Home > Uncategorized > Joseph Kessel: In my family, war is in the blood…the blood of others

Joseph Kessel: In my family, war is in the blood…the blood of others


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

Joseph Kessel: The monstrous ululation of an air-raid siren

Joseph Kessel: War’s ultimate fratricide, killed for not killing


Joseph Kessel
From The Medici Fountain (1950)
Translated by Herma Briffault

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“But I’ve left the convent and my milieu. And we’ll see, now. I’m only waiting for the war to end. At the moment I can’t think of anything but the war, and what I can do in it.”

“War,” said Etienne, compressing his lips. “It seems to be a word you like.”

“I’ve never thought about it. Perhaps you’re right…In my family, war is in the blood.”

“The blood of others,” Etienne murmured.


Etienne’s letters were stopped, as were hundreds of other letters sent from that part of the front where the useless and murderous offensive that began on April 17, 1917, was being prepared…

May 3, 1917

Sylvie, my beloved,
I don’t want to talk about the war, I don’t want to trouble your convalescence, and especially I don’t ever want to think of the war again. I don’t want to think any more about those men snagged in the barbed wire, about the useless butchery, the brave fellows, the smashed faces, the disemboweled bodies…No, no, no. I’ve had enough. You see, I’m beginning to live it all over again. And I haven’t the right to judge. I am an officer, now. Promotion is swift after an offensive of that kind. Duchesne was killed. Fleury – both legs amputated. Namur evacuated to the rear with a bullet in the chest…If you’d seen Duchesne, whom I replace…his skull open, the brains pouring out! But here I go again! No, no, it’s over with…


May 3, 1917

Geneviève, my dear,
Things are going badly. We’re at the end of our patience and resistance. For the amusement of the generals, two thirds of our battalion were killed. No preparation whatsoever, not the slightest thought of the soldiers’ lives. And they went off to the attack with such confidence! They were made to charge not once but three times against intact barbed-wire entanglements, against nests of machine guns that fired as if at a target. I felt the worth of life at that moment, yes, I who have so often thought of suicide. At that moment I would rather have killed those who were having us massacred than the enemy opposite us. And what I am saying here, all the men are thinking. Yes, things are that bad. No one believes in anything any more…

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