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Sherwood Anderson: War destroys brotherhood

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Sherwood Anderson
From The Marching Men (1916)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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