Archive for August, 2014

Charles Yale Harrison: Selections on war

August 31, 2014 Leave a comment
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Edward Bellamy: We have no wars now, and our governments no war powers

August 30, 2014 2 comments


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

American writers on peace and against war


Edward Bellamy
From Looking Backwards (1888)


Dr. Leete ceased speaking, and I remained silent, endeavoring to form some general conception of the changes in the arrangements of society implied in the tremendous revolution which he had described.

Finally I said, “The idea of such an extension of the functions of government is, to say the least, rather overwhelming.”

“Extension!” he repeated, “where is the extension?”

“In my day,” I replied, “it was considered that the proper functions of government, strictly speaking, were limited to keeping the peace and defending the people against the public enemy, that is, to the military and police powers.”

“And, in heaven’s name, who are the public enemies?” exclaimed Dr. Leete. “Are they France, England, Germany, or hunger, cold, and nakedness? In your day governments were accustomed, on the slightest international misunderstanding, to seize upon the bodies of citizens and deliver them over by hundreds of thousands to death and mutilation, wasting their treasures the while like water; and all this oftenest for no imaginable profit to the victims. We have no wars now, and our governments no war powers, but in order to protect every citizen against hunger, cold, and nakedness, and provide for all his physical and mental needs, the function is assumed of directing his industry for a term of years. No, Mr. West, I am sure on reflection you will perceive that it was in your age, not in ours, that the extension of the functions of governments was extraordinary. Not even for the best ends would men now allow their governments such powers as were then used for the most maleficent.”

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George Gissing: Lord of Slaughter commands curse of universal soldiering

August 29, 2014 Leave a comment


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

George Gissing: Selections on war


George Gissing

From The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903)


Some one, I see, is lifting up his sweet voice in praise of Conscription. It is only at long intervals that one reads this kind of thing in our reviews or newspapers, and I am happy in believing that most English people are affected by it even as I am, with the sickness of dread and of disgust. That the thing is impossible in England, who would venture to say? Every one who can think at all sees how slight are our safeguards against that barbaric force in man which the privileged races have so slowly and painfully brought into check. [T]he revival of monarchic power based on militarism, makes the prospect dubious enough. There has but to arise some Lord of Slaughter, and the nations will be tearing at each other’s throats. Let England be imperilled, and Englishmen will fight; in such extremity there is no choice. But what a dreary change must come upon our islanders if, without instant danger, they bend beneath the curse of universal soldiering! I like to think that they will guard the liberty of their manhood even beyond the point of prudence.


Near a hamlet, in a lonely spot by a woodside, I came upon a little lad of perhaps ten years old, who, his head hidden in his arms against a tree trunk, was crying bitterly. I asked him what was the matter, and, after a little trouble – he was better than a mere bumpkin – I learnt that, having been sent with sixpence to pay a debt, he had lost the money. The poor little fellow was in a state of mind which in a grave man would be called the anguish of despair; he must have been crying for a long time; every muscle in his face quivered as if under torture, his limbs shook; his eyes, his voice, uttered such misery as only the vilest criminal should be made to suffer. And it was because he had lost sixpence!

I could have shed tears with him – tears of pity and of rage at all this spectacle implied. On a day of indescribable glory, when earth and heaven shed benedictions upon the soul of man, a child, whose nature would have bidden him rejoice as only childhood may, wept his heart out because his hand had dropped a sixpenny piece! The loss was a very serious one, and he knew it; he was less afraid to face his parents, than overcome by misery at the thought of the harm he had done them. Sixpence dropped by the wayside, and a whole family made wretched! What are the due descriptive terms for a state of “civilization” in which such a thing as this is possible?

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Robert Graves: Accommodations for a million men killed in war

August 28, 2014 Leave a comment


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

Robert Graves: Selections on war


Robert Graves
From Good-Bye to All That (1929)


We packed a few things and rode off in the general direction of Devon. The nights were coldish and, not having brought any blankets, we bicycled by night and slept by day. We rode across Salisbury Plain in the moonlight, passing Stonehenge and several deserted Army camps which had an even more ghostly look. They could provide accommodations for a million men: the number killed in the British and Overseas Forces during the War. Finding ourselves near Dorchester, we turned aside to visit Thomas Hardy


My mother had me take the trouble to call on the Rector when she viewed the property, and he later asked me to speak from the chancel steps of the village church at a War Memorial service. He suggested that I should read war-poems. But instead of Rupert Brooke on the glorious dead, I read some of the more painful poems by Sassoon and Wilfred Owen about men dying from gas-poisoning, and about buttocks of corpses bulging from the mud. I also suggested that the men who had died, destroyed as it were by the fall of the Tower of Siloam, were not particularly virtuous or particularly wicked, but just average soldiers, and that the survivors should thank God they were alive, and do their best to avoid wars in the future. Though the Church party, apart from the liberal-minded Rector, professed to be scandalized, the ex-service men had not been too well treated on their return, and liked to be told that they stood on equal terms with the glorious dead. They were modest men: I noticed that though respecting the King’s desire to wear their campaign medals on this occasion, they kept them buttoned up inside their coats.

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Maxim Gorky: Perfidious Albion at war

August 27, 2014 Leave a comment


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

Russian writers on war

Maxim Gorky: Selections on war


Maxim Gorky
From The Specter (1938)
Translated by Alexander Bakshy


“You must not be offended, Mr. Creighton, but of course you realize that the English are not very well liked, and deservedly so. A hundred and two years ago, at Waterloo, your soldiers finally extinguished the blaze of the French Revolution. You take pride in this dubious service to a Europe which you prevented from becoming united states. For I am convinced that exactly that union was Napoleon’s objective. During these hundred years you, ‘an aristocratic race,’ the nation of compromise, the people of unsurpassed hypocrisy and supreme indifference to the fate of Europe, you, the amusingly conceited people, have succeeded in enslaving so many nations that it is said five Indians work for every Englishman – and this is exclusive of others whom you have enslaved.”


“I knew an Arab scholar once, who said: ‘An Englishman in Europe is a fox; in the colonies he is the beast which no name fits.’ You regard the Germans as highwaymen and brutes. But it was your government which helped the Prussians to rout the French, which supported them against Austria, which supported Bismarck…”

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Finley Peter Dunne: A great nation at war (in the vernacular)

August 26, 2014 Leave a comment


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

American writers on peace and against war


Finley Peter Dunne
Member of the Anti-Imperialist League
From Mr. Dooley in Peace and in War (1898)


On War Preparations

“Well,” Mr. Hennessy asked, “how goes th’ war?”

“Splendid, thank ye,” said Mr. Dooley. “Fine, fine. It makes me hear-rt throb with pride that I’m a citizen iv th’ Sixth Wa-ard.”

“Has th’ ar-rmy started f’r Cuba yet?”

“Wan ar-rmy, says ye? Twinty! Las’ Choosdah an advance ar-rmy iv wan hundherd an’ twinty thousand men landed fr’m th’ Gussie, with tin thousand cannons hurlin’ projick-tyles weighin’ eight hundherd pounds sivinteen miles. Winsdah night a second ar-rmy iv injineers, miners, plumbers, an’ lawn tinnis experts, numberin’ in all four hundherd an’ eighty thousand men, ar-rmed with death-dealin’ canned goods, was hurried to Havana to storm th’ city.

“Thursdah mornin’ three thousand full rigimints iv r-rough r-riders swum their hor-rses acrost to Matoonzas, an’ afther a spirited battle captured th’ Rainy Christiny golf links, two up an’ hell to play, an’ will hold thim again all comers. Th’ same afthernoon th’ reg’lar cavalry, con-sistin’ iv four hundherd an’ eight thousan’ well-mounted men, was loaded aboord th’ tug Lucy J., and departed on their earned iv death amidst th’ cheers iv eight millyon sojers left behind at Chickamaha. These cav’lry’ll co-operate with Commodore Schlow; an’ whin he desthroys th’ Spanish fleet, as he does ivry Sundah an’ holy day except in Lent, an’ finds out where they ar-re an’ desthroys thim, afther batterin’ down th’ forts where they ar-re con-cealed so that he can’t see thim, but thinks they ar-re on their way f’r to fight Cousin George Dooley, th’ cav’lry will make a dash back to Tampa, where Gin’ral Miles is preparin’ to desthroy th’ Spanish at wan blow,–an’ he’s th’ boy to blow.

“The gin’ral arrived th’ other day, fully prepared f’r th’ bloody wurruk iv war. He had his intire fam’ly with him. He r-rode recklessly into camp, mounted on a superb specyal ca-ar. As himsilf an’ Uncle Mike Miles, an’ Cousin Hennery Miles, an’ Master Miles, aged eight years, dismounted fr’m th’ specyal train, they were received with wild cheers be eight millyon iv th’ bravest sojers that iver give up their lives f’r their counthry. Th’ press cinchorship is so pow’rful that no news is allowed to go out; but I have it fr’m th’ specyal corryspondint iv Mesilf, Clancy th’ Butcher, Mike Casey, an’ th’ City Direchtry that Gin’ral Miles instantly repaired himsilf to th’ hotel, where he made his plans f’r cr-rushin’ th’ Spanyards at wan blow. He will equip th’ ar-rmy with blow-guns at wanst. His uniforms ar-re comin’ down in specyal steel protected bullyon trains fr’m th’ mint, where they’ve been kept f’r a year. He has ordhered out th’ gold resarve f’r to equip his staff, numberin’ eight thousan’ men, manny iv whom ar-re clubmen; an’, as soon as he can have his pitchers took, he will cr-rush th’ Spanish with wan blow. Th’ purpose iv th’ gin’ral is to permit no delay. Decisive action is demanded be th’ people. An’, whin th’ hot air masheens has been sint to th’ front, Gin’ral Miles will strike wan blow that’ll be th’ damdest blow since th’ year iv th’ big wind in Ireland.

“Iv coorse, they’se dissinsions in th’ cabinet; but they don’t amount to nawthin’. Th’ Sicrety iv War is in favor iv sawin’ th’ Spanish ar-rmy into two-be-four joists. Th’ Sicrety iv th’ Three-asury has a scheme f’r roonin’ thim be lindin’ thim money. Th’ Sicrety iv th’ Navy wants to sue thim befure th’ Mattsachusetts Supreme Coort. I’ve heerd that th’ Prisident is arrangin’ a knee dhrill, with th’ idee iv prayin’ th’ villyans to th’ divvil. But these diff’rences don’t count. We’re all wan people, an’ we look to Gin’ral Miles to desthroy th’ Spanish with wan blow. Whin it comes, trees will be lifted out be th’ roots. Morro Castle’ll cave in, an’ th’ air’ll be full iv Spanish whiskers. A long blow, a sthrong blow, an’ a blow all together.”

“We’re a gr-reat people,” said Mr. Hennessy, earnestly.

“We ar-re,” said Mr. Dooley. “We ar-re that. An’ th’ best iv it is, we know we ar-re.”

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Sinclair Lewis: For the first time in all history, a great nation must go on arming itself more and more…for peace!

August 25, 2014 Leave a comment


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

American writers on peace and against war

Sinclair Lewis: Selections on war


Sinclair Lewis
From It Can’t Happen Here (1935)


The handsome dining room of the Hotel Wessex, with its gilded plaster shields and the mural depicting the Green Mountains, had been reserved for the Ladies’ Night Dinner of the Fort Beulah Rotary Club.

Here in Vermont the affair was not so picturesque as it might have been on the Western prairies. Oh, it had its points: there was a skit in which Medary Cole (grist mill & feed store) and Louis Rotenstern (custom tailoring – pressing & cleaning) announced that they were those historic Vermonters, Brigham Young and Joseph Smith, and with their jokes about imaginary plural wives they got in ever so many funny digs at the ladies present. But the occasion was essentially serious. All of America was serious now, after the seven years of depression since 1929. It was just long enough after the Great War of 1914-18 for the young people who had been born in 1917 to be ready to go to college…or to another war, almost any old war that might be handy.

The features of this night among the Rotarians were nothing funny, at least not obviously funny, for they were the patriotic addresses of Brigadier General Herbert Y. Edgeways, U.S.A. (ret.), who dealt angrily with the topic “Peace through Defense – Millions for Arms but Not One Cent for Tribute,” and of Mrs. Adelaide Tarr Gimmitch – she who was no more renowned for her gallant anti-suffrage campaigning way back in 1919 than she was for having, during the Great War, kept the American soldiers entirely out of French cafés by the clever trick of sending them ten thousand sets of dominoes.

Nor could any social-minded patriot sneeze at her recent somewhat unappreciated effort to maintain the purity of the American Home by barring from the motion-picture industry all persons, actors or directors or cameramen, who had: (a) ever been divorced; (b) been born in any foreign country – except Great Britain, since Mrs. Gimmitch thought very highly of Queen Mary, or (c) declined to take an oath to revere the Flag, the Constitution, the Bible, and all other peculiarly American institutions.

The Annual Ladies’ Dinner was a most respectable gathering – the flower of Fort Beulah. Most of the ladies and more than half of the gentlemen wore evening clothes, and it was rumored that before the feast the inner circle had had cocktails, privily served in Room 289 of the hotel. The tables, arranged on three sides of a hollow square, were bright with candles, cut-glass dishes of candy and slightly tough almonds, figurines of Mickey Mouse, brass Rotary wheels, and small silk American flags stuck in gilded hard-boiled eggs. On the wall was a banner lettered “Service Before Self,” and the menu–the celery, cream of tomato soup, broiled haddock, chicken croquettes, peas, and tutti-frutti ice-cream – was up to the highest standards of the Hotel Wessex.

They were all listening, agape. General Edgeways was completing his manly yet mystical rhapsody on nationalism:

“…for these U-nited States, a-lone among the great powers, have no desire for foreign conquest. Our highest ambition is to be darned well let alone! Our only gen-uine relationship to Europe is in our arduous task of having to try and educate the crass and ignorant masses that Europe has wished onto us up to something like a semblance of American culture and good manners. But, as I explained to you, we must be prepared to defend our shores against all the alien gangs of international racketeers that call themselves ‘governments,’ and that with such feverish envy are always eyeing our inexhaustible mines, our towering forests, our titanic and luxurious cities, our fair and far-flung fields.

“For the first time in all history, a great nation must go on arming itself more and more, not for conquest – not for jealousy – not for war – but for peace! Pray God it may never be necessary, but if foreign nations don’t sharply heed our warning, there will, as when the proverbial dragon’s teeth were sowed, spring up an armed and fearless warrior upon every square foot of these United States, so arduously cultivated and defended by our pioneer fathers, whose sword-girded images we must be…or we shall perish!”

The applause was cyclonic. “Professor” Emil Staubmeyer, the superintendent of schools, popped up to scream, “Three cheers for the General – hip, hip, hooray!”

All the audience made their faces to shine upon the General and Mr. Staubmeyer – all save a couple of crank pacifist women, and one Doremus Jessup, editor of the Fort Beulah Daily Informer, locally considered “a pretty smart fella but kind of a cynic,” who whispered to his friend the Reverend Mr. Falck, “Our pioneer fathers did rather of a skimpy job in arduously cultivating some of the square feet in Arizona!”

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Giovanni Verga: The Mother of Sorrows

August 24, 2014 Leave a comment


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

Italian writers on war and militarism


Giovanni Verga:
From The House by the Medlar-Tree (1890)
Translated by Mary A. Craig


In the group…there were two soldiers of the marine corps, with sacks on their shoulders and their heads bound up, going home on leave…They were telling how there had been a great battle at sea, and how ships as big as Aci Trezza, full as they could hold of soldiers, had gone down just as they were…

“It seems to me that those fellows are all mad,” said Padron Cipolla, blowing his nose with great deliberation. “Would you go and get yourself killed just because the King said to you, ‘Go and be killed for my sake’?”


The day after the rumor began to spread that there had been a great battle at sea, over towards Trieste, between our ships and those of the enemy. Nobody knew how many there were, and and many people had been killed…The neighbors came with hands under their aprons to ask cousin Maruzza whether that were not where Luca was, and looked sadly at her as they did so. The poor woman began to stand at the door as they do when a misfortune happens, turning her head this way and that, or looking down the road towards the turn…

At last someone was charitable enough to tell him to go to the captain of the port, who would be certain to know all about it. There, after sending him from Pilate to Herod and back again, he began to turn over big books and run down the lists of the dead with his finger. When he came to one name, La Longa, who had scarcely heard what went on, so loudly did her ears ring, and was listening as white as the sheet of paper, slipped silently down on the floor as if she had been dead.

“It was more than forty days ago,” said the clerk, shutting up the list. “It was at Lissa. Had not you heard of it yet?”

They brought La Longa home in a cart, and she was ill for several days. Henceforward she was given to a great devotion to the Mother of Sorrows, who is on the altar of the little chapel; and it seemed to her as if the long corpse stretched on the mother’s knees, with blue ribs and bleeding sides, was her Luca’s own portrait, and in her own heart she felt the points of the Madonna’s seven sharp swords. Every evening the devotees, when they came to church for the benediction, and Don Cirino, when he went about shaking the keys before shutting up for the night, found her there in the same place, with her face bent down upon her knees, and they called her, too, the Mother of Sorrows.

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Upton Sinclair: The lost people are those who go to be shot, killed in big war (Dante through Vanzetti)

August 23, 2014 Leave a comment


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

American writers on peace and against war

Upton Sinclair: Selections on war


Upton Sinclair

From Boston (1928)


“You learn little bit,” said Vanzetti, “I maka you onderstand heem Italian. No can make Engleesh, spoil beutifool sound. You hear heem – listen, Miz’ Cornella.” He began to recite, lingering over every syllable, sounding all the vowels broad and long, as the Italians do:

Per me si va nell città dolente;

Per me si va nell’ eterno dolore;

Per me si va tra la perduta gente.

Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore.

“He sadda man,” said Vanzetti; “never soocha sorrowful man live on eart’. He called it l’inferno – lika you say American, ‘hella,’ but not for curse-word, Miz’ Cornella, you know what the priesta teach, da place for punish badda men.”

“I understand.”

But you no believa da priest, it is all same hella here, what badda men maka for poor man, killa da people in war. You reada Dante, you no t-ink inferno, you t’ink Italia, you t-ink America, here, now. So he say” – and the speaker repeated the verses, and painfully worked out their English equivalent:

By me to go into da sadda city;

By me you go into da endless sorrow;

By me you go among da losta people.

Joostice it move-èd him, my great maker.

It is a fact that much great poetry has been written in the dialects of the poor and humble; it is a fact that Dante’s own dialect was that, until he made it a world-language. But Cornelia did not know this, and did not realize that the Italian ditch-digger was making good poetry of his own. She only knew that she was managing to understand what his teacher meant to him: “Perduta gente, Miz’ Cornella – it is not people what deny the priest and go hella, it is people what is poor and no got friend, go for be shot, and kill-èd in bigga war. Dat is perduta gente, losta people; for soocha people it maka me tears in da heart.”

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Albert Memmi: So the war had caught up with us, a celebration in honor of death

August 22, 2014 Leave a comment

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

Albert Memmi
From Pillar of Salt (1953)
Translated by Edouard Roditi


Outside, the horror had taken on the quiet and sinister disguise of a machine. Regular and even flights of bombers came over us in waves, dropped their bombs on the hills and flew off again. During all this relay race, the machine guns kept quiet and there were no accessory noises. Death, at this stage, seemed to neglect all the smaller means that were at its disposal…

We were once more alone with the war, which was steadily catching up with our torn feet. Now that the bombers had made sure of the silence of their former objectives, they were aiming closer to us on the left. Clouds of thick gray smoke rose slowly and hung in the air, and the whims of the wind brought us the acrid smell of bomb explosions.

The fighter planes! We forced our swollen feet to run and threw ourselves into the ditches. Intelligently and diabolically, the planes passed over us, changed their minds, came back, then swooped and fired wherever they saw any sign of life. A German courier was racing past on his motorcycle, both he and his machine wrapped in striped oilskin camouflage like a fabulous caparisoned beast, when suddenly a Spitfire dived and flew low, riddling him with bullets till it rose again and left behind a human torch. I closed my eyes. But there were neither screams nor spectacular convulsions. The machine silently went on, left the road, cut straight across a field, then lay down on its side, still burning. So the war had caught up with us; any encounter now was dangerous.


Evening fell before I expected it. Night imposed silence on the cannon and machine guns and engines all along the hills and within the arc of the front. But this sudden peace seemed to me so false and so heavy that I regretted the daylight…We entered a field of ripe wheat which nobody dared pick. We arranged to take turns at standing watch and hid ourselves in the wheat. I was still chewing a thistle stem which was sour in my mouth when the war, for a moment silenced by the night, started again, more terrible and cynical than ever. A magnificent fireworks began: magnesium flares blindingly white, yellow, and then red, like dying stars; straight bright red streaks of machine-gun fire; elegant and clear lines of bullets traced like fugitive neon lights; and scarlet, sinister rugged patches from anti-aircraft artillery. Then the noise: after the solemn, promising silence of the flares came the mad disorderly reaction of the inhabitants of the earth to the regular, obstinate sounds of the invisible motors in the sky.

The airplanes replied to the nervous coughing of the machine guns with great battering blows that shook the earth. It was a celebration in honor of death. On the other side of the road a tribe of Bedouins rose from the middle of a field like a flight of partridges whose nest had been wrecked by a storm. These fugitives were perfectly silhouetted against the intermittent and richly colored flashes of light, until they disappeared, pursued by their fate, chanting monotonous prayers…

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Charles Yale Harrison: War is a hell that no god, however cruel, would fashion for his most deadly enemies

August 21, 2014 Leave a comment


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

American writers on peace and against war

Charles Yale Harrison: Selections on war


Charles Yale Harrison
From Generals Die In Bed (1928)

We crowd closer to the flickering candle.

Upstairs the trench rings with a gigantic crack as each shell lands. An insane god is pounding it with Cyclopean fists, madly, incessantly.

We sit like prehistoric men within the ring of flickering light which the candle casts. We look at each other silently.

A shell shatters itself to fragments near the entrance of the dugout.

The candle is snuffed out by the concussion.

We are in complete darkness.

What god is there as mighty as the fury of a bombardment! More terrible than lightning, more cruel, more calculating than an earthquake!

How will we ever be able to go back to peaceful ways again and hear pallid preachers whimper of their puny little gods who can only torment sinners with sulphur, we have seen a hell that no god, however cruel, would fashion for his most deadly enemies!

Yes, all of us have prayed during the maniac frenzy of a bombardment.

Who can live through the terror-laden minutes of drumfire and not feel his reason slipping, his manhood dissolving?

Selfish, fear-stricken prayers – prayers for safety, prayers for life, prayers for air, for salvation from the death of being buried alive…

Back home they are praying, too – praying for victory – and that means that we must lie hear and rot and tremble forever…

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Upton Sinclair: World war as a business enterprise

August 20, 2014 Leave a comment


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

American writers on peace and against war

Upton Sinclair: Selections on war


Upton Sinclair
From Boston (1928)


Josiah gave his decision, in his old man’s voice that was beginning to crack. Jerry Walker might break himself some day, but not now; these were the days to buy anything at any price; hats were necessary to armies and felt slippers were worn in the hospitals. That led them to the subject which all men of affairs were discussing in this summer of 1915. Josiah repeated his well-known opinion that it would be a long war and that it was the part of wisdom to buy and buy. Cornelia sat thinking of human lives while they were thinking of money.

Rupert was of the opinion that the war couldn’t last over the year, because the warring nations were heading for bankruptcy. But Josiah told him not to worry; we would lend them the money, provided they spent it for our goods. How would we get the money back? And Josiah said we wouldn’t have to get it back – it would be like Jerry Walker’s felt business. “When Jerry can’t pay what he owes us we’ll take over his plants.”


Not even the destruction of the Reims cathedral, not even the thought of the peasant-boys in the trenches, could wipe out her amusement at the moral impulse of Boston, which was driving Rupert Alvin to take charge of Jerry Walker’s felt-business, and likewise the geography and finance of Europe. Her last thought was “He’ll do both those things.” And, in his own time and at his own convenience, he did.

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Robert Graves: Men at arms and men of letters, the birth of English pacifism in the First World War

August 19, 2014 Leave a comment


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

Robert Graves: Selections on war


Robert Graves
From Good-Bye to All That (1929)


While with the cadet-battalion, I went out nearly every Sunday to the village of Garsington. Siegfried’s friends, Philip and Lay Ottoline Morrell, lived at the manor-house there. The Morrells were pacifists, and I first heard from there that there was another side to the question of war guilt. Clive Bell, England’s leading art critic and a conscientious objector, looked after the cows on the manor farm; he had been allowed to do this ‘work of national importance’ instead of going into the Army. Aldous Huxley, Lytton Strachey and the Hon Bertrand Russell were frequent visitors. Aldous was unfit, otherwise he would certainly have been in the Army like Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell, Herbert Read, Siegfried, Wilfred Owen, myself and most other young writers of the time, none of whom now believed in the War.

Bertrand Russell, too old for military service, but an ardent pacifist (a rare combination), turned sharply on me one afternoon and asked: ‘Tell me, if a company of your men were brought along to break a strike of munition-makers, and the munition-makers refused to go back to work, would you order the men to fire?’


Lytton Strachey was unfit, but instead of allowing himself to be rejected by the doctors preferred to appear before a military tribunal as a conscientious objector…Asked by the chairman the usual question: ‘I understand, Mr Strachey, that you have a conscientious objection to war?’ he replied (in his curious falsetto voice): ‘Oh, no, not at all, only to this war.’ And to the chairman’s other stock question, which had previously never failed to embarrass the claimant: ‘Tell me, Mr Strachey, what would you do if you saw a German soldier trying to violate your sister?’ he replied with an air of noble virtue: ‘I would try to get between them.’


In June, he [Siegfried Sassoon] had visited the Morrells at Oxford…Five poems of his had just appeared in the Cambridge Magazine (one of the few aggressively pacifist journals published in England at the time, the offices of which were later sacked by Flying Corps cadets).

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Sean O’Casey: The Prince of Peace transformed into the god of war

August 18, 2014 Leave a comment


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

Sean O’Casey: Battles of war changed for battles of peace

Sean O’Casey: The dead of wars past clasp their colder arms around the newer dead


Sean O’Casey
From Drums Under the Windows (1946)

sean o'casey

He had looked for the Conquest of Mexico all over the second-hand barrow, but had to be content with Pizarro’s fast and fiery bestowal of peace that belongs not to this world on the Incas and their people. It was odd how the symbol of the Prince of Peace appeared so often in the midst of fire and smoke and death and desolation! How often it brought to black, red, or yellow peoples, not the gentle grace of God, but the sword plunging through their bellies, and the madly rushing bullet searing through their throats. The cross was everywhere, on almost every flag of every nation, and England had three on hers to show she was holier than the others; each cross representing a saint, one a Jew, the second a Cappadocian, and the third Frenchman, and ne’er a one of them an Englishman. Millions made the sign in the air, or on their breasts, millions of times a day. The very hilt of their sword is a cross too. Ah, that’s the real cross for the hand of a plunderer, and here it is, firmly held in the hard hand of the murdering conquistadores. The Incas’ first taste of Christ was a bitter one: myrrh, myrrh, vinegar, and gall for them, with their frankincense and gold carried off, even to the scrapings from their temple doors…

They’re all the same, thought Sean. Those who conquer others to use them woefully for their own poor benefit performance are all the same, whatever god they worship. Today, the cross to the heathen is as ominous as it was to the Aztecs and the Incas in the days of the Spanish glory. The native of that day felt the love of God coming to him when the feathered shaft tore through his breast, today the fire and the smoke of the belching guns sing out the same evangel…

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C.P. Snow: Even if moral judgments are left out, it’s unthinkable to drop the bomb

August 17, 2014 Leave a comment


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

C.P. Snow: Selections on war


C.P. Snow
From The New Men (1954)


The typescript was faded, in the margin were some corrections in a high, thin, Italian hand. Much of the argument was in mathematical symbols, but, after twenty pages of calculation, some conclusions were set out in double spacing, in the military jargon of the day, with phrases like ‘casualisation’, ‘ground zero’, severe destruction.

These conclusions meant that, in one explosion over the centre of a town, about 300,000 people would be killed instantly, and a similar number would later die of injuries…

Anyone who worked on the inside of scientific war saw such documents. And most men took it as part of the day-by-day routine, without emotion; it had to be done, if you were living in society, if you were one ant in the anthill…


“You can’t expect decency from any collection of people with power in their hands, but surely you can expect a modicum of sense.”

“Have we seen much of that?” I asked.

“They can’t drop the bomb.”

The car drove on, past the unshaded fields. Francis went on to say that, even if we left moral judgments out, even then it was unthinkable for a sensible man to drop the bomb. Non-scientists never understood, he said, for how short a time you could keep a technical lead. Within five years any major country could make these bombs for itself. If we dropped them first –

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Vittorio Alfieri: The infamous trade of soldier, the sole basis of all arbitrary authority

August 16, 2014 Leave a comment


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

Italian writers on war and militarism

Vittorio Alfieri: Thousands immolated on the altar of despotism, slaves born but to fertilize the soil


Vittorio Alfieri
From Memoirs (1803)
Anonymous translation of 1810


In the month of September I continued my journey through Prague and Dresden, where I remained a month. From thence I went to Berlin, and in this city took up my abode for an equal length of time. On entering the states of the great Frederick, which appeared to me like a vast guard-house, my hatred was still more increased of the infamous trade of soldier, the sole basis of all arbitrary authority, which must always rely on so many thousand hired minions. On being presented to His Majesty, I experienced not the slightest emotion either of surprise or respect, but on the contrary, a rising feeling of indignation, which became daily strengthened in my mind on beholding oppression and despotism assuming the mask of virtue. Count de Finch, who introduced me to the royal presence inquired why, as I was in the service of my sovereign, I did not wear my uniform. To which I replied that I thought the Court was already sufficiently crowded with uniforms. The King addressed to me the few words customary on such occasions. I regarded him with the greatest attention, fixing my eyes respectfully on his, while I mentally thanked heaven I was not born his slave. Towards the middle of November I left this Prussian barracks which I regarded with detestation and horror as it deserves.

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Alfred Döblin: The law and the police are at the service of the war state and its slavery

August 15, 2014 Leave a comment


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

Alfred Döblin: The old grim cry for war

Alfred Döblin: War is not ineluctable fate

Alfred Döblin: We march to war, Death folds his cloak singing: Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes.


Alfred Döblin
From Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929)
Translated by Eugene Jolas


“You had to join up with the Prussians, you’ve been in the war. Now I call that theft of liberty. But they had their own courts and police, and because they had them, they put a muzzle on you, and so now it’s not a theft of liberty, according to a poor bum like you, but military service. And you’ve got to put up with it, like taxes, which go for something you don’t understand any better.”


Trumpets are blaring a military song beside him. A battle was fought on the open wold, ratatata, ratatata, ratatata. We have sacked the town and taken all their heavy gold. Sacked it – racked it, ratatata!

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Paul Morand: The War for Righteousness ends in the burying of moral sense

August 14, 2014 Leave a comment


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

Paul Morand: The magic disappearance of ten millions of war dead

Paul Morand: Nations never lay down their arms; death which is still combative


Paul Morand
From The Living Buddha (1928)
Translated by Madeleine Boyd


His father, Comte d’Ecouen, was killed in the army, a volunteer at the age of sixty. Renaud d’Ecouen had heard the sound of the cannon, but not near enough to be deafened by it as his elders had been. He did not take part in the great war which marks the beginning of an age for some, and the end of a world for others….His memories of the war began with the disappearance of gold coin and ended with the burying of moral sense. He had been born in time to see gold money and its offspring, moral sense, buried. Placed face to face with 1914, as Musset or Vigny with the Napoleonic battles, he had their pessimism, but none of their admiration for what preceded them. He only knew – as to-day even the French know – that the massacre had been in vain, that seven years after nothing was left of the principles in the name of which the fighting had taken place, and that those principles were worn out with having been carried too long on the peaks of helmets. His father had died at Verdun after having killed a lot of small German landowners, who were more like him that anyone else in the world. Tears came to Renaud’s eyes when he thought of that sad end. The War for Righteousness seemed to him as confused as a railway accident. “My poor father lost his life in a terrible accident,” he would say.

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Isaac Rosenberg: Dead Man’s Dump

August 13, 2014 2 comments


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

Isaac Rosenberg: Break of Day in the Trenches

Isaac Rosenberg: O! ancient crimson curse! On receiving news of the war

Isaac Rosenberg: Soldier: Twentieth Century


Isaac Rosenberg
Dead Man’s Dump


The plunging limbers over the shattered track
Racketed with their rusty freight,
Stuck out like many crowns of thorns,
And the rusty stakes like sceptres old
To stay the flood of brutish men
Upon our brothers dear.

The wheels lurched over sprawled dead
But pained them not, though their bones crunched,
Their shut mouths made no moan.
They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,
Man born of man, and born of woman,
And shells go crying over them
From night till night and now.

Earth has waited for them,
All the time of their growth
Fretting for their decay:
Now she has them at last!
In the strength of their strength
Suspended – stopped and held.

What fierce imaginings their dark souls lit?
Earth! have they gone into you!
Somewhere they must have gone,
And flung on your hard back
Is their soul’s sack
Emptied of God-ancestralled essences.
Who hurled them out? Who hurled?

None saw their spirits’ shadow shake the grass,
Or stood aside for the half used life to pass
Out of those doomed nostrils and the doomed mouth,
When the swift iron burning bee
Drained the wild honey of their youth.

What of us who, flung on the shrieking pyre,
Walk, our usual thoughts untouched,
Our lucky limbs as on ichor fed,
Immortal seeming ever?
Perhaps when the flames beat loud on us,
A fear may choke in our veins
And the startled blood may stop.

The air is loud with death,
The dark air spurts with fire,
The explosions ceaseless are.
Timelessly now, some minutes past,
Those dead strode time with vigorous life,
Till the shrapnel called ‘An end!’
But not to all. In bleeding pangs
Some borne on stretchers dreamed of home,
Dear things, war-blotted from their hearts.

Maniac Earth! howling and flying, your bowel
Seared by the jagged fire, the iron love,
The impetuous storm of savage love.
Dark Earth! dark Heavens! swinging in chemic smoke,
What dead are born when you kiss each soundless soul
With lightning and thunder from your mined heart,
Which man’s self dug, and his blind fingers loosed?

A man’s brains splattered on
A stretcher-bearer’s face;
His shook shoulders slipped their load,
But when they bent to look again
The drowning soul was sunk too deep
For human tenderness.

They left this dead with the older dead,
Stretched at the cross roads.

Burnt black by strange decay
Their sinister faces lie,
The lid over each eye,
The grass and coloured clay
More motion have than they,
Joined to the great sunk silences.

Here is one not long dead;
His dark hearing caught our far wheels,
And the choked soul stretched weak hands
To reach the living word the far wheels said,
The blood-dazed intelligence beating for light,
Crying through the suspense of the far torturing wheels
Swift for the end to break
Or the wheels to break,
Cried as the tide of the world broke over his sight.

Will they come? Will they ever come?
Even as the mixed hoofs of the mules,
The quivering-bellied mules,
And the rushing wheels all mixed
With his tortured upturned sight.
So we crashed round the bend,
We heard his weak scream,
We heard his very last sound,
And our wheels grazed his dead face.

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Alexander Herzen: The frenzied anxiety, the exhausted satiety that lead to war

August 12, 2014 Leave a comment


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

Russian writers on war

Alexander Herzen: Selections on the military and war


Alexander Herzen
From My Past and Thoughts
Translated by Constance Garnett


For me there is something melancholy, tragic, in all this, as though the world were living anyhow, in expectation of the earth’s giving way under its feet, and were not seeking reconstruction but forgetfulness. I see this not only in the careworn, wrinkled faces, but also in the fear of any serious thinking, in the turning away from the analysis of the position, in the nervous thirst to be busy, to fill up the time with external distractions. The old are ready to play with toys, ‘if only to keep from thinking.’ The fashionable mustard-plaster is an International Exhibition. The remedy and the disease form a sort of intermittent fever centred first in one part and then in another. All are moving, rushing, flying, spending money, striving, staring and growing weary, living even more uncomfortably in order to keep up with progress – in what? Why, just progress. As though in three or four years there can be much progress in anything, as though, when we have railways to travel by, there were any necessity to drag from place to place things like houses, machines, stables, cannon, even perhaps parks and kitchen-gardens.

And when they are sick of exhibitions they will take to war and find distraction in the sheaves of dead – anything to avoid seeing certain dark spots on the horizon.


…They were like the parade-generals of the same period, the dandy martinets whose victories were won over their own soldiers, who knew every detail of military toilette, all the glitter of the parade, and never soiled their uniforms with the blood of an enemy. The courtesan-generals, jauntily ‘street-walking’ on the Nevsky, were crushed at once by the Crimean War…

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Maxim Gorky: The fatal consequences of ignoring military protocol

August 11, 2014 Leave a comment


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

Russian writers on war

Maxim Gorky: Selections on war


Maxim Gorky
From The Specter (1938)
Translated by Alexander Bakshy


“Lieutenant Valery Nikolayevich Petrov,” he announced, taking a step toward Samghin. Clim Ivanovich, too, introduced himself, and offered his hand.

The officer drew back. He said:

“I cannot shake your hand.

“Why not?”

“You sit. I stand. Is it permissible that an officer should stand before a civilian, with hand outstretched?”

“I am near-sighted, and half asleep,” explained Samghin peaceably, looking at the thick-lipped, clean-shaven face, the little Mongolian eyes, and the broad nose.

“You should have explained that to me,” accused the officer, hiding his hand behind him.

“That’s exactly what I’m doing.”

“It’s too late. You have given me the right to believe that your behavior is the usual behavior of civilian liberals, Socialists, and all those who hide away in the Rural and City Unions, getting under our feet – ”

Raising his voice, he hissed and wheezed, louder and louder:

“You actually smiled, thus emphasizing your disrespect for a defender of the fatherland and the honor of the army – a dishonor which I am entitled to answer with a bullet.”

“He’s quite capable of doing it,” thought Samghin, trying to quell his fright. He said, conciliatingly:

“Yes – these days the army deserves – ”

“These days! Didn’t it deserve in 1906-07, destroying the revolutionists? Didn’t it?”

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Robert Graves: Selections on war

August 10, 2014 Leave a comment
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Ambrose Bierce: War as parricide


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

American writers on peace and against war

Ambrose Bierce: Selections on war


Ambrose Bierce
Member of the Anti-Imperialist League
A Horseman in the Sky (1889)


One sunny afternoon in the autumn of the year 1861 a soldier lay in a clump of laurel by the side of a road in western Virginia. He lay at full length upon his stomach, his feet resting upon the toes, his head upon the left forearm. His extended right hand loosely grasped his rifle. But for the somewhat methodical disposition of his limbs and a slight rhythmic movement of the cartridge-box at the back of his belt he might have been thought to be dead. He was asleep at his post of duty. But if detected he would be dead shortly afterward, death being the just and legal penalty of his crime.

The clump of laurel in which the criminal lay was in the angle of a road which after ascending southward a steep acclivity to that point turned sharply to the west, running along the summit for perhaps one hundred yards. There it turned southward again and went zigzagging downward through the forest. At the salient of that second angle was a large flat rock, jutting out northward, overlooking the deep valley from which the road ascended. The rock capped a high cliff; a stone dropped from its outer edge would have fallen sheer downward one thousand feet to the tops of the pines. The angle where the soldier lay was on another spur of the same cliff. Had he been awake he would have commanded a view, not only of the short arm of the road and the jutting rock, but of the entire profile of the cliff below it. It might well have made him giddy to look.

The country was wooded everywhere except at the bottom of the valley to the northward, where there was a small natural meadow, through which flowed a stream scarcely visible from the valley’s rim. This open ground looked hardly larger than an ordinary door-yard, but was really several acres in extent. Its green was more vivid than that of the inclosing forest. Away beyond it rose a line of giant cliffs similar to those upon which we are supposed to stand in our survey of the savage scene, and through which the road had somehow made its climb to the summit. The configuration of the valley, indeed, was such that from this point of observation it seemed entirely shut in, and one could but have wondered how the road which found a way out of it had found a way into it, and whence came and whither went the waters of the stream that parted the meadow more than a thousand feet below.

No country is so wild and difficult but men will make it a theatre of war; concealed in the forest at the bottom of that military rat-trap, in which half a hundred men in possession of the exits might have starved an army to submission, lay five regiments of Federal infantry. They had marched all the previous day and night and were resting. At nightfall they would take to the road again, climb to the place where their unfaithful sentinel now slept, and descending the other slope of the ridge fall upon a camp of the enemy at about midnight. Their hope was to surprise it, for the road led to the rear of it. In case of failure, their position would be perilous in the extreme; and fail they surely would should accident or vigilance apprise the enemy of the movement.


The sleeping sentinel in the clump of laurel was a young Virginian named Carter Druse. He was the son of wealthy parents, an only child, and had known such ease and cultivation and high living as wealth and taste were able to command in the mountain country of western Virginia. His home was but a few miles from where he now lay. One morning he had risen from the breakfast-table and said, quietly but gravely: “Father, a Union regiment has arrived at Grafton. I am going to join it.”

The father lifted his leonine head, looked at the son a moment in silence, and replied: “Well, go, sir, and whatever may occur do what you conceive to be your duty. Virginia, to which you are a traitor, must get on without you. Should we both live to the end of the war, we will speak further of the matter. Your mother, as the physician has informed you, is in a most critical condition; at the best she cannot be with us longer than a few weeks, but that time is precious. It would be better not to disturb her.”

So Carter Druse, bowing reverently to his father, who returned the salute with a stately courtesy that masked a breaking heart, left the home of his childhood to go soldiering. By conscience and courage, by deeds of devotion and daring, he soon commended himself to his fellows and his officers; and it was to these qualities and to some knowledge of the country that he owed his selection for his present perilous duty at the extreme outpost. Nevertheless, fatigue had been stronger than resolution and he had fallen asleep. What good or bad angel came in a dream to rouse him from his state of crime, who shall say? Without a movement, without a sound, in the profound silence and the languor of the late afternoon, some invisible messenger of fate touched with unsealing finger the eyes of his consciousness – whispered into the ear of his spirit the mysterious awakening word which no human lips ever have spoken, no human memory ever has recalled. He quietly raised his forehead from his arm and looked between the masking stems of the laurels, instinctively closing his right hand about the stock of his rifle.

His first feeling was a keen artistic delight. On a colossal pedestal, the cliff, — motionless at the extreme edge of the capping rock and sharply outlined against the sky, — was an equestrian statue of impressive dignity. The figure of the man sat the figure of the horse, straight and soldierly, but with the repose of a Grecian god carved in the marble which limits the suggestion of activity. The gray costume harmonized with its aërial background; the metal of accoutrement and caparison was softened and subdued by the shadow; the animal’s skin had no points of high light. A carbine strikingly foreshortened lay across the pommel of the saddle, kept in place by the right hand grasping it at the “grip”; the left hand, holding the bridle rein, was invisible. In silhouette against the sky the profile of the horse was cut with the sharpness of a cameo; it looked across the heights of air to the confronting cliffs beyond. The face of the rider, turned slightly away, showed only an outline of temple and beard; he was looking downward to the bottom of the valley. Magnified by its lift against the sky and by the soldier’s testifying sense of the formidableness of a near enemy the group appeared of heroic, almost colossal, size.

For an instant Druse had a strange, half-defined feeling that he had slept to the end of the war and was looking upon a noble work of art reared upon that eminence to commemorate the deeds of an heroic past of which he had been an inglorious part. The feeling was dispelled by a slight movement of the group: the horse, without moving its feet, had drawn its body slightly backward from the verge; the man remained immobile as before. Broad awake and keenly alive to the significance of the situation, Druse now brought the butt of his rifle against his cheek by cautiously pushing the barrel forward through the bushes, cocked the piece, and glancing through the sights covered a vital spot of the horseman’s breast. A touch upon the trigger and all would have been well with Carter Druse. At that instant the horseman turned his head and looked in the direction of his concealed foeman — seemed to look into his very face, into his eyes, into his brave, compassionate heart.

Is it then so terrible to kill an enemy in war — an enemy who has surprised a secret vital to the safety of one’s self and comrades — an enemy more formidable for his knowledge than all his army for its numbers? Carter Druse grew pale; he shook in every limb, turned faint, and saw the statuesque group before him as black figures, rising, falling, moving unsteadily in arcs of circles in a fiery sky. His hand fell away from his weapon, his head slowly dropped until his face rested on the leaves in which he lay. This courageous gentleman and hardy soldier was near swooning from intensity of emotion.

It was not for long; in another moment his face was raised from earth, his hands resumed their places on the rifle, his forefinger sought the trigger; mind, heart, and eyes were clear, conscience and reason sound. He could not hope to capture that enemy; to alarm him would but send him dashing to his camp with his fatal news. The duty of the soldier was plain: the man must be shot dead from ambush — without warning, without a moment’s spiritual preparation, with never so much as an unspoken prayer, he must be sent to his account. But no — there is a hope; he may have discovered nothing — perhaps he is but admiring the sublimity of the landscape. If permitted, he may turn and ride carelessly away in the direction whence he came. Surely it will be possible to judge at the instant of his withdrawing whether he knows. It may well be that his fixity of attention — Druse turned his head and looked through the deeps of air downward, as from the surface to the bottom of a translucent sea. He saw creeping across the green meadow a sinuous line of figures of men and horses — some foolish commander was permitting the soldiers of his escort to water their beasts in the open, in plain view from a dozen summits!

Druse withdrew his eyes from the valley and fixed them again upon the group of man and horse in the sky, and again it was through the sights of his rifle. But this time his aim was at the horse. In his memory, as if they were a divine mandate, rang the words of his father at their parting: “Whatever may occur, do what you conceive to be your duty.” He was calm now. His teeth were firmly but not rigidly closed; his nerves were as tranquil as a sleeping babe’s — not a tremor affected any muscle of his body; his breathing, until suspended in the act of taking aim, was regular and slow. Duty had conquered; the spirit had said to the body: “Peace, be still.” He fired.


An officer of the Federal force, who in a spirit of adventure or in quest of knowledge had left the hidden bivouac in the valley, and with aimless feet had made his way to the lower edge of a small open space near the foot of the cliff, was considering what he had to gain by pushing his exploration further. At a distance of a quarter-mile before him, but apparently at a stone’s throw, rose from its fringe of pines the gigantic face of rock, towering to so great a height above him that it made him giddy to look up to where its edge cut a sharp, rugged line against the sky. It presented a clean, vertical profile against a background of blue sky to a point half the way down, and of distant hills, hardly less blue, thence to the tops of the trees at its base. Lifting his eyes to the dizzy altitude of its summit the officer saw an astonishing sight — a man on horseback riding down into the valley through the air!

Straight upright sat the rider, in military fashion, with a firm seat in the saddle, a strong clutch upon the rein to hold his charger from too impetuous a plunge. From his bare head his long hair streamed upward, waving like a plume. His hands were concealed in the cloud of the horse’s lifted mane. The animal’s body was as level as if every hoof-stroke encountered the resistant earth. Its motions were those of a wild gallop, but even as the officer looked they ceased, with all the legs thrown sharply forward as in the act of alighting from a leap. But this was a flight!

Filled with amazement and terror by this apparition of a horseman in the sky — half believing himself the chosen scribe of some new Apocalypse, the officer was overcome by the intensity of his emotions; his legs failed him and he fell. Almost at the same instant he heard a crashing sound in the trees — a sound that died without an echo — and all was still.

The officer rose to his feet, trembling. The familiar sensation of an abraded shin recalled his dazed faculties. Pulling himself together he ran rapidly obliquely away from the cliff to a point distant from its foot; thereabout he expected to find his man; and thereabout he naturally failed. In the fleeting instant of his vision his imagination had been so wrought upon by the apparent grace and ease and intention of the marvelous performance that it did not occur to him that the line of march of aërial cavalry is directly downward, and that he could find the objects of his search at the very foot of the cliff. A half-hour later he returned to camp.

This officer was a wise man; he knew better than to tell an incredible truth. He said nothing of what he had seen. But when the commander asked him if in his scout he had learned anything of advantage to the expedition he answered:

“Yes, sir; there is no road leading down into this valley from the southward.”

The commander, knowing better, smiled.


After firing his shot, Private Carter Druse reloaded his rifle and resumed his watch. Ten minutes had hardly passed when a Federal sergeant crept cautiously to him on hands and knees. Druse neither turned his head nor looked at him, but lay without motion or sign of recognition.

“Did you fire?” the sergeant whispered.


“At what?”

“A horse. It was standing on yonder rock — pretty far out. You see it is no longer there. It went over the cliff.”

The man’s face was white, but he showed no other sign of emotion. Having answered, he turned away his eyes and said no more. The sergeant did not understand.

“See here, Druse,” he said, after a moment’s silence, “it’s no use making a mystery. I order you to report. Was there anybody on the horse?”



“My father.”

The sergeant rose to his feet and walked away. “Good God!” he said.

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Alfred Neumann: Scandalous was the idea of winning happiness through war, of making profit out of war


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

Alfred Neumann: Selections on war


Alfred Neumann
From Empire (1936)
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul


War, he said, is a horrible and shameful thing; the cruellist and bloodiest form of chance; scandalously inconsistent with contemporary endeavors to promote the reign of reason and ensure general happiness; scandalous, therefore, was the idea of winning happiness through war, of making profit out of war. For war brought about the most unreasonable and unsocial distribution of happiness and good fortune; allotting them to the group of successful fame-hunters, title-hunters, and war-profiteers; but not to the common soldiers, whose misfortunes were recorded in the swollen casualty lists, whose only chance of good luck was to get home without being too abominably mutilated, and who never really knew for what cause they were being sacrificed…


Eighteen days slipped by over the unending plain of the Po, the eternal enemy of warfare. The countryside was fighting against the war, fighting with its caltrops, its cloudbursts, and, between storms, with its burning sun…

Even so much will only happen – these half-successes and inadequate achievements – if, over the mountain of corpses that are heaped up on the interminable day, the tricolour waves…The commander’s hillock has become one of the centres of slaughter and one of the mounds of corpses; so has the cemetery, where God’s peace used to prevail…

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Van Wyck Brooks: The truth about war that Mark Twain could only divulge after death


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

American writers on peace and against war

Mark Twain: Selections on war


Van Wyck Brooks
From The Ordeal of Mark Twain (1920)

Van Wyck Brooks

In 1905 he wrote a “War Prayer,” a bitterly powerful fragment of concentrated satire. Hear what Mr. [Albert Bigelow] Paine says about it: “To Dan Beard, who dropped in to see him, Clemens read the ‘War Prayer,’ stating that he had read it to his daughter Jean, and others, who had told him he must not print it, for it would be regarded as sacrilege. ‘Still you are going to publish it, are you not?’ Clemens, pacing up and down the room in his dressing-gown and slippers, shook his head. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I have told the whole truth in that, and only dead men can tell the truth in this world. It can be published after I am dead.’

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Guy de Maupassant: The Horrible


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

Guy de Maupassant: Selections on war


Guy de Maupassant
The Horrible
Translator unknown


The shadows of a balmy night were slowly falling. The women remained in the drawing-room of the villa. The men, seated, or astride of garden chairs, were smoking outside the door of the house, around a table laden with cups and liqueur glasses.

Their lighted cigars shone like eyes in the darkness, which was gradually becoming more dense. They had been talking about a frightful accident which had occurred the night before–two men and three women drowned in the river before the eyes of the guests.

General de G—- remarked:

“Yes, these things are affecting, but they are not horrible.

“Horrible, that well-known word, means much more than terrible. A frightful accident like this affects, upsets, terrifies; it does not horrify. In order that we should experience horror, something more is needed than emotion, something more than the spectacle of a dreadful death; there must be a shuddering sense of mystery, or a sensation of abnormal terror, more than natural. A man who dies, even under the most tragic circumstances, does not excite horror; a field of battle is not horrible; blood is not horrible; the vilest crimes are rarely horrible.

“Here are two personal examples which have shown me what is the meaning of horror.

“It was during the war of 1870. We were retreating toward Pont-Audemer, after having passed through Rouen. The army, consisting of about twenty thousand men, twenty thousand routed men, disbanded, demoralized, exhausted, were going to disband at Havre.

“The earth was covered with snow. The night was falling. They had not eaten anything since the day before. They were fleeing rapidly, the Prussians not being far off.

“All the Norman country, sombre, dotted with the shadows of the trees surrounding the farms, stretched out beneath a black, heavy, threatening sky.

“Nothing else could be heard in the wan twilight but the confused sound, undefined though rapid, of a marching throng, an endless tramping, mingled with the vague clink of tin bowls or swords. The men, bent, round-shouldered, dirty, in many cases even in rags, dragged themselves along, hurried through the snow, with a long, broken-backed stride.

“The skin of their hands froze to the butt ends of their muskets, for it was freezing hard that night. I frequently saw a little soldier take off his shoes in order to walk barefoot, as his shoes hurt his weary feet; and at every step he left a track of blood. Then, after some time, he would sit down in a field for a few minutes’ rest, and he never got up again. Every man who sat down was a dead man.

“Should we have left behind us those poor, exhausted soldiers, who fondly counted on being able to start afresh as soon as they had somewhat refreshed their stiffened legs? But scarcely had they ceased to move, and to make their almost frozen blood circulate in their veins, than an unconquerable torpor congealed them, nailed them to the ground, closed their eyes, and paralyzed in one second this overworked human mechanism. And they gradually sank down, their foreheads on their knees, without, however, falling over, for their loins and their limbs became as hard and immovable as wood, impossible to bend or to stand upright.

‘And the rest of us, more robust, kept straggling on, chilled to the marrow, advancing by a kind of inertia through the night, through the snow, through that cold and deadly country, crushed by pain, by defeat, by despair, above all overcome by the abominable sensation of abandonment, of the end, of death, of nothingness.

“I saw two gendarmes holding by the arm a curious-looking little man, old, beardless, of truly surprising aspect.

“They were looking for an officer, believing that they had caught a spy. The word ‘spy’ at once spread through the midst of the stragglers, and they gathered in a group round the prisoner. A voice exclaimed: ‘He must be shot!’ And all these soldiers who were falling from utter prostration, only holding themselves on their feet by leaning on their guns, felt all of a sudden that thrill of furious and bestial anger which urges on a mob to massacre.

“I wanted to speak. I was at that time in command of a battalion; but they no longer recognized the authority of their commanding officers; they would even have shot me.

“One of the gendarmes said: ‘He has been following us for the three last days. He has been asking information from every one about the artillery.’

I took it on myself to question this person.

“What are you doing? What do you want? Why are you accompanying the army?”

“He stammered out some words in some unintelligible dialect. He was, indeed, a strange being, with narrow shoulders, a sly look, and such an agitated air in my presence that I really no longer doubted that he was a spy. He seemed very aged and feeble. He kept looking at me from under his eyes with a humble, stupid, crafty air.

“The men all round us exclaimed.

“‘To the wall! To the wall!’

“I said to the gendarmes:

“‘Will you be responsible for the prisoner?’

“I had not ceased speaking when a terrible shove threw me on my back, and in a second I saw the man seized by the furious soldiers, thrown down, struck, dragged along the side of the road, and flung against a tree. He fell in the snow, nearly dead already.

“And immediately they shot him. The soldiers fired at him, reloaded their guns, fired again with the desperate energy of brutes. They fought with each other to have a shot at him, filed off in front of the corpse, and kept on firing at him, as people at a funeral keep sprinkling holy water in front of a coffin.

“But suddenly a cry arose of ‘The Prussians! the Prussians!’

“And all along the horizon I heard the great noise of this panic-stricken army in full flight.

“A panic, the result of these shots fired at this vagabond, had filled his very executioners with terror; and, without realizing that they were themselves the originators of the scare, they fled and disappeared in the darkness.

“I remained alone with the corpse, except for the two gendarmes whose duty compelled them to stay with me.

“They lifted up the riddled mass of bruised and bleeding flesh.

“‘He must be searched,’ I said. And I handed them a box of taper matches which I had in my pocket. One of the soldiers had another box. I was standing between the two.

“The gendarme who was examining the body announced:

“‘Clothed in a blue blouse, a white shirt, trousers, and a pair of shoes.’

“The first match went out; we lighted a second. The man continued, as he turned out his pockets:

“‘A horn-handled pocketknife, check handkerchief, a snuffbox, a bit of pack thread, a piece of bread.’

“The second match went out; we lighted a third. The gendarme, after having felt the corpse for a long time, said:

“‘That is all.’

“I said:

“‘Strip him. We shall perhaps find something next his skin.”

“And in order that the two soldiers might help each other in this task, I stood between them to hold the lighted match. By the rapid and speedily extinguished flame of the match, I saw them take off the garments one by one, and expose to view that bleeding bundle of flesh, still warm, though lifeless.

“And suddenly one of them exclaimed:

“‘Good God, general, it is a woman!’

“I cannot describe to you the strange and poignant sensation of pain that moved my heart. I could not believe it, and I knelt down in the snow before this shapeless pulp of flesh to see for myself: it was a woman.

“The two gendarmes, speechless and stunned, waited for me to give my opinion on the matter. But I did not know what to think, what theory to adopt.

“Then the brigadier slowly drawled out:

“‘Perhaps she came to look for a son of hers in the artillery, whom she had not heard from.’

“And the other chimed in:

“‘Perhaps, indeed, that is so.’

“And I, who had seen some very terrible things in my time, began to cry. And I felt, in the presence of this corpse, on that icy cold night, in the midst of that gloomy plain; at the sight of this mystery, at the sight of this murdered stranger, the meaning of that word ‘horror.’

“I had the same sensation last year, while interrogating one of the survivors of the Flatters Mission, an Algerian sharpshooter.

“You know the details of that atrocious drama. It is possible, however, that you are unacquainted with one of them.

“The colonel travelled through the desert into the Soudan, and passed through the immense territory of the Touaregs, who, in that great ocean of sand which stretches from the Atlantic to Egypt and from the Soudan to Algeria, are a kind of pirates, resembling those who ravaged the seas in former days.

“The guides who accompanied the column belonged to the tribe of the Chambaa, of Ouargla.

“Now, one day we encamped in the middle of the desert, and the Arabs declared that, as the spring was still some distance away, they would go with all their camels to look for water.

“One man alone warned the colonel that he had been betrayed. Flatters did not believe this, and accompanied the convoy with the engineers, the doctors, and nearly all his officers.

“They were massacred round the spring, and all the camels were captured.

“The captain of the Arab Intelligence Department at Ouargla, who had remained in the camp, took command of the survivors, spahis and sharpshooters, and they began to retreat, leaving behind them the baggage and provisions, for want of camels to carry them.

“Then they started on their journey through this solitude without shade and boundless, beneath the devouring sun, which burned them from morning till night.

“One tribe came to tender its submission and brought dates as a tribute. The dates were poisoned. Nearly all the Frenchmen died, and, among them, the last officer.

“There now only remained a few spahis with their quartermaster, Pobéguin, and some native sharpshooters of the Chambaa tribe. They had still two camels left. They disappeared one night, along with two, Arabs.

“Then the survivors understood that they would be obliged to eat each other, and as soon as they discovered the flight of the two men with the two camels, those who remained separated, and proceeded to march, one by one, through the soft sand, under the glare of a scorching sun, at a distance of more than a gunshot from each other.

“So they went on all day, and when they reached a spring each of them came to drink at it in turn, as soon as each solitary marcher had moved forward the number of yards arranged upon. And thus they continued marching the whole day, raising everywhere they passed, in that level, burntup expanse, those little columns of dust which, from a distance, indicate those who are trudging through the desert.

“But one morning one of the travellers suddenly turned round and approached the man behind him. And they all stopped to look.

“The man toward whom the famished soldier drew near did not flee, but lay flat on the ground, and took aim at the one who was coming toward him. When he believed he was within gunshot, he fired. The other was not hit, and he continued then to advance, and levelling his gun, in turn, he killed his comrade.

“Then from all directions the others rushed to seek their share. And he who had killed the fallen man, cutting the corpse into pieces, distributed it.

“And they once more placed themselves at fixed distances, these irreconcilable allies, preparing for the next murder which would bring them together.

“For two days they lived on this human flesh which they divided between them. Then, becoming famished again, he who had killed the first man began killing afresh. And again, like a butcher, he cut up the corpse and offered it to his comrades, keeping only his own portion of it.

“And so this retreat of cannibals continued.

“The last Frenchman, Pobéguin, was massacred at the side of a well, the very night before the supplies arrived.

“Do you understand now what I mean by the horrible?”

This was the story told us a few nights ago by General de G—-.

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Plato: The tyrant is always stirring up war, the oligarchy uses force of arms to gain power


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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Plato: Selections on war


From The Republic
Translated by Benjamin Jowett


Socrates: But when he [the tyrant] has disposed of foreign enemies by conquest or treaty, and there is nothing to fear from them, then he is always stirring up some war or other, in order that the people may require a leader.


Glaucon and Socrates:

And what manner of government do you term oligarchy?

A government resting on a valuation of property, in which the rich have power and the poor man is deprived of it.

I understand, he replied.

Ought I not to begin by describing how the change from timocracy to oligarchy arises?


Well, I said, no eyes are required in order to see how the one passes into the other.


The accumulation of gold in the treasury of private individuals is the ruin of timocracy; they invent illegal modes of expenditure; for what do they or their wives care about the law?

Yes, indeed.

And then one, seeing another grow rich, seeks to rival him, and thus the great mass of the citizens become lovers of money.

Likely enough.

And so they grow richer and richer, and the more they think of making a fortune the less they think of virtue; for when riches and virtue are placed together in the scales of the balance, the one always rises as the other falls.


And in proportion as riches and rich men are honoured in the State, virtue and the virtuous are dishonoured.


And what is honoured is cultivated, and that which has no honour is neglected.

That is obvious.

And so at last, instead of loving contention and glory, men become lovers of trade and money; they honour and look up to the rich man, and make a ruler of him, and dishonour the poor man.

They do so.

They next proceed to make a law which fixes a sum of money as the qualification of citizenship; the sum is higher in one place and lower in another, as the oligarchy is more or less exclusive; and they allow no one whose property falls below the amount fixed to have any share in the government. These changes in the constitution they effect by force of arms, if intimidation has not already done their work.

Very true.

And this, speaking generally, is the way in which oligarchy is established.

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Charles Yale Harrison: This is called an artillery duel


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

American writers on peace and against war

Charles Yale Harrison: Selections on war


Charles Yale Harrison
From Generals Die In Bed (1928)

We do not know what day it is. We have lost count. It makes no difference whether it is Sunday or Monday. It is merely another day – a day on which one may die.


On the way to the latrine yesterday I noticed that a shell had torn a hole into one of the sides of the communication trench. Some wire stuck out from the hole, some old cans of unopened bully beef, and the toe of a boot.

It was an officer’s boot made of soft brown leather.

I tugged at it until it gave way a little and then it came easily.

It was filled with a decaying foot. The odor was sickening. I dropped it in disgust.


Then we have since learned that the word rest is another military term meaning something altogether different. Take artillery duel, for example. We are in the line – suddenly the enemy artillery begins to bombard us. We cower behind the sandbags, trembling, white-faced, tight-lipped. Our own guns reply. They begin to hammer the enemy’s front line. The infantrymen on both sides suffer, are killed, wounded. This is called an artillery duel.

We are taken from the trenches and march for endless hours to billets. The first day out we really rest. Then begins an interminable routine of fatigues. We march, drill, shine buttons, do guard duty, serve as batmen for the officers, practice grenade-throwing, machine gunnery, and at night we are taken by lorry behind lines to do wiring and trench-digging. This is called out of rest.

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Robert Graves: When even war’s gallows humor fails


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

Robert Graves: Selections on war


Robert Graves
From Good-Bye to All That (1929)


The Company had seventeen casualties yesterday from bombs and grenades. The front trench averages thirty yards from the Germans. Today, at one part, which is only twenty yards away from an occupied German sap, I went along whistling ‘The Farmer’s Boy’, to keep up my spirits, when suddenly I saw a group bending over a man lying at the bottom of the trench. He was making a snoring noise mixed with animal groans. At my feet lay the cap he had worn, splashed with his brains. I had never seen human brains before; I somehow regarded them as a poetical figment. One can joke with a badly-wounded man and congratulate him on being out of it. One can disregard a dead man. But even a miner can’t make a joke over a man who takes three hours to die, after the top part of his head has been taken off by a bullet fired at twenty yards’ range.


…If a German patrol found a wounded man, they were as likely as not to cut his throat. The bowie-knife was a favourite German patrol weapon because of its silence. (We inclined more to the ‘cosh,’ a loaded stick.) The most important information that a patrol could bring back was to what regiment and division the troops opposite belonged. So if it proved impossible to get a wounded enemy back without danger to oneself, he had to be stripped of his badges. To do that quickly and silently, it might be necessary to cut his throat or beat in his skull.


About saving the lives of enemy wounded there was disagreement; the conventions varied with the division. Some divisions, like the Canadians and the Lowland Territorials, who claimed that they had atrocities to avenge, would not only avoid taking risks to rescue enemy wounded, but go out of their way to finish them off…

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Isaac Rosenberg: Break of Day in the Trenches


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

Isaac Rosenberg: Dead Man’s Dump

Isaac Rosenberg: O! ancient crimson curse! On receiving news of the war

Isaac Rosenberg: Soldier: Twentieth Century


Isaac Rosenberg
Break of Day in the Trenches


The darkness crumbles away
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies,
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver – what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in men’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe,
Just a little white with the dust.

In the Trenches

I snatched two poppies
From the parapet’s ledge,
Two bright red poppies
That winked on the ledge.
Behind my ear
I stuck one through,
One blood red poppy
I gave to you.

The sandbags narrowed
And screwed out our jest,
And tore the poppy
You had on your breast…
Down – a shell – O! Christ,
I am choked…safe…dust blind, I
See trench floor poppies
Strewn. Smashed you lie.

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