Home > Uncategorized > Arnold Zweig: Mere existence of armies imposes upon mankind the mentality of the Stone Age

Arnold Zweig: Mere existence of armies imposes upon mankind the mentality of the Stone Age


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

German writers on peace and war

Arnold Zweig: Selections on war


Arnold Zweig
From The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1927)
Translated by Eric Sutton


So long as he did not hear the winter howl of the wolves, tales of which had terrified his boyhood, or see the huge bulk of a growling bear across his path, or meet the ugly glare of the tusked and bow-legged boar, his only feeling toward animals was their deep delight in their gambols and their ways which is often found in a hunter out to kill. But Grisha felt no joy in killing, since the Tsar’s coat had changed him as by enchantment first into a hunter of men and then into a caged quarry. In any case, he cared no more for killing than most men with an occupation. Above all, after his escape – or his resurrection, as he called it – he was so brimful of kindness and goodwill, that apart from his dish of rabbit he would have had no hand in the wanton slaughter of live things.


Not many railways enlivened these broad provinces, and none of them served sufficiently the needs of those who lived there…The railway lines, therefore, had been laid with an eye to future wars, and strangled trade and traffic in their narrow net. A host of confederate German tribes clung like leeches to this vast territory. At every centre of activity or wherever the natives had settled in considerable numbers, the Germans fixed their tentacles. They watched, and tightened or relaxed their grip according to the interests of judgment of Headquarters. And they drew from the poor soil its sap and substance to feed the German troops or Germany itself, who, cut off as she was from the sea and all supplies, drained, like a gigantic land-crab, all the countries of what they had to give her.


“My dear Mr. Wodrig, our colleagues of the cloth have a tougher job than we have. They’re harnessed to their texts.”

Wodrig in his soldier’s tunic shook his head emphatically. “There’s something wrong, Sir, take it from me, and they feel it too, if they’re worth anything. For instance, ‘Love your enemies,’ and machine-guns and flame-throwers and howitzers, don’t go very well together.”


The fine old Prussian Junker with his inflexible precision in every official detail was not to be held responsible for the terror and alarm which he inspired. But he would only have laughed heartily, if Posnanski had endeavoured to explain to him that he considered superior officers as obsolete and inhuman devices, and that rank, force, and the mere existence of armies, imposed upon mankind the mentality of the Stone Age. Such was his private unofficial view, but this was no time for laying it before the general.

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