Alexander Herzen: As soon as a boy can walk, he is given a toy sword to train him to murder
From My Past and Thoughts
Translated by Constance Garnett
As soon as a boy can walk, he is given a toy sword to train him to murder, he is promised an hussar’s uniform and epaulettes; while the girl is lulled to sleep with the hope of a rich and handsome bridegroom, and she dreams of epaulettes not on her own shoulders but on the shoulders of her predestined husband…
One must marvel at the fine human nature which is not ruined by such an education – we might have expected that all the little girls so lulled for fifteen years would set to work speedily to replace those slain by the boys who have been trained from childhood with weapons of slaughter.
[A] coup d’état like the 2nd of December destroys more than men: it destroys all morality, every conception of good and evil in a whole population; it is a lesson of corruption which cannot pass without effect. Among them were soldiers, too, troupiers, in a permanent state of wonder at finding themselves, contrary to all discipline and their captains’ orders, on a different side from their flag and their regiment…
Our classic ignorance of the Western European will be productive of a good deal of harm; race hatreds and bloody collisions will develop from it later on.
In the first place, we know nothing but the top, cultured layer of Europe, which conceals the heavy substratum of popular life formed by the ages, and evolved by instincts and by laws which are little understood in Europe itself. European culture does not penetrate into those foundations in which, as in the works of the Cyclops, the hand of man is indistinguishable from that of nature and history passes into geology. The European states are welded together of two different peoples whose special characteristics are maintained by utterly different educations. There is here none of the Oriental unity which makes the Turk who is a Grand Vizier and the Turk who hands him his pipe just like each other. Masses of the country population have, since the religious wars and the peasant risings, taken no active part in events; they have been swayed by them to right and left like growing corn, never for a minute leaving the ground in which they are rooted.
Secondly, that stratum with which we do become acquainted, with which we do enter into contact, we know only historically, not as it is to-day. After spending a year or two in Europe we see with surprise that the men of the West do not correspond as a rule with our conception of them, that they are greatly inferior to it.