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Arnold Zweig: Only the wrong people are killed in a war


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

German writers on peace and war

Arnold Zweig: Selections on war


Arnold Zweig
From The Axe of Wandsbek (1947)
Translated by Eric Sutton


“A strange world…that the last war left behind. So must Noah and his sons have felt, when the waters had fallen and receded, and they went out of the Ark, and set their feet once more on dry land. Was it old or new, changed or the same? In any case, the air that filled the lungs did them good – it was fresh and vigorous on the uplands of Ararat. And yet in all the valleys there must have been vast deposits of putrefaction; myriads of drowned creatures would soon be revealed, and the vultures, ravens, and jackals that had been rescued in the Ark would have much to occupy them for a long while. Still, nothing is recorded of all this; the earth grew green once more, the whole business continued, and humanity did not condescend to make any lamentations or take any precautions for the future. We are a strange breed, Heaven help us. I should truly like to know whether any generation will succeed in abolishing all this bad old business, and if so, when and how!”


Since men slaughtered and devoured each other, what better could be expected from the beasts, on land, in the waters, and in the air? The fact that one destroyed another, and then a third destroyed the first, until in the end the two survivors perished, because they proved themselves ill adapted to altered circumstances – all this was exemplified by the animal world…


“…I read in one of our military journals lately that a Rumanian professor had calculated that between 1500 B.C. and 1860 A.D. over eight thousand permanent treaties of peace had been made: average duration, two years. In the same period there had been about three hundred years of peace on earth, compared with three thousand years in which the fury of war raged over the earth in its accustomed fashion…”


A man must stand by what he does. The slaughter of human beings at the behest of a pack of knaves and fools and blackguards in usurped authority has occurred before and will occur again, just as long as schoolboys are trained to servility and their reckless masters dignify and disguise their drunken caprices with the name of justice. But the sun eventually brings all things to light.


“Only the wrong people are killed in a war, as one of our writers observed after the last one. The generals and the diplomats come out of it safe and sound.”

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