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George Santayana: Fatal wars: equally needless, equally murderous

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

American writers on peace and against war

George Santayana: Selections on war

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George Santayana
From The Last Puritan: A Memoir in the Form of a Novel (1935)

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“I know, in the old days, a brilliant boy like that would have gone into the army, and there are wars everywhere in which to be killed. Mothers had that trial to endure; and I suppose it’s no worse now with motors and aeroplanes and submarines, and whatever else those scientific busybodies may find to invent. We blame those dangerous innovations and those fatal wars, both equally needless, equally murderous…”

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Odds and ends of learning stuck pleasantly in his mind, like the adventures of a Gil Blas or a Casanova; it was the little events, the glimpses of old life, like the cadences of old poetry, that had the savour of truth. Perhaps there were no great events: a great event was a name for our ignorance of the little events which composed it. Summary views were necessary to the rhetoric of politics; they were gross masks made for the public eye, or made by it; but the humble truth of things was woven into their finer texture; it lay in the forgotten passions and forgotten accidents that really determined every turn of events…”

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“At least you, Mr. Oliver, will be spared. There’s that advantage now in being an American.  They can’t drag you into this wicked war, not with all their picture-posters and conscription that they will say will have to come in the end. Our young men will drop like apples in a wet year in the orchard, some green and some ripe and some rotten and each with an iron worm in him…”

“These young recruits are told that they will be dying for their country. That’s sheer cant. Nobody knows if he’s doing his country any good by dying for it, or whether his country is better worth dying for than any other. And what is one’s country, anyhow? A piece of land? How is a piece of land in danger? Institutions and ideas? But institutions and ideas are always changing; by dying to preserve one set you will be creating another: and there will be less than you could care for in the world after that than there was before. It is a blind current that sweeps us on, we don’t know for how long or to what issue.”

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He tried going to France and driving a motor-ambulance…The native women he found sly, the men false, and both avaricious. Moreover, the constant sight of the dead and wounded, when it did not turn his stomach or make his head swim, cut cruelly into his conscience. He couldn’t throw off the sense of indignation, the perpetual rebellion of his reason against such folly, so much suffering, so much unmitigated wickedness at the source of this carnage. He must retire somewhere beyond the sound of guns and Zeppelins, and recover his nerve.

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