriotism, and militarism is evil its very essence. It will ruin Germany, if it is not kept within some sort of bounds.”

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As she dried and then lay down to rest, she pondered on what would really happen when peace came again upon the earth. One could then take spiritual stock of oneself, and see how much of one’s moral character had been eroded by the war. One would try to hide the horror that was past; to discipline the feelings, esteem the intellect, and love things of good report. She must wait her time. “We must go through much tribulation,” she hummed softly to herself from an aria that she loved, “we must go through much tribulation before we can enter into the Kingdom of God.” And she hoped that it might prove to be the kingdom of love and of the spirit, and of a better time. In the meantime let us preserve our sense of truth, that we may take up the fabric of civilized life at the point where we laid it down almost two years ago.

Thus, simply and without foreboding, did Lenore Wahl conceive the issue of the war. She may well be pardoned. It was generally so conceived, except by a very few.

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She eyed him sideways as he wandered through the room, picked up books, stroked their backs, and opened them. He had come upon Schiller’s letters on aesthetic education; together they read the passage in which he writes: “I hope to convince you that this subject is far less foreign to the needs than to the taste of the age; and even that it is through aesthetics that the way lies to the solution of every political problem, since it is through beauty that mankind moves on to freedom.” He put the book back, looked at her and nodded. It was so, and it remained so – merely postponed for a while until the bugles blew for peace.

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The Russians drove in the front, leapt over the trenches, and killed; they killed their enemy by thrusting a bayonet into his vitals, smashing his skull with a rifle-butt, or blowing him to pieces with a hand-grenade. They killed, took hordes of prisoners, and tore a great archway in the enemy front, through which a victory must pass. But it did not pass. Through it nine hundred thousand men were sent back, and engulfed in Russia, eleven thousand officers, and a rabble of German and Austrian guns and plunder. But behind, where General Brussilov’s proud offensive had not yet reached, new fronts were formed. Men began to grasp the fact that it was now too late to believe in a break-through. Fresh fronts were built with trenches and men’s bodies, with nerves of barbed wire and ligaments of railways. Summer nights, summer days – nights and days of screaming agony and thirst, when men died in tens of thousands. As they lay strewn upon the earth they truly looked no more different from each other than men from Berlin East and Berlin North-West. The offensive came to a standstill, but the war – no: it had already outgrown such offensives.

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