Maxim Gorky: War, cunning in its stupidity
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.”