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Arnold Zweig: War, a gigantic undertaking on the part of the destruction industry


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

German writers on peace and war

Arnold Zweig: Selections on war


Arnold Zweig
From Education Before Verdun (1935)
Translated by Eric Sutton


To keep the mass under control society made use of the mass itself; every year, in Germany and elsewhere, it put hundreds of thousands of the non-possessing classes into uniform and drilled them, continuing the work of the schools, so that they might be used against their own interests and prepared to shoot themselves down in the persons of their fellow workers. In time of peace this was no more than a possibility; in time of war it became a hideous, infuriating reality.

Whence it will be seen that Compositor Pahl hated the army and all that it stood for, and despised war as the product of the abysmal stupidity of the masses. At the same time he understood it: it was indispensable to society in the struggle for world markets; it times of tension it diverted attention from within to without, and led the armies of the proletariat, who might rise at any time against the governing classes, to mutual slaughter on the field of honour.


Pahl’s cigar was nearing its end, and he was now pleasantly tired; sleep would do him good, and sleep was at hand. Such were his “Thoughts In Wartime,” rather different from those published by patriotic professors in the newspapers, one of which he had just consigned to the underworld for the delectation of the scurrying vermin in the great latrine. Incidentally, the huge forty-two, a mile or so away, which roared so loud that the whole hut quivered, had been silent for two days. It was rumoured that a shell had burst in the barrel and made an end to the gun and all its crew. They had no doubt been surprised when the shell, as large as an eight-year-old boy, had burst in the barrel and shattered it, spitting forth steel and fire, without waiting until it reached the French lines. But what was the war but a gigantic undertaking on the part of the destruction industry, accompanied by extreme personal danger to all concerned.


It was the daily give and take of the front lines, and Christoph Kroysing often thought that the end would never come until the last Germans and the last French hobbled out of the trenches on crutches to exterminate each other with pocket-knives or teeth and finger-nails. The world had gone mad; only an orgy of madness could explain this frantic wallowing in blood and flesh and bones. The lessons they had learned at school about man as a reasoning being had now to be quietly interred as rubbish – together with the bearded gentlemen who had the audacity to instruct schoolboys and deserved no better than to have their heads beaten in with human bones. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” “God is love.” “The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” “It is sweet and glorious to die for the Fatherland.” “Justice and law are the pillars of the state.” “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Well, he had always been a man of good will, and here he was.

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