Panaït Istrati: Crusades profit neither those who fight, nor the cause for which they have gone to war
From Domnitza de Snagov (1929)
Translated by William Drake
…All crusades are fought with desperate men, but crusades profit neither those who fight, nor the cause for which they have gone to war; for the immemorially ancient tree of life cannot, more than any ordinary tree, give fruit when one burns it in order to destroy the caterpillars.
“The earth is so beautiful, our senses so powerful, and the necessities of the mouth so base, that truly one must have come into the world without eyes, without heart, and with only the need of devouring, if one can reduce oneself to crushing one’s fellow man and making existence an ugly thing, instead of preferring justice, mercy, and the right of others to happiness.”
“I am content to die – to have nothing more to do with this world! Horrible herd, that flogs or permits itself to be flogged, but knows no middle ground between these ignominies! Now I know that if the masters of this world are without humanity, the world itself is no whit better than its masters. A pity for the just of this earth! We got off rather well than otherwise at the hands of the bands of the hetairia. Our community did not suffer overmuch; there were several rapes and some pillage, but no murders. I defended my hearth as the she-wolf defends her young. My son, too, got off with only some material loss. And we considered the peril as averted when, one fine day, the settlements were warned that the Turkish soldiers were occupying the country, with the purpose of pursuing the Greeks and suppressing the hetairia.
“That occupation! Although we had nothing to do with the revolt of the Greeks, and despite the assurances of the padischah who ‘guaranteed the life and property of his faithful raïas,’ we paid dearly for the brawl.
“For the first time, the peasants among us had occasion to learn that the world is divided between the strong and the weak, that the strong do not devour each other, and that the weak are without a country.
“As soon as the Turkish army landed in our territory, the most patriotic concerns of the boyars was to secure their own property against the expected ravages of the Mussulman soldiers. The famous otousbirs were know for their ferocity. For a heavy purse of gold, every lord obtained from the Turkish commandant a hostage, who was generally an aga. This aga, nourished, housed, and fatly paid, had the responsibility of defending the court of the boyar who had taken him as hostage against the depredations of the otousbirs.
“It meant peace for our masters, but with how much human misery this peace of theirs was to be saturated, only the plaints of our children could tell!”