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Lion Feuchtwanger: The demand for perpetual peace must be raised again and again

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

Lion Feuchtwanger: Selections on war

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Lion Feuchtwanger
From Paris Gazette (Exil) (1939)
Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir

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“Before the war,” he said meditatively, “we all thought that men were cowards. That was one of our many prejudices. In the War we unlearned it. It isn’t very hard to overcome a man’s physical cowardice. It only needs right handling. If you speak to him firmly and give him a little alcohol to drink, he’ll go quietly and obediently to his death. He’s not so afraid of dying; what he’s much more afraid of is the truth. He’ll cling desperately to the warm, pleasant lies in which he can always wrap himself. It’s far harder to talk him out of these that out of his fear of death. The Americans tried to prohibit the use of alcohol, and people wouldn’t stand even that. And if you try to forbid a man his inward intoxications, to deprive him of such pleasant fancies as liberty, heroism, Providence, and humanity, he simply refuses to stand it. He turns sullen, he fights you tooth and nail. The generation that took part in the imperialist war are incapable of life without lies. They simply can’t bear the thought that millions of human beings were destroyed just because a few hundred profiteers wanted more markets and bigger businesses. So they have to infatuate themselves with great words like nation, democracy, and freedom. Your father has his own good reasons for not admitting argument against these things. If a man has been drunk on these ideas for a long time, you can’t cure him just by taking them away from him.”

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As he brooded on the question, memories arose in his mind in spite of himself, horrible memories from the front-line trenches, nightmares of deadly fear and destruction. When he came back from the war he had determined to forget his memories, his devouring hatred of militarism, and had brought them back from the front to serve as ammunition in the battle against the ridiculous inhumanity of war, and had risked his life in that battle; for the sake of everlasting peace he had risked his very life. Knowing from the start that an individual can achieve only a microscopic advance at best, he had nevertheless staked his life on that Utopian enterprise…

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“In every epoch men arise who are willing to take upon themselves the idiotic, thankless and dangerous task of preaching this Utopian ideal,” he went on. “We can’t carry on our daily life according to the Sermon on the Mount, we all know that. The commandment to love your enemies is superhuman and therefore inhuman. All the same it must be proclaimed and proclaimed again, to keep human beings from sinking to the level of beasts. And the demand for perpetual peace must also be raised again and again, even when the man who raises it is mocked at for a fool and a scoundrel and hated as a villain…”

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