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Archive for October, 2014

William Dean Howells to Mark Twain: War for humanity turned into war for coal-stations

October 31, 2014 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Mark Twain: Selections on war

William Dean Howells: Selections on war

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William Dean Howells
Member of the Anti-Imperialist League

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From a letter to Mark Twain
August 2, 1898

Everything literary here is filled with the din of arms, but Providence, which has turned our war for humanity into a war for coaling-stations, seems to have peace in charge and to be bringing it about. I hope so: for then Mrs. Howells and I will stop fighting, she being a Jingo.

***

From a letter to Mark Twain
August 2, 1898

There is the worst kind of political campaign going on, here, with no hope against Tammanny, except Roosevelt, a good, strong, clean man, but a man who did more than any other to bring on the war, and now wants us to have a big army and navy, and go in for imperialism.

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Charles Chesnutt: Justice, Peace – the seed and the flower of civilisation

October 30, 2014 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Charles Chesnutt
From The Colonel’s Dream (1905)

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When the colonel set out next morning for a walk down the main street, he had just breakfasted on boiled brook trout, fresh laid eggs, hot muffins and coffee, and was feeling at peace with all mankind. He was alone, having left Phil in charge of the hotel housekeeper. He had gone only a short distance when he reached a door around which several men were lounging, and from which came the sound of voices and loud laughter. Stopping, he looked with some curiosity into the door, over which there was a faded sign to indicate that it was the office of a Justice of the Peace – a pleasing collocation of words, to those who could divorce it from any technical significance – Justice, Peace – the seed and the flower of civilisation.

***

Even a healthy social instinct might be perverted into an unhealthy and unjust prejudice; most things evil were the perversion of good.

***

The limpid water of the creek still murmurs down the slope and ripples over the stone foundation of what was to have been the new dam, while the birds have nested for some years in the vines that soon overgrew the unfinished walls of the colonel’s cotton mill. White men go their way, and black men theirs, and these ways grow wider apart, and no one knows the outcome. But there are those who hope, and those who pray, that this condition will pass, that some day our whole land will be truly free, and the strong will cheerfully help to bear the burdens of the weak, and Justice, the seed, and Peace, the flower, of liberty, will prevail throughout all our borders.

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Olga Shugurova: The Letter From the Trenches

October 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Olga Shugurova
The Letter From the Trenches (2014)

My dear and beloved wife Rosa,

I am writing to you this evening with stars that seem to be so near me, so close that I keep dreaming awake about our home, our family, and our past. The stars came to our battle field in protection against the severity of this night and its lonely horrors of being. These stars today make me think more about the meaning of human purpose, here, on earth. I keep staring at the sky, feeling the winter’s weapons that are geared towards me. These weapons of frost, isolation, and fear remind me about the inner fire that I call love to life, to you, to people, to land.

This war is a horror. It makes me feel alienated from the very meaning of friendship. I feel the steel weapons that were imposed on me by the generals, by the system that I have never chosen. These weapons hurt my soul. Instead of hurting others who are labeled as enemies, I am hurting myself. The stars came near the earth as though trying to awaken us from the horrors of orders of war. The winter is harsh, indifferent. Wolves in the forest howl to reach beyond the moon; the moon is floating like a lamp. Its reflections also make me think about the past, where you and I are one without the harsh environment of the forced obedience to the laws of evil that human beings have invented to hurt others, themselves, and this earth.

Rosa, my beloved, when will I see you? Why on earth do I have to live in the trenches like a fallen angel who is unconscious to the meaning of life, the glory of the Creator, the whisper of these stars? What are my deeds for you? Rosa, my heart drowns in tears when I see these mass murders of people, when battles are covered with the human bodies. I feel how the earth cries and this flow of tears will never make me happy here among the comrades. The comrades stop thinking. They follow the orders. They become the triggers of war, thinking of victories while pushing the triggers further. Do human beings ever win with weapons? Rosa, wolves are crying in the woods. They are leaving for other places that are beyond the battles. Will the wolves forgive our intrusion onto their fields, meadows, stories, and histories? The wolves leave forests behind, people leave bullets behind in the meadows and mounts of bodies, blood, sorrow, grief. Where will we go after
this life on earth, Rosa? What will our conscience tell us about the future, about these stars?

Rosa, I think I am not brave because I am here on this meadow, in warfare, in danger before Life. The dead on the battlefield are staring without closing their eyes, they are still, they are motionless. They are with stars who are leading the souls further into the future journey of life.

Rosa, I am not an ardent soldier. I am becoming less human, de-humanized, dead inside when I take this weapon. My soul cannot tolerate war. War can never be justified, never. We as humans assail this earth, the earth’s soul. Stars know this, and when I come back, I will be someone else, I will be the other to self. I will never shoot, Rosa. I will never forget these stars and the mounts of life, buried under the weight of sin that we name as war, victory, deed, nationalism.

Rosa, I am the other, I am no longer myself. These stars have vanquished the very meaning of deed. My valour in the battle is with the stars when I follow the wolves to the other side of the earth. I will stop by a creek and drink wisdom. I will leave the weapons behind. I will return as a poet of life, Rosa. Will you marry me again, defeated, unarmed, unknown?

– Fritz, 1914

Author/Writer Shugurova, Olga, September 21, 2014. I would like to share a passage I wrote in a conversation with high school students about WWI. I wrote this Letter From The Trenches as an example. I read it to my family and some of them started to cry. This imaginary letter seems to be very actual today in the midst of conflicts, in the midst of war zones that humans have made on the face of this beloved wonderful Earth.

Photo Copyright by Graham Phillips. September 9. Lugantsk War Cemetery. 2014. I think Graham is a true hero who tells the real story that truly touches the soul and opens other dimensions of being today on earth.

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Goethe: “O wisdom, thou speakest as a dove!”

October 29, 2014 Leave a comment

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

Goethe: Withdraw hands from your swords

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Eagles and Doves
Translated by Margaret Fuller

Goethe

A new-fledged eaglet spread his wings
To seek for prey;
Then flew the huntsman’s dart and cut
The right wing’s sinewy strength away.
Headlong he falls into a myrtle grove;
There three days long devoured his grief,
And writhed in pain
Three long, long nights, three days as weary.
At length he feels
The all-healing power
Of Nature’s balsam.
Forth from the shady bush he creeps,
And tries his wing; but, ah!
The power to soar is gone!
He scarce can lift himself
Along the ground
In search of food to keep mere life awake;
Then rests, deep mourning,
On a low rock by the brook;
He looks up to the oak tree’s top,
Far up to heaven,
And a tear glistens in his haughty eye.

Just then come by a pair of fondling doves,
Playfully rustling through the grove.
Cooing and toying, they go tripping
Over golden sand and brook;
And, turning here and there,
Their rose-tinged eyes descry
The inly-mourning bird.
The dove, with friendly curiosity,
Flutters to the next bush, and looks
With tender sweetness on the wounded king.
“Ah, why so sad?” he cooes;
“Be of good cheer, my friend!
Hast thou not all the means of tranquil bliss
Around thee here?
Canst thou not meet with swelling breast
The last rays of the setting sun
On the brook’s mossy brink?
Canst wander ‘mid the dewy flowers,
And, from the superfluous wealth
Of the wood-bushes, pluck at will
Wholesome and delicate food,
And at the silvery fountain quench thy thirst?
O friend! the spirit of content
Gives all that we can know of bliss;
And this sweet spirit of content
Finds every where its food.”
“O, wise one!” said the eagle, deeper still
Into himself retiring;
“O wisdom, thou speakest as a dove!”

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Frank Stockton: The Great War Syndicate: “On to Canada!”

October 28, 2014 1 comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Frank Stockton: Battles of annihilation, the Anglo-American War Syndicate

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Frank Stockton
From The Great War Syndicate (1889)

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Congress was in session, and in its halls the fire roared louder and blazed higher than on mountain or plain, in city or prairie. No member of the Government, from President to page, ventured to oppose the tempestuous demands of the people. The day for argument upon the exciting question had been a long weary one, and it had gone by in less than a week the great shout of the people was answered by a declaration of war against Great Britain.

When this had been done, those who demanded war breathed easier, but those who must direct the war breathed harder.

It was indeed a time for hard breathing, but the great mass of the people perceived no reason why this should be. Money there was in vast abundance. In every State well-drilled men, by thousands, stood ready for the word to march, and the military experience and knowledge given by a great war was yet strong upon the nation.

To the people at large the plan of the war appeared a very obvious and a very simple one. Canada had given the offence, Canada should be made to pay the penalty. In a very short time, one hundred thousand, two hundred thousand, five hundred thousand men, if necessary, could be made ready for the invasion of Canada. From platform, pulpit, stump, and editorial office came the cry: “On to Canada!”

***

By means of the continental cables it was known that many of the largest mail vessels of the British transatlantic lines, which had been withdrawn upon the declaration of war, were preparing in British ports to transport troops to Canada. It was not impossible that these great steamers might land an army in Canada before an American army could be organized and marched to that province. It might be that the United States would be forced to defend her borders, instead of invading those of the enemy.

In every fort and navy-yard all was activity; the hammering of iron went on by day and by night; but what was to be done when the great ironclads of England hammered upon our defences? How long would it be before the American flag would be seen no more upon the high seas?

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Upton Sinclair: Spending several times as much money to prepare for an even greater war to end war

October 27, 2014 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Upton Sinclair: Selections on war

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Upton Sinclair
From Boston (1928)

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A beautiful show; with rolling of drums and blowing of bugles, and standing up and sitting down again, and baring heads and bowing them, while the rector of Trinity Church in the City of Boston offered an invocation to the God of Battles, and his son, the Prince of Peace. War and peace were thus mixed up in the ceremony, so that nobody could tell at any moment which was which. The orators declared that the way to insure peace was to prepare for war; upon which program the nations had just led themselves into the greatest war to end war in all history, and now were spending several times as much money to prepare for an even greater war to end war.

***

She watched with tears in her eyes, while her great-grand-niece, the little daughter of the dead hero. came forward to draw the veil from the bronze tablet. The bugles blew, and the audience rose and bared its head, and the bands began to play “America,” and everybody sang – a sublime moment. The lovely widow of the hero had to hide her face in her hands…Cornelia’s tears were right and proper, and she kept her traitor-thoughts to herself. No one guessed that she was weeping for other heroes who were still to die. For the little boys in the khaki uniforms, lifting their shining faces to the orators and the beautiful waving flags! For the mothers who brought them there, to be consecrated and pledged to future slaughters! For the great humble masses who packed the streets in every direction, and stood bareheaded and trusting, gazing up to the great ones, and believing every word the loud-speakers told them!

A sharp division in the audience, between the many who believed, and the few who knew. To the former the name America, and its symbol, the flag, meant liberty and justice for all mankind; while to the few it meant private property in land, machinery and credit, and the exploitation of labor based thereon. By means of this system, the knowing ones had brought the lesser nations and weaker peoples into debt to them; so America and the flag meant battleships and guns and airplanes and poison gas to collect this tribute to all eternity. That was the reason these busy gentlemen took two days off from business, and built stands and tacked up decorations, and set up loud-speakers to carry the words of politicians and priests and preachers to crowds in the public squares…

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Alexander Herzen: Chthonic passions, heathen patriotism fuel war

October 26, 2014 Leave a comment

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

Russian writers on war

Alexander Herzen: Selections on the military and war

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Alexander Herzen
From My Past and Thoughts
Translated by Constance Garnett

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Life is impossible between two ideals…Overhead are terrible apparitions, dead men in old armour and old tiaras, and fantastic figures, incredibly radiant shapes, agonisings, sufferings, frantic hopes, the bitter consciousness of weakness and the impotence of reason. Below is the bottomless pit of elemental passions, of primeval slumber, of childish dreams, of cyclopean molelike labour. The voice of man does not reach to these depths, as the wind does not reach to the bottom of the sea; only at times the trumpet-blasts and drum-beats of war are heard there, calling to blood, promising slaughter and dealing destruction.

***

Prophets may guide the visions and passionate words, but they cannot guide them if they conceal the gift of prophecy or bow down to Baal.

***

The classification of man by nationalities becomes more and more the wretched ideal of this world which has buried the revolution.

Political parties have dissolved into national parties: that is not merely a backsliding from the Revolution, it is a backsliding from Christianity. The human ideals of Catholicism and the Revolution have given place to a heathen patriotism; and the honour of the flag is the one honour of the peoples that has remained inviolate.

***

The taciturn bourgeois is ashamed to confess that he is sleep and, half-asleep, goes on muttering incoherent phrases about liberty and progress…

He needs war to awaken him. And is there in all the arsenal of the past a standard, a banner, a word, an idea for which men would go out to fight, which they have not seen put to shame and trampled in the mud?…

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Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: Do Not Cheer, Men Are Dying

October 25, 2014 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
“Do Not Cheer, Men Are Dying”

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“DO NOT CHEER, MEN ARE DYING,” SAID
CAPT. PHILLIPS, IN THE SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR.

Do not cheer, for men are dying
From their distant homes in pain;
And the restless sea is darkened
By a flood of crimson rain.

Do not cheer, for anxious mothers
Wait and watch in lonely dread;
Vainly waiting for the footsteps
Never more their paths to tread.

Do not cheer, while little children
Gather round the widowed wife,
Wondering why an unknown people
Sought their own dear father’s life.

Do not cheer, for aged fathers
Bend above their staves and weep,
While the ocean sings the requiem
Where their fallen children sleep.

Do not cheer, for lips are paling
On which lay the mother’s kiss;
‘Mid the dreadful roar of battle
How that mother’s hand they miss!

Do not cheer: once joyous maidens,
Who the mazy dance did tread,
Bow their heads in bitter anguish,
Mourning o’er their cherished dead.

Do not cheer while maid and matron
In this strife must bear a part;
While the blow that strikes a soldier
Reaches to some woman’s heart.

Do not cheer till arbitration
O’er the nations holds its sway,
And the century now closing
Ushers in a brighter day.

Do not cheer until the nation
Shall more wise and thoughtful grow
Than to staunch a stream of sorrow
By an avalanche of woe.

Do not cheer until each nation
Sheathes the sword and blunts the spear,
And we sing aloud for gladness:
Lo, the reign of Christ is here,

And the banners of destruction
From the battlefield are furled,
And the peace of God descending
Rests upon a restless world.

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Theodore Dreiser: If he went he might be shot, and what would his noble emotion amount to then? He would rather make money, regulate current political, social and financial affairs

October 24, 2014 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Theodore Dreiser: The logic of military victory, an apologue

Theodore Dreiser and Smedley Butler: War is a Racket

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Theodore Dreiser
From The Financier (1912)

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There came in this period the slow approach, and finally the declaration, of war between the North and the South, attended with so much excitement that almost all current minds were notably colored by it…Cowperwood was only twenty-five at the time, a cool, determined youth, who thought the slave agitation might be well founded in human rights – no doubt was – but exceedingly dangerous to trade. He hoped the North would win; but it might go hard with him personally and other financiers. He did not care to fight. That seemed silly for the individual man to do. Others might – there were many poor, thin-minded, half-baked creatures who would put themselves up to be shot; but they were only fit to be commanded or shot down. As for him, his life was sacred to himself and his family and his personal interests. He recalled seeing, one day, in one of the quiet side streets, as the working-men were coming home from their work, a small enlisting squad of soldiers in blue marching enthusiastically along, the Union flag flying, the drummers drumming, the fifes blowing, the idea being, of course, to so impress the hitherto indifferent or wavering citizen, to exalt him to such a pitch, that he would lose his sense of proportion, of self-interest, and, forgetting all – wife, parents, home, and children – and seeing only the great need of the country, fall in behind and enlist. He saw one workingman swinging his pail, and evidently not contemplating any such denouement to his day’s work, pause, listen as the squad approached, hesitate as it drew close, and as it passed, with a peculiar look of uncertainty or wonder in his eyes, fall in behind and march solemnly away to the enlisting quarters. What was it that had caught this man, Frank asked himself. How was he overcome so easily? He had not intended to go. His face was streaked with the grease and dirt of his work – he looked like a foundry man or machinist, say twenty-five years of age. Frank watched the little squad disappear at the end of the street round the corner under the trees.

This current war-spirit was strange. The people seemed to him to want to hear nothing but the sound of the drum and fife, to see nothing but troops, of which there were thousands now passing through on their way to the front, carrying cold steel in the shape of guns at their shoulders, to hear of war and the rumors of war. It was a thrilling sentiment, no doubt, great but unprofitable. It meant self-sacrifice, and he could not see that. If he went he might be shot, and what would his noble emotion amount to then? He would rather make money, regulate current political, social and financial affairs. The poor fool who fell in behind the enlisting squad – no, not fool, he would not call him that – the poor overwrought working-man – well, Heaven pity him! Heaven pity all of them! They really did not know what they were doing.

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Christopher Morley: No enthusiasm for hymns of hate

October 23, 2014 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Christopher Morley
From Ingo (1918)

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The first night we sat down at the inn table for supper I lost my heart to Ingo! Ingo was just ten years old. He wore a little sailor suit of blue and white striped linen; his short trousers showed chubby brown calves above his white socks; his round golden head cropped close in the German fashion. His blue eyes were grave and thoughtful. By great good fortune we sat next each other at table, and in my rather grotesque German I began a conversation. How careful Ingo was not to laugh at the absurdities of my syntax! How very courteous he was!…

There is a particular poignance in looking back now on those happy days two years before the war. Nowhere in all the world, I suppose, are there more cordial, warmhearted, simple, human people than the South Germans. On the front of the inn there was a big yellow metal sign, giving the military number of the district, and the mobilization points for the Landsturm and the Landwehr, and we realized that even here the careful organization of the military power had numbered and ticketed every village. But what did it mean to us? War was a thing unthinkable in those days…

I wonder if he thinks of me as often as I do of him? He gave me a glimpse into the innocent heaven of a child’s heart that I can never forget. By now he is approaching sixteen, and I pray that whatever the war may take away from me it will spare me my Ingo…

If I love anybody in the world, I love Ingo. And that is why I cannot get up much enthusiasm for hymns of hate.

***

From Fall Fever (1920)

Only last Sunday we saw this ad in a paper:

HEIRS WANTED: The war is over and has made many news heirs. You may be one of them. Investigate. Many now living in poverty are rich, but don’t know it.

***

From Thoughts in a Subway (1921)

He is but a poor and mean-spirited lover – whether of his city, his country, or anything else – who loves her only because he has known no other. We are shy of vociferating patriotiism because it is callow and empty, sprung generally from mere ignorance.

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Ambrose Bierce: Chickamauga

October 22, 2014 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Ambrose Bierce: Selections on war

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Ambrose Bierce
Member of the Anti-Imperialist League
Chickamauga (1889)

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One sunny autumn afternoon a child strayed away from its rude home in a small field and entered a forest unobserved. It was happy in a new sense of freedom from control, happy in the opportunity of exploration and adventure; for this child’s spirit, in bodies of its ancestors, had for thousands of years been trained to memorable feats of discovery and conquest – victories in battles whose critical moments were centuries, whose victors’ camps were cities of hewn stone. From the cradle of its race it had conquered its way through two continents and passing a great sea had penetrated a third, there to be born to war and dominion as a heritage.

The child was a boy aged about six years, the son of a poor planter. In his younger manhood the father had been a soldier, had fought against naked savages and followed the flag of his country into the capital of a civilized race to the far South. In the peaceful life of a planter the warrior-fire survived; once kindled, it is never extinguished. The man loved military books and pictures and the boy had understood enough to make himself a wooden sword, though even the eye of his father would hardly have known it for what it was. This weapon he now bore bravely, as became the son of an heroic race, and pausing now and again in the sunny space of the forest assumed, with some exaggeration, the postures of aggression and defense that he had been taught by the engraver’s art. Made reckless by the ease with which he overcame invisible foes attempting to stay his advance, he committed the common enough military error of pushing the pursuit to a dangerous extreme, until he found himself upon the margin of a wide but shallow brook, whose rapid waters barred his direct advance against the flying foe that had crossed with illogical ease. But the intrepid victor was not to be baffled; the spirit of the race which had passed the great sea burned unconquerable in that small breast and would not be denied. Finding a place where some bowlders in the bed of the stream lay but a step or a leap apart, he made his way across and fell again upon the rear-guard of his imaginary foe, putting all to the sword.

Now that the battle had been won, prudence required that he withdraw to his base of operations. Alas; like many a mightier conqueror, and like one, the mightiest, he could not

curb the lust for war,
Nor learn that tempted Fate will leave the loftiest star.

Advancing from the bank of the creek he suddenly found himself confronted with a new and more formidable enemy: in the path that he was following, sat, bolt upright, with ears erect and paws suspended before it, a rabbit! With a startled cry the child turned and fled, he knew not in what direction, calling with inarticulate cries for his mother, weeping, stumbling, his tender skin cruelly torn by brambles, his little heart beating hard with terror – breathless, blind with tears – lost in the forest! Then, for more than an hour, he wandered with erring feet through the tangled undergrowth, till at last, overcome by fatigue, he lay down in a narrow space between two rocks, within a few yards of the stream and still grasping his toy sword, no longer a weapon but a companion, sobbed himself to sleep. The wood birds sang merrily above his head; the squirrels, whisking their bravery of tail, ran barking from tree to tree, unconscious of the pity of it, and somewhere far away was a strange, muffled thunder, as if the partridges were drumming in celebration of nature’s victory over the son of her immemorial enslavers. And back at the little plantation, where white men and black were hastily searching the fields and hedges in alarm, a mother’s heart was breaking for her missing child.

Hours passed, and then the little sleeper rose to his feet. The chill of the evening was in his limbs, the fear of the gloom in his heart. But he had rested, and he no longer wept. With some blind instinct which impelled to action he struggled through the undergrowth about him and came to a more open ground – on his right the brook, to the left a gentle acclivity studded with infrequent trees; over all, the gathering gloom of twilight. A thin, ghostly mist rose along the water. It frightened and repelled him; instead of recrossing, in the direction whence he had come, he turned his back upon it, and went forward toward the dark inclosing wood. Suddenly he saw before him a strange moving object which he took to be some large animal – dog, a pig – he could not name it; perhaps it was a bear. He had seen pictures of bears, but knew of nothing to their discredit and had vaguely wished to meet one. But something in form or movement of this object – some – thing in the awkwardness of its approach – told him that it was not a bear, and curiosity was stayed by fear. He stood still and as it came slowly on gained courage every moment, for he saw that at least it had not the long, menacing ears of the rabbit. Possibly his impressionable mind was half conscious of something familiar in its shambling, awkward gait. Before it had approached near enough to resolve his doubts he saw that it was followed by another and another. To right and to left were many more; the whole open space about him was alive with them – all moving toward the brook.

They were men. They crept upon their hands and knees. They used their hands only, dragging their legs. They used their knees only, their arms hanging idle at their sides. They strove to rise to their feet, but fell prone in the attempt. They did nothing naturally, and nothing alike, save only to advance foot by foot in the same direction. Singly, in pairs and in little groups, they came on through the gloom, some halting now and again while others crept slowly past them, then resuming their movement. They came by dozens and by hundreds; as far on either hand as one could see in the deepening gloom they extended and the black wood behind them appeared to be inexhaustible. The very ground seemed in motion toward the creek. Occasionally one who had paused did not again go on, but lay motionless. He was dead. Some, pausing, made strange gestures with their hands, erected their arms and lowered them again, clasped their heads; spread their palms upward, as men are sometimes seen to do in public prayer.

Not all of this did the child note; it is what would have been noted by an elder observer; he saw little but that these were men, yet crept like babes. Being men, they were not terrible, though unfamiliarly clad. He moved among them freely, going from one to another and peering into their faces with childish curiosity. All their faces were singularly white and many were streaked and gouted with red. Something in this – something too, perhaps, in their grotesque attitudes and movements – reminded him of the painted clown whom he had seen last summer in the circus, and he laughed as he watched them. But on and ever on they crept, these maimed and bleeding men, as heedless as he of the dramatic contrast between his laughter and their own ghastly gravity. To him it was a merry spectacle. He had seen his father’s negroes creep upon their hands and knees for his amusement – had ridden them so, “making believe” they were his horses. He now approached one of these crawling figures from behind and with an agile movement mounted it astride. The man sank upon his breast, recovered, flung the small boy fiercely to the ground as an unbroken colt might have done, then turned upon him a face that lacked a lower jaw – from the upper teeth to the throat was a great red gap fringed with hanging shreds of flesh and splinters of bone. The unnatural prominence of nose, the absence of chin, the fierce eyes, gave this man the appearance of a great bird of prey crimsoned in throat and breast by the blood of its quarry. The man rose to his knees, the child to his feet. The man shook his fist at the child; the child, terrified at last, ran to a tree near by, got upon the farther side of it and took a more serious view of the situation. And so the clumsy multitude dragged itself slowly and painfully along in hideous pantomime – moved forward down the slope like a swarm of great black beetles, with never a sound of going – in silence profound, absolute.

Instead of darkening, the haunted landscape began to brighten. Through the belt of trees beyond the brook shone a strange red light, the trunks and branches of the trees making a black lacework against it. It struck the creeping figures and gave them monstrous shadows, which caricatured their movements on the lit grass. It fell upon their faces, touching their whiteness with a ruddy tinge, accentuating the stains with which so many of them were freaked and maculated. It sparkled on buttons and bits of metal in their clothing. Instinctively the child turned toward the growing splendor and moved down the slope with his horrible companions; in a few moments had passed the foremost of the throng – not much of a feat, considering his advantages. He placed himself in the lead, his wooden sword still in hand, and solemnly directed the march, conforming his pace to theirs and occasionally turning as if to see that his forces did not straggle. Surely such a leader never before had such a following.

Scattered about upon the ground now slowly narrowing by the encroachment of this awful march to water, were certain articles to which, in the leader’s mind, were coupled no significant associations: an occasional blanket, tightly rolled lengthwise, doubled and the ends bound together with a string; a heavy knapsack here, and there a broken rifle – such things, in short, as are found in the rear of retreating troops, the “spoor” of men flying from their hunters. Everywhere near the creek, which here had a margin of lowland, the earth was trodden into mud by the feet of men and horses. An observer of better experience in the use of his eyes would have noticed that these footprints pointed in both directions; the ground had been twice passed over – in advance and in retreat. A few hours before, these desperate, stricken men, with their more fortunate and now distant comrades, had penetrated the forest in thousands. Their successive battalions, breaking into swarms and re-forming in lines, had passed the child on every side – had almost trodden on him as he slept. The rustle and murmur of their march had not awakened him. Almost within a stone’s throw of where he lay they had fought a battle; but all unheard by him were the roar of the musketry, the shock of the cannon, “the thunder of the captains and the shouting.” He had slept through it all, grasping his little wooden sword with perhaps a tighter clutch in unconscious sympathy with his martial environment, but as heedless of the grandeur of the struggle as the dead who had died to make the glory.

The fire beyond the belt of woods on the farther side of the creek, reflected to earth from the canopy of its own smoke, was now suffusing the whole landscape. It transformed the sinuous line of mist to the vapor of gold. The water gleamed with dashes of red, and red, too, were many of the stones protruding above the surface. But that was blood; the less desperately wounded had stained them in crossing. On them, too, the child now crossed with eager steps; he was going to the fire. As he stood upon the farther bank he turned about to look at the companions of his march. The advance was arriving at the creek. The stronger had already drawn themselves to the brink and plunged their faces into the flood. Three or four who lay without motion appeared to have no heads. At this the child’s eyes expanded with wonder; even his hospitable understanding could not accept a phenomenon implying such vitality as that. After slaking their thirst these men had not had the strength to back away from the water, nor to keep their heads above it. They were drowned. In rear of these, the open spaces of the forest showed the leader as many formless figures of his grim command as at first; but not nearly so many were in motion. He waved his cap for their encouragement and smilingly pointed with his weapon in the direction of the guiding light – a pillar of fire to this strange exodus.

Confident of the fidelity of his forces, he now entered the belt of woods, passed through it easily in the red illumination, climbed a fence, ran across a field, turning now and again to coquet with his responsive shadow, and so approached the blazing ruin of a dwelling. Desolation everywhere! In all the wide glare not a living thing was visible. He cared nothing for that; the spectacle pleased, and he danced with glee in imitation of the wavering flames. He ran about, collecting fuel, but every object that he found was too heavy for him to cast in from the distance to which the heat limited his approach. In despair he flung in his sword – a surrender to the superior forces of nature. His military career was at an end.

Shifting his position, his eyes fell upon some outbuildings which had an oddly familiar appearance, as if he had dreamed of them. He stood considering them with wonder, when suddenly the entire plantation, with its inclosing forest, seemed to turn as if upon a pivot. His little world swung half around; the points of the compass were reversed. He recognized the blazing building as his own home!

For a moment he stood stupefied by the power of the revelation, then ran with stumbling feet, making a half-circuit of the ruin. There, conspicuous in the light of the conflagration, lay the dead body of a woman – the white face turned upward, the hands thrown out and clutched full of grass, the clothing deranged, the long dark hair in tangles and full of clotted blood. The greater part of the forehead was torn away, and from the jagged hole the brain protruded, overflowing the temple, a frothy mass of gray, crowned with clusters of crimson bubbles – the work of a shell.

The child moved his little hands, making wild, uncertain gestures. He uttered a series of inarticulate and indescribable cries – something between the chattering of an ape and the gobbling of a turkey – startling, soulless, unholy sound, the language of a devil. The child was a deaf mute.

Then he stood motionless, with quivering lips, looking down upon the wreck.

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Sinclair Lewis: Selections on war

October 21, 2014 Leave a comment
Categories: Uncategorized

Henry Blake Fuller: Killed and wounded on the fields of hate

October 20, 2014 1 comment

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts
 
American writers on peace and against war

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Henry Blake Fuller
Member of the Anti-Imperialist League
From On the Stairs (1918)

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The Great War waged more furiously than ever, and came more close. The country had first said, “You may,” and, later, “You must.”

***

In his own body there was not one drop of martial blood; in his being not an iota of the bellicose spirit. Why men fight, even why boys fight – all this had been a mystery which he must take on faith, with little help from the fisticuffs and brawls of school-days, or even from the gigantic, agonizing closing-in of whole peoples, now under way.

***

McComas’s bank, like others, put its office-machinery at the disposal of the Government, when the first war-loan was in the making…McComas himself felt no promptings to subscribe to this loan; but his directors thought that a reasonable degree of participation was “indicated.” The bank’s name went down, with the names of some others; and the clerks who had been working over hours on the new and exacting minutiae of the undertaking were given a chance to divert their savings toward the novel securities. The bank displayed the Nation’s flag, and the flags of some of the allies. It all made a busy corner…

His wife, who had been flitting from veranda to veranda in their pleasant suburban environment, and been doing, with other ladies of her circle, some desultory work for the wounded soldiers of the future, now came down to the centre of the town and took up the work in good earnest…”Why, it’s the most delightfully absorbing thing I’ve ever done!” she declared. A new world was dawning – a red world that not all of us have been fated to meet so young.

***

A few brief months ended the foreign service of both our young men. Albert came home invalided, and Tom McComas along with others, lay dead between the opposing lines of trenches. His father would not, at first, credit the news. His son’s very strength and vigor had helped build up his own exuberant optimism. It simply could not be; his son, his only remaining son, a happy husband, a gratified parent…But the truth bore in, as the truth will, and McComas had his days of rebellious – almost of blasphemous – protest.

Albert, whose injuries had made him appear as likely to be a useless piece on the board for longer than the army surgeons thought worth while, was sent back home and made his convalescence under the care of his mother; within her house, indeed – for his father had no quarters to offer him. Among McComas’s flower-beds and garden-paths he enjoyed the ministrations of a physician other and better than any that practices on those fields of hate…

Those few months comprised his contribution to the cause. He mended more rapidly than might have been expected, and soon began to feel the resurgence of those belligerencies which are proper to the nature of the healthy young male. But his belligerencies were not at all militaristic. He had seen war at short range, knew what it was, and desired it no more.

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Eugene Field and Thorne Smith: Bacchus disables Mars

October 19, 2014 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Thorne Smith: Make statues of war’s wholesale butchers before they strike

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Eugene Field
Let Us Have Peace

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In maudlin spite let Thracians fight
Above their bowls of liquor;
But such as we, when on a spree,
Should never brawl and bicker!

These angry words and clashing swords
Are quite de trop, I’m thinking;
Brace up, my boys, and hush your noise,
And drown your wrath in drinking.

Aha, ‘t is fine, – this mellow wine
With which our host would dope us!
Now let us hear what pretty dear
Entangles him of Opus.

I see you blush, – nay, comrades, hush!
Come, friend, though they despise you,
Tell me the name of that fair dame, –
Perchance I may advise you.

O wretched youth! and is it truth
You love that fickle lady?
I, doting dunce, courted her once;
Since when, she’s reckoned shady!

***

Thorne Smith
From Night Life of the Gods (1931)

james

“Live and let live, say I.”

“That’s all very well for you…but with us, our span is so short it’s almost die and let die. What you meant to say is, drink and let drink.”

“Well, it comes to the same thing. There’re altogether too many crimes attributed to drink which rightly belong to natures that would be a lot more vicious without it. Drink doesn’t create crime. It modifies it.”

“Makes it more democratic,” suggested Hunter Hawk. “Spreads it over a wider area and reduces its velocity.”

“Absolutely,” agreed Ludwig with enthusiasm. “If the world kept itself staggering drunk for a couple of centuries there wouldn’t be any wars. Armies would fall down and go to sleep before they could reach each other.”

“And when they woke up,” Mr. Hawk amplified, “the soldiers’ hands would be so unsteady they wouldn’t be able to do much damage.”

“You’ve got it,” said the little man. “You’ve gotten my point exactly. Instead of going over the top the soldiers would barely be able to crawl along on their bottoms.”

“An inspiring picture.”

“War has no inspiring pictures that cannot find their counterparts in peace,” Mr. Turner looked exceedingly solemn when he brought forth this one.

“Them as I understand it,” summed up Hawk, “you hate war and love drink.”

“Exactly, sir. Exactly.”

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Italian writers on war and militarism

October 18, 2014 1 comment

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

Italian writers on war and militarism

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

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

Giuseppe Berto: Selections on war

Giuseppe Berto: Bombing produced cities of the dead

Giuseppe Berto: A fable: The war was going well, the war was going badly

Giuseppe Berto: It was a good night for an air raid. Somewhere or other there would be terror and death and destruction.

Giuseppe Berto: No one truly survives war

Giuseppe Berto: One of the fruits of war, that people should feel so alone and desolate

Giuseppe Berto: Orphaned by the bombs

Giuseppe Berto: The sound of the bombs whistling, the sounds of human suffering, the groans, the screams, the agonized appeals

Giuseppe Berto: Stop destroying so many good things that existed on earth simply in order to slaughter each other

Giuseppe Berto: Then the war passed over our countryside

Giuseppe Berto: A universal evil has given them the power to kill unknown people, people very like themselves

Giuseppe Berto: War destroys the soul even when it spares the body

Eugenio Montale: Poetry in an era of nuclear weapons and Doomsday atmosphere

Alberto Moravia: Selections on war

Alberto Moravia: “Ah well, war is war, you know”

Alberto Moravia: Even in uniform and with a chest covered with medals, always a thief and a murderer

Alberto Moravia: That is what war is like, the war is everywhere

Alberto Moravia: Torn colored posters inciting people to war

Alberto Moravia: War destroys all things seen and unseen

Alberto Moravia: War survives in our souls long after it is over

Cesare Pavese: Every war is a civil war

Cesare Pavese: A moment of peace, to be reborn into a bloodless world

Petrarch: Wealth and power at a bloody rate is wicked, better bread and water eat with peace

Salvatore Quasimodo: In every country a cultural tradition opposes war

Ignazio Silone: Resorting to the bloody diversion of war

Ignazio Silone: They have been warned of wars and rumors of wars

Ignazio Silone: War with today’s hereditary enemy

Giovanni Verga: The Mother of Sorrows

Elio Vittorini: Dialogue between a dead soldier and his brother

Elio Vittorini: Slaughter perpetrated in the world; one man cries and another laughs

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Randall Jarrell: In bombers named for girls, we burned the cities we had learned about in school

October 17, 2014 Leave a comment

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts
 
American writers on peace and against war

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Randall Jarrell
Losses (1948)

RandallJarrell_NewBioImage

It was not dying: everybody died.
It was not dying: we had died before
In the routine crashes – and our fields
Called up the papers, wrote home to our folks,
And the rates rose, all because of us.
We died on the wrong page of the almanac,
Scattered on mountains fifty miles away;
Diving on haystacks, fighting with a friend,
We blazed up on the lines we never saw.
We died like aunts or pets or foreigners.
(When we left high school nothing else had died
For us to figure we had died like.)

In our new planes, with our new crews, we bombed
The ranges by the desert or the shore,
Fired at towed targets, waited for our scores –
And turned into replacements and woke up
One morning, over England, operational.

It wasn’t different: but if we died
It was not an accident but a mistake
(But an easy one for anyone to make.)
We read our mail and counted up our missions –
In bombers named for girls, we burned
The cities we had learned about in school –
Till our lives wore out; our bodies lay among
The people we had killed and never seen.
When we lasted long enough they gave us medals;
When we died they said, ‘Our casualties were low.’

They said, ‘Here are the maps’; we burned the cities.

It was not dying – no, not ever dying;
But the night I died I dreamed that I was dead,
And the cities said to me: ‘Why are you dying?
We are satisfied, if you are; but why did I die?’

Categories: Uncategorized

John William De Forest: Uncivil war

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts
 
American writers on peace and against war

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John William De Forest
Miss Revenel’s Conversion (1867)

jwdf

[M]en still endeavored to convince each other by argument while holding the pistol to each other’s heads; but from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf there was a spiritual preparedness for slaughter which was to end in such murderous contests as should make ensanguined Europe rise from its thousand battlefields to stare in wonder.

***

How many such marriages took place during the War, sweet flowers of affection springing out of the mighty carnage! How many fond girls forgot their womanly preference for long engagements, slow preparations of much shopping and needlework, coy hesitations and gentle maidenly tyrannies, to fling themselves into the arms of lovers who longed to be husbands before they went forth to die! How many young men in uniform left behind them weeping brides to whom they were doomed never to return!

***

Deep in the profound and solemn woods, a full mile and a half from the fighting line, they came to the field hospital of the division. It was simply an immense collection of wounded men in every imaginable condition of mutilation, every one stained more or less with his own blood, every one of a ghastly yellowish pallor, all lying in the open air on the bare ground, or on their own blankets, with no shelter except the friendly foliage of the oaks and beeches. In the centre of this mass of suffering stood several operating tables, each burdened by a grievously wounded man and surrounded by surgeons and their assistants. Underneath were great pools of clotted blood, amidst which lay amputated fingers, hands, arms, feet and legs, only a little more ghastly in color than the faces of those who waited their turn on the table. The surgeons, who never ceased their awful labor, were daubed with blood to the elbows; and a smell of blood drenched the stifling air, overpowering even the pungent odor of chloroform. The place resounded with groans…One man, whose leg was amputated close to his body, uttered an inarticulate jabber of broken screams, and rolled, or rather bounced from side to side of a pile of loose cotton, with such violence that two hospital attendants were fully occupied in holding him. Another, shot through the body, lay speechless and dying, but quivering from head to foot with a prolonged though probably unconscious agony. He continued to shudder thus for half an hour, when he gave one superhuman throe, and then lay quiet for ever.

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Marianne Moore: I must fight till I have conquered in myself what causes war

October 14, 2014 1 comment

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts
 
American writers on peace and against war

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Marianne Moore
From In Distrust of Merit (1944)

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Hate-hardened heart, O heart of iron
iron is iron till it is rust.
There never was a war that was
not inward; I must
fight till I have conquered in myself what
causes war, but I would not believe it.
I inwardly did nothing.
O Iscariot-like crime!
Beauty is everlasting
and dust is for a time.

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Robinson Jeffers: Eagle Valor, Chicken Mind

October 13, 2014 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Robinson Jeffers
Eagle Valor, Chicken Mind (1947)

RobinsonJeffers_NewBioImage

Unhappy country, what wings you have! Even here,
Nothing important to protect, and ocean-far from the nearest enemy,
what a cloud
Of bombers amazes the coast mountain, what a hornet-swarm of fighters,
And day and night the guns practicing.
Unhappy, eagle wings and beak, chicken brain,
Weep (it is frequent in human affairs), weep for the terrible magnificence
of the means.
The ridiculous incompetence of the reasons, the bloody and shabby
Pathos of the result.

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Joel Barlow: War after war his hungry soul require, each land lie reeking with its people’s slain

October 12, 2014 Leave a comment

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts
 
American writers on peace and against war

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Joel Barlow
Advice To A Raven In Russia (1812)

barlow_joel03

Black fool, why winter here? These frozen skies,
Worn by your wings and deafen’d by your cries,
Should warn you hence, where milder suns invite,
And day alternates with his mother night.
You fear perhaps your food will fail you there,
Your human carnage, that delicious fare
That lured you hither, following still your friend
The great Napoleon to the world’s bleak end.
You fear, because the southern climes pour’d forth
Their clustering nations to infest the north,
Barvarians, Austrians, those who Drink the Po
And those who skirt the Tuscan seas below,
With all Germania, Neustria, Belgia, Gaul,
Doom’d here to wade thro slaughter to their fall,
You fear he left behind no wars, to feed
His feather’d canibals and nurse the breed.
Fear not, my screamer, call your greedy train,
Sweep over Europe, hurry back to Spain,

You’ll find his legions there; the valliant crew
Please best their master when they toil for you.
Abundant there they spread the country o’er
And taint the breeze with every nation’s gore,
Iberian, Lussian, British widely strown,
But still more wide and copious flows their own.
Go where you will; Calabria, Malta, Greece,
Egypt and Syria still his fame increase,
Domingo’s fatten’d isle and India’s plains
Glow deep with purple drawn from Gallic veins.
No Raven’s wing can stretch the flight so far
As the torn bandrols of Napoleon’s war.
Choose then your climate, fix your best abode,
He’ll make you deserts and he’ll bring you blood.
How could you fear a dearth? have not mankind,
Tho slain by millions, millions left behind?
Has not CONSCRIPTION still the power to weild
Her annual faulchion o’er the human field?
A faithful harvester! or if a man
Escape that gleaner, shall he scape the BAN?

The triple BAN, that like the hound of hell
Gripes with three joles, to hold his victim well.
Fear nothing then, hatch fast your ravenous brood,
Teach them to cry to Bonaparte for food;
They’ll be like you, of all his suppliant train,
The only class that never cries in vain.
For see what mutual benefits you lend!
(The surest way to fix the mutual friend)
While on his slaughter’d troops your tribes are fed,
You cleanse his camp and carry off his dead.
Imperial Scavenger! but now you know
Your work is vain amid these hills of snow.
His tentless troops are marbled thro with frost
And change to crystal when the breath is lost.
Mere trunks of ice, tho limb’d like human frames
And lately warm’d with life’s endearing flames,
They cannot taint the air, the world impest,
Nor can you tear one fiber from their breast.
No! from their visual sockets, as they lie,
With beak and claws you cannot pluck an eye.
The frozen orb, preserving still its form,
Defies your talons as it braves the storm,
But stands and stares to God, as if to know
In what curst hands he leaves his world below.
Fly then, or starve; tho all the dreadful road
From Minsk to Moskow with their bodies strow’d
May count some Myriads, yet they can’t suffice
To feed you more beneath these dreary skies.
Go back, and winter in the wilds of Spain;
Feast there awhile, and in the next campaign
Rejoin your master; for you’ll find him then,
With his new million of the race of men,
Clothed in his thunders, all his flags unfurl’d,
Raging and storming o’er the prostrate world.
War after war his hungry soul requires,
State after State shall sink beneath his fires,
Yet other Spains in victim smoke shall rise
And other Moskows suffocate the skies,
Each land lie reeking with its people’s slain
And not a stream run bloodless to the main.
Till men resume their souls, and dare to shed
Earth’s total vengeance on the monster’s head,
Hurl from his blood-built throne this king of woes,
Dash him to dust, and let the world repose.

Categories: Uncategorized

Amy Lowell: A pattern called a war. Christ! What are patterns for?

October 11, 2014 Leave a comment

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts
 
American writers on peace and against war

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Amy Lowell
Patterns (1916)

images (1)

I walK down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.

My dress is richly figured,
And the train
Makes a pink and silver stain
On the gravel, and the thrift
Of the borders.
Just a plate of current fashion,
Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes.
Not a softness anywhere about me,
Only whale-bone and brocade.
And I sink on a seat in the shade
Of a lime tree. For my passion
Wars against the stiff brocade.
The daffodils and squills
Flutter in the breeze
As they please.
And I weep;
For the lime tree is in blossom
And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.

And the plashing of waterdrops
In the marble fountain
Comes down the garden paths.
The dripping never stops.
Underneath my stiffened gown
Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin,
A basin in the midst of hedges grown
So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding,
But she guesses he is near,
And the sliding of the water
Seems the stroking of a dear
Hand upon her.
What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown!
I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground.
All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.
I should see the sun flashing from his sword hilt and the buckles on his shoes.
I would choose
To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths,
A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover,
Till he caught me in the shade,
And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me,
Aching, melting, unafraid.
With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops,
And the plopping of the waterdrops,
All about us in the open afternoon —
I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade,
For the sun shifts through the shade.

Underneath the fallen blossom
In my bosom,
Is a letter I have hid.
It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke.
“Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell
Died in action Thursday se’nnight.”
As I read it in the white, morning sunlight,
The letters squirmed like snakes.
“Any answer, Madam?” said my footman.
“No,” I told him.
“See that the messenger takes some refreshment.
No, no answer.”
And I walked into the garden,
Up and down the patterned paths,
In my stiff, correct brocade.
The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun,
Each one.
I stood upright too,
Held rigid to the pattern
By the stiffness of my gown.
Up and down I walked,
Up and down.

In a month he would have been my husband.
In a month, here, underneath this lime,
We would have broke the pattern;
He for me, and I for him,
He as Colonel, I as Lady,
On this shady seat.
He had a whim
That sunlight carried blessing.
And I answered, “It shall be as you have said.”
Now he is dead.

In Summer and in Winter I shall walk
Up and down
The patterned garden paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
The squills and daffodils
Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow.
I shall go
Up and down,
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.

For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ! What are patterns for?

Categories: Uncategorized

Washington Irving: The renown not purchased by deeds of violence and blood

October 10, 2014 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Washington Irving: The laudable spirit of military emulation. Soldiers, poor animals

Washington Irving: Most pacific nation in the world? Rather the most warlike

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Washington Irving
From Westminster Abbey (1820)
The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.

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It seems as if the awful nature of the place presses down upon the soul, and hushes the beholder into noiseless reverence. We feel that we are surrounded by the congregated bones of the great men of past times, who have filled history with their deeds, and the earth with their renown.

And yet it almost provokes a smile at the vanity of human ambition, to see how they are crowded together and jostled in the dust; what parsimony is observed in doling out a scanty nook, a gloomy corner, a little portion of earth, to those, whom, when alive, kingdoms could not satisfy…

I passed some time in Poet’s Corner, which occupies an end of one of the transepts or cross aisles of the abbey. The monuments are generally simple; for the lives of literary men afford no striking themes for the sculptor. Shakespeare and Addison have statues erected to their memories; but the greater part have busts, medallions, and sometimes mere inscriptions. Notwithstanding the simplicity of these memorials, I have always observed that the visitors to the abbey remained longest about them. A kinder and fonder feeling takes place of that cold curiosity or vague admiration with which they gaze on the splendid monuments of the great and the heroic. They linger about these as about the tombs of friends and companions; for indeed there is something of companionship between the author and the reader. Other men are known to posterity only through the medium of history, which is continually growing faint and obscure: but the intercourse between the author and his fellow-men is ever new, active, and immediate. He has lived for them more than for himself; he has sacrificed surrounding enjoyments, and shut himself up from the delights of social life, that he might the more intimately commune with distant minds and distant ages. Well may the world cherish his renown; for it has been purchased, not by deeds of violence and blood, but by the diligent dispensation of pleasure. Well may posterity be grateful to his memory; for he has left it an inheritance, not of empty names and sounding actions, but whole treasures of wisdom, bright gems of thought, and golden veins of language.

***

There is a sad dreariness in this magnificence; this strange mixture of tombs and trophies; these emblems of living and aspiring ambition, close beside mementos which show the dust and oblivion in which all must sooner or later terminate. Nothing impresses the mind with a deeper feeling of loneliness, than to tread the silent and deserted scene of former throng and pageant. On looking round on the vacant stalls of the knights and their esquires, and on the rows of dusty but gorgeous banners that were once borne before them, my imagination conjured up the scene when this hall was bright with the valor and beauty of the land; glittering with the splendor of jewelled rank and military array; alive with the tread of many feet and the hum of an admiring multitude. All had passed away; the silence of death had settled again upon the place, interrupted only by the casual chirping of birds, which had found their way into the chapel, and built their nests among its friezes and pendants – sure sign of solitariness and desertion.

When I read the names inscribed on the banners, they were those of men scattered far and wide about the world; some tossing upon distant seas; some under arms in distant lands; some mingling in the busy intrigues of courts and cabinets; all seeking to deserve one more distinction in this mansion of shadowy honors: the melancholy reward of a monument.

***

History fades into fable; fact becomes clouded with doubt and controversy; the inscription moulders from the tablet; the statue falls from the pedestal. Columns, arches, pyramids, what are they but heaps of sand; and their epitaphs, but characters written in the dust? What is the security of a tomb, or the perpetuity of an embalmment? The remains of Alexander the Great have been scattered to the wind, and his empty sarcophagus is now the mere curiosity of a museum…

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David Graham Phillips: Captains of industry, industrial warfare, marauders and renegade generals

October 9, 2014 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

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David Graham Phillips
From The Deluge (1905)

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[O]nly a fool commits crimes that put him in the power of others. The crimes of the really big captains of industry and generals of finance are of the kind that puts others in their power.

***

But while our country’s industrial territory is vast, the interests of the few great controllers who determine wages and prices for all are equally vast, and each plutocrat is tormented incessantly by jealousy and suspicion; not a day passes without conflicts of interest that adroit diplomacy could turn into ferocious warfare.

***

That small and exclusive circle, into which I was seeing myself admitted without the usual arduous and unequal battle, was what may be called the industrial ring – a loose, yet tight, combine of about a dozen men who controlled in one way or another practically all the industries of the country. They had no formal agreements; they held no official meetings. They did not look upon themselves as an association. They often quarreled among themselves, waged bitter wars upon each other over divisions of power or plunder. But, in the broad sense, in the true sense, they were an association – a band united by a common interest, to control finance, commerce and therefore politics; a band united by a common purpose, to keep that control in as few hands as possible. Whenever there was sign of peril from without they flung away differences, pooled resources, marched in full force to put down the insurrection. For they looked on any attempt to interfere with them as a mutiny, as an outbreak of anarchy. This band persisted, but membership in it changed, changed rapidly. Now, one would be beaten to death and despoiled by a clique of fellows; again, weak or rash ones would be cut off in strenuous battle. Often, most often, some too-powerful or too-arrogant member would be secretly and stealthily assassinated by a jealous associate or by a committee of internal safety. Of course, I do not mean literally assassinated, but assassinated, cut off, destroyed, in the sense that a man whose whole life is wealth and power is dead when wealth and power are taken from him.

Actual assassination, the crime of murder – these “gentlemen” rarely did anything which their lawyers did not advise them was legal or could be made legal by bribery of one kind or another. Rarely, I say – not never. You will see presently why I make that qualification.

I had my heart set upon membership in this band – and, as I confess now with shame, my prejudices of self-interest had blinded me into regarding it and its members as great and useful and honorable “captains of industry.” Honorable in the main; for, not even my prejudice could blind me to the almost hair-raising atrocity of some of their doings. Still, morality is largely a question of environment. I had been bred in that environment. Even the atrocities I excused on the ground that he who goes forth to war must be prepared to do and to tolerate many acts the church would have to strain a point to bless. What was Columbus but a marauder, a buccaneer? Was not Drake, in law and in fact, a pirate; Washington a traitor to his soldier’s oath of allegiance to King George? I had much to learn, and to unlearn.

***

[Y]ou don’t look for character in the proprietors, servants, customers and hangers-on of dives. No more ought you to look for honor among any of the people that have to do with the big gilded dive of the dollarocracy. They are there to gamble, and to prostitute themselves. The fact that they look like gentlemen and have the manners and the language of gentlemen ought to deceive nobody but the callow chaps of the sort that believes the swell gambler is “an honest fellow” and a “perfect gentleman otherwise,” because he wears a dress suit in the evening and is a judge of books and pictures. Lawyers are the doorkeepers and the messengers of the big dive; and these lawyers, though they stand the highest and get the biggest fees, are just what you would expect human beings to be who expose themselves to such temptations, and yield whenever they get an opportunity, as eager and as compliant as a cocotte.

***

In every office of the down town district – merchant, banker, broker, lawyer, man of commerce or finance – was not every busy brain plotting, not self-preservation but pillage and sack – plotting to increase the cost of living for the masses of men by slipping a little tax here and a little tax there on to everything by which men live? All along the line between the farm or mine or shop and the market, at every one of the toll-gates for the collection of just charges, these big financiers, backed up by the big lawyers and the rascally public officials, had an agent in charge to collect on each passing article more than was honestly due. A thousand subtle ways of levying, all combining to pour in upon the few the torrents of unjust wealth. I laugh when I read of laboring men striking for higher wages. Poor, ignorant fools – they almost deserve their fate. They had better be concerning themselves with a huge, universal strike at the polls for lower prices. What will it avail to get higher wages, as long as the masters control and recoup on the prices of all the things for which those wages must be spent?

***

I looked about me in Wall Street; in my mind’s eye I all in an instant saw my world as it really was. I saw the great rascals of “high finance,” their respectability stripped from them; saw them gathering in the spoils which their cleverly-trained agents, commercial and political and legal, filched with light fingers from the pockets of the crowd, saw the crowd looking up to these trainers and employers of pickpockets, hailing them “captains of industry”! They reaped only where and what others had sown; they touched industry only to plunder and to blight it; they organized it only that its profits might go to those who did not toil and who despised those who did. “Have I gone mad in the midst of sane men?” I asked myself. “Or have I been mad, and have I suddenly become sane in a lunatic world?”

***

Until I opened fire, the public thought, in a general way, that a bank was an institution like Thornley’s Discount and Deposit National – a place for the safe-keeping of money and for accommodating business men with loans to be used in carrying on and extending legitimate and useful enterprises. And there were many such banks. But the real object of the banking business, as exploited by the big bandits who controlled it and all industry, was to draw into a mass the money of the country that they might use it to manipulate the markets, to wreck and reorganize industries and wreck them again, to work off inflated bonds and stocks upon the public at inflated prices, to fight among themselves for rights to despoil, making the people pay the war budgets – in a word, to finance the thousand and one schemes whereby they and their friends and relatives, who neither produce nor help to produce, appropriate the bulk of all that is produced.

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Sinclair Lewis: Don’t much care what kind of war they prepare for

October 8, 2014 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Sinclair Lewis: Selections on war

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

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One of the few times when Mrs. Candy, their housekeeper, was permitted to enter his hermit’s cell was to leave there, on the long table, his mail. He picked it up and started to read briskly, standing by the table. (Time to go to bed! Too much chatter and bellyaching, this evening! Good Lord! Past midnight!) He sighed then, and sat in his Windsor chair, leaning his elbows on the table and studiously reading the first letter over again.

It was from Victor Loveland, one of the younger, more international-minded teachers in Doremus’s old school, Isaiah College.

DEAR DR. JESSUP:

(“Hm. ‘Dr. Jessup.’ Not me, m’ lad. The only honorary degree I’ll ever get’ll be Master in Veterinary Surgery or Laureate in Embalming.”)

A very dangerous situation has arisen here at Isaiah and those of us who are trying to advocate something like integrity and modernity are seriously worried – not, probably, that we need to be long, as we shall probably all get fired. Where two years ago most of our students just laughed at any idea of military drilling, they have gone warlike in a big way, with undergrads drilling with rifles, machine guns, and cute little blueprints of tanks and planes all over the place. Two of them, voluntarily, are going down to Rutland every week to take training in flying, avowedly to get ready for wartime aviation. When I cautiously ask them what the dickens war they are preparing for they just scratch and indicate they don’t care much, so long as they can get a chance to show what virile proud gents they are.

Well, we’ve got used to that. But just this afternoon – the newspapers haven’t got this yet – the Board of Trustees, including Mr. Francis Tasbrough and our president, Dr. Owen Peaseley, met and voted a resolution that – now listen to this, will you, Dr. Jessup – “Any member of the faculty or student body of Isaiah who shall in any way, publicly or privately, in print, writing, or by the spoken word, adversely criticize military training at or by Isaiah College, or in any other institution of learning in the United States, or by the state militias, federal forces, or other officially recognized military organizations in this country, shall be liable to immediate dismissal from this college, and any student who shall, with full and proper proof, bring to the attention of the President or any Trustee of the college such malign criticism by any person whatever connected in any way with the institution shall receive extra credits in his course in military training, such credits to apply to the number of credits necessary for graduation.”

What can we do with such fast exploding Fascism?

VICTOR LOVELAND.

And Loveland, teacher of Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit (two lone students) had never till now meddled in any politics of more recent date than A.D. 180.

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Edward Dyer: So that of war the very name may not be heard again

October 7, 2014 Leave a comment

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

Edward Dyer
From Extracts from Sixe Idillia: The Prayer of Theocritus for Syracuse

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Out of our island drive our enemies, our bitter fate,
Along the Sardine sea, that death of friends they may relate
Unto their children and their wives, and that the towns opprest
By enemies, of th’ old inhabitants may be possest:
That they may till the fields, and sheep upon the downs may bleat
By thousands infinite and fat, and that the herd of neat
As to their stalls they go may press the lingering traveller.
Let grounds be broken up for seed, what time the grasshopper
Watching the shepherds by their flocks, in boughs close singing lies,
And let the spiders spread their slender webs in armories,
So that of war the very name may not be heard again.

***

The lowest trees have tops, the ant her gall,
The fly her spleen, the little spark his heat;
And slender hairs cast shadows, though but small,
And bees have stings, although they be not great;
Seas have their source, and so have shallow springs;
And love is love in beggars and in kings.

Where waters smoothest run, deep are the fords;
The dial stirs, yet none perceives it move;
The firmest faith is in the fewest words;
The turtles cannot sing, and yet they love;
True hearts have eyes and ears, no tongues to speak;
They hear, and see, and sigh, and then they break!

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Archibald MacLeish: The disastrous war, the silent slain

October 6, 2014 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Archibald MacLeish
The Silent Slain

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We too, we too, descending once again
The hills of our own land, we too have heard
Far off – Ah, que ce cor a longue haleine –
The horn of Roland in the passages of Spain,
the first, the second blast, the failing third,
And with the third turned back and climbed once more
The steep road southward, and heard faint the sound
Of swords, of horses, the disastrous war,
And crossed the dark defile at last, and found
At Roncevaux upon the darkening plain
The dead against the dead and on the silent ground
The silent slain –

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Harold Frederic: War inflicts stifling political conformity

October 5, 2014 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Harold Frederic
From The Damnation of Theron Ware (1896)

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His boyhood had been spent in those bitter days when social, political, and blood prejudices were fused at white heat in the crucible of war. When he went to the Church Seminary, it was a matter of course that every member of the faculty was a Republican, and that every one of his classmates had come from a Republican household. When, later on, he entered the ministry, the rule was still incredulous of exceptions. One might as well have looked in the Nedahma Conference for a divergence of opinion on the Trinity as for a difference in political conviction. Indeed, even among the laity, Theron could not feel sure that he had ever known a Democrat; that is, at all closely. He understood very little about politics, it is true. If he had been driven into a corner, and forced to attempt an explanation of this tremendous partisan unity in which he had a share, he would probably have first mentioned the War – the last shots of which were fired while he was still in petticoats…

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Ella Wheeler Wilcox: A Plea To Peace

October 4, 2014 Leave a comment

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts
 
American writers on peace and against war

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Ella Wheeler Wilcox
A Plea To Peace (1918)

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When mighty issues loom before us, all
The petty great men of the day seem small,
Like pigmies standing in a blaze of light
Before some grim majestic mountain-height.
War, with its bloody and impartial hand,
Reveals the hidden weakness of a land,
Uncrowns the heroes trusting Peace has made
Of men whose honor is a thing of trade,
And turns the searchlight full on many a place
Where proud conventions long have masked disgrace.
O lovely Peace! as thou art fair be wise.
Demand great men, and great men shall arise
To do thy bidding. Even as warriors come,
Swift at the call of bugle and of drum,
So at the voice of Peace, imperative
As bugle’s call, shall heroes spring to live
For country and for thee. In every land,
In every age, men are what times demand.
Demand the best, O Peace, and teach thy sons
They need not rush in front of death-charged guns
With murder in their hearts to prove their worth.
The grandest heroes who have graced the earth
Were love-filled souls who did not seek the fray,
But chose the safe, hard, high, and lonely way
Of selfless labor for a suffering world.
Beneath our glorious flag again unfurled
In victory such heroes wait to be
Called into bloodless action, Peace, by thee.
Be thou insistent in thy stern demand,
And wise, great men shall rise up in the land.

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Malcolm Cowley: By day there are only the dead

October 3, 2014 Leave a comment

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts
 
American writers on peace and against war

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Malcolm Cowley
Ostel 1917

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By day
The town basks in the sun like some Aztec ruin.
There is quiet in the trenches nearby; quiet and strained watching.
The crumbling walls of the village are without habitant.

Everything changes with nightfall.
Hooded camions rumble up the street in convoy.
Out of holes in the ground come tired old men to unload them.
Artillery caissons strain towards the batteries
And trains of pack mules.
Down from the trenches stumble figures shrouded in mud.
Continually there are starshells
And the nervous hammer of machine guns
And ambulances.

Men work and talk; eat and dig graves;
The slow dawn comes and everything disappears
Machines and men and animals
Like old-fashioned ghosts
At midnight.

By day
There are only the dead
And like vultures
The aeroplanes circling above them.

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Maxim Gorky: Only time to train cannon fodder, not soldiers

October 2, 2014 Leave a comment

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

Russian writers on war

Maxim Gorky: Selections on war

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

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The streets and squares of the city had long since been in use for drilling soldiers, and everywhere rang the command:

“‘Tion!”

The command lingered in his memory from childhood, when, in the tranquillity of a provincial town, it had rung assured and imperious, although coming from a distance – from the field. Here in the city which commanded the forces of the enormous country, the life of a hundred and fifty million souls, this command sounded irritable, hopeless, sometime actually despondent and futile, like an appeal or a cry of despair.

Samghin, listening to the order, shook his head incredulously, and came to a stop. Before him, striding along the cobbled pavements of the street, he saw small men in faded uniforms, all of them ill-fitting. Many of the men were still in civilian clothes. They stepped out as if against their will, as if unable to believe that in order to go and kill they must stamp vigorously on the cobbled or wooden pavements.

“Left! Left!” admonished a tall soldier huskily. He had a cross on his chest, and stripes on his sleeves. He limped, supporting himself on a thick stick. The diverse faces of the little men in ranks were lined with the same expression of sullen boredom; their variously colored eyes were marked by an identical vacancy.

“‘Tion!” shouted at them officers wearied by ordering about a living, but sluggish, group of people who seemed to Samghin as crumpled and empty as deflated rubber balls. The humid, hillocky sky, shredded with clouds, hung over the ditches of the streets, over the squares. The withered sun, scattering murky light, expanded somewhere far behind the clouds.

“‘Tion!” commanded the officers.

The city was already waking and rattling. Men were removing the scaffolding from an unfinished house. A fire brigade was on its way back from work. The wet, crinkled firemen stared at the men who were being taught to walk on the earth shoulder to shoulder. From around a corner came an officer, riding on a pied horse. After him crawled small guns, cutting across the firemen’s path, rumbling metallically. Soldiers in steel helmets marched on. A small crowd of men variously costumed passed by, led by s black-bearded priest bearing an ikon, beside him a youth carrying a pole with the national flag across his shoulder, like a rifle.

Samghin stood on the sidewalk, smoking, aware that the whole business did not depress him so much as it embarrassed him – embarrassed and saddened him. The soldier with the cross and the stripes ordered, in a subdued voice,

“At ease – smoke – ”

Limping, thrusting his stick at the pavement, he crossed to the sidewalk and and sat down on the curb, where he pulled a newspaper from his pocket and hid his face behind it. Samghin observed that the soldier, as he glanced his way, wanted to salute but thought better of it.

“Training them?” he asked. The soldier, reluctantly, looking at him over the paper, replied in a low voice:

“Yes. Rough-hewing them. But you can’t make a soldier in a month – as you can see for yourself.”

Samghin walked on. After this when he saw soldiers drilling, he stopped for a few minutes to watch, and to listen to the comments of passers-by, to other watchers like himself. The remarks were sarcastic, angry, glum, sullen.

“Small-caliber men – ”

“The big ones, I suppose, have been destroyed.”

“Heroes like that won’t be able to thrash the Germans.”

And the women sighed:

“Oh, Lord, when will the end be?”

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