From Saint’s Progress (1919)
Yes, surely it was ordained! Moonlight had the town now; and all was steel blue, the very air steel-blue; a dream-city of marvellous beauty, through which he passed, exalted. Soon he would be where that poor boy, and a million others, had given their lives; with the mud and the shells and the scarred grey ground, and the jagged trees, where Christ was daily crucified…
When he had gone she roamed a little farther, and lay down on the short grass, where the chalk broke through in patches. She could hear a distant rumbling, very low, travelling in that grass, the long mutter of the Flanders guns. ‘I wonder if it’s as beautiful a day there,’ she thought. ‘How dreadful to see no green, no butterflies, no flowers – not even sky – for the dust of the shells. Oh! won’t it ever, ever end?’ And a sort of passion for the earth welled up in her, the warm grassy earth along which she lay, pressed so close that she could feel it with every inch of her body, and the soft spikes of the grass against her nose and lips. An aching sweetness tortured her, she wanted the earth to close its arms about her, she wanted the answer to her embrace of it. She was alive, and wanted love. Not death – not loneliness – not death! And out there, where the guns muttered, millions of men would be thinking that same thought!
In the boarding-house, whence the Lairds had not yet removed, the old lady who knitted, sat by the fireplace, and light from the setting sun threw her shadow on the wall, moving spidery and grey, over the yellowish distemper, in time to the tune of her needles. She was a very old lady – the oldest lady in the world, Noel thought – and she knitted without stopping, without breathing, so that the girl felt inclined to scream. In the evening when George and Gratian were not in, Noel would often sit watching the needles, brooding over her as yet undecided future. And now and again the old lady would look up above her spectacles; move the corners of her lips ever so slightly, and drop her gaze again. She had pitted herself against Fate; so long as she knitted, the war could not stop – such was the conclusion Noel had come to. This old lady knitted the epic of acquiescence to the tune of her needles; it was she who kept the war going such a thin old lady! ‘If I were to hold her elbows from behind,’ the girl used to think, ‘I believe she’d die. I expect I ought to; then the war would stop. And if the war stopped, there’d be love and life again.’
She stopped after going perhaps three hundred yards, by the edge of the wood. It was splendidly dark in there, and she groped her way from trunk to trunk, with a delicious, half-scared sense of adventure and novelty. She stopped at last by a thin trunk whose bark glimmered faintly. She felt it with her cheek, quite smooth – a birch tree; and, with her arms round it, she stood perfectly still. Wonderfully, magically silent, fresh and sweet-scented and dark! The little tree trembled suddenly within her arms, and she heard the low distant rumble, to which she had grown so accustomed – the guns, always at work, killing – killing men and killing trees, little trees perhaps like this within her arms, little trembling trees! Out there, in this dark night, there would not be a single unscarred tree like this smooth quivering thing, no fields of corn, not even a bush or a blade of grass, no leaves to rustle and smell sweet, not a bird, no little soft-footed night beasts, except the rats; and she shuddered, thinking of the Belgian soldier-painter. Holding the tree tight, she squeezed its smooth body against her. A rush of the same helpless, hopeless revolt and sorrow overtook her, which had wrung from her that passionate little outburst to her father, the night before he went away. Killed, torn, and bruised; burned, and killed, like Cyril! All the young things, like this little tree.
Rumble! Rumble! Quiver! Quiver! And all else so still, so sweet and still, and starry, up there through the leaves.. ‘I can’t bear it!’ she thought. She pressed her lips, which the sun had warmed all day, against the satiny smooth bark. But the little tree stood within her arms insentient, quivering only to the long rumbles. With each of those dull mutterings, life and love were going out, like the flames of candles on a Christmas-tree, blown, one by one…
From The Cross and the Arrow (1944)
“Tell me the story of the sparrow,” the child said.
Marianne smiled mechanically at Willi. “It’s the one he wants to hear every night,” she explained. She leaned close to the boy so that his cheek was pressed to hers. Her lovely face was a mask, her fine eyes were hot with pain.
“The spider kills the fly,” she began. “Then the sparrow kills the spider – and the hawk kills the sparrow – then the fox kills the hawk – and the dog kills the fox – then the wolf kills the dog – and then what?” she asked her son.
“Then what?” he echoed.
“Why, you know – Who kills the wolf?”
“You tell me, ” the lad said in his slurred baby talk.
“Why, a man!” his mother replied. “And that’s the way the world is, Dickie boy. The strong always win and kill their enemies. Will you be strong when you grow up?”
“Will you be the strongest man there is and kill all your country’s enemies?”
“And what will you be, when you grow up?” she asked, as she turned half toward Wegler with a proud smile.
“A solya,” the child answered.
“That’s it; a soldier,” Marianne repeated.
Willi was at work when the British bombers came to Düsseldorf. He emerged from the factory shelter in a fiery dawn to find the five-story tenement in which he lived sheared in half. Kathe had been in the cellar with numberless others. He helped dig their bodies out. As an old soldier, he knew enough about death to be aware that Kathe had not suffered. Still, even for an old soldier, it was not good to look upon the body of his wife and see it without arms, its viscera exposed.
He cursed the British that day. He stood upon a carpet of rubble and broken glass and raised his fists to the heavens. And when he had ceased cursing these foreign marauders, he fell silent, remaining as tearless and graven as a lump of statuary. To any bystander, his mien must have seemed the very incarnation of grief. It was not. It was quite beyond grief. It was numbness, it was a new state of being, it was the state of a man whose soul has gone to sleep.
On Receiving News of the War
Snow is a strange white word.
No ice or frost
Has asked of bud or bird
For Winter’s cost.
Yet ice and frost and snow
From earth to sky
This Summer land doth know.
No man knows why.
In all men’s hearts it is.
Some spirit old
Hath turned with malign kiss
Our lives to mould.
Red fangs have torn His face.
God’s blood is shed.
He mourns from His lone place
His children dead.
O! ancient crimson curse!
Give back this universe
Its pristine bloom.
William Dean Howells
Member of the Anti-Imperialist League
From a letter to his sister Aurelia H. Howells
September 5, 1897
On Wednesday we came to Weimar, and spent two days there. Goethe and Schiller lived there, you know, in the favor and friendship of the grand dukes, and literature was glorified as much there as war is elsewhere.
From a letter Aurelia H. Howells
May 1, 1898
The war seems to be taking its bloody course. Who wanted it? That is the mystery. I met a man last night who had been through Kansas, and that part of the West, where Eastern people think the war-feeling prevails; but he found only the greatest indifference and reluctance. The most we can hope for, now, is a clean fight-through with Spain, and no outside trouble; but this is uncertain, and in the meantime our wretched victories seem only a little less hateful than our defeats would be.
From a letter to Aurelia H. Howells
July 17, 1898
Yesterday Elinor and I went over to Kittery Point to see the Harvard, which had just come in with 1000 Spanish prisoners. We took a cat-boat and sailed out to her, where she laid in the stream; but the prisoners had been taken off in the morning, and we went up the Piscataqua river to Seavey’s Island where they are put – now 1700 in all. There we saw them lying on the grass, or crowding the doors of their long barracks, guarded by sentries twenty feet apart, and in peril of death if they passed a certain line within their high board fence; Gatling guns overlooked them from three heights above. It was better than fighting, but what must such captivity be to those poor boys! Just what it would be to ours in Spain. It seemed impossible that we should have entered upon this abominable business. If we were still in the habit of fearing God we might well tremble when we remember that he is just, as Jefferson did when he thought of slavery.
From The Marching Men (1916)
In the world of men nothing is so rare as a knowledge of men. Christ himself found the merchants hawking their wares even on the floor of the temple and in his naive youth was stirred to wrath and drove them through the door like flies. And history has represented him in turn as a man of peace so that after these centuries the temples are again supported by the hawking of wares and his fine boyish wrath is forgotten. In France after the great revolution and the babbling of many voices talking of the brotherhood of man it wanted but a short and very determined man with an instinctive knowledge of drums, of cannons and of stirring words to send the same babblers screaming across open spaces, stumbling through ditches and pitching headlong into the arms of death. In the interest of one who believed not at all in the brotherhood of man they who had wept at the mention of the word brotherhood died fighting brothers.
Something is wrong with modern American life and we Americans do not want to look at it. We much prefer to call ourselves a great people and let it go at that. It is evening and the people of Chicago go home from work. Clatter, clatter, clatter, go the heels on the hard pavements, jaws wag, the wind blows and dirt drifts and sifts through the masses of the people. Every one has dirty ears. The stench in the street cars is horrible. The antiquated bridges over the rivers are packed with people. The suburban trains going away south and west are cheaply constructed and dangerous. A people calling itself great and living in a city also called great go to their houses a mere disorderly mass of humans cheaply equipped. Everything is cheap. When the people get home to their houses they sit on cheap chairs before cheap tables and eat cheap food. They have given their lives for cheap things. The poorest peasant of one of the old countries is surrounded by more beauty. His very equipment for living has more solidity.
McGregor began to read books of history and became absorbed in the figures of certain men, all soldiers and leaders of soldiers who stalked across the pages wherein was written the story of man’s life. The figures of Sherman, Grant, Lee, Jackson, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, and Wellington seemed to him to stand starkly up among the other figures in the books and going to the Public Library at the noon hour he got books concerning these men and for a time lost interest in the study of law and devoted himself to contemplation of the breakers of laws.
America is the land of murders. Day after day in cities and towns and on lonely country roads violent death creeps upon men. Undisciplined and disorderly in their way of life the citizens can do nothing. After each murder they cry out for new laws which, when they are written into the books of laws, the very lawmaker himself breaks. Harried through life by clamouring demands, their days leave them no time for the quietude in which thoughts grow. After days of meaningless hurry in the city they jump upon trains or street cars and hurry through their favourite paper to the ball game, the comic pictures and the market reports.
Men have not learned that we must come to understand the impulse toward order, have that burned into our consciousness, before we move on to other things. There is in us this madness for individual expression. For each of us the little moment of running forward and lifting our thin childish voices in the midst of the great silence. We have not learned that out of us all, walking shoulder to shoulder, there might arise a greater voice, something to make the waters of the very seas to tremble.
From The Financier (1912)
There was a fish-market not so very far from his home, and there, on his way to see his father at the bank, or conducting his brothers on after-school expeditions, he liked to look at a certain tank in front of one store where were kept odd specimens of sea-life brought in by the Delaware Bay fishermen. He saw once there a sea-horse – just a queer little sea-animal that looked somewhat like a horse – and another time he saw an electric eel which Benjamin Franklin’s discovery had explained. One day he saw a squid and a lobster put in the tank, and in connection with them was witness to a tragedy which stayed with him all his life and cleared things up considerably intellectually. The lobster, it appeared from the talk of the idle bystanders, was offered no food, as the squid was considered his rightful prey. He lay at the bottom of the clear glass tank on the yellow sand, apparently seeing nothing – you could not tell in which way his beady, black buttons of eyes were looking – but apparently they were never off the body of the squid. The latter, pale and waxy in texture, looking very much like pork fat or jade, moved about in torpedo fashion; but his movements were apparently never out of the eyes of his enemy, for by degrees small portions of his body began to disappear, snapped off by the relentless claws of his pursuer. The lobster would leap like a catapult to where the squid was apparently idly dreaming, and the squid, very alert, would dart away, shooting out at the same time a cloud of ink, behind which it would disappear. It was not always completely successful, however. Small portions of its body or its tail were frequently left in the claws of the monster below. Fascinated by the drama, young Cowperwood came daily to watch.
One morning he stood in front of the tank, his nose almost pressed to the glass. Only a portion of the squid remained, and his ink-bag was emptier than ever. In the corner of the tank sat the lobster, poised apparently for action.
The boy stayed as long as he could, the bitter struggle fascinating him. Now, maybe, or in an hour or a day, the squid might die, slain by the lobster, and the lobster would eat him. He looked again at the greenish-copperish engine of destruction in the corner and wondered when There was a fish-market not so very far from his home, and there, on his way to see his father at the bank, or conducting his brothers on after-school expeditions, he liked to look at a certain tank in front of one store where were kept odd specimens of sea-life brought in by the Delaware Bay fishermen. He saw once there a sea-horse – just a queer little sea-animal that looked somewhat like a horse – and another time he saw an electric eel which Benjamin Franklin’s discovery had explained. One day he saw a squid and a lobster put in the tank, and in connection with them was witness to a tragedy which stayed with him all his life and cleared things up considerably intellectually. The lobster, it appeared from the talk of the idle bystanders, was offered no food, as the squid was considered his rightful prey. He lay at the bottom of the clear glass tank on the yellow sand, apparently seeing nothing – you could not tell in which way his beady, black buttons of eyes were looking – but apparently they were never off the body of the squid. The latter, pale and waxy in texture, looking very much like pork fat or jade, moved about in torpedo fashion; but his movements were apparently never out of the eyes of his enemy, for by degrees small portions of his body began to disappear, snapped off by the relentless claws of his pursuer. The lobster would leap like a catapult to where the squid was apparently idly dreaming, and the squid, very alert, would dart away, shooting out at the same time a cloud of ink, behind which it would disappear. It was not always completely successful, however. Small portions of its body or its tail were frequently left in the claws of the monster below. Fascinated by the drama, young Cowperwood came daily to watch.
One morning he stood in front of the tank, his nose almost pressed to the glass. Only a portion of the squid remained, and his ink-bag was emptier than ever. In the corner of the tank sat the lobster, poised apparently for action.
The boy stayed as long as he could, the bitter struggle fascinating him. Now, maybe, or in an hour or a day, the squid might die, slain by the lobster, and the lobster would eat him. He looked again at the greenish-copperish engine of destruction in the corner and wondered when this would be. To-night, maybe. He would come back to-night.
He returned that night, and lo! the expected had happened. There was a little crowd around the tank. The lobster was in the corner. Before him was the squid cut in two and partially devoured.
“He got him at last,” observed one bystander. “I was standing right here an hour ago, and up he leaped and grabbed him. The squid was too tired. He wasn’t quick enough. He did back up, but that lobster he calculated on his doing that. He’s been figuring on his movements for a long time now. He got him to-day.”
Frank only stared. Too bad he had missed this. The least touch of sorrow for the squid came to him as he stared at it slain. Then he gazed at the victor. “That’s the way it has to be, I guess,” he commented to himself. “That squid wasn’t quick enough.” He figured it out.
“The squid couldn’t kill the lobster – he had no weapon. The lobster could kill the squid – he was heavily armed. There was nothing for the squid to feed on; the lobster had the squid as prey. What was the result to be? What else could it be? He didn’t have a chance,” he concluded finally, as he trotted on homeward.
The incident made a great impression on him. It answered in a rough way that riddle which had been annoying him so much in the past: “How is life organized?” Things lived on each other – that was it. Lobsters lived on squids and other things. What lived on lobsters? Men, of course! Sure, that was it! And what lived on men? he asked himself. Was it other men? Wild animals lived on men. And there were Indians and cannibals. And some men were killed by storms and accidents. He wasn’t so sure about men living on men; but men did kill each other. How about wars and street fights and mobs?…
There is a certain fish, the scientific name of which is Mycteroperca Bonaci, its common name Black Grouper, which is of considerable value as an afterthought in this connection, and which deserves to be better known. It is a healthy creature, growing quite regularly to a weight of two hundred and fifty pounds, and lives a comfortable, lengthy existence because of its very remarkable ability to adapt itself to conditions. That very subtle thing which we call the creative power, and which we endow with the spirit of the beatitudes, is supposed to build this mortal life in such fashion that only honesty and virtue shall prevail. Witness, then, the significant manner in which it has fashioned the black grouper. One might go far afield and gather less forceful indictments – the horrific spider spinning his trap for the unthinking fly; the lovely Drosera (Sundew) using its crimson calyx for a smothering-pit in which to seal and devour the victim of its beauty; the rainbow-colored jellyfish that spreads its prismed tentacles like streamers of great beauty, only to sting and torture all that falls within their radiant folds. Man himself is busy digging the pit and fashioning the snare, but he will not believe it. His feet are in the trap of circumstance; his eyes are on an illusion.
Mycteroperca moving in its dark world of green waters is as fine an illustration of the constructive genius of nature, which is not beatific, as any which the mind of man may discover. Its great superiority lies in an almost unbelievable power of simulation, which relates solely to the pigmentation of its skin. In electrical mechanics we pride ourselves on our ability to make over one brilliant scene into another in the twinkling of an eye, and flash before the gaze of an onlooker picture after picture, which appear and disappear as we look. The directive control of Mycteroperca over its appearance is much more significant. You cannot look at it long without feeling that you are witnessing something spectral and unnatural, so brilliant is its power to deceive. From being black it can become instantly white; from being an earth-colored brown it can fade into a delightful water-colored green. Its markings change as the clouds of the sky. One marvels at the variety and subtlety of its power.
Lying at the bottom of a bay, it can simulate the mud by which it is surrounded. Hidden in the folds of glorious leaves, it is of the same markings. Lurking in a flaw of light, it is like the light itself shining dimly in water. Its power to elude or strike unseen is of the greatest.
What would you say was the intention of the overruling, intelligent, constructive force which gives to Mycteroperca this ability? To fit it to be truthful? To permit it to present an unvarying appearance which all honest life-seeking fish may know? Or would you say that subtlety, chicanery, trickery, were here at work? An implement of illusion one might readily suspect it to be, a living lie, a creature whose business it is to appear what it is not, to simulate that with which it has nothing in common, to get its living by great subtlety, the power of its enemies to forefend against which is little. The indictment is fair.
Would you say, in the face of this, that a beatific, beneficent creative, overruling power never wills that which is either tricky or deceptive? Or would you say that this material seeming in which we dwell is itself an illusion? If not, whence then the Ten Commandments and the illusion of justice? Why were the Beatitudes dreamed of and how do they avail?
From Good-Bye to All That (1929)
We had no blankets, greatcoats or waterproof sheets, not any time or material to build new shelters. The rain continued. Every night we went out to fetch in the dead of the other battalions. The Germans continued indulgent and we had very few casualties. After the first day or two the corpses swelled and stank. I vomited more than once while superintending the carrying. Those we could not get in from the German wire continued to swell until the wall of the stomach collapsed, either naturally or when punctured by a bullet; a disgusting smell would float across. The colour of the dead faces changed from white to yellow-grey, to red, to purple, to green, to black, to slimy.
The next two days we went in bivouacs outside Mametz Wood. We were in fighting kit and felt the cold at night, so I went into the wood to find German overcoats to use as blankets. It was full of Prussian Guards Reservists, big men, and dead Royal Welch and South Wales Borderers of the New Army Battalions, little men. Not a single tree in the wood remained unbroken. I collected my overcoats and hurried out as quickly as I could, climbing out as quickly as I could, climbing through the wreckage of green branches. Going and coming, by the only possible route, I passed by the bloating and stinking corpse of a German with his back propped against a tree. He had a green face, spectacles, close-shaven hair; black blood was dripping from the nose and beard. I came across two other unforgettable corpses: a man of the South Wales Borderers and one of the Lehr Regiment had succeeded in bayoneting each other simultaneously. A survivor of the fighting told me later that he had seen a young soldier of the Fourteenth Royal Welch bayoneting a German in parade-ground style, automatically exclaiming: ‘In, out, on guard!’
From Star of the Unborn (1946)
Translated by Gustave O. Arlt
…I wan’t afraid of the infantry attack of the reinforced Russian army that was to drive us across the endless beet fields of this countryside in disorderly retreat only a few hours later. I was not even afraid of captivity, although I mechanically felt for the leather pouch that hung from a cord around my neck. In this pouch my mother had sewed a few gold pieces in case I should be taken captive. I distinctly remembered falling asleep again, cheerful and carefree, my head on my arms.
And I remembered just as distinctly that much had changed when I awakened, or rather, when I was wakened, an hour later. The dial of my clock no longer glowed, for the moon shone into the room even more brightly than before. But that was not all. Not only the moon and the ticking time shared Pani Pozñanskà’s hole-in-the-wall with me. Someone had climbed in through the open window, had moved one of the wooden chairs next to my bed, and sat there looking at me. It was a soldier. Who else could it have been? Outside of Mrs. Pozñanskà and a couple of ancient Jews there were no civilians in this front-line town. It was a mud-bedaubed infantryman who had come straight out of the trench that ran along the edge of the village. The man had a typical trench-beard, the kind that grew even on the youngest men, stubby, bushy, matted, blond in spots, brown in others, and both in the same square inch. Such uninhibited, luxuriant facial vegetation always reminded me of rolled-up, rusty barbed wire.
The soldier sitting on my bed was in full kit. His rolled pack bulged above his shoulders. Suspended from two dirty bands crossed over his chest his canteen hung on the left, his ration bag on the right. He held his rifle between his knees. He had drawn the short, sharp bayonet from its scabbard and, much to my surprise, he carved off a good solid hunk from a loaf of sour-smelling black bread. The remainder of the loaf he stowed away methodically in the ration bag. Now he held the thick slice of bread in his left hand, and with the bayonet in his right he made painstakingly regular incisions in the slice. I was fascinated by the skillfull manner in which he handled the dry, crumbly, rye-and-corn war bread so that not a particle feel on the floor. And now he pushed the first cube of bread into his mouth and began to chew slowly and thoughtfully. At the same time he kept staring at me intently, unwaveringly, from two very deep-set eyes. Or rather, he didn’t stare at me with any kind of eyes, but with two attentive, shadowy, black spots. It was a horrible dismal stare. I felt the man’s hatred in every slow, taunting motion. More than hatred. The man was a reproach personified. And this nameless reproach was directed against me personally, as though I were responsible for everything, for the grime, the war, the barrage, and death. I remembered with great clarity that I accepted the intruder’s reproach with all my soul as I lay there in the moonlight, I, who wasn’t any more than he, a common ordinary soldier. I didn’t wonder a bit why he had climbed in my window, of all people, instead of into that of the commanding general, or at least of a major or a lieutenant-colonel. Without shifting his gloomy, eyeless stare from me he shoved the next cube of bread into his mouth with the same hand that held the bayonet. The man stank of filth and mud and weeks of unwashedness and also of iodoform, as though he had been wounded and had a bandage under his uniform. His overcoat was no longer fieldgray, or rather fieldblue, as Austro-Hungarian Army regulations prescribed, but yellowish brown, like a plowed field or an open grave.
I tried to break the spell that held me, to utter a word, to move my hand. I couldn’t. Then I was almost certain that the soldier here beside me was a dream soldier. Despite the consciousness of danger I closed my eyes for a few seconds in order to give the dream a chance to dissolve. When I opened them again the infantryman had leaned his rifle against my bed and had risen to his full skinny height, as though the time for action had come. He was no longer chewing. He was only staring. But his stare was no longer the horribly dismal stare of personified reproach; it was an objective, calculating stare from small, pale, real eyes. His right hand was behind his back. His left hand lay on my chest. It was fingering the leather pouch with the gold pieces. It was tugging at the cord.
Then I understood at last. I was lying under the knife of a murderer. And then I managed to scream, “Who are you? What do you want?”
It was a terrible thing to be lying under the murderer’s knife. Anyone who hasn’t experienced it and survived the experience cannot possibly comprehend it. I lay helpless in the sleeping bag that prevented me from struggling. As I screamed I knew perfectly well that my scream forced the murderer’s hand, that it compelled him to plunge the concealed bayonet into my breast. I expected the thrust with a deadly certainty.
But the soldier turned his head toward the window. He had heard something that I had not yet heard. “Military patrol. Room inspection,” he said briefly with a foreign accent.
“Military patrol” was our word for Military Police. I recalled that I heard these words with relief. My window had been open and the Military Police on their rounds had checked to see who was sleeping here. Everything was in order. But in the next second I knew that this man in the filthy, stinking uniform, in front-line kit, without a brassard and corporal’s insignia, could never be in command of a military patrol. At last I untangled myself from the sleeping bag. I leaped to my feet. To the window. He could only be a few feet away. Many soldiers were running around outside, buttoning their coats, strapping on their pack-rolls, shouldering their rifles. “Military patrol,” I shouted, but no one paid any attention, for the Russian barrage had already begun. A few moments later it had grown into an unbroken, inarticulate roar. The first shells began to drop. The black trees that were explosions grew out of the ground. A house at the other end of the street received a full hit.
I dressed calmly. General Brusilov, whose shells whined through the air, had saved me from the hand of a murderer. It was really quite illogical that the murderer should have been frightened off by the artillery fire…
George Bernard Shaw: Soldiering is the coward’s art of attacking mercilessly when you are strong, and keeping out of harm’s way when you are weak
George Bernard Shaw
From Arms and the Man (1894)
MAN. You never saw a cavalry charge, did you?
RAINA. How could I?
MAN. Ah, perhaps not — of course. Well, it’s a funny sight. It’s like slinging a handful of peas against a window pane: first one comes; then two or three close behind him; and then all the rest in a lump.
RAINA (her eyes dilating as she raises her clasped hands ecstatically). Yes, first One! — the bravest of the brave!
MAN (prosaically). Hm! you should see the poor devil pulling at his horse.
RAINA. Why should he pull at his horse?
MAN (impatient of so stupid a question). It’s running away with him, of course: do you suppose the fellow wants to get there before the others and be killed? Then they all come. You can tell the young ones by their wildness and their slashing. The old ones come bunched up under the number one guard: they know that they are mere projectiles, and that it’s no use trying to fight. The wounds are mostly broken knees, from the horses cannoning together.
CATHERINE. You look superb — splendid. The campaign has improved you. Everybody here is mad about you. We were all wild with enthusiasm about that magnificent cavalry charge.
SERGIUS (with grave irony). Madam: it was the cradle and the grave of my military reputation.
CATHERINE. How so?
SERGIUS. I won the battle the wrong way when our worthy Russian generals were losing it the right way. That upset their plans, and wounded their self-esteem. Two of their colonels got their regiments driven back on the correct principles of scientific warfare. Two major-generals got killed strictly according to military etiquette. Those two colonels are now major-generals; and I am still a simple major.
SERGIUS. I am no longer a soldier. Soldiering, my dear madam, is the coward’s art of attacking mercilessly when you are strong, and keeping out of harm’s way when you are weak. That is the whole secret of successful fighting. Get your enemy at a disadvantage; and never, on any account, fight him on equal terms. Eh, Major!
PETKOFF. They wouldn’t let us make a fair stand-up fight of it. However, I suppose soldiering has to be a trade like any other trade.
From The Odyssey
Translated by William Cullen Bryant
The great gods are never pleased
With violent deeds; they honor equity
And justice. Even those who land as foes
And spoilers upon foreign shores, and bear
Away much plunder by the will of Jove,
Returning homeward with their laden barks,
Feel, brooding heavily upon their minds,
The fear of vengeance.
From Young Felix (1923)
It was already the time for air-raids, and Felix lived in the studio with the glass roof nearly in the centre of London. He was very frightened when the air-raids occurred; but he went on working in his studio during their course because he was still more frightened if he was in company with other people in a shelter. The crowd, the fears, the smells and discomforts, were worse to him than the danger of annihilation. In the studio he could die once; in these crowds he died a thousand times. And so when the first bangs of the defensive guns sounded, Felix swore explosively and continued to work. The whole of the war seemed to him stupid and futile; and in no particular was it more stupid and futile than in that of air-raids. But in that matter Felix was conventional, and thought no differently from those directly above from whose houses all the air-battles regularly and by miracle took place. He knew nothing about the war but the details which were published in the newspapers and those which received even greater publicity by word of mouth – until the time when he was used by the Government as a military artist, when he knew even less than he had known before.
And as they sat thus, above the music and racketting of the orchestra, Felix’s sharp ears caught a sinister thud. Almost at that instant, Mary turned to him and said:
“What’s the time? D’you think we better go now?”
As they were at the end of a row near one of the exit doors it was easy to creep out unobserved; and by the time they reached the door they had both heard another ominous thud, and a third. They turned to each other. Felix’s heart was like water, not from personal fear but from fear upon Mary’s account. He was horrified at the thought that he had brought her into danger. He trembled.
“Was that…something?” Mary whispered, as if she dared not think it true.
“Afraid so,” Felix acknowledged. He in turn did not dare to look at her for an instant. Mary’s face turned white. As they were now beyond the auditorium they could stop and listen. Thud, thud…thud, thud, thud…thud…Unmistakable. Felix turned to a commissionaire. Other people were walking unconcernedly upon the stairs, evidently deaf to these noises, or without fear of their significance.
“Is there a raid on?” he asked, in a low voice.
The commissionaire backed to the wall, looking surreptitiously at those who were near, and giving cautious glances of warning at Felix. He was a little alarmed, but his duty was to prevent a panic; and he was upheld by his duty.
“I’ll tell you,” he muttered. “Keep it dark. See? Yes, there is. You can’t go out. Best thing’s to go up to the saloon. Part of the roof’s concrete. You’ll be all right there…Only, don’t make a…see what I mean?”
In his heart, Feliz was afraid…afraid. He must not be afraid. His heart was fluttering; his mouth was dry. But the fear was physical only: his head was clear.
“Damn it, I mustn’t be afraid,” he muttered. “Simply mustn’t…
“May as well make ourselves comfortable,” he said, with painstaking unconcern.
“Yes – oh, what was that?” She half sprang to her feet as a deep roaring crash, which seemed near at hand, drowned everything. Felix knew that it must be a bomb. He knew that at any instant such another crash might end their lives. It was intolerable. He saw horror growing in Mary’s eyes, a fear, a panic. At all costs that must be stopped. At all costs.
“The whole thing’s ridiculous,” he cried. “It’s such a farce, isn’t it? All this uncomfortable feeling we have, because of a bang. Only nerves: nothing decently in the way of alarm. It’s only the noise really, not the danger, that makes us sick. There’s practically no danger at all, you know.”
“No?” Again she looked at him like a child, and their hands sprang together. The warmth began to steal back to her cheeks, and the trustfulness to her eyes. She was caught up in the inexhaustible loquaciousness of Felix. Thud, thud, thud…overhead…thud…thud, thud. Louder, louder…Felix was desperate. He must go on talking. He must go on talking and talking until the bomb fell that might destroy both and mash them to bloody fragments.
“I will now,” he said, with a supreme effort to master his excitement, “I will now tell you the story of my life.”
Entirely absorbed, Mary frowned for an instant, forgetful of the thuds.
“Oh, but haven’t I heard that?” she objected.
“This is another one,” said Felix. “Listen!”
From Boston (1928)
“…From this time on , I take the dear ‘mob’ to my heart; I am only afraid of dashing young gentlemen in gaudy uniforms, and elderly diplomats and business men in dinner-jackets. There isn’t a country in Central Europe where the Whites haven’t killed ten for every one the Reds have killed, and in many cases it has been a hundred for one.
“And the worst is, Grannie, these White dictatorships are all American-made – with guns and uniforms from our army and dollars from our bankers. They have got an American loan here in Hungary, and I am wondering if father is in on it…”
…Rupert Allen had to interview agents of the banking and manufacturing interests of Italy, and listen to plans for the coup d’eat which was to turn that country into a dictatorship of big capital. No possible way to avoid it – unless the money that had been loaned to Italy during and since the war was to be lost. The bankers of Boston and New York and Philadelphia and Chicago had to get together and do for Italy what they had already done for Hungary and Roumania and Czechoslovakia and Finland ans Esthonia and Latvia and Lithuania – so many miserable bonded states that it gave a hundred percent American a headache to learn their names.
George Santayana: If dreadful outer world became troublesome, it would be necessary to make war on it and teach it a lesson
From The Last Puritan: A Memoir in the Form of a Novel (1935)
Her moral ideal was democracy, but a democracy of the elect. There could be no oppression in imposing uniformity on people who were really all alike; and such a society exacted from its members only what, if they were honourable, they would exact from themselves. She couldn’t conceive life except in a clan, where all the peers should have equal rights and similar virtues. Beyond the pale there could be nothing but utter darkness – an alien, heathen, unintelligible world, to be kept as remote as possible. If they couldn’t grow tea at home, she supposed they must get it from China or Ceylon. And she supposed that if occasionally that dreadful outer world became troublesome, it would be necessary to make war on it and teach it a lesson: but by far the best thing was to ignore it altogether. It ought never to have existed.
“It is unfortunate to have been born at a time when the force of human character was ebbing, while the tide of material activity and material knowledge was rising so high as to drown all moral independence. I have been a victim of my environment: but I have not surrendered to it. I have surrendered only to my own limitations.”
“Poor prodigal world, let us not insult it: let us pray for it. But meantime, we must remain ourselves, as Emerson remained himself, only not on those stilts of his, not with that self-worship; because the world was no more made to serve us by illustrating our philosophy than we were made to serve the world by licking its boots…
“Boston and Harvard have need now of fresh blood, of fresh spiritual courage. They are becoming too much like the rest of the country, choked with big business, forced fads, and merely useful knowledge. Our fearless souls of other days have left no heirs. We need to break away again – were we not always come-outers? – from intellectual professionalism, from the slough of wholesale standardised opinion, from the dulcet mendacity of the pulpits, from the sheepish, ignorant, monotonous, epidemic mind of our political rulers…America is the greatest of opportunities and the worst of influences…
“You look shocked and a bit offended: why do I say that America is the worst of influences? Because it imposes vices which regard themselves as virtues, from which therefore there is no repentance at hand. It imposes optimism, imposes worldliness, imposes mediocrity. Bur our mediocrity, with our resources, is a disgrace, our worldliness a sin, our optimism a lie…”
From The New Men (1954)
He opened the wallet, and with his neat deliberate fingers unfolded a sheet of office paper. He leant across and put it on my blotter. The words were written in his own handwriting. There were no corrections, and the letter looked like a fair copy. It read:
“To the Editor of ‘The Times’ (which failing, ‘Daily Telegraph,’ ‘Manchester Guardian’). Sir, As a scientist who has been employed for four years on the fission bomb, I find it necessary to make two comments on the use of such a bomb on Hiroshima. First, it appears not to have been relevant to the war: informed persons are aware that, for some weeks past, the Japanese have been attempting to put forward proposals for surrender. Second, if this had not been so, or if the proposals came to nothing, a minimum respect for humanity required that a demonstration of the weapon should be given, e.g. by delivering a bomb on unpopulated territory, before one was used on an assembly of men, women, and children. The actual use of the bomb in cold blood on Hiroshima is the most horrible single act so far performed. States like Hitler’s Germany have done much wickedness over many years, but no State has ever before had the power and the will to destroy so many lives in a few seconds…”
Member of the Anti-Imperialist League
The Battle Hymn of the Republic (Brought Down to Date) (1901)
Mine eyes have seen the orgy of the launching of the Sword;
He is searching out the hoardings where the stranger’s wealth is stored;
He hath loosed his fateful lightnings, and with woe and death has scored;
His lust is marching on.
I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded him an altar in the Eastern dews and damps;
I have read his doomful mission by the dim and flaring lamps —
His night is marching on.
I have read his bandit gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my pretensions, so with you my wrath shall deal;
Let the faithless son of Freedom crush the patriot with his heel;
Lo, Greed is marching on!”
We have legalized the strumpet and are guarding her retreat*;
Greed is seeking out commercial souls before his judgement seat;
O, be swift, ye clods, to answer him! be jubilant my feet!
Our god is marching on!
In a sordid slime harmonious Greed was born in yonder ditch,
With a longing in his bosom — and for others’ goods an itch.
As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich —
Our god is marching on.
* NOTE: In Manila the Government has placed a certain industry under the protection of our flag. (M.T.)
November 14, 2014
CrossTalk: Cycle of Violence
Ukraine on tender hooks: The ceasefire brokered last September to stop Ukraine’s civil war is collapsing. Both sides in this conflict appear to be preparing for more hostilities. This is at a time when the country’s economy is facing meltdown. CrossTalking with Rick Rozoff, David Speedie and Michael O’Hanlon.
James Fenimore Cooper
From The Spy (1821)
“Archibald, do you deem that moon to be a world like this, containing creatures like ourselves?”
“Nothing more probable, dear John; we know its size and, reasoning from analogy, may easily conjecture its use. Whether or not its inhabitants have attained to that perfection in the sciences which we have acquired, must depend greatly on the state of its society, and in some measure upon its physical influences.”
“I care nothing about their learning, Archibald; but ’tis a wonderful power that can create such worlds, and control them in their wanderings. I know not why, but there is a feeling of melancholy excited within me as I gaze on that body of light, shaded as it is by your fancied sea and land. It seems to be the resting place of departed spirits!”
“‘Tis a glorious heaven to look upon,” continued the trooper, in the same tone, disregarding the offer of Betty, “and ’tis a thousand pities that such worms as men should let their vile passions deface such goodly work.”
“You speak the truth, dear John; there is room for all to live and enjoy themselves in peace, if each could be satisfied with his own. Still, war has its advantages; it particularly promotes the knowledge of surgery; and – ”
“There is a star,” continued Lawton, still bent on his own ideas, “struggling to glitter through a few driving clouds; perhaps that too is a world, and contains its creatures endowed with reason like ourselves. Think you that they know of war and bloodshed?”
“The savages!” exclaimed the divine, instinctively placing the trooper in the rear.
“More than savages; men who, under the guise of patriotism, prowl through the community, with a thirst for plunder that is unsatiable, and a love of cruelty that mocks the ingenuity of the Indian – fellows whose mouths are filled with liberty and equality, and whose hearts are overflowing with cupidity and gall…”
“…Ah! here are those monsters, who have come to witness the death of a fellow creature, moving around yon field, as if life was, to them, nothing but a military show.”
“It is but little more to the hireling soldier,” said Henry, endeavoring to forget his uneasiness.
From The Specter (1938)
Translated by Alexander Bakshy
“That cannot be true,” Samghin declared sternly. “Refugees are given free transportation.”
“Your precursor, Misha Lokstev, thought that, too. He actually started an argument about this disagreement. So the gendarmes took him off and put him in a cellar – I think that’s it. Then they swooped down on us with questions: Did Mikhail Loktev incite you to mutiny? So you can see how…this business is managed.”
“He probably told you – some nonsense.”
“We didn’t notice it,” replied the old man.
But the handsome giant, Alexey, reminded him reprovingly:
“He said that the war was an all-national stupidity, and that the Germans are fools, too.”
“You should hold your tongue, you fool, instead of butting into the conversation of your elders. War is no stupidity. It 1905 it plowed up the people mighty bad. It’s likely to do the same this time. War is a terrible business – ”
“No good will come from this war. No. Where I live, in Old Ash, we harvested the grain and burned it all – the same in Khalomery, and in Udroy – all of it. So the Germans wouldn’t get it. The menfolk cry. The womenfolk cry. But what’s the use? You won’t put out a fire with tears.”
“We were retreating from Galicia, and all the time, all along the way, the grain was burning – flour, groats, food-supply depots, villages – it was all blazing. On the fields we trampled crops without end. Dear Lord! What is the cause of this ruination of life?”
Samghin rose on his toes, craning his neck to see over the heads. Leaning against the wall was a tall soldier with a bandaged head and a crochet under his arm; beside him stood a stout nurse, with dark spectacles on her great white face. She was silent, wiping her lips with the corner of her handkerchief.
“Folks,” appealed the soldier, tugging at the collar of his coat and thereby baring his Adam’s apple. “We must look for the cause of this ruination. We must understand its cause. What does it mean – war?”
“…As contrast, here’s another letter, by a private,” he said, and began reading, his voice louder:
“The war drags on, we keep retreating, and where we’ll land nobody understands. There is talk that the soldiers themselves must stop the war. Some of the prisoners can speak Russian. One of them worked in a factory in Petrograd four years ago. He was proving to us absolutely that there is no other way to end the war. If this one ends, there will positively be another. There is profit in war. Officers get promoted. Civilians make money. So all the authorities must be disarmed and people will regulate life all together and with their own hands.”
From It Can’t Happen Here (1935)
It seemed worse than futile, it seemed insane, to risk martyrdom in a world where…every statesman and clergyman praised Peace and brightly asserted that the only way to get Peace was to get ready for War.
When the inevitable war should come, when the government should decide whether it was Canada, Mexico, Russia, Cuba, Japan, or perhaps Staten Island that was “menacing her borders,” and proceed to defend itself outwards, then the best women flyers of the Corps were to have Commissions in an official army auxiliary. The old-fashioned “rights” granted to women by the Liberals might (for their own sakes) be taken from them, but never had they had more right to die in battle.
Mary took her sixth solo flight on a November morning gray and quiet under snow clouds. She had never been very talkative with the ground crew but this morning she said it excited her to think she could leave the ground “like a reg’lar angel” and shoot up and hang around that unknown wilderness of clouds. She patted a strut of her machine, a high-wing Leonard monoplane with open cockpit, a new and very fast military machine, meant for both pursuit and quick jobs of bombing . . . quick jobs of slaughtering a few hundred troops in close formation.
In his two years of dictatorship, Berzelius Windrip daily became more a miser of power. He continued to tell himself that his main ambition was to make all citizens healthy, in purse and mind, and that if he was brutal it was only toward fools and reactionaries who wanted the old clumsy systems. But after eighteen months of Presidency he was angry that Mexico and Canada and South America (obviously his own property, by manifest destiny) should curtly answer his curt diplomatic notes and show no helpfulness about becoming part of his inevitable empire.
From Salmagundi (1807)
Although the dervishes differ widely in the particulars…yet they all agree in terming their government one of the most pacific in the known world. I cannot help pitying their ignorance, and smiling, at times, to see into what ridiculous errors those nations will wander who are unenlightened…To call this nation pacific! most preposterous! It reminds me of the title assumed by the sheik of that murderous tribe of wild Arabs that desolate the villages of Belsaden, who styles himself “star of courtesy – beam of the mercy-seat!”
The simple truth of the matter is, that these people are totally ignorant of their own true character; for, according to the best of my observation, they are the most warlike, and, I must say, the most savage nation that I have as yet discovered among all the barbarians. They are not only at war, in their own way, with almost every nation on earth, but they are at the same time engaged in the most complicated knot of civil wars that ever infested any poor unhappy country…
Among the various plans that have been offered, the most conspicuous is one devised and exhibited, as I am informed, by the notable confederacy, “The North River Society.”
Anxious to redeem their reputation from the foul suspicions that for a long time have overclouded it, these aquatic incendiaries have come forward, at the present alarming juncture, and announced a most potent discovery which is to guarantee our port from the visits of any foreign marauders. The society have, it seems, invented a cunning machine, shrewdly yclept a Torpedo; by which the stoutest line of battleship, even a “Santissima Trinidada,” may be caught napping and decomposed in a twinkling; a kind of submarine power-magazine to swim under water, like an aquatic mole, or water-rat, and destroy the enemy in the moments of unsuspicious security.
This straw tickled the noses of all our dignitaries wonderfully; for to do our government justice, it has no objection to injuring and exterminating its enemies in any manner – provided the thing can be done economically.
John Addington Symonds
A Vista (1880)
Sad heart, what will the future bring
To happier men when we are gone?
What golden days shall dawn for them,
Transcending all we gaze upon?
Will our long strife be laid at rest,
The warfare of our blind desires
Be merged in a perpetual peace,
And love illume but harmless fires?
Shall faith released from forms that chain
And freeze the spirit while we pray,
Expect with calm and ardent eyes
The morning of death’s brighter day? –
These things shall be! A loftier race
Than e’er the world hath known shall rise
With flame of freedom in their souls
And light of science in their eyes.
They shall be pure from fraud, and know
The names of priest and king no more;
For them no placeman’s hand shall hold
The balances of peace and war.
They shall be gentle, brave, and strong,
To spill no drop of blood, but dare
All that may plant man’s lordship firm
On earth and fire and sea and air.
Nation with nation, land with land,
Unarmed shall live as comrades free;
In every heart and brain shall throb
The pulse of one fraternity.
They shall be simple in their homes,
And splendid in their public ways,
Filling the mansions of the state
With music and with hymns of praise.
In aisles majestic, halls of pride,
Groves, gardens, baths, and galleries,
Manhood and youth and age shall meet
To grow by converse inly wise.
Woman shall be man’s mate and peer
In all things strong and fair and good,
Still wearing on her brows the crown
Of sinless sacred motherhood.
High friendship, hitherto unknown,
Or by great poets half divined,
Shall burn, a steadfast star, within
The calm clear ether of the mind.
Man shall love man with heart as pure
And fervent as the young-eyed joys
Who chaunt their heavenly songs before
God’s face with undiscordant noise.
New arts shall bloom of loftier mould,
And mightier music thrill the skies,
And every life shall be a song,
When all the earth is paradise.
There shall be no more sin, no shame,
Though pain and passion may not die;
For man shall be at one with God
In bonds of firm necessity.
These things – they are no dream – shall be
For happier men when we are gone:
Those golden days for them shall dawn,
Transcending aught we gaze upon.
In the Trenches
As I lay in the trenches
Under the Hunter’s Moon,
My mind ran to the lenches
Cut in a Wiltshire down.
I saw their long black shadows,
The beeches in the lane,
The gray church in the meadows
And my white cottage—plain.
Thinks I, the down lies dreaming
Under that hot moon’s eye,
Which sees the shells fly screaming
And men and horses die.
And what makes she, I wonder,
Of the horror and the blood,
And what’s her luck, to sunder
The evil from the good?
’T was more than I could compass,
For how was I to think
With such infernal rumpus
In such a blasted stink?
But here’s a thought to tally
With t’other. That moon sees
A shrouded German valley
With woods and ghostly trees.
And maybe there’s a river
As we have got at home
With poplar-trees aquiver
And clots of whirling foam.
And over there some fellow,
A German and a foe,
Whose gills are turning yellow
As sure as mine are so,
Watches that riding glory
Apparel’d in her gold,
And craves to hear the story
Her frozen lips enfold.
And if he sees as clearly
As I do where her shrine
Must fall, he longs as dearly,
With heart as full as mine.
Peace Song (1863)
Awake! awake! the stars are pale, the east is russet gray;
They fade, behold the phantoms fade, that kept the gates of Day;
Throw wide the burning valves, and let the golden streets be free,
The morning watch is past — the watch of evening shall not be.
Put off, put off your mail, ye kings, and beat your brands to dust:
A surer grasp your hands must know, your hearts a better trust;
Nay, bend aback the lance’s point, and break the helmet bar, —
A noise is on the morning winds, but not the noise of war!
Among the grassy mountain paths the glittering troops increase:
They come! they come! — how fair their feet — they come that publish peace!
Yea, Victory! fair Victory! our enemies’ and ours,
And all the clouds are clasped in light, and all the earth with flowers.
Ah! still depressed and dim with dew, but yet a little while.
And radiant with the deathless rose the wilderness shall smile.
And every tender living thing shall feed by streams of rest,
Nor lamb shall from the fold be lost, nor nursling from the nest.
For aye, the time of wrath is past, and near the time of rest.
And honor binds the brow of man, and faithfulness his breast, —
Behold, the time of wrath is past, and righteousness shall be,
And the Wolf is dead in Arcady, and the Dragon in the sea!
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
From Casa Guidi Windows (1851)
By freedom; exalt chivalry by peace;
Instruct how clear, calm eyes can overawe.
And how pure hands, stretched simply to release
A bond-slave, will not need a sword to draw
To be held dreadful. O my England, crease
Thy purple with no alien agonies,
No struggles toward encroachment, no vile war!
Disband thy captains, change thy victories;
Be henceforth prosperous, as the angels are,
Helping, not humbling.
Drums and battle-cries
Go out in music of the morning-star;
And soon we shall have thinkers in the place
Of fighters, each found able as a man
To strike electric influence through a race,
Unstayed by city-wall and barbican.
The poet shall look grander in the face
Than even of old (when he of Greece began
To sing “that Achillean wrath which slew
So many heroes”), seeing he shall treat
The deeds of souls heroic toward the true.
A cry is up in England, which doth ring
The hollow world through, that for ends of trade
And virtue, and God’s better worshipping.
We henceforth should exalt the name of Peace,
And leave those rusty wars that eat the soul, –
Besides their clippings at our golden fleece.
I, too, have loved peace, and from bole to bole
Of immemorial undeciduous trees
Would write, as lovers use upon a scroll.
The holy name of Peace, and set it high
Where none could pluck it down. On trees, I say,
Not upon gibbets! – With the greenery
Of dewy branches and the flowery May,
Sweet mediation betwixt earth and sky
Providing, for the shepherd’s holiday.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Peace! and no longer from its brazen portals the blast of War’s great organ shakes the skies!
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Arsenal at Springfield (1845)
This is the Arsenal. From floor to ceiling,
Like a huge organ, rise the burnished arms;
But from their silent pipes no anthem pealing
Startles the villages with strange alarms.
Ah! what a sound will rise, how wild and dreary,
When the death-angel touches those swift keys!
What loud lament and dismal Miserere
Will mingle with their awful symphonies!
I hear even now the infinite fierce chorus,
The cries of agony, the endless groan,
Which, through the ages that have gone before us,
In long reverberations reach our own.
On helm and harness rings the Saxon hammer,
Through Cimbric forest roars the Norseman’s song,
And loud, amid the universal clamor,
O’er distant deserts sounds the Tartar gong.
I hear the Florentine, who from his palace
Wheels out his battle-bell with dreadful din,
And Aztec priests upon their teocallis
Beat the wild war-drums made of serpent’s skin;
The tumult of each sacked and burning village;
The shout that every prayer for mercy drowns;
The soldiers’ revels in the midst of pillage;
The wail of famine in beleaguered towns;
The bursting shell, the gateway wrenched asunder,
The rattling musketry, the clashing blade;
And ever and anon, in tones of thunder
The diapason of the cannonade.
Is it, O man, with such discordant noises,
With such accursed instruments as these,
Thou drownest Nature’s sweet and kindly voices,
And jarrest the celestial harmonies?
Were half the power, that fills the world with terror,
Were half the wealth bestowed on camps and courts,
Given to redeem the human mind from error,
There were no need of arsenals or forts:
The warrior’s name would be a name abhorred!
And every nation, that should lift again
Its hand against a brother, on its forehead
Would wear forevermore the curse of Cain!
Down the dark future, through long generations,
The echoing sounds grow fainter and then cease;
And like a bell, with solemn, sweet vibrations,
I hear once more the voice of Christ say, “Peace!”
Peace! and no longer from its brazen portals
The blast of War’s great organ shakes the skies!
But beautiful as songs of the immortals,
The holy melodies of love arise.
Richard Harding David
From Soldiers of Fortune (1897)
“There are no men to-day, Miss Langham,” King exclaimed, suddenly, turning toward her, “to my mind, who lead as picturesque lives as do civil engineers. And there are no men whose work is as little appreciated.”
“Really?” said Miss Langham, encouragingly.
“Now those men I met,” continued King, settling himself with his side to the table, “were all young fellows of thirty or thereabouts, but they were leading the lives of pioneers and martyrs – at least that’s what I’d call it. They were marching through an almost unknown part of Mexico, fighting Nature at every step and carrying civilization with them. They were doing better work than soldiers, because soldiers destroy things, and these chaps were creating, and making the way straight. They had no banners either, nor brass bands. They fought mountains and rivers, and they were attacked on every side by fever and the lack of food and severe exposure. They fought mountains and rivers, and they were attacked on every side by fever and the lack of food and severe exposure. They had to sit down around a camp-fire at night and calculate whether they were to tunnel a mountain, or turn the bed of a river or bridge it. And they knew all the time that whatever they decided to do out there in the wilderness meant thousands of dollars to the stockholders somewhere up in God’s country, who would some day hold them to account for them. They dragged their chains through miles and miles of jungle, and over flat alkali beds and cactus, and they reared bridges across roaring canons. We know nothing about them and we care less. When their work is done we ride over the road in an observation-car and look down thousands and thousands of feet into the depths they have bridged, and we never give them a thought. They are the bravest soldiers of the present day, and they are the least recognized. I have forgotten their names, and you never heard them. But it seems to me the civil engineer, for all that, is the chief civilizer of our century.”
He saw the enemy in changing groups of scowling men, who seemed to eye him for an instant down the length of a gun-barrel and then disappear behind a puff of smoke. He kept thinking that war made men take strange liberties with their fellow-men, and it struck him as being most absurd that strangers should stand up and try to kill one another, men who had so little in common that they did not even know one another’s names.
From The Cross and the Arrow (1944)
Life became drunken, an orgy of unending victory, and the vision of a quiet existence faded before the impact of a Wotan fable come to reality. He had begun to see Germany as the ruler of the world, to see men like himself as the rulers of peoples and states…
“Peace or or war, if you’re a worker, you get bullets.”
He reflected without bitterness, but with a modicum of envy, that the wealthy somehow kept going in spite of war and taxes. By the fragrance of Kohlberg’s coffee, it was real coffee; by the look of the cream he was pouring into his cup, it was real cream; and by the sweet smell of his cigarette, it was real tobacco. And who couldn’t enjoy a war on that basis?
He remembered something that went back to the first week of Richard’s life. He was standing over the crib when Richard suddenly sneezed. Without thinking, and with delight, he exclaimed excitedly to Kathe, “Did you see that? He’s almost human” – and then stammered before her gale of laughter, trying to explain what he really meant…Yet perhaps he had really meant that – the taking on of shape and abilities, the helpless mewing flesh that commenced to see, that learned to smell the nipple in its approach…at six months striking the bottle with lusty joy as he sucked; at a year learning to grasp it in proud possession between two tiny hands whose strength was incredible…to proclaim by loud babbling: “This is mine. I own it. I expect it as my due. I understand this first rule of property…”
But then the child became strong-limbed and a man – and the man, one found, was carved to a special destiny. For he died conquering the land of another people – a people who had fled before him on snowy roads in the bitterness of winter, carrying mournfully their innocent, naked children…And when he died, you, Willi Wegler, his father, asked softly, “What was it for? Why? The passion and the birth, the nourishment and the bringing up – for what – to what purpose – why?” And found no answer.
When war came, Willi accepted it as he would a sickness. He didn’t like it – but there was nothing he could do to change it. The war of 1914 had left a horror in him that no propaganda could alter. When the German armies quickly overran Poland, he was glad – not because it meant victory – but because he hoped that there would be peace. And when peace didn’t come, his spirits sank…
After Poland came Norway, and with Norway the war reached home, Richard was a parachutist, and he was killed in the first days of the action. When the news finally came to the Weglers, it was not merely as a death notice…
There was a public ceremony on the steps of the town hall. A Colonel of the Paratroopers bestowed the Iron Cross on Frau Marianne Wegler. There were speeches, and there was appropriate music, and it was all very inspiring, people said. During the ceremony Willi stood stiffly, a big, blond man with his face painfully empty, his heavy shoulders sagging. Occasionally he rubbed one hand over the other, slowly and awkwardly, as though they were cold. His brain said, “Richard is dead,” but his heart couldn’t comprehend. In his heart Richard was running down the street with his yellow hair tangled into curls.
George Gissing: Letter to a son killed in war: War is a horrible thing that ought to be left to savages
To his son Walter (later killed in World War One)
December 29, 1899
I suppose you sometime hear people talk of the war which is going on. You must understand (as auntie no doubt will tell you), that War is a horrible thing that ought to be left to savages – a thing to be ashamed of and not to glory in. Never suppose that victories in war are something to be proud of. It is disgraceful to talk about them. Some day people will be astonished that such things could be done. What we ought to be proud of is peace and kindness – not fighting and hatred.
You are getting old enough now to understand these things, and that is why I speak of them.
Give my love to all, dear boy, and think often of your affectionate father.
From The Living Buddha (1928)
Translated by Madeleine Boyd
He made the acquaintance of the Occident through its hovels and its sinks of vice. Everything seemed unreal. Suddenly he heard an awful din. It issued from the pavement at his feet. Jâli looked down: a legless, armless man was playing a clarinet with his nostrils. His torso was decked in a military uniform and covered with decorations of the colonial wars.
Husbands who turn their wives’ lovers to their own account, countries that throttle each other after having been allied. Generals, who were enemies yesterday dine together to-day, their boots upon their dead; burglars get medals; murderers make everyone laugh. All that is neither madness, tenderness, not perversity, it is indifference.
“…Death catches me, I, the living of the living, when I am down. Is it my turn? Death follows the fashion, it does not wish to grow old, so it runs after young men…She is not content with pale faces, she must have the handsomest young men, as palatable as fruits…War gave her some very bad habits…”
No, in Europe, the dead disappear in a trap and in a few minutes they are forgotten. They leave the Western soil furtively, in darkness, as in palaces, where coffins are taken out by night through the servants’ door. The magic disappearance of ten millions of war dead was like a miracle; anywhere else, it would have taken centuries to heal!
At last, behind the Twin Peaks was a small metal bar of moon; then Jâli’s heart grew warm; he had never before seen the Pacific Ocean. Nothing separated him from Asia; it was against her that the long-range naval guns, hidden behind the forts of Presidio and the Gold Gate, were pointing…
Since the Whites have not been able to understand, let them deal with the new Asia!…Once again the world will see the evidence only after having shed torrents of blood. The conflicts of races will be the great crimes of passion of the Twentieth Century.
From Boston (1928)
Rupert Alvin would have been worried about his runaway daughter, if he had not so many troubles at home to keep him occupied. It seemed as if all the devils in Puritan New England broke loose that summer of 1919. There were a couple of million soldier boys turned out of the training camps, and flotilla loads returning from France, and no jobs to go round. They took to crime, to bootlegging, to striking, to demanding bonuses, to all kinds of behavior which kept bankers lying awake at night. The war-orders, the great prop of prosperity, had been pulled from underneath, and business was like a man waking up on the morning after a celebration.
The cost of living had been going up all through the war, but now it went faster than ever; there was a shortage of everything, and nobody could live on his salary. Out in Seattle there was a general strike, almost a revolution; while close at home, in Lawrence, a strike of mill-workers had to be put down by kidnaping the leaders and beating them insensible with brass “knucks” and blackjacks. And then, in Boston, the most incredible event of all – a strike of policemen! Of the safest “cops” in the whole of civilization, Irish-Catholics trained in humility and obedience in parochial schools especially established for the purpose! Truly, it seemed the end of Rupert Alvin’s world.