From To his retired friend, An Invitation to Brecknock
Come then! and while the slow icicle hangs
At the stiff thatch, and Winter’s frosty pangs
Benumb the year, blithe — as of old — let us
‘Midst noise and war of peace and mirth discuss.
This portion thou wert born for: why should we
Vex at the time’s ridiculous misery?
An age that thus hath fool’d itself, and will
— Spite of thy teeth and mine — persist so still.
From Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916)
It was acutely shameful to him that all these fine lads should be going off to death and wounds while the men of forty and over lay snug at home. How stupid it was to fix things like that! Here were the fathers, who had done their work, shot their bolts, returned some value for the costs of their education, unable to get training, unable to be of any service, shamefully safe, doing April fool work as special constables; while their young innocents, untried, all their gathering possibilities of service unbroached, went down into the deadly trenches…The war would leave the world a world of cripples and old men and children…
He began to fret and rage. He could not lie in peace in his bed; he got up and prowled about his room, blundering against chairs and tables in the darkness…We were too stupid to do the most obvious things; we were sending all these boys into hardship and pitiless danger; we were sending them ill-equipped, insufficiently supported, we were sending our children through the fires to Moloch…
There came drifting to Mr. Britling’s ears a confusion of voices, voices that told of reaction, of the schemes of employers to best the trade unions, of greedy shippers and greedy house landlords reaping their harvest, of waste and treason in the very households of the Ministry, of religious cant and intolerance at large, of self-advertisement written in letters of blood, of forestalling and jobbery, of irrational and exasperating oppressions in India and Egypt…It came with a shock to him, too, that Hugh should see so little else than madness in the war, and have so pitiless a realisation of its essential futility. The boy forced his father to see – what indeed all along he had been seeing more and more clearly. The war, even by the standards of adventure and conquest, had long since become a monstrous absurdity. Some way there must be out of this bloody entanglement that was yielding victory to neither side, that was yielding nothing but waste and death beyond all precedent. The vast majority of people everywhere must be desiring peace, willing to buy peace at any reasonable price, and in all the world it seemed there was insufficient capacity to end the daily butchery and achieve the peace that was so universally desired, the peace that would be anything better than a breathing space for further warfare…Every day came the papers with the balanced story of battles, losses, destructions, ships sunk, towns smashed. And never a decision, never a sign of decision.
All over England now, where the livery of mourning had been a rare thing to see, women and children went about in the October sunshine in new black clothes. Everywhere one met these fresh griefs, mothers who had lost their sons, women who had lost their men, lives shattered and hopes destroyed. The dyers had a great time turning coloured garments to black. And there was also a growing multitude of crippled and disabled men. It was so in England, much more was it so in France and Russia, in all the countries of the Allies, and in Germany and Austria; away into Asia Minor and Egypt, in India and Japan and Italy there was mourning, the world was filled with loss and mourning and impoverishment and distress.
And still the mysterious powers that required these things of mankind were unappeased, and each day added its quota of heart-stabbing messages and called for new mourning, and sent home fresh consignments of broken and tormented men.
Some clung to hopes that became at last almost more terrible than black certainties…
Francisco de Quevedo
From Vida del Buscón (1626)
Translated by Charles Duff
“Why I have been these six months at the Court asking for a Decoration, after twenty years’ service, and having shed my blood in the King’s service – as these wounds show”. He pointed to a scar as long as your hand in his groin – a bubo as clear as daylight – and two marks on his heels which he said were shots: but I decided they were chilblains, from a couple of the same sort I have myself. He removed his hat to show me his face, torn with the marks of sixteen bullets and a long gash which split his nostrils, not to mention smaller cuts which made it look like a map all covered with lines. “These,” said he, “I received at Paris in the service of God and King, for whom I suffered my countenance to be carved; in return I have received nothing but fair words which are nowadays equivalent to foul actions. Read these papers, learned Graduate, for by Heavens, a more remarkable man, as God lives, never went into field of battle.”
I lay down with a sore heart, and the soldier called the landlord and gave him charge of the papers in the tin cannisters, together with a bundle of superannuated shirts…The soldier talked in his sleep about his pound, as though it were not beyond retrieving. When it was time to get up he called sharply for a light, which was brought; and the landlord gave the soldier his bundle, forgetting the papers. The wretched Ensign made the house ring with his shouts for the services to be delivered [and as you know, Sir, “services” is the polite expression for chamber-pots]. At this landlord was alarmed, and as we pressed for him to hand over the services he ran out, supposing we were all taken with a looseness, and returned with three close-stools saying, “Here is one for each of you. Do you require more?” This dissimulation made the soldier stand up sword in hand and in his shirt pursue the landlord, swearing he would murder him for that scurvy joke (he who had been at the battles of Lepanto, San Quentin, and a host of others!) of bringing chamber-pots instead of the documentary evidence of his services. We ran after him to restrain him and were hard put to do so, whilst the landlord cried, “You asked me for services, Sir, and how was I to know that they give such a name to certificates of military exploits?”
When darkness came the fraternity of rogues and sharpers made towards our habitation. I entered the house to find the ragged soldier holding up a wax torch he had received for the purpose of attending a funeral, of which he thought the better and consequently made off with the torch. This fellow’s name was Megazo, from Olías, a leading man in comedy and now a famous fighter of Moors – in a sword dance. When we talked with anybody that had served in Flanders he would say he had been in China; and if he happened to meet a man who had been in China he would declare he had served in Flanders. He spoke continually and at great length of forming a camp, but could never lay hands on the wherewithal except by maybe lousing his own body; he raved about castles although he had scarcely seen one, even on a coin; he extolled the memory of Don Juan of Lepanto and often in my hearing commended Don Luis Quijada for a generous and true friend; he knew by heart the names of notable Turks, famous galleons and great captains, which knowledge he acquired from a popular ballad brimful of such things: as a matter of fact he was so utterly unacquainted with maritime affairs that if he happened to be discoursing about Don Juan of Lepanto’s famous encounter, he would say that yon fellow Lepanto was a very brave Moor…
From Los Sueños (1627)
Translated by Roger L’Estrange
As if human blood were not all of a colour; as if nature had not brought them into the world the common way, or moulded them of the same materials with the meanest wretches upon the earth. And then, for such as have military charges and commands, how many great officers are there, that without any consideration of their own, or their princes’ honour, fall to spoil and pillage? Cozening the State with false musters, and the soldiers of their pay; and giving them, instead of their due from the prince, a liberty of taking what is not due from the people; forcing them to take the bread out of the poor labourers’ mouths to fill their own bellies, and protecting them, when they have done, in the most execrable outrages imaginable. And when the poor soldier comes at last to be dismissed, or disbanded; lame, sick, beggarly, naked almost, and enraged; with nothing left him to trust to but the highway to keep him from starving…
“Look on that side, now,” says he, and so I did; and there I saw the poor cavalier in a huge furnace, with the first inventors of nobility, and arms: as Cain, Cham, Nimrod, Esau, Romulus, Tarquin, Nero, Caligula, Domitian, Heliogabalus; and a world other brave fellows, that had made themselves famous by usurpation and blood…
From An Essay on Virtue
No more applause would on ambition wait,
And laying waste the world be counted great,
But one good-natured act more praises gain,
Than armies overthrown, and thousands slain;
No more would brutal rage disturb our peace,
But envy, hatred, war, and discord cease;
Our own and others’ good each hour employ,
And all things smile with universal joy;
Virtue with Happiness, her consort joined,
Would regulate and bless each human mind,
And man be what his Maker first designed.
Soldier: Twentieth Century
I love you, great new Titan!
Am I not you?
Napoleon or Caesar
Out of you grew.
Out of the unthinkable torture,
Eyes kissed by death,
Won back to the world again,
Lost and won in a breath,
Cruel men are made immortal,
Out of your pain born.
They have stolen the sun’s power
With their feet on your shoulders worn.
Let them shrink from your girth,
That has outgrown the pallid days,
When you slept like Circe’s swine,
Or a word in the brain’s way.
The Drum (1782)
I hate that drum’s discordant sound,
Parading round, and round, and round:
To thoughtless youth it pleasure yields,
And lures from cities and from fields,
To sell their liberty for charms
Of tawdry lace, and glittering arms;
And when Ambition’s voice commands,
To march, and fight, and fall, in foreign lands.
I hate that drum’s discordant sound,
Parading round, and round, and round:
To me it talks of ravag’d plains,
And burning towns, and ruin’d swains,
And mangled limbs, and dying groans,
And widow’s tears, and orphans moans;
And all that misery’s hand bestows,
To fill the catalogue of human woes.
From Hymn to Contentment
No real happiness is found
In trailing purple o’er the ground;
Or in a soul exalted high
To range the circuit of the sky,
Converse with stars above, and know
All Nature in its forms below —
The rest it seeks, in seeking dies,
And doubts at last, for knowledge, rise.
Lovely, lasting peace, appear!
This world itself, if thou art here,
Is once again with Eden blest,
And man contains it in his breast.
George Gissing: Culpable fatalism: war is assured by perpetual prophecies of statesmen and journalists
From The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (1903)
The original meaning of hostis is merely stranger, and a stranger who is likewise a foreigner will only by curious exception fail to stir antipathy in the average human being. Add to this that a great number of persons in every country find their delight and their business in exasperating international disrelish, and with what vestige of common sense can one feel surprise that war is ceaselessly talked of, often enough declared. In days gone by, distance and rarity of communication assured peace between many realms. Now that every country is in proximity to every other, what need is there to elaborate explanations of the distrust, the fear, the hatred, which are a perpetual theme of journalists and statesmen? By approximation, all countries have entered the sphere of natural quarrel. That they find plenty of things to quarrel about is no cause for astonishment. A hundred years hence there will be some possibility of perceiving whether international relations are likely to obey the law which has acted with such beneficence in the life of each civilized people; whether this country and that will be content to ease their tempers with bloodless squabbling, subduing the more violent promptings for the common good. Yet I suspect that a century is a very short time to allow for even justifiable surmise of such an outcome. If by any chance newspapers ceased to exist…
Talk of war, and one gets involved in such utopian musings!
I have been reading one of those prognostic articles on international politics which every now and then appear in the reviews. Why I should so waste my time it would be hard to say; I suppose the fascination of disgust and fear gets the better of me in a moment’s idleness. This writer, who is horribly perspicacious and vigorous, demonstrates the certainty of a great European war, and regards it with the peculiar satisfaction excited by such things in a certain order of mind. His phrases about “dire calamity” and so on mean nothing; the whole tenor of his writing proves that he represents, and consciously, one of the forces which go to bring war about; his part in the business is a fluent irresponsibility, which casts scorn on all who reluct at the “inevitable.” Persistent prophecy is a familiar way of assuring the event. But I will read no more such writing. This resolution I make and will keep. Why set my nerves quivering with rage, and spoil the calm of a whole day, when no good of any sort can come of it? What is it to me if nations fall a-slaughtering each other? Let the fools go to it! Why should they not please themselves? Peace, after all, is the aspiration of the few; so it always; was, and ever will be. But have done with the nauseous cant about “dire calamity.” The leaders and the multitude hold no such view; either they see in war a direct and tangible profit, or they are driven to it, with heads down, by the brute that is in them. Let them rend and be rent; let them paddle in blood and viscera till – if that would ever happen – their stomachs turn. Let them blast the cornfield and the orchard, fire the home. For all that, there will yet be found some silent few, who go their way amid the still meadows, who bend to the flower and watch the sunset; and these alone are worth a thought.
Midway in my long walk yesterday, I lunched at a wayside inn. On the table lay a copy of a popular magazine. Glancing over this miscellany, I found an article, by a woman, on “Lion Hunting,” and in this article I came upon a passage which seemed worth copying.
“As I woke my husband, the lion – which was then about forty yards off – charged straight towards us, and with my .303 I hit him full in the chest, as we afterwards discovered, tearing his windpipe to pieces and breaking his spine. He charged a second time, and the next shot hit him through the shoulder, tearing his heart to ribbons.”
It would interest me to look upon this heroine of gun and pen. She is presumably quite a young woman; probably, when at home, a graceful figure in drawing-rooms. I should like to hear her talk, to exchange thoughts with her. She would give one a very good idea of the matron of old Rome who had her seat in the amphitheatre. Many of those ladies, in private life, must have been bright and gracious, high-bred and full of agreeable sentiment; they talked of art and of letters; they could drop a tear over Lesbia’s sparrow; at the same time, they were connoisseurs in torn windpipes, shattered spines and viscera rent open. It is not likely that many of them would have cared to turn their own hands to butchery, and, for the matter of that, I must suppose that our Lion Huntress of the popular magazine is rather an exceptional dame; but no doubt she and the Roman ladies would get on very well together, finding only a few superficial differences. The fact that her gory reminiscences are welcomed by an editor with the popular taste in view is perhaps more significant than appears either to editor or public. Were this lady to write a novel (the chances are she will) it would have the true note of modern vigour. Of course her style has been formed by her favourite reading; more than probably, her ways of thinking and feeling owe much to the same source. If not so already, this will soon, I daresay, be the typical Englishwoman. Certainly, there is “no nonsense about her.” Such women should breed a remarkable race.
From God is One (1876)
Translated by Percy Favor Bicknell
“…I do not ask that we should fall upon our neighbours and burn their houses over their heads, but that we should be on our guard and defend ourselves and our families the best we know how. Believe me, brother, I am as good a Christian as the next man; I go to church every holy day, even when I am ill; but I feel easier, when I pray for my soul’s salvation, if I know my gun is loaded and primed.”
“Then you are no true believer in God,” returned Manasseh, in a tone of reproof. “You worship that Jesus in whose name the massacre of St. Bartholomew was perpetrated, the burning of heretics sanctioned, and the crusades undertaken; but you are no true follower of that Jesus who came with a message of peace and good-will to mankind, and who said to Peter, ‘They that take the sword shall perish with the sword.'”
It was the very last day of July. The fields were dotted with sheaves of grain, and the farmers were hastening to gather them in. They had been surprised by countless numbers of crows and ravens which invaded the valley and filled the air with their hoarse, discordant cries. Those experienced in war knew that these birds were the usual attendants and heralds of armies.
Leaning on his gun, Manasseh thoughtfully observed the transformation of that earthly paradise into a scene of slaughter. He thought how, in times of peace, the cry of a single human being in distress would call ready succour and excite the warmest sympathy; but now, when men were dying by thousands, their fellows looked on in the coldest indifference. He asked himself whether this fearful state of things, this deplorable sacrifice of a country’s best and bravest sons, was a necessity, and must still go on for ages to come. And while he thus communed with himself he, too, held in his hands a weapon calculated to carry not only death to a valiant foe, but also sorrow and anguish to that foeman’s wife and mother, and perhaps destitution to his family.
A final and concentrated effort was determined upon. Reserves to the front! Cypress Hill was to be stormed once more. A battalion of yagers, the pride of the Austrian army, charged up the fatal hill and succeeded in taking it, after which the rattle of musketry beyond announced that the fight was being continued on the farther side.
At this point Manasseh’s battalion was ordered to hold the hill while the yagers were pushed farther forward. The order was obeyed, and then Manasseh learned what the cypress-crowned height really was: it was a cemetery, the burial-ground of the surrounding district, and each cypress marked a grave. But the dead under the sod lay not more closely packed than the fallen soldiers with whose bodies the place was covered. Cypress Hill was a double graveyard, heaped with dead and dying Frenchmen, Italians, Austrians, Hungarians, Poles, and Croatians, their bodies disfigured and bleeding and heaped in chaotic confusion over the mounds beneath which slept the regular occupants of the place.
In the soldier’s march to glory each step is a human corpse…
From Good-Bye to All That (1929)
…The average life expectancy of an infantry subaltern on the Western Front was, at some stages of the War, only about three months; by which time he had been either wounded or killed. The proportions worked out at about four wounded to every killed. Of these four, one got wounded seriously, and the remaining three more or less lightly. The three lightly wounded returned to the front after a few weeks or months of absence, and again faced the same odds. Flying casualties were even higher…
I spent the rest of the watch in acquainting myself with the geography of the trench-section, finding how easy is was to get lost among culs de sac and disused alleys. Twice I overshot the company frontage and wandered among the Munster Fusiliers on the left. Once I tripped and fell with a splash into deep mud. At last my watch ended with the first signs of dawn. I passed the word along the line for the company to stand to arms. The N.C.O.’s whispered hoarsely into the dug-outs: ‘Stand-to, stand-to,’ and out the men tumbled with their rifles in their hands. Going towards Company Headquarters to wake the officers I saw a man lying on his face in a machine-gun shelter. I stopped and said: ‘Stand-to, there!’ I flashed my torch on him and saw that one of his feet was bare.
The machine-gunner beside him said: ‘No good talking to him, Sir.’
I asked: ‘What’s wrong? Why has he taken his boot and sock off?’
‘Look for yourself, Sir!’
I took the sleeper by the arm and noticed suddenly the hole in the back of his head. He had taken off the boot and the sock to pull the trigger of his rifle with one toe; the muzzle was in his mouth. ‘Why did he do it?’ I asked.
‘He went through the last push, Sir, and that sent him a bit queer; on top of that he got bad news from Limerick about his girl and another chap.’
Richard Aldington: All the decay and dead of battlefields entered his blood and seemed to poison him
From Death of a Hero (1929)
Winterbourne felt sleepless. He was so much accustomed to being alert and awake at night and sleeping by day, that he found a difficulty in breaking the habit. He spent the night aimlessly wandering about the streets and sitting on Embankment benches. He notice that there were very few occupants of the benches – the War found work for every one. Odd, he reflected, that in War-time the country could afford five million pounds sterling a day in trying to kill Germans, and that in peace-time it couldn’t afford five million a year to attack its own destitution…
There was very little to do in Etaples, even with the more extended opportunities of an officer. They messed in a large, draughty marquee, but there was a camp cinema where he spent part of each evening. There were numbers of women at the Base, and he noticed that some of them were pregnant. Apparently there was no attempt at concealment; but then the birth-rate was declining rapidly in England, and babies were urgently needed for the Next War…
The days passed into weeks, the weeks into months. He moved through impressions like a man hallucinated. And every incident seemed to beat on his brain Death, Death, Death. All the decay and dead of battlefields entered his blood and seemed to poison him. He lived among smashed bodies and human remains in an infernal cemetery. If he scratched his stick idly and nervously in the side of a trench, he pulled out human ribs. He ordered a new latrine to be dug out from the trench, and thrice the digging had to be abandoned because they came upon terrible black masses of decomposing bodies…
For three days in succession Winterbourne’s company formed the advance-guard, and he led it in the darkness over unknown ground, by compass-bearing, in a kind of dazed delirium. Pressing on through falling shells in a blank night, with the ever-present dread of falling into a machine-gun ambush, became an agony. They fought their way into inhabited villages, which had been held by the Germans for over four years. The terrified people crouched in cellars or ran distractedly into the fields. They took the village of F-, after a brief but fierce bombardment, an hour after dawn. The roads leading in and out were encumbered with dead Germans, smashed transport, the contorted bodies of dead horses. Dead German soldiers lay about the village street, which was cluttered with fallen tiles and bricks. In a garden a war-demented peasant was digging a grave to bury his wife, who had been killed by a shell-burst. In a ruined village school Winterbourne picked up a book – it was Pascal’s Thoughts on Christianity.
The Glories of our Blood and State
The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings:
Sceptre and Crown
Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.
Some men with swords may reap the field,
And plant fresh laurels where they kill:
But their strong nerves at last must yield;
They tame but one another still:
Early or late
They stoop to fate,
And must give up their murmuring breath
When they, pale captives, creep to death.
The garlands wither on your brow;
Then boast no more your mighty deeds;
Upon Death’s purple altar now
See where the victor-victim bleeds:
Your heads must come
To the cold tomb;
Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet, and blossom in their dust.
Irish writers on peace and war
From Howards End (1910)
The remark would be untrue, but of the kind which, if stated often enough, may become true; just as the remark, “England and Germany are bound to fight,” renders war a little more likely each time that it is made, and is therefore made the more readily by the gutter press of either nation…
A hint of the truth broke on him after Sedan, when he saw the dyed mustaches of Napoleon going grey; another when he entered Paris and saw the smashed windows of the Tuileries. Peace came – it was all very immense, one had turned into an Empire – but he knew that some quality had vanished for which not all Alsace-Lorraine could compensate him. Germany a commercial Power, Germany a naval Power, Germany with colonies here and a Forward Policy there, and legitimate aspirations in the other place, might appeal to others, and be fitly served by them; for his own part, he abstained from the fruits of victory…
From Drums Under the Windows (1946)
The bell branch of Ireland may chime again,
To charm away the merchant from his guile,
And turn the farmer’s memory from his cattle,
And hush to sleep the roaring ranks of battle,
And all grow friendly for a little while.
No; for ever. Battles of war changed for battles of peace. Labour in all its phases the supreme honour of life, broadening the smile on the world’s creased face daily.
Beyond the veil of these posturing purseline figurines, and the crowd of roaring, adoring, sons of Guile, the leaden sky with its clouds and red splotches, looking like the savage face of an angry yahoovah, English shadows of men and women were bent and bruised wiring guns, making shells, hammering ships together, burying their dead in their minds by thousands, and taking their wounded to bloody beds in tens of thousands; while queues of the very old and very young waited grouseously for food from morn till midnight, sleeping then that they might be able to begin again at daybreak; too tired to feel fear of the faint purr of a Zeppelin sailing by overhead, their ears stirred soon by the hiss of a falling bomb, to be at once cracked with the concussion of its explosion, then stuffed with the cut-short squeal of a housemaid, on her knees washing a doorstep, as a lump of jagged metal knocked her frillied head to bits; then came the rumbling, cracking zoom as houses split asunder, their frightened walls lurching for a moment before they crashed face downwards, the uproar stabbed by the scream of a woman yelling out to Heaven, Oh, save my little one who’s been buried under it all!
James Fenimore Cooper
From The Spy (1821)
Dunwoodie had lingered in front of the cottage, after he paid his parting compliments, with an unwillingness to return, that he thought proceeded from his solicitude for his wounded friends. The heart which has not become callous, soon sickens with the glory that has been purchased with a waste of human life. Peyton Dunwoodie, left to himself, and no longer excited by the visions which youthful ardor had kept before him throughout the day, began to feel there were other ties than those which bound the soldier within the rigid rules of honor. He did not waver in his duty, yet he felt how strong was the temptation. His blood had ceased to flow with the impulse created by the battle. The stern expression of his eye gradually gave place to a look of softness; and his reflections on the victory brought with them no satisfaction that compensated for the sacrifices by which it had been purchased…The friend of his youth was a prisoner, under circumstances that endangered both life and honor. The gentle companion of his toils, who could throw around the rude enjoyments of a soldier the graceful mildness of peace, lay a bleeding victim to his success. The image of the maid who had held, during the day, a disputed sovereignty in his bosom, again rose to his view with a loveliness that banished her rival, glory, from his mind.
The day had been mild and clear, and the sun was shining brightly in a cloudless sky. The tumult, which so lately disturbed the valley, was succeeded by the stillness of death, and the fair scene before her looked as if it had never been marred by the passions of men. One solitary cloud, the collected smoke of the contest, hung over the field; and this was gradually dispersing, leaving no vestige of the conflict above the peaceful graves of its victims. All the conflicting feelings, all the tumultuous circumstances of the eventful day, appeared like the deceptions of a troubled vision. Frances turned, and caught a glimpse of the retreating figure of him who had been so conspicuous an actor in the scene, and the illusion vanished.
Prelude: The Troops
Dim, gradual thinning of the shapeless gloom
Shudders to drizzling daybreak that reveals
Disconsolate men who stamp their sodden boots
And turn dulled, sunken faces to the sky
Haggard and hopeless. They, who have beaten down
The stale despair of night, must now renew
Their desolation in the truce of dawn,
Murdering the livid hours that grope for peace.
Yet these, who cling to life with stubborn hands,
Can grin through storms of death and find a gap
In the clawed, cruel tangles of his defence.
They march from safety, and the bird-sung joy
Of grass-green thickets, to the land where all
Is ruin, and nothing blossoms but the sky
That hastens over them where they endure
Sad, smoking, flat horizons, reeking woods,
And foundered trench-lines volleying doom for doom.
O my brave brown companions, when your souls
Flock silently away, and the eyeless dead
Shame the wild beast of battle on the ridge,
Death will stand grieving in that field of war
Since your unvanquished hardihood is spent.
And through some mooned Valhalla there will pass
Battalions and battalions, scarred from hell;
The unreturning army that was youth;
The legions who have suffered and are dust.
From The Confidential Agent (1939)
He carried the war in his heart: give me time, he thought, and I shall infect anything…I ought to wear a bell like the old lepers…
He had indeed brought the war with him: the infection was working already. He saw beyond the lounge – sitting with his back turned at the first table inside the restaurant – the other agent. His hand began to shake just as it always shook before an air raid…
It had not been an unexpected day: this was the atmosphere in which he had lived for two years. If he had found himself alone on a desert island, he would have expected to infect even the loneliness with violence. You couldn’t escape a war by changing your country; you only changed the technique – fists instead of bombs, the sneak thief instead of the artillery bombardment. Only in sleep did he evade violence; his dreams were almost invariably made up of peaceful images from the past…
He went over to the window and looked down: the buses moved slowly along Oxford Street like gigantic beetles. Across the top of the opposite building a sky-sign spelt out slowly the rudimentary news: 2 goals to one. Far away, foreshortened on the pavement, a squad of police moved in single file towards Marlborough Street. What next? The news petered out and began again. ‘Another advance reported…5,000 refugees…four air raids…’ It was like a series of signals from his own country…His territory was death; he could love the dead and dying better than the living…
You had to have something in common with people you killed, unless death was dealt out impersonally from a long-range gun or a plane.
From Empire (1936)
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul
…War is a damnably uncertain business. The sun, nearing the horizon far behind, throws an ensanguined light upon the disastrous waters, so that just before the rim dips, one might fancy that the good earth was bleeding out of many wounds. War is not ambiguous after all, but a horribly intelligent affair. Who has won the day? In the gathering darkness, Kepi rides back to San Martino. As far as his staff can make out, from the embankment which has been so hotly contested he looks neither to right nor left into the hollows where corpses lie in heaps, covered by the shades of night…
Are you so keen for the coming of the morrow, which will drink blood once more, and which can only thus reel into history, heavy, bloated, between long lines of corpses, finding its way by a horrible chance into the great affirmation or the great negation? Minié rifles against Lorenz rifles, rifles on both sides as the material for the decision that still hangs in the wind. How can one endure this indeterminate waiting, which is also bloodstained, also vile, and which one would gladly spew out like this evil day equally devoid of affirmation and negation?
From He Would Be a Gentleman (1844)
The time which fortune had thrown in our hero’s way was not the most favourable for travelling; the frequency of military posts, the scrupulous examination of passports, the suspicion with which the most trivial circumstance in connection with a traveller was regarded, rendered the wayfarer liable to many discomforts, and not unfrequently to danger; for sometimes straggling parties of soldiers roved up and down, who, taking advantage of the exigencies of the times, made the public cause but an excuse for private rapine, by vexatious and rude interruptions, which enabled them to raise pecuniary contributions from defenceless parties whose ill luck threw them into such unwelcome company, and whose only chance of permission to proceed on their journey was giving a bribe; the loss of their money being, in most cases, preferred to the loss of their liberty, more particularly in the hands of such unceremonious captors.
The admiration her talents excited, made him desire to have the acquaintance of one who so often charmed him in public, and in the society of this gifted actress he found new charms; her conversation was an enjoyment he constantly courted, and she obtained sufficient influence over the soldier to urge him to the study of elegant literature; his mind, hitherto absorbed by authors who could only extend his knowledge in the art of war, was thrown open to the contemplation of those who move our hearts to the better purposes of peace…
At last the tragic drama was brought to a conclusion on the fatal field of Culloden, and all that could now be done was to let friendly ships hover about the Scottish coast to pick up any stragglers who might escape the vengeance of the savage soldiery, stimulated to the most sanguinary and revolting excesses by the “butcher” who commanded them – the atrocious Duke of Cumberland, – whose memory is still execrated in the hills and valleys he drenched with blood – not the hot blood of battle, – but the cold blood shed in ravening vengeance afterwards. Not even the blood of men would satisfy: women and children were given up to carnage and to indignities still worse than death. Nor age, nor sex, nor rank, was regarded. Every excess that could shock humanity was in open practice every day; — a licentious soldiery, foreign and domestic, was let loose to do their worst — and not only to do it with impunity, but to win favour for their atrocities in the eyes of their merciless leader.
“Remember the fable of the trumpeter, who, when taken prisoner, asked for mercy, because he did not strike with the sword, but only blew a harmless instrument; whereupon the conqueror replied that the trumpeter did more mischief than any armed man, as he, though he did not fight himself, inspired hundreds to fight; and there lies the mischief.”
From It Can’t Happen Here (1935)
“What this country needs is Discipline! Peace is a great dream, but maybe sometimes it’s only a pipe dream! I’m not so sure – now this will shock you, but I want you to listen to one woman who will tell you the unadulterated hard truth instead of a lot of sentimental taffy, and I’m not sure but that we need to be in a real war again, in order to learn Discipline! We don’t want all this highbrow intellectuality, all this book-learning. That’s good enough in its way, but isn’t it, after all, just a nice toy for grownups? No, what we all of us must have, if this great land is going to go on maintaining its high position among the Congress of Nations, is Discipline – Will Power – Character!”
She turned prettily then toward General Edgeways and laughed:
“You’ve been telling us about how to secure peace, but come on, now, General – just among us Rotarians and Rotary Anns – ‘fess up! With your great experience, don’t you honest, cross-your-heart, think that perhaps – just maybe – when a country has gone money-mad, like all our labor unions and workmen, with their propaganda to hoist income taxes, so that the thrifty and industrious have to pay for the shiftless ne’er-do-weels, then maybe, to save their lazy souls and get some iron into them, a war might be a good thing? Come on, now, tell your real middle name, Mong General!”
Dramatically she sat down, and the sound of clapping filled the room like a cloud of downy feathers. The crowd bellowed, “Come on, General! Stand up!” and “She’s called your bluff – what you got?” or just a tolerant, “Attaboy, Gen!”
William Dean Howells
From letter to Aurelia Howells
July 4, 1916
The possibility of war with Mexico is dreadful, and it is the result of Wilson’s folly. Some excuse can be made for his German policy, but not for his Mexican muddling…The Roosevelt men have come back, and if the Republicans get back into power, our troops will be withdrawn from Mexico where they ought never to have been sent. This is wickeder than the old Mexican war of 1846, which father so abhorred, and more stupid and objectless. All our poor volunteers are being rushed to the border, and may be sent across any day – men who were once dear little boys like Billy and Jacky.
Oliver Goldsmith: A thousand hecatombs for mere trumperies. Imperial contest that no honest man can wish either side wins.
From Citizen of the World (1762)
Were an Asiatic politician to read the treaties of peace and friendship that have been annually making for more than an hundred years among the inhabitants of Europe, he would probably be surprised how it should ever happen that Christian princes could quarrel among each other. Their compacts for peace are drawn up with the utmost precision, and ratified with the greatest solemnity; to these each party promises a sincere and inviolable obedience, and all wears the appearance of open friendship and unreserved re∣conciliation.
Yet, notwithstanding those treaties, the people of Europe are almost continually at war. There is nothing more easy than to break a treaty ratified in all the usual forms, and yet neither party be the aggressor. One side, for instance, breaks a trifling article by mistake; the opposite party upon this makes a small but premeditated reprisal; this brings on a return of greater from the other; both sides complain of injuries and in∣fractions; war is declare; they beat, are beaten; some two or three hundred thousand men are killed, they grow tired, leave off just where they began; and so sit coolly down to make new treaties.
The English and French seem to place themselves foremost among the champion states of Europe. Though parted by a narrow sea, yet are they entirely of opposite characters; and from their vicinity are taught to fear and admire each other. They are at present engaged in a very destructive war, have already spilled much blood, are excessively irritated; and all upon account of one side’s desiring to wear greater quantities of furs than the other.
The pretext of the war is about some lands a thousand leagues off; a country cold, desolate, and hideous; a country belonging to a people who were in possession for time immemorial. The savages of Canada claim a property in the country in dispute; they have all the pretensions which long possession can confer. Here they had reigned for ages without rivals in dominion, and knew no enemies but the prowling bear or insidious tiger; their native forests produced all the necessaries of life, and they found ample luxury in the enjoyment. In this manner they might have continued to live to eternity, had not the English been informed that those countries produced furs in great abundance. From that moment the country became an object of desire; it was found that furs were things very much wanted in England; the ladies edged some of their clothes with furs, and muffs were worn both by gentlemen and la∣dies In short, furs were found indispensably necessary for the happiness of the state: and the king was consequently petitioned to grant not only the country of Canada, but all the savages belonging to it to the subjects of England, in order to have the people supplied with proper quantities of this necessary commodity.
So very reasonable a request was immediately complied with, and large colonies were sent abroad to procure furs, and take possession. The French who were equally in want of furs (for they were as fond of muffs and tippets as the English) made the very same request to their monarch, and met with the same gracious reception from their king, who generously granted what was not his to give. Wherever the French landed, they called the country their own; and the English took possession wherever they came upon the same equitable pretensions. The harmless savages made no opposition; and could the intruders have agreed together, they might peaceably have shared this desolate country between them. But they quarrelled about the boundaries of their settlements, about grounds and rivers to which neither side could show any other right than that of power, and which neither could occupy but by usurpation. Such is the contest, that no honest man can heartily wish success to either party.
The war has continued for some time with various success. At first the French seemed victorious; but the English have of late dispossessed them of the whole country in dispute. Think not, however, that success on one side is the harbinger of peace: on the contrary, both parties must be heartily tired to effect even a temporary reconciliation. It should seem the business of the victorious party to offer terms of peace; but there are many in England, who, encouraged by success, are still for protracting the war.
Grant Allen: I cannot contribute to making peaceable Canadian citizens throw themselves into the devouring whirlpool of militarism
Response to a request to contribute a piece in “the defence of the Dominion” for the Canadian Yearbook of 1898.
You know very little of my aims and ideals if you think I would willingly do anything on a work whose avowed object is to arouse ‘military enthusiasm.’ Military enthusiasm means enthusiasm for killing people. My desire in life has been not to kill, but to help and aid all mankind, irrespective of nationality, creed, language, or colour. I hate war, and everything that leads to it, as I hate murder, rapine, or the ill-treatment of women. I dislike slavery, however disguised under the cloak of ‘Imperialism.’ I contribute to works designed to strengthen the bonds of amity between nations and to render war impossible, but I cannot contribute to one which aims at making peaceable Canadian citizens throw themselves into the devouring whirlpool of militarism.
From Return of the Brute (1929)
As the roar died away, swallowed by a more distant roar, lumps of mud and pieces of torn sandbags began to fall. Then the top of the parapet gave way and flopped into the trench. Somebody groaned. Others cursed. There was a horrible stench.
Then there was silence. As if it had effected its purpose, the firing shifted to the right.
“God!” cried a voice. “What’s this lying on top of me?”
“Eh?” said the Corporal. “Come on. Rebuild this parapet. Anybody hit? I heard somebody groaning.”
Nobody answered him. Everybody began to examine his own body. Then the first voice cried out again in horror:
“See? It’s a dead man’s leg. Blimme! One of them blasted Froggies that’s buried here.”
“Whew!” cried another. “I just stuck my hand into somebody’s rotten guts. God! What a stink!”
Grumbling, they began to rebuild the parapet.
The sacks of earth, with which the parapet have been paved, had rotted. The earth in the sacks had been turned to slime by the rain. It was almost impossible to do anything with them. When a man lifted a sack lifted a sack it broke in two and the fragments fell, leaving foul slime on his hands. In the pitch darkness it was impossible for a man to see whether he was lifting a sack or a piece of rotten corpse. They cursed violently.
There was no excitement, no haste, no grandeur, no drums, no banners, no gleaming weapons, no plumes, no terrifying devices, no shouting of war-maddened warriors; just little crowds of dirty, stooping men, with ugly steel hats, gas masks, bags of bombs.
A miserable heat-less sun now shone in the sky. The earth seemed a void, barren of life, the crater of a dead world…
The officer’s face was drawn and still more melancholy than on the previous night. Although he looked well nourished and quite clean, his countenance was even more repulsive than that of the soldiers because it contained the ghost of intelligence that had died of horror.
Only by the grinding of his teeth did he give any sign of the torture he was suffering.
It is such men who give glory to the foul horror of war.
From Paths of Glory (1935)
The 181st had lost thirty-two men, the Tirailleurs seventeen. It wasn’t a bad record for a relief made during a heavy bombardment, nor did it make the slightest difference to the conduct of the war. Every day and every night men were killed at the rate of about four a minute. The line remained the same, everything remained the same – uniforms, equipment, faces, statures, men. Men standing at the same posts, listening to the same sounds, smelling the same smells, thinking the same thoughts, and saying the same words. Forty-nine men had been killed, and one set of collar numerals had been replaced by another. Rats weren’t interested in collar numerals, so it made no difference to them either.
The moon faded from his sight, and he was still for while. A rat climbed noiselessly up the jamb of the gallery entrance and looked at Paolacci for a long time. Then it turned and went down again. Two shells burst along the opposite wall, and a shower of gravel fell upon the unconscious lieutenant…
Later still, when the shadow cast by the moon was rising again on the side of the chalk pit, a rat climbed noiselessly up the jamb of the gallery entrance and watched Paolacci for a while. Then it stepped forward daintily, jumped onto the lieutenant’s chest and squatted there. It looked to the right and to the left, two of three times, quickly, then lowered its head and began to eat Paolacci’s under lip.
Assolant glanced at the the bundles of motionless clothing without pausing in his stride. He noted that one group wore the uniform of a line regiment and that another, a smaller one, wore that of the Tirailleurs. Large blue flies were buzzing indiscriminately over both groups, and clusters of them were busily feeding at eyes, nostrils, mouths, and open wounds.
By and when each nation has 20,000 battleships and 1,000,000 soldiers we shall all be safe and the wisdom of statesmanship will stand confirmed.
If we had less statesmanship we could get along with fewer battleships.
It is sound statesmanship to add two battleships every time our neighbor adds one and two stories to our skyscrapers every time he piles a new one on top of his to threaten our light. There is no limit to this soundness but the sky.
From The Specter (1938)
Translated by Alexander Bakshy
It was quite clear to Samghin that the entire country was bursting with patriotic sentiment – exactly opposite to his observation at the commencement of the Japanese War. This time the liberal bourgeoisie had unanimously adopted the cry: “Unity of Czar and People!” The Duma solemnly erased all differences with the government. Students held patriotic demonstrations. Hundreds of telegrams flew from the provinces to the Czar, speaking of eagerness to fight, of confidence in victory. Newspapers reported “Teutonic atrocities.” Prose and verse writers threatened the Germans with destruction. Everywhere was praise of the Don Cossack Kozma Kryuchkov, who, in order to imbue civilians with military ardor, hacked with a saber and pierced with a lance eleven German cavalrymen.
…He was preoccupied with one question: What prospects, what paths, did the war open up for him? It had placed under arms such vast hordes of people that, of course, it could not last long – there would not be enough supplies for prolonged fighting. The Allies, of course, would defeat the Austrians and the Germans. Russia would obtain an outlet into the Mediterranean and secure a firm foothold in the Balkans. That was all very well, but what would be his personal gain? With all the determination of which he was capable, he decided he must make himself a position of prominence – as he should have done long ago.
“It is my duty to do that – out of sheer respect for my experience of life. It has a value which I have no right to conceal from the war, from the people.”