After leaving the United States, where he had lived in exile for thirteen years, for Switzerland in 1952:
“I only want to admit that, as in 1933, political matters were not excluded from my considerations. In that land so smiled upon, yet grown too powerful, an unfortunate world constellation has brought forth changes in the atmosphere which can be perceived as depressing and alarming.”
From An Appeal to Reason (1930)
Translated by H.T. Lowe-Porter
Every foreign policy corresponds to a domestic one which is its organic complement and forms with it an indissoluble intellectual whole.
Art and war
[T]here are hours, there are moments of our common life, when art fails to justify itself in practice; when the inner urgency of the artist fails him; when the more immediate necessities of our existence choke back his own thought; when the general distress and crisis shake him too, in such a way that what we call art, the happy and impassioned preoccupation with eternally human values, comes to seem idle, ephemeral, a superfluous thing, a mental impossibility. So it was, sixteen years ago, when the war broke out that was to be for every conscious being so much more than a war.
First World War: interests of the government versus interests of the people
Germany was led into that war by a system of government which – most naively from the historical point of view – put its own interests on a par with that of its people, and in the struggle to survive brought people and country to the last gasp.
[T]he moment has already come when militant nationalism displays itself less militantly for foreign than for domestic consumption…Its hatred is levelled not so much without as within; yes, actually its fanatical love of the fatherland appears chiefly as hatred not of the foreigner but of all Germans who do not believe in its methods and whom it promises to destroy root and branch.
From Europe Beware (1935)
Translated by H.T. Lowe-Porter
On global grandiosity and its consequence
An undisguised half-education, pathetically overwrought and subject to no kind of restraint, flings about its pseudo-knowledge and malignant theories, its mystagogic balderdash and millenial conclusions, to which an abashed or even culpably sympathetic academic world demurs only meekly, with misgivings, weakly trying to remind its opponents of a few facts in rebuttal.
It would be war, all-embracing catastrophe, the collapse of civilization. It is my firm conviction that this, and only this, can be the consequence of the activist philosophy of this kind of man.
Guy de Maupassant
From An Affair of State
Paris had just heard of the disaster of Sedan. The Republic was proclaimed. All France was panting from a madness that lasted until the time of the commonwealth. Everybody was playing at soldier from one end of the country to the other.
Capmakers became colonels, assuming the duties of generals; revolvers and daggers were displayed on large rotund bodies enveloped in red sashes; common citizens turned warriors, commanding battalions of noisy volunteers and swearing like troopers to emphasize their importance.
The very fact of bearing arms and handling guns with a system excited a people who hitherto had only handled scales and measures and made them formidable to the first comer, without reason. They even executed a few innocent people to prove that they knew how to kill, and in roaming through virgin fields still belonging to the Prussians they shot stray dogs, cows chewing the cud in peace or sick horses put out to pasture. Each believed himself called upon to play a great role in military affairs. The cafés of the smallest villages, full of tradesmen in uniform, resembled barracks or field hospitals.
From The Specter (1938)
Translated by Alexander Bakshy
In the morning, performing however reluctantly the duty of the traveler, armed with a red Baedeker guide-book, Samghin strode through the streets of the city of stone, and this tidy, bleak city depressed and bored him. The damp wind scattered people in all directions; the iron shoes of shaggy-legged horses clanked; soldiers marched; a drum rattled; occasionally an automobile honked by, lumbering like an elephant, and the Germans stopped, respectfully according it the right of way and following it with friendly eyes. Samghin found himself in a square with a number of mountainous buildings spaced neatly over it, above each of them, between blue-gray clouds, its own piece of blue sky shining. Every one was a museum. Before Samghin could decide which one of them to visit, a thunderclap shook the air and rain descended in torrents. Samghin was compelled to seek shelter in the nearest museum, which proved to house a collection of armor, its walls covered with stupid, if brightly colored, paintings, all scenes from the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars. From special stands protruded rifles of various types, swords, sabers, crossbows, lances, daggers; stuffed horses in war array stood with the steel shells of knights rising from their backs. The multitude of variously treated metals yielded a nauseating, oily chill. Samghin pondered that without question most of these instruments designed for the performance of military duty had slashed human skulls, chopped off arms, pierced chests and abdomens, soaking the dirt and dust of the earth with copious blood.
Franz Werfel: Don’t you hear the roar of the bombers, the clatter of heavy machine guns that envelop the globe?
From Star of the Unborn (1946)
Translated by Gustave O. Arlt
Stern eyes have been looking at me for some time. They are becoming ever sterner and now they even address me…Don’t you know what’s going on in the world today? Weren’t you yourself a persecuted victim? Aren’t you still? Don’t you hear the roar of the bombers, the clatter of heavy machine guns that envelop the globe, a Nessus garment woven of explosions? Worse than the noise, don’t you hear the death rattle of the mortally wounded in a thousand places and at every hour? And worse than this death rattle, don’t you hear the cry of torment and the dying gasp of the millions who are first ravished, then tortured, and finally massacred? Isn’t it your responsibility to keep your eyes focused on this monstrous reality that outfancies the maddest visions of a pain demon and is, at the same time, as final as a mathematical process? What higher duty have you than to catch the cry of torment and the gasp of the tortured and to preserve them in the graven word, at least for the brief span in which the experience and the expression of one generation remain intelligible to the next?
I can do nothing, oh, stern eyes, but lower my own before you. I confess and acknowledge: my time is short and I am wasting it unscrupulously. I have not forgotten that I, too, am persecuted. Nor have I become too deaf to hear the roar of the bombers, the clatter of heavy machine guns, the death rattle of the mortally wounded, the cry of torment and the dying gasp of the ravished, the tortured, the massacred. The monstrous reality, the mad visions of a pain demon, constrict my throat by day and night, where I walk and stand, on the street and in my room, at work and at play. Of course I am neglecting my duty. But this reality does not leave me even enough breath for an echoing groan to the cry of torment.
From Another Caesar (1934)
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul
In Toulon, the King of Holland was waiting for the Queen – or, rather, Louis was waiting for Hortense…His blood was at enmity with him, in his own body and in the body of another. The War God was of his own blood. Enigmatic but inevitable; and from the War God came everything; the good that turned to evil, and the evil that remained evil. Only the stiffness of his limbs was a product of his own body, and perhaps not even that; for rheumatism had afflicted him since the Italian campaign, when he had been his brother’s aide-de-camp, and a valiant one moreover, for fear of Napoleon. From the War God came everything, even the hatred for his brother, and the hidden longing to rebel. From his brother, likewise, came his wife.
Colonel Louis had been ordered to marry Hortense, because the War God had had no children by her mother Josephine. Colonel Louis was dragooned into the marriage-bed in order to procreate a son for his great brother. He obeyed, without any choice in the matter, without love, and only from fear. Hortense obeyed, from love of the War God, who was her stepfather, and perhaps also the father of her first son. Maybe he was, maybe he was not. The War God gave his younger brother this terrible uncertainty as dowry – a venomous dowry; and, perhaps, the brooding did not begin with the birth of the first son, an eight-months’ child…
N was the sign under which Europe was conquered. An unceasing conquest, a sign and a signal; a new constellation: an anti-cross, an extraordinarily popular symbol to establish the young crown that stood above the letter. N was striding over the land and over the people. N was his signature to all documents except to those to which the formal “Napoleon” had to be appended in full. A continually larger, thicker, more impressive, more preposterously misshapen N; no longer a sign-manual, but the totem of a maniacal relationship to omnipotence…
The Prince Imperial was not, like other Christian children, baptized with a few days or weeks. The War God had no time to attend to the matter, and the youngster remained nameless for two years and a half. Meanwhile the clock had ticked away a good many seconds. N continued to win victories: against Spain, against Austria; even against God Almighty, whose sacraments he disregarded, because he wanted a new empress…There were troops standing to arms in Holland, Chronos was devouring his own children, and N was devouring the brother, who made no defence…
Ukrainian writers on war
From Other Fires (1933)
Translated by Alexander Bakshy
Next day he woke up early and lay long abed, musing about a trip abroad. The pain was no longer so severe, probably because one can grow used to it; whereas stillness in the kitchen and the street was not customary and was disturbing. Soon, however, it began to be shaken by the jolts on the pink panes of the windows, coming from the street; after each jolt there came a dull, powerful drone unlike the sound of thunder. It was possible to imagine that instead of clouds a skin was stretched over the sky, upon which, as on a drum, something beat with an enormous fist.
“These are very big cannon,” Samghin concluded and said in a low voice, protestingly, “Swine!”
He jumped to the floor – the action nearly making him scream with pain – and began to dress, but lay down again, wrapping himself up to the chin.
“It’s madness and cowardice, to fire cannon, to destroy houses, the town. The hundreds of thousands of people are not responsible for the actions of a few dozen.”
“You, as a civilian, think it’s very simple: you flog seventeen, or nine, or four men – whatever the number – and it’s all over. You go to bed and sleep until the next expedition. So? No, sir. That is not such a simple matter. Before starting it, you have to drink, and after – drink again, drink long and deep…Captain Tatarnikov – you perhaps read about it – shot some peasants, reported himself, and there and then put a bullet through his head. That was called a scandal. The question was raised: should he be buried with music or without? And yet, in the Japanese War, he commanded a battalion and was awarded two crosses of St. George. Such a clever man and so full of fun…Played billiards divinely – ”
George Bernard Shaw
From Preface to Heartbreak House (1919)
The Rabid Watchdogs of Liberty
Not content with these rancorous abuses of the existing law, the war maniacs made a frantic rush to abolish all constitutional guarantees of liberty and well-being. The ordinary law was superseded by Acts under which newspapers were seized and their printing machinery destroyed by simple police raids a la Russe, and persons arrested and shot without any pretence of trial by jury or publicity of procedure or evidence. Though it was urgently necessary that production should be increased by the most scientific organization and economy of labor, and though no fact was better established than that excessive duration and intensity of toil reduces production heavily instead of increasing it, the factory laws were suspended, and men and women recklessly over-worked until the loss of their efficiency became too glaring to be ignored. Remonstrances and warnings were met either with an accusation of pro-Germanism or the formula, “Remember that we are at war now.” I have said that men assumed that war had reversed the order of nature, and that all was lost unless we did the exact opposite of everything we had found necessary and beneficial in peace. But the truth was worse than that. The war did not change men’s minds in any such impossible way. What really happened was that the impact of physical death and destruction, the one reality that every fool can understand, tore off the masks of education, art, science and religion from our ignorance and barbarism, and left us glorying grotesquely in the licence suddenly accorded to our vilest passions and most abject terrors. Ever since Thucydides wrote his history, it has been on record that when the angel of death sounds his trumpet the pretences of civilization are blown from men’s heads into the mud like hats in a gust of wind. But when this scripture was fulfilled among us, the shock was not the less appalling because a few students of Greek history were not surprised by it. Indeed these students threw themselves into the orgy as shamelessly as the illiterate. The Christian priest, joining in the war dance without even throwing off his cassock first, and the respectable school governor expelling the German professor with insult and bodily violence, and declaring that no English child should ever again be taught the language of Luther and Goethe, were kept in countenance by the most impudent repudiations of every decency of civilization and every lesson of political experience on the part of the very persons who, as university professors, historians, philosophers, and men of science, were the accredited custodians of culture. It was crudely natural, and perhaps necessary for recruiting purposes, that German militarism and German dynastic ambition should be painted by journalists and recruiters in black and red as European dangers (as in fact they are), leaving it to be inferred that our own militarism and our own political constitution are millennially democratic (which they certainly are not); but when it came to frantic denunciations of German chemistry, German biology, German poetry, German music, German literature, German philosophy, and even German engineering, as malignant abominations standing towards British and French chemistry and so forth in the relation of heaven to hell, it was clear that the utterers of such barbarous ravings had never really understood or cared for the arts and sciences they professed and were profaning, and were only the appallingly degenerate descendants of the men of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who, recognizing no national frontiers in the great realm of the human mind, kept the European comity of that realm loftily and even ostentatiously above the rancors of the battle-field. Tearing the Garter from the Kaiser’s leg, striking the German dukes from the roll of our peerage, changing the King’s illustrious and historically appropriate surname (for the war was the old war of Guelph against Ghibelline, with the Kaiser as Arch–Ghibelline) to that of a traditionless locality. One felt that the figure of St. George and the Dragon on our coinage should be replaced by that of the soldier driving his spear through Archimedes. But by that time there was no coinage: only paper money in which ten shillings called itself a pound as confidently as the people who were disgracing their country called themselves patriots.
From Bombing Raid (1939)
[T]his is not the kind of war which entails much walking; it is a sitting war from which it is impossible to run...Once, miles away, little black flies at perhaps 8,000 feet, three fighters patrolled a parallel track and slowly dropped behind: we were unspotted. One felt a momentary horror at the exposure of a whole quiet landscape to machine-gun fire - this was an area for evacuation, of small villages and farms where children's camps might possibly be built, and it was completely open to the four aircraft which swept undetected from behind the tress and between the hills. There was room for a hundred English Guernicas.
Derision from the dead
Mocks armamental madness.
Redeem (each Ruler said)
Mankind. Men died to do it.
And some with glorying gladness
Bore arms for earth and bled:
But most went glumly through it
Dumbly doomed to rue it.
The darkness of their dying
Grows one with War recorded;
Whose swindled ghosts are crying
From shell-holes in the past,
Our deeds with lies were lauded,
Our bones with wrongs rewarded.
Dream voices these — denying
Dud laurels to the last.
From The Magnet (1931)
Translated by Alexander Bakshy
“As I was saying: with Colonel Perpotzki, we were taking the Chinese capital, Peking…”
He was telling the story for the workers, but his words flew straight into Samghin’s face.
“So, you don’t want to shoot? No, sir. Then stand in that same place. Aliosha went and stood next to the shot body; made the sign of the cross. It was all over in a moment: Platoon, fire! There’s your Christ! Christ is no defence for a soldier, none at all! The soldier is a man outside the law…
“Barracks are a pimple on the earth, a boil, you see?…”
They emerged on the sunlight flooded Field, which was covered with greyish scorched turf. Undulating gently, the ground rose in the distance to reach the smoky clouds; far off, the uniform conic shapes of the camp tents rose like snow hills; to their left, again the dark background of the woods, mowed rows of white toy-like soldiers; still further to the left rose into the blue void between the clouds a brick building, bright red in the sun, girt with the little sticks of the scaffolding and surrounded by huddling crowds of workmen who looked like little children. A white rider on a bronze-hued horse moved resplendent against the sun towards the soldiers marching with glittering bayonets.
“At one end of the city Varavka has built a slaughter-house and a prison,” grumbled Inokov, strolling along the edge of a ravine, “and at the other end, his competitor is building barracks.”
Grey dry blades of grass crackled under Clim’s feet. Open spaces humbled and saddened him. Keeping step with Inokov, he felt like melting away in the rays of the sun, in the hot air, saturated with the odour of parched grass. He had no desire to speak, nor to listen to Inokov’s grumblings. He walked on, fixing his gaze on the construction-work of the barracks; they were rising in three buildings, trapeze-shaped; the middle one was nearly finished, the bricklayers putting on the last rows of the third storey. One could see distinctly the little figures in red and blue blouses and white aprons, moving about the edge of the wall, and workmen loaded with bricks, moving with heavy steps up the planks through the web of the scaffolding. The path continued along the edge of the ravine, deeply cut by water in a clay soil, one slope littered with garbage and overgrown with shrubs and weeds, the other grimly bare, iron-coloured, and scratched as if with nails. There was strong contrast between this deep fissure in the earth and the huge building, the building being raised by those little human beings. Samghin reflected that it would require many thousands of those brightly coloured little figure to fill up the ravine to the brim.
Suddenly Inokov, as if he had stumbled over something, nudged Clim and shouted:
“Damnation. Run quick!”
He dashed ahead agilely as a boy.
For a few seconds Clim did not realize what he was seeing. Apparently the blue patch of the sky had jerked the wall forward and, swelling, over it, was pressing and turning it over. The poles of the grey wooden cage imprisoning the vast building began to sway, bending slowly and as if unwillingly towards Clim, stripping the wall and dragging it forward. Cracking, rattling, snapping bricks were tumbling on the ladders.
Not until Samghin saw the workers jumping off the wall in the chaos of poles and boards that were sliding to the ground; saw them pitch over the hods of bricks they were carrying on their backs and bolt with terrible speed down the steps, the bricks, falling behind them, beating an increasingly clamorous tattoo on the wood until their uproar drowned out the racket of cracking and crashing – not until then, did Samghin realize that the wall was collapsing. He ran, and felt the ground bumping under his feet, bringing the falling building nearer and nearer. The wall was crumbling piece-meal, exhaling brown dust. The yawning mouths of the windows grimaced disgustingly. One of them projected the long end of a wide plank and wagged it like a tongue.
It was incredible that people could flash through the air so swiftly, in such unnaturally distorted poses, and plop on to the ground with a thump so loud that Clim heard it even through the crashing and the cracking, and the discordant shrieks of horror. A few men dashed to the ground as if they had been pushed by the air; apparently they wanted to leap over the writhing heap of poles and boards, but the lumber, shaking like the legs of a spider, caught them as they fell and transfixed them in a vise. In a window a man appeared, grasping a long stick; the sides of the window collapsed, the man dropped the stick, threw up his arms and tumbled over backwards.
A wide straw hat shot into the air and dropped, rolling towards Samghin’s feet. He leaped aside, looked back, and realized instantly that he had not run away from the catastrophe, as he had intended to, but was twenty steps from a hideous pile of wood and bricks in which striking boards and poles jerked and swayed. Clim’s knees were shaking. He sat on the ground, blinking. Pulling off his spectacles he saw bricklayers and carpenters scatter in all directions, their hands shaking…
George Bernard Shaw
From Preface to Heartbreak House (1919)
Evil in the Throne of Good
This distress of the gentle was so acute that those who shared it in civil life, without having to shed blood with their own hands, or witness destruction with their own eyes, hardly care to obtrude their own woes. Nevertheless, even when sitting at home in safety, it was not easy for those who had to write and speak about the war to throw away their highest conscience, and deliberately work to a standard of inevitable evil instead of to the ideal of life more abundant. I can answer for at least one person who found the change from the wisdom of Jesus and St. Francis to the morals of Richard III and the madness of Don Quixote extremely irksome. But that change had to be made; and we are all the worse for it, except those for whom it was not really a change at all, but only a relief from hypocrisy.
Think, too, of those who, though they had neither to write nor to fight, and had no children of their own to lose, yet knew the inestimable loss to the world of four years of the life of a generation wasted on destruction. Hardly one of the epoch-making works of the human mind might not have been aborted or destroyed by taking their authors away from their natural work for four critical years. Not only were Shakespeares and Platos being killed outright; but many of the best harvests of the survivors had to be sown in the barren soil of the trenches. And this was no mere British consideration. To the truly civilized man, to the good European, the slaughter of the German youth was as disastrous as the slaughter of the English. Fools exulted in “German losses.” They were our losses as well. Imagine exulting in the death of Beethoven because Bill Sykes dealt him his death blow!
Straining at the Gnat and swallowing the Camel
But most people could not comprehend these sorrows. There was a frivolous exultation in death for its own sake, which was at bottom an inability to realize that the deaths were real deaths and not stage ones. Again and again, when an air raider dropped a bomb which tore a child and its mother limb from limb, the people who saw it, though they had been reading with great cheerfulness of thousands of such happenings day after day in their newspapers, suddenly burst into furious imprecations on “the Huns” as murderers, and shrieked for savage and satisfying vengeance. At such moments it became clear that the deaths they had not seen meant no more to them than the mimic death of the cinema screen. Sometimes it was not necessary that death should be actually witnessed: it had only to take place under circumstances of sufficient novelty and proximity to bring it home almost as sensationally and effectively as if it had been actually visible.
For example, in the spring of 1915 there was an appalling slaughter of our young soldiers at Neuve Chapelle and at the Gallipoli landing. I will not go so far as to say that our civilians were delighted to have such exciting news to read at breakfast. But I cannot pretend that I noticed either in the papers, or in general intercourse, any feeling beyond the usual one that the cinema show at the front was going splendidly, and that our boys were the bravest of the brave. Suddenly there came the news that an Atlantic liner, the Lusitania, had been torpedoed, and that several well-known first-class passengers, including a famous theatrical manager and the author of a popular farce, had been drowned, among others. The others included Sir Hugh Lane; but as he had only laid the country under great obligations in the sphere of the fine arts, no great stress was laid on that loss. Immediately an amazing frenzy swept through the country. Men who up to that time had kept their heads now lost them utterly. “Killing saloon passengers! What next?” was the essence of the whole agitation; but it is far too trivial a phrase to convey the faintest notion of the rage which possessed us. To me, with my mind full of the hideous cost of Neuve Chapelle, Ypres, and the Gallipoli landing, the fuss about the Lusitania seemed almost a heartless impertinence, though I was well acquainted personally with the three best-known victims, and understood, better perhaps than most people, the misfortune of the death of Lane. I even found a grim satisfaction, very intelligible to all soldiers, in the fact that the civilians who found the war such splendid British sport should get a sharp taste of what it was to the actual combatants. I expressed my impatience very freely, and found that my very straightforward and natural feeling in the matter was received as a monstrous and heartless paradox. When I asked those who gaped at me whether they had anything to say about the holocaust of Festubert, they gaped wider than before, having totally forgotten it, or rather, having never realized it. They were not heartless anymore than I was; but the big catastrophe was too big for them to grasp, and the little one had been just the right size for them. I was not surprised. Have I not seen a public body for just the same reason pass a vote for £30,000 without a word, and then spend three special meetings, prolonged into the night, over an item of seven shillings for refreshments?
From León Bloy devant les Cochons (1894)
Translated by John Coleman
The lament of the sword. The first time the Spirit of Sabaoth spoke about me, it was to keep men from forgetting that I had been seen all aflame on the threshold of the lost Eden.
At once I became War, and my fearful Name everywhere became the sign of Majesty.
I appeared as the sublime instrument of Providential blood-letting and, in my wonderful unawareness as the Elect of Fate, I espoused through the centuries every human feeling capable of speeding Fate on.
Anger, Love, Enthusiasm, Greed, Fanaticism and Insanity I served in so perfect a fashion that the history books have been afraid to tell the whole story.
During six thousand years I have made myself drunk, at all points of the globe, on massacre and throat-slitting.
I have killed old men who were like palaces of Suffering. I have cut off the breasts of women who were like light, and I have run little children through who looked at me with eyes of moribund lions.
Daily have I galloped on the pale Horse along the avenue of cypresses “from the womb to the grave,” and I have made a fountain of blood out of every son of man within my reach.
The world then was in ecstasy over my beauty. Christian lads dreamt of me. I was given the last kiss of dying monarchs, conquerors latticed in steel knelt with their eyes on me and whole continents were made to run with blood at the prayer I inspired.
When enthusiasm for the Cross had died away, I condescended to become the badge of what men called Honor, and, in this lowered state, I still appeared sufficiently magnificent for the whole of Europe one day to throw itself at the feet of a single Master who had placed me in the monstrance of his heart.
Most certainly he did not pray, this Emperor of Death, but all the same I strewed about him the ecumenical prayer of Sacrifice and Devotion – the dreadful red prayer that bellows forth in the slaughterhouses of nations.
Ah! it was not so splendid as the past! but who will say how beautiful it was? I know something about it, I, the Sword, of whom it is written that I shall devour everything at the end of ends!
Henry James: Beguiled into thinking war, worst horror that attends the life of nations, could not recur
Member of the Anti-Imperialist League
From Mr. and Mrs. Fields (1915)
If at such a time as this a man of my generation finds himself on occasion revert to our ancient peace in some soreness of confusion between envy and pity, I know well how best to clear up the matter for myself at least and to recover a workable relation with the blessing in eclipse. I recover it in some degree with pity, as I say, by reason of the deep illusions and fallacies in which the great glare of the present seems to show us as then steeped; there being always, we can scarce not feel, something pathetic in the recoil from fond fatuities. When these are general enough, however, they make their own law and impose their own scheme; they go on, with their fine earnestness, to their utmost limit, and the best of course are those that go on longest. When I think that the innocent confidence cultivated over a considerable part of the earth, over all the parts most offered to my own view, was to last well-nigh my whole lifetime, I cannot deny myself a large respect for it, cannot but see that if our illusion was complete we were at least insidiously and artfully beguiled. What we had taken so accurately to believing in was to bring us out at the brink of the abyss, yet as I look back I see nothing but our excuses; I cherish at any rate the image of their bright plausibility. We really, we nobly, we insanely (as it can only now strike us) held ourselves comfortably clear of the worst horror that in the past had attended the life of nations, and to the grounds of this conviction we could point with lively assurance. They all come back, one now recognizes, to a single supporting proposition, to the question of when in the world peace had so prodigiously flourished. It had been broken, and was again briefly broken, within our view, but only as if to show with what force and authority it could freshly assert itself; whereby it grew to look increasingly big, positively too massive even in its blandness, for interruptions not to be afraid of it.
It is in the light of this memory, I confess, that I bend fondly over the age – so prolonged, I have noted, as to yield ample space for the exercise – in which any challenge to our faith fell below the sweet serenity of it. I see by that any measure I might personally have applied the American, or at least the Northern, state of mind and of life that began to develop just after the Civil War formed the wellspring of our assumption. Odd enough might it have indeed appeared that this conception should need four years of free carnage to launch it; yet what did that mean, after all, in New York and Boston, into which places remembrance reads the complacency soon to be the most established – what did that mean unless that we had exactly shed the bad possibilities, were publicly purged of the dread disease which had come within an inch of being fatal to us, and were by that token warranted sound forever, superlatively safe? – as we could see that during the previous existence of the country we had been but comparatively so. The breathless campaign of Sadowa [the decisive battle in the Austro-Prussian War], which occurred but a year after our own sublime conclusion had been sealed by Lee’s surrender, enlarged the prospect much rather than ruffled it, and though we had to confess that the siege of Paris, four years later, was a false note, it was drowned in the solidification of Germany, so true, so resounding, and for all we then suspected to the contrary so portentously pacific a one. How could peace not flourish, moreover, when wars either took only seven weeks or lasted but a summer and scarce more than a drawn-out autumn? – the siege of Paris dragging out, to our pitying sense, at the time, but raised before all the rest of us, preparing food-succor, could well turn round, and with the splendid recovery of France to follow so close on her amputation that violence fairly struck us as moving away confounded. So it was that our faith was confirmed – violence sitting down again with averted face, and the conquests we felt the truly golden ones spreading and spreading behind its back.
Guy de Maupassant: I do not understand how these murderers are tolerated walking on the public streets
Guy de Maupassant
From Bed No. 29
When Captain Epivent passed in the street all the ladies turned to look at him. He was the true type of a handsome officer of huzzars. He was always on parade, always strutted a little and seemed preoccupied and proud of his leg, his figure, and his mustache…
“There’s a great dandy. When shall we stop feeding all these good-for-nothings who go dragging their tinware through the streets? For my part, I would rather be a butcher than a soldier. Then if there’s blood on my table, it is the blood of beasts, at least. And he is useful, is the butcher; and the knife he carries has not killed men. I do not understand how these murderers are tolerated walking on the public streets, carrying with them their instruments of death. It is necessary to have them, I suppose, but at least let them conceal themselves, and not dress up in masquerade, with their red breeches and blue coats. The executioner doesn’t dress himself up, does he?”
From The Treasure of the Humble (1898)
Translated by Alfred Sutro
The true artist no longer chooses Marius triumphing over the Cimbrians, or the assassination of the Duke of Guise, as fit subjects for his art; for he is well aware that the psychology of victory or murder is but elementary or exceptional, and that the solemn voice of men and things, the voice that issues forth so timidly and hesitatingly, cannot be heard amid the idle uproar of acts of violence. And therefor will he place on his canvas a house lost in the heart of the country, an open door at the end of a passage, a face or hands at rest, and by these simple images will he add to our consciousness of life, which is a possession that is no longer possible to lose.
But to the tragic author, as to the mediocre painter who still lingers over historical pictures, it is only the violence of the anecdote that appeals, and in his representation thereof does the entire interest of the work consist. And he imagines, forsooth, that we shall delight in witnessing the very same acts that brought joy to the hearts of the barbarians, with whom murder, outrage and treachery were matters of daily occurrence. Whereas it is a far cry from bloodshed, battle-cry and sword-thrust that the lives of most of us flow on, and men’s tears are silent to-day, and invisible, and almost spiritual…
From The Buried Temple (1902)
Translated by Alfred Sutro
There is in Flanders a breed of draught-dogs upon which destiny alternatively lavishes her favour and her spite. Some will be bought by a butcher, and lead a magnificent life. The work is trifling: in the morning, harnessed four abreast, they draw a light cart to the slaughter-house; and at night, galloping joyously, triumphantly, home through the narrow streets of the ancient towns with their tiny, lit-up gables, bring it back overflowing with meat. Between-times there is leisure, and marvelous leisure. among the rats and the waste of the slaughter-house. They are copiously fed, they are fat, they shine like seals, and taste in its fullness the only happiness dreamed of by the naive, ferreting instinct of the honest dog. But their unfortunate brethren of the same litter, that the lame sand-pedlar buys, or the old collector of household refuse, or the needy peasant with his great cruel clogs – these are chained to heavy carts or shapeless barrows; they are filthy, mangy, hairless, emaciated, starving; and follow till they die the circles of a hell into which they were thrust by a few coppers dropped into some horny palm. And, in a world less directly subject to man, there must evidently be partridges, pheasants, deer, hares, which have no luck, which never escape the gun; while others, one knows not how or why, emerge unscathed from every battue.
George Bernard Shaw
From Preface to Heartbreak House (1919)
The Long Arm of War
The pestilence which is the usual accompaniment of war was called influenza. Whether it was really a war pestilence or not was made doubtful by the fact that it did its worst in places remote from the battlefields, notably on the west coast of North America and in India. But the moral pestilence, which was unquestionably a war pestilence, reproduced this phenomenon. One would have supposed that the war fever would have raged most furiously in the countries actually under fire, and that the others would be more reasonable. Belgium and Flanders, where over large districts literally not one stone was left upon another as the opposed armies drove each other back and forward over it after terrific preliminary bombardments, might have been pardoned for relieving their feelings more emphatically than by shrugging their shoulders and saying, “C’est la guerre.” England, inviolate for so many centuries that the swoop of war on her homesteads had long ceased to be more credible than a return of the Flood, could hardly be expected to keep her temper sweet when she knew at last what it was to hide in cellars and underground railway stations, or lie quaking in bed, whilst bombs crashed, houses crumbled, and aircraft guns distributed shrapnel on friend and foe alike until certain shop windows in London, formerly full of fashionable hats, were filled with steel helmets. Slain and mutilated women and children, and burnt and wrecked dwellings, excuse a good deal of violent language, and produce a wrath on which many suns go down before it is appeased. Yet it was in the United States of America where nobody slept the worse for the war, that the war fever went beyond all sense and reason. In European Courts there was vindictive illegality: in American Courts there was raving lunacy. It is not for me to chronicle the extravagances of an Ally: let some candid American do that. I can only say that to us sitting in our gardens in England, with the guns in France making themselves felt by a throb in the air as unmistakeable as an audible sound, or with tightening hearts studying the phases of the moon in London in their bearing on the chances whether our houses would be standing or ourselves alive next morning, the newspaper accounts of the sentences American Courts were passing on young girls and old men alike for the expression of opinions which were being uttered amid thundering applause before huge audiences in England, and the more private records of the methods by which the American War Loans were raised, were so amazing that they put the guns and the possibilities of a raid clean out of our heads for the moment.
From The Ball and the Cross (1906)
“I have brought you here,” he answered, “to take part in the last war of the world!”
“The last war!” repeated Turnbull, even in his dazed state a little touchy about such a dogma; “How do you know it will be the last?”
The man laid himself back in his reposeful attitude, and said:
“It is the last war, because if it does not cure the world forever, it will destroy it.”
It is a characteristic of all things now called “efficient,” which means mechanical and calculated, that if they go wrong at all they go entirely wrong. There is no power of retrieving a defeat, as in simpler and more living organisms. A strong gun can conquer a strong elephant, but a wounded elephant can easily conquer a broken gun. Thus the Prussian monarchy in the eighteenth century, or now, can make a strong army merely by making the men afraid. But it does it with the permanent possibility that the men may some day be more afraid of their enemies than of their officers…
Then he remembered the Beauchamp Tower, and tried to write his blazing scepticism on the wall, and discovered that it was all shiny tiles on which could be either drawn or carved. Then for an instance there hung and broke above him like a high wave the whole horror of scientific imprisonment, which manages to deny a man not only liberty, but every accidental comfort of bondage. In the old filthy dungeons men could carve their prayers or protests in the rock. Here the white and slippery walls escaped even from bearing witness. The old prisoners could make a pet of a mouse or a beetle strayed out of a hole. Here the unpierceable walls were washed every morning by an automatic sluice. There was no natural corruption and no merciful decay by which a living thing could enter in…
As they advanced toward the asylum they looked up at its rows on rows of windows, and understood the Master’s material threat. By means of that complex but concealed machinery which ran like a network of nerves over the whole fabric, there had been shot out from every window-ledge rows and rows of polished-steel cylinders, the cold miracles of modern gunnery. They commanded the whole garden and the whole country side, and could have blown to pieces an army corps.
The silent declaration of war had evidently had its complete effect…
Smile, Smile, Smile
Head to limp head, the sunk-eyed wounded scanned
Yesterday’s Mail; the casualties (typed small)
And (large) Vast Booty from our Latest Haul.
Also, they read of Cheap Homes, not yet planned;
For, said the paper, “When this war is done
The men’s first instinct will be making homes.
Meanwhile their foremost need is aerodromes,
It being certain war has just begun.
Peace would do wrong to our undying dead, –
The sons we offered might regret they died
If we got nothing lasting in their stead.
We must be solidly indemnified.
Though all be worthy Victory which all bought,
We rulers sitting in this ancient spot
Would wrong our very selves if we forgot
The greatest glory will be theirs who fought,
Who kept this nation in integrity.”
Nation? – The half-limbed readers did not chafe
But smiled at one another curiously
Like secret men who know their secret safe.
This is the thing they know and never speak,
That England one by one had fled to France
(Not many elsewhere now save under France).
Pictures of these broad smiles appear each week,
And people in whose voice real feeling rings
Say: How they smile! They’re happy now, poor things.
From While the Earth Endures (1947)
Translated by David Hapgood
Namikai was silent. Akim cast about for another question to ask him. “Tell me, Namikai,” he resumed, “do you have any family?”
“Who doesn’t have a family, Your Nobility? Of course I have a family. I left them back there. I sent word, and everyone is satisfied.”
“Aren’t you in a hurry to get back to them?”
“Do we have a right to be in a hurry? Our job is to obey. The great Lord said to the Tsar, and the Tsar said to the generals, and the generals said to the officers, and the officers said to the Cossacks, ‘This and that has to be done. As long as it isn’t done, you can’t go home.’ So we have to work fast, so the Cossacks can say to the officers, and the officers to the generals, and the generals to the Tsar, and the Tsar to the good Lord, ‘It’s done. We’ve killed so many men and burned so many towns. Now everything is quiet. It’s time to go home.'”
“And you think peace will come soon? asked Akim.
“There won’t be any peace,” said Namikai.
“Then there will always be war?”
“There won’t be any war.”
“Then what will there be?”
“There will be a telegram,” said Namikai with knowing gravity.
While Akim was unwillingly answering their questions, a young officer arrived on horseback. His face was dripping with sweat and his eyes were wide with excitement. He shouted hoarsely.
“What did you say, Buratov?” asked the officer next to Akim.
Buratov jumped from his horse and stopped to enter the tent. The others were silent in anxious expectation. The young officer threw his helmet on the ground and said, “Gentlemen, peace has been signed.”
Akim felt a great weight settle on his shoulders. “What do you mean?” he exclaimed.
“Peace, my friends,” Buratov repeated as he sat down on a box. “I just read the official telegram.”
Akim lowered his eyes. He felt tired and unhappy, angry at someone and too weak to express his anger. There was a lugubrious silence in the tent. The young officers stared at their feet, unable to look each other in the eyes, as if they were at a death watch. Finally a voice asked carefully, “Are their conditions acceptable?”
“No conditions are acceptable,” said Buratov. “In signing the peace treaty, we’re admitting our defeat. We’re going home beaten.”
“That’s better than not going home at all,” murmured another.
“You’re not worth to be an officer!” Barked an old captain with gray mustaches. He blew his nose loudly.
“Here is a copy of the telegram,” said Buratov.
Akim strode slowly out of the tent. Suddenly he thought of Namikai – “There will be no peace. There will be no war. There will be a telegram.” Namikai was right. Why had he not lived to see the telegram arrive? So much blood spilled, so much heroism and sacrifice wasted…
George Bernard Shaw
From Preface to Heartbreak House (1919)
Only those who have lived through a first-rate war, not in the field, but at home, and kept their heads, can possibly understand the bitterness of Shakespeare and Swift, who both went through this experience. The horror of Peer Gynt in the madhouse, when the lunatics, exalted by illusions of splendid talent and visions of a dawning millennium, crowned him as their emperor, was tame in comparison. I do not know whether anyone really kept his head completely except those who had to keep it because they had to conduct the war at first hand. I should not have kept my own (as far as I did keep it) if I had not at once understood that as a scribe and speaker I too was under the most serious public obligation to keep my grip on realities; but this did not save me from a considerable degree of hyperaesthesia. There were of course some happy people to whom the war meant nothing: all political and general matters lying outside their little circle of interest. But the ordinary war-conscious civilian went mad, the main symptom being a conviction that the whole order of nature had been reversed. All foods, he felt, must now be adulterated. All schools must be closed. No advertisements must be sent to the newspapers, of which new editions must appear and be bought up every ten minutes. Travelling must be stopped, or, that being impossible, greatly hindered. All pretences about fine art and culture and the like must be flung off as an intolerable affectation; and the picture galleries and museums and schools at once occupied by war workers. The British Museum itself was saved only by a hair’s breadth. The sincerity of all this, and of much more which would not be believed if I chronicled it, may be established by one conclusive instance of the general craziness. Men were seized with the illusion that they could win the war by giving away money. And they not only subscribed millions to Funds of all sorts with no discoverable object, and to ridiculous voluntary organizations for doing what was plainly the business of the civil and military authorities, but actually handed out money to any thief in the street who had the presence of mind to pretend that he (or she) was “collecting” it for the annihilation of the enemy. Swindlers were emboldened to take offices; label themselves Anti–Enemy Leagues; and simply pocket the money that was heaped on them. Attractively dressed young women found that they had nothing to do but parade the streets, collecting-box in hand, and live gloriously on the profits. Many months elapsed before, as a first sign of returning sanity, the police swept an Anti–Enemy secretary into prison pour encourager les autres, and the passionate penny collecting of the Flag Days was brought under some sort of regulation.
He stood alone in some queer sunless place
Where Armageddon ends. Perhaps he longed
For days he might have lived; but his young face
Gazed forth untroubled: and suddenly there thronged
Round him the hulking Germans that I shot
When for his death my brooding rage was hot.
He stared at them, half-wondering; and then
They told him how I’d killed them for his sake —
Those patient, stupid, sullen ghosts of men;
And still there seemed no answer he could make.
At last he turned and smiled. One took his hand
Because his face could make them understand.
From Fragments From My Diary (1923)
Translated by Moura Budberg
Substitutes for Monkeys
Professor Z., the bacteriologist, once told me the following story.
‘One day, talking to General B., I happened to mention that I was anxious to obtain some monkeys for my experiments. The General immediately said, quite seriously:
‘”What about Jews – wouldn’t they do? I’ve got some Jews here, spies that are going to be hanged anyway – you’re quite welcome to them if they are any use to you.”
‘And without waiting for an answer he sent his orderly to find out how many spies were awaiting execution.
‘I tried to explain to His Excellency that men would not be suitable for my experiments, but he was quite unable to understand me, and opening his eyes very wide he said:
‘”Yes, but men are cleverer than monkeys, aren’t they? If you inoculate a man with poison he will be able to tell you what he feels, whereas a monkey won’t.”
‘Just then the orderly came in and reported that there was not a single Jew among the men arrested for spying – only Rumanians and gypsies.
‘”What a pity!,” said the General. “I suppose gypsies won’t do either?…What a pity…!”‘
George Bernard Shaw
From Preface to Heartbreak House (1919)
For half a century before the war civilization had been going to the devil very precipitately under the influence of a pseudo-science as disastrous as the blackest Calvinism. Calvinism taught that as we are predestinately saved or damned, nothing that we can do can alter our destiny. Still, as Calvinism gave the individual no clue as to whether he had drawn a lucky number or an unlucky one, it left him a fairly strong interest in encouraging his hopes of salvation and allaying his fear of damnation by behaving as one of the elect might be expected to behave rather than as one of the reprobate. But in the middle of the nineteenth century naturalists and physicists assured the world, in the name of Science, that salvation and damnation are all nonsense, and that predestination is the central truth of religion, inasmuch as human beings are produced by their environment, their sins and good deeds being only a series of chemical and mechanical reactions over which they have no control. Such figments as mind, choice, purpose, conscience, will, and so forth, are, they taught, mere illusions, produced because they are useful in the continual struggle of the human machine to maintain its environment in a favorable condition, a process incidentally involving the ruthless destruction or subjection of its competitors for the supply (assumed to be limited) of subsistence available. We taught Prussia this religion; and Prussia bettered our instruction so effectively that we presently found ourselves confronted with the necessity of destroying Prussia to prevent Prussia destroying us. And that has just ended in each destroying the other to an extent doubtfully reparable in our time.
It may be asked how so imbecile and dangerous a creed ever came to be accepted by intelligent beings….
From The Medici Fountain (1950)
Translated by Herma Briffault
The Doctor and his wife looked at each other questioningly, but before they could reply the monstrous ululation of an air-raid siren rose to its familiar pitch. Another replied, then another. In every section of Paris a lament arose from its visceral depths.
…No one was afraid of the German planes except a quite small gray-haired woman with foolish and vacant eyes. Crouched in a corner under the enormous cobwebs, she trembled continuously with fear.
“Nothing can reach you here,” someone called out to her. “You’re not as exposed here as you’d be in your room.”
The woman lived in one of the poorer houses of the neighborhood, and six months before this the house next door had been sliced in two by a bomb which had also severed the gas mains. People converted into living torches had jumped from windows, and the next day some carbonized corpses had been found among the ruins. From then on, this woman shuddered through the air raids to the end, until the nocturnal freighters had finished dumping their fatal cargo on Paris.
From The Children’s Inferno (1946)
Translated by Allan Ross Macdougall
The Pireote sat up in his bed and began: “Do you know what the old boatman down in the Piraeus said? He said: ‘The big guys argue and the little fellows pay for the damage done.’ I worked with him. He was called Barba-Theodoro and he was a good man. He never beat me and always showed me the right way. He felt sorry for me because I was an orphan. When there was an air-raid he’d say to me: ‘I would really like to know why these foreigners have chosen this poor land to come and fight in. Why do they have to go and fight amongst others instead of settling their accounts at home?'”
“He was right,” said Ianko thoughtfully. “Did you work with him a long time?”
“Two years. I stayed with him until the day he was killed, God rest his soul. He was killed by a bomb the same day that my leg was crushed under a stone in the cafe where I was.”
“And why didn’t you go to the air-raid shelter?”
“What are you talking about? Who goes to shelters? They’re good for women. Barba-Theodoro never wanted to go either. He said to me: ‘My boy, if it’s written that Death is to find you, even if you hide yourself in the furthest corner of the world, it will find you.’ And he stayed quietly in his boat, and said as he looked up at the heavens: ‘I would really like to know why men kill each other. Who has children to slaughter? I had one of my own and I lost him in the Smyrna catastrophe.'”
“And what did you say to the old man?”
“What would you want me to say? Do I know what makes men kill each other? Once I said to him: ‘Barba-Theodoro, they want to divvy up the earth.’ He shook his head and answered: ‘Listen, son, and remember what I am going to tell you: it’s a bad thing. They all forget that the earth on which they walk is God’s. He it was who made it, and the sea. May His name be praised! And we who walk upon it are sinners, and the greatest ones are those who take the earth’s fruits and keep them while the little folk watch them stuff themselves. God never wanted that, my boy. But He is all-powerful. Let Him judge them.'”
The sounds floated about these abandoned children awakening in them strange memories, out of another world, one in which God might have had a hand in making. And their perplexed souls, thirsting for something else which we might call “A Dream,” relaxed for an instant and imagined a better world than the Inferno in which they were living.
George Bernard Shaw
From Preface to Heartbreak House (1919)
The Yahoo and the Angry Ape
Contemplating this picture of a state of mankind so recent that no denial of its truth is possible, one understands Shakespeare comparing Man to an angry ape, Swift describing him as a Yahoo rebuked by the superior virtue of the horse, and Wellington declaring that the British can behave themselves neither in victory nor defeat. Yet none of the three had seen war as we have seen it. Shakespeare blamed great men, saying that “Could great men thunder as Jove himself does, Jove would ne’er be quiet; for every pelting petty officer would use his heaven for thunder: nothing but thunder.” What would Shakespeare have said if he had seen something far more destructive than thunder in the hand of every village laborer, and found on the Messines Ridge the craters of the nineteen volcanoes that were let loose there at the touch of a finger that might have been a child’s finger without the result being a whit less ruinous? Shakespeare may have seen a Stratford cottage struck by one of Jove’s thunderbolts, and have helped to extinguish the lighted thatch and clear away the bits of the broken chimney. What would he have said if he had seen Ypres as it is now, or returned to Stratford, as French peasants are returning to their homes to-day, to find the old familiar signpost inscribed “To Stratford, 1 mile,” and at the end of the mile nothing but some holes in the ground and a fragment of a broken churn here and there? Would not the spectacle of the angry ape endowed with powers of destruction that Jove never pretended to, have beggared even his command of words?
And yet, what is there to say except that war puts a strain on human nature that breaks down the better half of it, and makes the worse half a diabolical virtue? Better, for us if it broke it down altogether, for then the warlike way out of our difficulties would be barred to us, and we should take greater care not to get into them. In truth, it is, as Byron said, “not difficult to die,” and enormously difficult to live: that explains why, at bottom, peace is not only better than war, but infinitely more arduous. Did any hero of the war face the glorious risk of death more bravely than the traitor Bolo faced the ignominious certainty of it? Bolo taught us all how to die: can we say that he taught us all how to live? Hardly a week passes now without some soldier who braved death in the field so recklessly that he was decorated or specially commended for it, being haled before our magistrates for having failed to resist the paltriest temptations of peace, with no better excuse than the old one that “a man must live.” Strange that one who, sooner than do honest work, will sell his honor for a bottle of wine, a visit to the theatre, and an hour with a strange woman, all obtained by passing a worthless cheque, could yet stake his life on the most desperate chances of the battle-field! Does it not seem as if, after all, the glory of death were cheaper than the glory of life? If it is not easier to attain, why do so many more men attain it? At all events it is clear that the kingdom of the Prince of Peace has not yet become the kingdom of this world. His attempts at invasion have been resisted far more fiercely than the Kaiser’s. Successful as that resistance has been, it has piled up a sort of National Debt that is not the less oppressive because we have no figures for it and do not intend to pay it. A blockade that cuts off “the grace of our Lord” is in the long run less bearable than the blockades which merely cut off raw materials; and against that blockade our Armada is impotent…