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Alberto Moravia: That is what war is like, the war is everywhere

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

Italian writers on war and militarism

Alberto Moravia: Selections on war

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Alberto Moravia
From Two Women (1958)
Translated by Angus Davidson

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We walked for some distance. The road was deserted and even in the fields there was not a living soul to be seen. To a town person who did not understand such things, it might have looked like a normal countryside; but I who had been a peasant before I had been a city dweller could see that it was a countryside abandoned. You could see signs of this everywhere: the clusters of grapes in the vineyards ought to have been harvested, instead they were still hanging among leaves that were yellowed, over-golden, some even brown and withered, the grapes half eaten by wasps and lizards. The maize, in some places, was lying flat and in disorder and full of weeds, and the ears were ripe, almost red. All around the fig trees there lay quantities of figs which had fallen from the branches through being too soft, and were now broken and burst open and pecked by birds. There was not a peasant to be seen and I suppose they must all have run away. And yet it was a beautiful day, warm and serene, a real country day. That is what war is like, I said to myself: everything looks normal and yet, underneath, war penetrates like a boring worm in wood and people get frightened and run away, while the countryside, for its part, continues with complete indifference to throw off fruit and corn and grass and trees as though nothing were happening.

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“What on earth are you talking about? Are you crazy?”

“I’m not saying anything, all I’m saying is that there’s a war on, and the important thing, in wartime, is to keep on the right side of people who are stronger than yourself. At present it’s the Fascists who are the strongest and we must keep in with them. Tomorrow it may easily be the English, and then we’ll be on the side of the English.”

***

There were no stars left in the sky, which had turned pale blue; then the sun shone out, bright as gold, beyond the olive groves, through their grey branches; and its rays fell across the road, and though they were still feeble it seemed to me at once that the ground under my feet was less cold. Cheered by this sunshine, I said to Rosetta: “Who would ever know there was a war? You’d never think, in the country, that there was a war going on.” Rosetta hadn’t even time to answer me before an airplane appeared with incredible speed from the direction of the sea: first I heard its violent noise, steadily increasing, and then I saw it coming straight at us, nose down, out of the sky. I only just had time to seize Rosetta by the arm and throw myself with her across the ditch into a maize field where we fell flat on our faces amongst the crop; then the plane, flying low across the road and apparently following, passed by us with a deafening din, furious and evil, so close that it seemed to be right on top of us. It went as far as a distant bend in the road, turned, suddenly reared up over a row of poplars and then flew off along the line of the mountains, at half their height, looking like a fly moving from one place to another in the sunshine. I had remained lying on my face, holding Rosetta tightly, but I was looking at the road where lay the small suitcase which Rosetta had dropped when I pulled her away by the arm. At the moment when the plane passed along the road I saw a number of little clouds of dust rising from the surface and moving swiftly in the direction of the mountains, together with the plane. When the noise had completely died away, I left the field and went to look; and I saw that there were several small holes in the suitcase and that there were a few brass shell cases, as long as my little finger, on the road. There was no doubt about it, then: the plane had been aiming at us for there was no one else on the road. “Curse and blast them,” I said to myself, and I was filled with an intense hatred for the war: that airman did not know us, he was, I daresay, a nice young man of Rosetta’s age and merely because there was a war going on he had tried to kill us, just for an idle whim, so to speak, like a sportsman out walking in the woods with his dog who shoots haphazard into a tree and says to himself: “I’ll kill something, even if it’s only a sparrow.” Indeed we were just a couple of sparrows, we two, shot at in an idle moment by a sportsman who, if the sparrows fall dead, leaves them where they are since they’re of no use to him. “Mum,” said Rosetta after a little, as we walked along, “you said in the country there wasn’t any war, and yet that man tried to kill us.” “My dear child,” I answered, “I was wrong. The war is everywhere, in the country just as much as in the town.”

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