Home > Uncategorized > Alfred Neumann: Modern war, the murderous happiness of the greatest number

Alfred Neumann: Modern war, the murderous happiness of the greatest number

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

Alfred Neumann: Selections on war

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

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The chronicler (mutinously determined that war, thus smuggled into the Exhibition for awed admiration, should be painted in its true lineaments of horror) penned a little study of the relationships of war technique to a hero’s death; starting with a moral and philosophical consideration of the way in which bravery had been put in the shade by mechanics. Suppose, for instance, that the most cowardly of Indians be armed with one of those magnificently exhibited and ardently admired new breech-loaders, whilst a hero with a blonde beard had nothing better at his disposal than an old muzzle-loader, the odds between them were no longer decided by cowardice on one side and bravery on the other, but by the fact that one of these fire-arms could discharge six shots per minute and the other only one. The moral? Technique had nothing to do with morals, only progress, as this Universal Exhibition proved. This our chronicler’s little essay should bear the title “The Technique of War or Progress of Heroic Death”. Obviously, this progress had been enormous. Think only how much trouble was needed to commit murder with a spear, a battle-axe, a mace, a broadsword, or an arquebus – if quantity be considered rather than quality. Of course one could kill fairly efficiently with those antiquated weapons, and a dead man was dead; still, it was hard with such tools to achieve murder in a satisfactory sense of the word, to kill a respectable number of the enemy, to achieve numbers, numbers, the murderous happiness of the greatest number. Now things were very different. We loaded at the breech, whether howitzer, field-gun, rifle, or pistol; we had a rapid use of ammunition, and automatically loading magazines; everything went as least six times as fast, which did not amount to saying that murder was increased sixfold; for we had to deal with the squares of the old numbers, while shells, which gave off thousands of white-hot murderous splinters, raised the number to a third power. But all this, look you good visitors, was but a beginning, for the technique of murder was an avalanche, and the depths of the abyss of the future was immeasurable…

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