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Maurice Duplay: Colloquy on science and war

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

Maurice Duplay: Imperative to uproot the passion of war

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Maurice Duplay
From Our Doctors (1926)
Translated by Joseph Collins

“Reviewing the past, said Frémond, “we are justified in believing that future generations will laugh at tuberculosis and at cancer.”

To this Daruel, still wallowing in his pessimism, replied:

“You, idealist, forget one thing, and that is if we discover a remedy for tuberculosis and cancer man will not be a bit happier or a bit better off. The object of your science is not primarily the welfare of man. Perhaps science is not the word that I should use, for in reality there are two sciences which I may call enemy sisters. One seeks to improve the conditions of life and it makes discovery after discovery, one more astonishing than the other. The second, jealous of the progress of the first, strives to annihilate its work; the good science invents a serum which, used, makes us immune to disease, or devises a new method of transportation which draws the whole world together, and immediately the bad science opposes to it an explosive, a poison, or treacherously starts the new engine on a road where it is bound to encounter collision and cause destruction. Recall for a moment the part that aviation played during the recent war. Why, in the next war airplanes will, by means of torpedoes powerful enough to blast a whole section of Paris or of Berlin, throw tubes filled with the microbes which will poison a whole population – and these are the very microbes that we are naive enough to try to kill today. The truth of the matter is that in the race between these two sciences the destructive or sinister one invariably beats the constructive and beneficent one. Such is the malignity which is the bane of our species. What good does it do to seek, to struggle? Humanity, ill with the disease over which vaccine has no power, refuses its own salvation. In the end salutary science will be definitely crushed and sinister science will kill man because its last creation, its supreme masterpiece, will be a diabolical machine capable of pulverizing our planet.”

“We should not judge the glorious future of humanity by its lamentable past,” said Claude Manceaux.

To which Frémond added:

“Unfortunately, the future may confirm your deplorable prophecy. However, nothing seems less probable. One may legitimately anticipate the contrary, I think, for man may progress morally. If we consider the length of time, the countless centuries, that man still has to live it may be that we are justified in assuming that he has not yet passed the awkward age, that he is only a wild beast now compared to what he may become. Possibly he has within him the potentialities of moral perfection, and if he has we may legitimately hope that he may purge himself of the toxin that is poisoning him now. You herald the imperfections of human nature and prophesy the doom of civilization, but I believe and I wish to believe in a world purged of cancer and war!”

“You visionary,” Daruel protested, “you speak of the solidarity of the people, of Christian love, of universal peace! How can you when contention between people has never been so bitter; when bankers and profiteers, leaders of governments and directors of armies, foment incredible disasters as they never did before?”

Frémond replied:

“Even though wars, revolutions, famine, epidemics continue to occur in the world, that does not justify us to despair. Those who survive them will return to work, will tread again the path of progress, will carry on the work of redemption. I will put my faith implicitly in man and I respect him for that touch of the sublime which radiates from him.”

At this point Claude Manceaux took up the conversation again:

“I do not know what posterity will accomplish, nor whether it shall be for good of for evil. I do not claim to be able to unveil the future nor am I ambitious to do so. What makes man sympathetic and, if I may say so, sacred to me is his pathetic condition and his ability to feel for others. He suffers and he is touched with pity. This suffices me that I may love him. Daruel, my boy, let us love man and let us pardon him all, because man was born to weep.”

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