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Archive for April, 2015

Ellen Glasgow: The Reign of the Brute

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

American writers on peace and against war

Ellen Glasgow: Selections on war

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Ellen Glasgow
From The Battle Ground (1902)

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The Reign of the Brute

The sight of the soaked shirt and the smell of blood turned Dan faint. He felt a sudden tremor in his limbs, and his arteries throbbed dully in his ears. “I didn’t know it was like this,” he muttered thickly. “Why, they’re no better than mangled rabbits – I didn’t know it was like this.”

They wound through the little ravine, climbed a hillside planted in thin corn, and were ordered to “load and lie down” in a strip of woodland. Dan tore at his cartridge with set teeth; then as he drove his ramrod home, a shell, thrown from a distant gun, burst in the trees above him, and a red flame ran, for an instant, along the barrel of his musket. He dodged quickly, and a rain of young pine needles fell in scattered showers from the smoked boughs overhead. Somewhere beside him a man was groaning in terror or in pain. “I’m hit, boys, by God, I’m hit this time.” The groans changed promptly into a laugh. “Bless my soul! the plagued thing went right into the earth beneath me.”

“Damn you, it went into my leg,” retorted a hoarse voice that fell suddenly silent.

***

As he bent to fire, the fury of the game swept over him and aroused the sleeping brute within him. All the primeval instincts, throttled by the restraint of centuries – the instincts of bloodguiltiness, of hot pursuit, of the fierce exhilaration of the chase, of the death grapple with a resisting foe – these awoke suddenly to life and turned the battle scarlet to his eyes.

***

Two hours later, when the heavy clouds were smothering the sunset, he came slowly back across the field. A gripping nausea had seized upon him – a nausea such as he had known before after that merry night at college. His head throbbed, and as he walked he staggered like a drunken man. The revulsion of his overwrought emotions had thrown him into a state of sensibility almost hysterical.

The battle-field stretched grimly round him, and as the sunset was blotted out, a gray mist crept slowly from the west. Here and there he saw men looking for the wounded, and he heard one utter an impatient “Pshaw!” as he lifted a half-cold body and let it fall. Rude stretchers went by him on either side, and still the field seemed as thickly sown as before; on the left, where a regiment of Zouaves had been cut down, there was a flash of white and scarlet, as if the loose grass was strewn with great tropical flowers. Among them he saw the reproachful eyes of dead and dying horses.

Before him, on the gradual slope of the hill, stood a group of abandoned guns, and there was something almost human in the pathos of their utter isolation. Around them the ground was scorched and blackened, and scattered over the broken trails lay the men who had fallen at their post. He saw them lying there in the fading daylight, with the sponges and the rammers still in their hands, and he saw upon each man’s face the look with which he had met and recognized the end. Some were smiling, some staring, and one lay grinning as if at a ghastly joke. Near him a boy, with the hair still damp on his forehead, had fallen upon an uprooted blackberry vine, and the purple stain of the berries was on his mouth. As Dan looked down upon him, the smell of powder and burned grass came to him with a wave of sickness, and turning he stumbled on across the field. At the first step his foot struck upon something hard, and, picking it up, he saw that it was a Minie ball, which, in passing through a man’s spine, had been transformed into a mass of mingled bone and lead. With a gesture of disgust he dropped it and went on rapidly. A stretcher moved beside him, and the man on it, shot through the waist, was saying in a whisper, “It is cold – cold – so cold.”

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Upton Sinclair: Gigantic stir of war preparation for global territorial aggrandizement

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

American writers on peace and against war

Upton Sinclair: Selections on war

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Upton Sinclair
From Boston (1928)

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The fall of 1917. All about Cornelia a gigantic stir of war preparation, but very little intellectual preparation to match it. She did not have to go far in her studies to learn that the various peoples of Europe had been fighting among themselves for centuries, and in this fighting had frequently shifted partners. Whatever enemy they had at the time, they hated that enemy just as heartily, and accused him of atrocities, and did not hesitate to have priests and bishops invoke the aid of God to overcome him. Always the real cause of war was a desire to take land from the other nation; plus the fear that the other nation would reverse the procedure – as indeed it would.

Could the same situation exist in this greatest and most cruel of all conflicts?

***

Quincy went everywhere, and met everybody. He could tell you what the British ambassador had said to Major Higginson last week. The evening before he had dined at Fenway Court, the palace of the eccentric but brilliant Mrs. “Jack” Gardner, and had there met Sir Leslie Buttock, the latest of the procession of British propagandists who were coming to fascinate and thrill the American plutocracy. Sir Leslie was making the transcontinental tour, and after he praised the champagne of a Minnesota banker, or the cigars of a Seattle ship-builder, each of these provincials was an insider and social equal for the rest of his life, and the price was five – ten – twenty billions – to be used in doubling the area of the British empire.

A British diplomat once gave the official definition of a lie – a falsehood told to a person who has a right to the truth. All diplomats and propagandists who came to Boston did “Mrs. Jack” the honor of admitting her into the inner circle. At her dinner-parties you took off your propaganda-coat, so to speak, and lounged in your military shirt-sleeves. So Quincy Thornwell could tell his aunt exactly why the war was lasting so long. The price of Italy repudiating her alliance with Austria and Germany had been the Trentino and Trieste, which meant the mastery of the Adriatic. Japan’s price was Shantung from China. Russia was to have Constantinople. France was to have Alsace-Lorraine, and if possible the Rhine. Britain was to have all the German colonies, an empire in themselves. When you talked to Quincy about any of these powers giving up their spoils because of the beautiful speeches of Woodrow Wilson, he showed his good manners by pretending it was your idea of being humorous.

And yet there were a hundred million or so good Americans who really believed that their President was somehow going to achieve that miracle!…If you mentioned the secret treaties, they would say that these matters were too delicate for public discussion; the President of course had sources of information that were not open to us.

“But why not?” cried Cornelia, and could get no convincing answer. Either the allies were going to give up their predatory aims or they were not. If they were, why not publish the fact? Such declaration would save millions of lives and billions of treasure – for manifestly, one reason for enemy resistance was the fear of consequences of defeat. But if you tried to point this out, you were called pro-German, and people turned their backs on you. They had adopted a slogan, “Win the war!” – which meant that they found it easier to fight than to think…

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Mór Jókai: War’s patriotic pelf: a slaughtered army tells no tales

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

Mór Jókai: In the soldier’s march to glory each step is a human corpse

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Mór Jókai
From God is One (1876)
Translated by Percy Favor Bicknell

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The mysterious workings of the commissary department are beyond the understanding of ordinary mortals. Therefore let it suffice us to take only a passing glance at those mysteries.

Benjamin Vajdar was enjoying a tête-à-tête with the Marchioness Caldariva after the theatre.

“Well, what has my cripple to report of his day’s doings?” asked Rozina. “Is all going well in Italy?”

“We signed a contract to-day for supplying our army there with forty thousand cattle,” was Vajdar’s reply.

“Ah, that will make about two hundredweight of beef to a man,” returned the other, reckoning on her fingers.

“Not an ounce of which will ever reach them,” said the secretary, with a smile; “but we shall make a couple of millions out of the transaction, – a mere bagatelle for Papa Cagliari, however; not enough to keep him in champagne.”

“A very clever stroke of yours,” commented the marchioness, with approval; “and I can tell you of another little operation the prince has in hand just now. Bring me the morocco pocketbook out of my writing-desk, please.”

Vajdar limped across the room and brought the pocketbook. Rozina opened it and drew forth an official-looking document.

“Here is a contract for so and so many bushels of grain to be furnished to the army. You see it foots up a large sum, but the profits won’t be so very great, after all, owing to the recent rise in prices on the corn exchange.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” interposed Benjamin, with a knowing smile. “Who will ever know the difference if a quarter part of the total weight is chaff and clay? It will all grind up into excellent flour, and when the soldier eats his barley bread or his rye loaf it will taste all the better to him. There is nearly half a million florins’ clear profit in the transaction, at a moderate estimate.”

“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed the beautiful Cyrene. “So the soldiers must eat half a million florins’ worth of chaff and clay to enable Papa Cagliari to take his morning bath in champagne.”

“Well, what of that? It makes, at most, only two florins’ worth to a man, and the soldier who loves his country ought to be glad to eat two florins’ worth of her soil. Has the prince any other contract under consideration?”

“Yes, a very important one. He has procured an order that the troops in Italy shall wear for their summer uniform cotton blouses instead of linen, and he has the contract for furnishing the material.”

“But the prices named here are very low,” objected Vajdar, reading from the paper Rozina had handed him.

“Ah, but let me explain. The cotton is to be thirty inches wide, with so and so many threads to the warp – according to the specifications. But what soldier will ever think of counting the threads in his blouse, or know whether it was cut from goods thirty inches wide or twenty-eight? So, you see, with a little trimming here and a little paring there we can make a good hundred thousand florins out of the job.”

“But are our tracks well covered? Is there no risk in all this?”

“Fear nothing. There are eyeglasses that blind the sharpest of eyes.”

“How if there are some eyes that will not be fitted with these glasses?”

“Again I say, never fear. A victorious campaign covers a multitude of sins.”

“And a lost one brings everything to light.”

“Not at all. A slaughtered army tells no tales…”

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Oliver Goldsmith: Selections on war

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Mark Twain: The basest type of patriotism: support for war and imperialism

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

American writers on peace and against war

Mark Twain: Selections on war

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Mark Twain
Member of the Anti-Imperialist League
As Regards Patriotism (1901)

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It is agreed, in this country, that if a man can arrange his religion so that it perfectly satisfies his conscience, it is not incumbent upon him to care whether the arrangement is satisfactory to any one else or not.

In Austria and some other countries this is not the case. There the State arranges a man’s religion for him, he has no voice in it himself.

Patriotism is merely a religion – love of country, worship of country, devotion to the country’s flag and honor and welfare.

In absolute monarchies it is furnished from the throne, cut and dried, to the subject; in England and America it is furnished, cut and dried, to the citizen by the politician and the newspaper.

The newspaper-and-politician-manufactured Patriot often gags in private over his dose; but he takes it, and keeps it on his stomach the best he can. Blessed are the meek.

Sometimes, in the beginning of an insane and shabby political upheaval, he is strongly moved to revolt, but he doesn’t do it – he knows better. He knows that his maker would find it out – the maker of his Patriotism, the windy and incoherent six-dollar sub-editor of his village newspaper – and would bray out in print and call him a traitor. And how dreadful that would be. It makes him tuck his tail between his legs and shiver. We all know – the reader knows it quite well – that two or three years ago nine-tenths of the human tails in England and America performed just that act. Which is to say, nine-tenths of the Patriots in England and America turned traitor to keep from being called traitor. Isn’t it true? You know it to be true. Isn’t it curious?

Yet it was not a thing to be very seriously ashamed of. A man can seldom – very, very seldom – fight a winning fight against his training; the odds are too heavy. For many a year – perhaps always – the training of the two nations had been dead against independence in political thought, persistently inhospitable toward Patriotism manufactured on a man’s own premises, Patriotism reasoned out in the man’s own head and fire-assayed and tested and proved in his own conscience. The resulting Patriotism was a shop-worn product procured at second hand. The Patriot did not know just how or when or where he got his opinions, neither did he care, so long as he was with what seemed the majority – which was the main thing, the safe thing, the comfortable thing. Does the reader believe he knows three men who have actual reasons for their pattern of Patriotism – and can furnish them? Let him not examine, unless he wants to be disappointed. He will be likely to find that his men got their Patriotism at the public trough, and had no hand in their preparation themselves.

Training does wonderful things. It moved the people of this country to oppose the Mexican war; then moved them to fall in with what they supposed was the opinion of the majority – majority-Patriotism is the customary Patriotism – and go down there and fight. Before the Civil War it made the North indifferent to slavery and friendly to the slave interest; in that interest it made Massachusetts hostile to the American flag, and she would not allow it to be hoisted on her State House – in her eyes it was the flag of a faction. Then by and by, training swung Massachusetts the other way, and she went raging South to fight under that very flag and against that foretime protected-interest of hers.

Training made us nobly anxious to free Cuba; training made us give her a noble promise; training has enabled us to take it back. Long training made us revolt at the idea of wantonly taking any weak nation’s country and liberties away from it, a short training has made us glad to do it, and proud of having done it. Training made us loathe Weyler’s cruel concentration camps, training has persuaded us to prefer them to any other device for winning the love of our “wards.”

There is nothing that training cannot do. Nothing is above its reach or below it. It can turn bad morals to good, good morals to bad; it can destroy principles, it can re-create them; it can debase angels to men and lift men to angelship. And it can do any one of these miracles in a year – even in six months.

Then men can be trained to manufacture their own Patriotism. They can be trained to labor it out in their own heads and hearts, and in the privacy and independence of their own premises. It can train them to stop taking it by command, as the Austrian takes his religion.

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H.G. Wells: None so detestable as the god of war

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

H.G. Wells: Selections on war

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H.G. Wells
From Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916)

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“But he must let these things happen. Or why do they happen?”

“No,” said Mr. Britling. “It is the theologians who must answer that. They have been extravagant about God. They have had silly absolute ideas – that He is all powerful. That He’s omni-everything. But the common sense of men knows better. Every real religious thought denies it. After all, the real God of the Christians is Christ, not God Almighty; a poor mocked and wounded God nailed on a cross of matter…Some day He will triumph…But it is not fair to say that He causes all things now. It is not fair to make out a case against him. You have been misled. It is a theologian’s folly. God is not absolute; God is finite…A finite God who struggles in his great and comprehensive way as we struggle in our weak and silly way – who is with us – that is the essence of all real religion…I agree with you so – Why! if I thought there was an omnipotent God who looked down on battles and deaths and all the waste and horror of this war – able to prevent these things – doing them to amuse Himself – would spit in his empty face…”

***

Another son had gone – all the world was losing its sons…

He found himself thinking of young Heinrich in the very manner, if with a lesser intensity, in which he thought about his own son, as of hopes senselessly destroyed. His mind took no note of the fact that Heinrich was an enemy, that by the reckoning of a “war of attrition” his death was balance and compensation for the death of Hugh. He went straight to the root fact that they had been gallant and kindly beings, and that the same thing had killed them both…

By no conceivable mental gymnastics could he think of the two as antagonists. Between them there was no imaginable issue. They had both very much the same scientific disposition; with perhaps more dash and inspiration in the quality of Hugh; more docility and method in the case of Karl. Until war had smashed them one against the other…

***

The letters reinforced the photographs in their reminder how kind and pleasant a race mankind can be. Until the wild asses of nationalism came kicking and slaying amidst them, until suspicion and jostling greed and malignity poison their minds, until the fools with the high explosives blow that elemental goodness into shrieks of hate and splashes of blood. How kindly men are – up to the very instant of their cruelties! His mind teemed suddenly with little anecdotes and histories of the goodwill of men breaking through the ill-will of war, of the mutual help of sorely wounded Germans and English lying together in the mud and darkness between the trenches, of the fellowship of captors and prisoners, of the Saxons at Christmas fraternising with the English…Of that he had seen photographs in one of the daily papers…

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William Dean Howells: If we have war, every good cause will be set back

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

American writers on peace and against war

William Dean Howells: Selections on war

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William Dean Howells
Member of the Anti-Imperialist League

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Letter to his sister Aurela H. Howells
April 3, 1898

Of course we are deafened by the war-talk here. I hope you will not be surprised to hear that I think we are wickedly wrong. We have no right to interfere in Cuba, and we have no cause of quarrel with Spain. At the very best we propose to do evil that good may come. If we have war it will be at the cause of a thousand times more suffering than Spain has inflicted or could inflict on Cuba. After war will come the piling up of big fortunes again; the craze for wealth will fill all brains, and every good cause will be set back. We shall have an era of blood-thirsty prosperity, and the chains of capitalism will be welded on the nation more fiercely than ever.

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Leonid Leonov: All the blood that has been shed has turned the air bad

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

Russian writers on war

Leonid Leonov: Tell me, is it right to kill – in war or anyhow?

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Leonid Leonov
From The Thief (1927)
Translated by Hubert Butler

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“…Things are going badly with everyone nowadays. You’d think that all the blood that has been shed has turned the air bad. And you’ll have to go on breathing it a long time yet, till a breeze comes. The armies were too keen by half…”

“The sun is passing through a terrible phase. Mitka is plague and anarchy and ignorance and even ruin. He is the lump of wood from which the progenitors of the future man will be carved. But humanity will not go to the dogs all the same. I’m a melancholy fellow, but I maintain that the organ of laughter, the spleen, will scent the danger in time and save the world. If I skip the last few years, I’m forced to admit that man is somehow beautiful and his creation somewhat wise. Himself warm and living, he seeks out and creates each moment new idols for himself, and cannot realize that he himself is better than all his creations. Man is alive, but an idol is dead, even when it is obeyed.”

In a cage in the right-hand corner lay a bear. His great head rested on one of his paws, for he had made his peace with the iron bars. Mitka stepped closer, and though someone was walking behind him, he did not turn around. In the dark eye of the beast there was indulgence, and even forgiveness toward men, who from time immemorial have robbed the weakest of their freedom. We can all of us read our own sufferings in a beast’s eye.

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D.H. Lawrence: War adds horror to horror, becomes horrible piratic affair, dirty sort of freebooting

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

D. H. Lawrence: Selections on war

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D.H. Lawrence
From Kangaroo (1923)

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If men had kept their souls firm and integral through the years, the war would never have come on…

And now, if circumstances had roped nearly all men into the horror, and it was a case of adding horror to horror, or dying well, on the other hand, the irremediable circumstance of his own separate soul made Richard Lovat’s inevitable standing out. If there is an outward, circumstantial unreason and fatality, there is an inward unreason and inward fate. He would have to dare to follow his inward fate. He must remain alone, outside of everything, everything, conscious of what was going on, conscious of what he was doing and not doing. Conscious he must be and consciously he must stick to it. To be forced into nothing.

For, above all things, man is a land animal and a thought-adventurer. Once the human consciousness really sinks and is swamped under the tide of events – as the best English consciousness was swamped, pacifist and patriotic alike – then the adventure is doomed. The English soul went under in the war, and, as a conscious, proud, adventurous, self-responsible soul, it was lost. We all lost the war: perhaps Germany least. Lost all the lot. The adventure is always lost when the human conscious soul gives way under the stress, fails to keep control, and is submerged. Then out swam the rats and the Bottomleys and crew, and the ship of human adventure is a horrible piratic affair, a dirty sort of freebooting.

***

Mrs. Redburn was frightened, receiving the tainted Mr. Somers. But she had pluck. Everybody in London was frightened at this time, everybody who was not a rabid and disgusting so-called patriot. It was a reign of terror…

***

So then, why will men not forgive the war, and their humiliation at the hands of those war-like authorities? Because men were compelled into the service of a dead ideal. And perhaps nothing but this compulsion made them realise it was a dead ideal. But all those filthy stay-at-home officers and coast-watchers and dirty-minded doctors who tortured men during the first stages of the torture, did these men in their souls believe in what they were doing? They didn’t. They had no souls. They had only their beastly little wills, which they used to bully all men with. With their wills they determined to fight for a dead ideal, and to bully every other man into compliance. The inspiring motive was the bullying. And every other man complied. Or else, by admitting a conscientious objection to war, he admitted the dead ideal, but took refuge in one of its side-tracks.

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Oliver Goldsmith: To make one man happy is more truly great than having ten thousand captives groaning at the wheels of his chariot

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

Oliver Goldsmith: Selections on war

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Oliver Goldsmith
From Citizen of the World (1762)

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The English and French have not only political reasons to induce them to mutual hatred but often the more prevailing motive of private interest to widen the breach; a war between other countries is carried on collectively, army fights against army, and a man’s own private resentment is lost in that of the community; but in England and France the individuals of each country plunder each other at sea without redress, and consequently feel that animosity against each other which passengers do at a robber. They have for some time carried on an expensive war; and several captives have been taken on both sides. Those made prisoners by the French have been used with cruelty, and guarded with unnecessary caution. Those taken by the English, being much more numerous, were confined in the ordinary manner; and, not being released by their countrymen, began to feel all the inconveniencies which arise from want of covering and long confinement.

***

To rejoice at the destruction of our enemies, is a foible grafted upon human nature, and we must be permitted to indulge it: the true way of atoning for such an ill founded pleasure, is thus to turn our triumph into an act of benevolence, and to testify our own joy by endeavouring to banish anxiety from others.

Hamti, the best and wisest emperor that ever filled the throne, after having gained three signal victories over the Tartars, who had invaded his dominions, returned to Nankin in order to enjoy the glory of his conquest. After he had rested for some days, the people who are naturally fond of processions, impatiently expected the triumphal entry, which emperors upon such occasions were accustomed to make. Their murmurs came to the emperor’s ear. He loved his people, and was willing to do all in his power to satisfy their just desires. He therefore assured them, that he intended, upon the next feast of the Lanthorns, to exhibit one of the most glorious triumphs that had ever been seen in China.

The people were in raptures at his condescension; and, on the appointed day, assembled at the gates of the palace with the most eager expectations. Here they waited for some time without seeing any of those preparations which usually precede a pageant. The lanthorn, with ten thousand tapers, was not yet brought forth; the fire-works, which usually covered the city walls, were not yet lighted; the people once more began to murmur at this delay; when in the midst of their impatience, the palace gates flew open, and the emperor himself appeared, not in splendor or magnificence, but in an ordinary habit, followed by the blind, the maimed, and the strangers of the city, all in new clothes, and each carrying in his hand money enough to supply his necessities for the year. The people were at first amazed, but soon perceived the wisdom of their king, who taught them, that to make one man happy was more truly great than having ten thousand captives groaning at the wheels of his chariot.

***

Some time since I sent thee, oh holy disciple of Confucius, an account of the grand abbey or mausoleum of the kings and heroes of this nation. I have since been introduced to a temple not so ancient, but far superior in beauty and magnificence. In this, which is the most considerable of the empire, there are no pompous inscriptions, no flattery paid the dead, but all is elegant and awfully simple. There are however a few rags hung round the walls, which have at a vast expense been taken from the enemy in the present war. The silk of which they are composed when new, might be valued at half a string of copper money in China; yet this wise people fitted out a fleet and an army in order to seize them; though now grown old, and scarce capable of being patched up into a handkerchief. By this conquest the English are said to have gained, and the French to have lost much honour. Is the honour of European nations placed only in tattered silk?

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Oliver Wendell Holmes: Not so enamored of the drum and trumpet

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

American writers on peace and against war

Oliver Wendell Holmes: Hymn to Peace

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Oliver Wendell Holmes
From The Professor at the Breakfast Table (1859)

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They are playing with toys we have done with for whole generations. That silly little drum they are always beating on, and the trumpet and the feather they make so much noise and cut such a figure with, we have not quite outgrown, but play with much less seriously and constantly as they do.

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A man whose opinions are not attacked is beneath contempt.

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Justice! A good man respects the rights even of brute matter and arbitrary symbols.

***

It is in the hearts of many men and women – let me add children – that there is a Great Secret waiting for them, – a secret of which they get hints now and then, perhaps oftener in early than in later years. These hints come sometimes in dreams, sometimes in sudden startling flashes, – second wakings, as it were, – a waking out of the waking state, which last is very apt to be a half-sleep. I have many times stopped short and held my breath, and felt the blood leaving my cheeks, in one of these sudden clairvoyant flashes. Of course I cannot tell what kind of a secret this is, but I think of it as a disclosure of certain relations of our personal being to time and space, to other intelligences, to the procession of events, and to their First Great Cause. This secret seems to be broken up, as it were, into fragments, so that we find here a word and there a syllable, and then again only a letter of it; but it never is written out for most of us as a complete sentence, in this life. I do not think it could be; for I am disposed to consider our beliefs about such a possible disclosure rather as a kind of premonition of an enlargement of our faculties in some future state than as an expectation to be fulfilled for most of us in this life…

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Sinclair Lewis: The disguised increase, false economizing of war budgets

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

American writers on peace and against war

Sinclair Lewis: Selections on war

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Sinclair Lewis
From It Can’t Happen Here (1935)

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America followed, too, the same ingenious finances as Europe. Windrip had promised to make everybody richer, and had contrived to make everybody, except for a few hundred bankers and industrialists and soldiers, much poorer. He needed no higher mathematicians to produce his financial statements: any ordinary press agent could do them. To show a 100 per cent economy in military expenditures, while increasing the establishment 700 per cent, it had been necessary only to charge up all expenditures for the Minute Men to non-military departments, so that their training in the art of bayonet-sticking was debited to the Department of Education. To show an increase in average wages one did tricks with “categories of labor” and “required minimum wages,” and forgot to state how many workers ever did become entitled to the “minimum,” and how much was charged as wages, on the books, for food and shelter for the millions in the labor camps.

It all made dazzling reading. There had never been more elegant and romantic fiction.

Even loyal Corpos began to wonder why the armed forces, army and M.M.’s together, were being so increased. Was a frightened Windrip getting ready to defend himself against a rising of the whole nation? Did he plan to attack all of North and South America and make himself an emperor? Or both? In any case, the forces were so swollen that even with its despotic power of taxation, the Corpo government never had enough. They began to force exports, to practice the “dumping” of wheat, corn, timber, copper, oil, machinery. They increased production, forced it by fines and threats, then stripped the farmer of all he had, for export at depreciated prices. But at home the prices were not depreciated but increased, so that the more we exported, the less the industrial worker in America had to eat. And really zealous County Commissioners took from the farmer (after the patriotic manner of many Mid-Western counties in 1918) even his seed grain, so that he could grow no more, and on the very acres where once he had raised superfluous wheat he now starved for bread. And while he was starving, the Commissioners continued to try to make him pay for the Corpo bonds which he had been made to buy on the instalment plan.

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Stephen Spender: The Woolfs in the 1930s: War the inevitable result of an arms race.

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

Stephen Spender: Selections on war

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Stephen Spender
From World Within World (1948)

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There would be talk of politics, that is to say, of war. For Leonard and Virginia were among the very few people in England who had a profound understanding of the state of the world in the 1930s; Leonard, because he was a political thinker and historian with an almost fatalistic understanding of the consequences of actions. So that when, in 1934, I asked him whether he thought there would be a war he replied: “Yes, of course. Because when the nations enter into an armaments race, as they are doing at present, no other end is possible. The arms have to be used before they become completely out of date.”

***

Perhaps the worst of the 1930s was not that politicians attempted to compromise with Hitler: but that they did Hitler’s work by blinding themselves, and others, to the forces with which they were compromising. Hitler did more than gain political victories in Europe. He also demoralized international politics. There came a day when the democratic statesmen who played politics with him, were forced to accept elections in Austria and the Saar, directed by Hitler, as expressions of the will of the people; to recognize the Anschluss and the seizure of Czechoslovakia as voluntary corrections of European frontiers; and to deny, during the Spanish Civil War, that British ships were sunk by Italian submarines in the Mediterranean. There statesmen came to represent a cynicism which lacked the courage of Hitler’s blackguardism. If it is pointed out that after all the democracies overthrew Hitler, I must reply that this was not until they had inherited and taken to themselves the worst of his plans – total war followed by a dictated peace.

***

The intelligentsia also had more sinister reasons for understanding Hitler. These were the elements of pure destructiveness, of attraction to evil for its own sake, and of a search for spiritual damnation, which had been present in some European literature for the past century, and which were fulfilled in Nazi politics. European literature had diagnosed, without purging itself of, the evil of nihilism. In Hitlerism the nightmares of Dostoevsky’s The Possessed, of Nietzsche and of Wagner, were made real. The cultured Europeans recognized in this political movement some of their own most hidden fantasies. Hatred of it was deeply involved with a sense of their own guilt. And as though to demonstrate this to the utmost, certain writers in the occupied countries were actually to welcome Hitler as a destructive force which their art had prophesied.

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Thomas Mann: By nature evil and harmful, war is destructive even to the victor

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

Thomas Mann: Selections on war

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Thomas Mann
From letter to Agnes E. Meyer
December 1, 1946

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America as a whole is not in the happiest state – morally damaged by a war that was a necessity, but simply as a war was evil and harmful. Those are the antinomies in this vale of tears. Now we are experiencing a great lowering of morale, raw avarice, political reaction, race hatred, and all the signs of spiritual depression…As a German I am naturally inclined toward pessimism, and occasionally I fear having to go through the whole disaster, somewhat modified, once again. And then there would be no further exile – for where would I go?

From letter to Mr. Gray [unidentified)
October 12, 1947

At one time my faith in America’s humanitarian mission was very strong. In the last years it has been exposed to slight strains. Instead of leading the world, America appears to be resolved to buy it – which is also a very grandiose thing after its fashion, but does inspire less enthusiasm, you know. But even under these circumstances I still remain an American patriot, a fact which is confirmed to me by the grief I feel as I observe the growing unpopularity of America in the rest of the world. The American people are not responsible for this development and do not comprehend it. Those who try to explain the reasons for it are more and more reduced to silence. We can already see the first signs of terrorism, talebearing, political inquisition, and suspension of law, all of which are excused by an alleged state of emergency. As a German I can only say: That is the way it began among us, too.

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Charles Yale Harrison: War’s snarling, savage beasts

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

American writers on peace and against war

Charles Yale Harrison: Selections on war

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Charles Yale Harrison
From Generals Die In Bed (1928)

There is a movement in one of the trees which has remained standing. Broadbent raises his rifle to his shoulder and shoots into the shattered branches.

A rifle drops – and then the man. He holds his shoulder from whence comes a trickle of blood. The rifle is fitted with telescopic sights.

A sniper!

Some of our boys rush to him and cover him with their rifles. The wounded sniper crawls on his knees towards us. He is middle-aged and has a gray walrus mustache – fatherly-looking. His hands are folded in the gesture which pleads for pity.

Drei Kinder – three children,” he shrieks.

We are on top of him.

Broadbent runs his bayonet into the kneeling one’s throat. The body collapses.

Some of us kick at the prostrate body as we pass it. It quivers a little with each kick.

***

I see their ranks waver for a moment and then they start to run slowly towards us. Our line is a line of flame. Every gun is in action.

The singing is quite distinct now.

I can see faces clearly.

Each burst of Broadbent’s gun cuts a swath in the front ranks of the attacking troops.

They are close to our trenches. Their singing has become a shriek which we hear above the hammering of our rifles and guns.

I am filled with frenzied hatred for these men. They want to kill me but I will stay here and shoot at them until I am either shot or stabbed down. I grit my teeth. We are snarling, savage beasts.

Their dead and wound are piled about four deep.

They climb over them as they advance.

Suddently they break and retreat.

We have repulsed them again. Their wounded crawl toward our trenches. We shoot at them.

The shrieking and howling out in front of us sounds like a madhouse in turmoil.

We sink down to the bottom of our trenches exhausted.

It is quiet once more.

Out in front wounded men still howl. One of them crawls into our trench and falls near us. Half of his face is shot away.

His breath smells of ether! No wonder they attacked like madmen!

It is nearly dusk.

They begin to shell our trench. They have not got the correct range and the shells fall short in No Man’s Land. The shells leap among the bodies of the wounded and the dead. The lashing of the bombardment starts them shrieking again. It hurls torn limbs and entrails into our trench.

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Alfred Neumann: War, the Great Incendiary, the everlasting prototype of annihilation

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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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Since when has Rochefort been in favour of chivalry in the attack upon a regime of stock-exchange speculators, upon a policy which aims at making money out of the sacrifice of soldiers, the policy of those who exploit national sentiments for the sordid end of business?…

Let us continue, my friends, to heap up debts, to play the political game, to make coups d’etats,; to wage war for the sake of speculators; to transform spurious counts into genuine dukes; to make a few princes and a great many commoners unhappy; to break our oaths and to keep our words as little as possible – doing all these things in a such a way that to make man happy shall cost us very little but bring us pots of money.

***

The old and terrible thought, dredged from the profound by this young and terrible man with his stark candour, now emerged. Not petty forces, not revolution in masquerade staged by the counterfeit Second Empire (travesty of the First), would bring about the desired change. This will be the work of the Great Incendiary, the everlasting prototype of annihilation. – This would be the work of War.

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Alexander Herzen: Six hundred thousand animated machines with bayonets. Military caste divides the people into two nations

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

Russian writers on war

Alexander Herzen: Selections on the military and war

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Alexander Herzen
From My Past and Thoughts
Translated by Constance Garnett

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We were kept in ignorance by the knout and the Tatars: we were civilized by the axe and the Germans: and in both cases our nostrils were slit and we were branded with irons. Peter the Great drove civilisation into us with such a wedge that Russia could not stand the shock and split into two layers. We are only just beginning now, after a hundred and fifty years, to understand how this split was made: there was nothing in common between the two parts; on the one hand, robbery and contempt; on the other, suffering and mistrust: on the one hand, the liveried lackey, proud of his social position and haughtily displaying it; on the other hand, the plundered peasant, hating him and concealing his hatred. Never did Turk, slaughtering men and carrying off women to his harem, oppress so systematically, nor disdain the Frank and Greek so insolently, as did Russia of the privileged class despise the Russia of the peasant. There is no instance in history of a caste of the same race getting the upper hand so thoroughly and becoming so completely alien as our military nobility.

***

Europe is approaching a terrible cataclysm. The mediaeval world is falling into ruins. The feudal world is drawing to a close. Political and religious revolutions are flagging under the burden of their impotence; they have accomplished great things, but have not carried out their tasks. They have destroyed faith in the Throne and the Altar, but have not established freedom; they have kindled in men’s hearts desires which they are incapable of satisfying. Parliamentarianism, Protestantism, are only stop-gaps, temporary havens, weak bulwarks against death and resurrection. Their day is over. Since 1849 it has grasped that petrified Roman law, subtle casuistry, thin philosophic deism, and barren religious rationalism are all equally powerless to hold back the workings of destiny…Europe is plunged in dim, stifling gloom, on the even of the momentous conflict. It is not life, but an oppressive, agitating suspense. There is no regard for law, no justice, no personal freedom even; everywhere the sway of the secular inquisition is supreme; instead of order upheld by law, there is a state of siege, all are governed by a single feeling – fear, and there is plenty of it…

***

There are peoples living a prehistoric life, others living a life outside history; but once they move into the broad stream of history, one and indivisible, they belong to humanity, and, on the other hand, all the past of humanity belongs to them. In history – that is, in the life of the active and progressive part of humanity – the aristocracy of facial angle, of complexion, and other distinctions is gradually effaced…

***

This living pyramid of crimes, abuses, and bribery, built up of policemen, scoundrels, heartless German officials everlastingly greedy, ignorant judges everlastingly drunk, aristocrats everlastingly base: all this is held together by a community of interest in plunder and gain, and supported on six hundred thousand animated machines with bayonets…

***

Science even more than the Gospel teaches us humility. She cannot look down on anything, she does not know what superiority means, she despises nothing, is never false for the sake of a pose, and conceals nothing to produce an effect. She stops short at the facts to investigate, sometimes to heal, never to punish, still less with hostility and irony.

Science – I anyway am not compelled to keep some words hidden in the silence of the spirit – science is love, as Spinoza said of thought and vision.

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Humphrey Cobb: Selections on war

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Robert Southey: The Soldier’s Wife

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

Robert Southey: Selections on peace and war

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Robert Southey
The Soldier’s Wife

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Weary way-wanderer languid and sick at heart
Travelling painfully over the rugged road,
Wild-visag’d Wanderer! ah for thy heavy chance!

Sorely thy little one drags by thee bare-footed,
Cold is the baby that hangs at thy bending back
Meagre and livid and screaming its wretchedness.

Woe-begone mother, half anger, half agony,
As over thy shoulder thou lookest to hush the babe,
Bleakly the blinding snow beats in thy hagged face.

Thy husband will never return from the war again,
Cold is thy hopeless heart even as Charity –
Cold are thy famish’d babes – God help thee, widow’d One!

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Upton Sinclair: Decade of national cynicism, corruption followed “war for democracy”

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

American writers on peace and against war

Upton Sinclair: Selections on war

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Upton Sinclair
From Boston (1928)

Upton Sinclair

The day of glory, sung in the “Marseillaise,” had arrived; the American troops stopped the first German onslaught, and began their counter-offensive which was to end the war. The whole country thrilled with it – all but a few perverse persons, so constructed that they could not think of glory, but only of bodies crawling about in burning forests, dragging shattered limbs and protruded entrails. “Ah, but the broken bodies, that drip like honeycomb!”

***

This was a celebration in which even the pacifists could join. The nation would have one or two hundred thousand cripples to take care of – but at least you didn’t have to think of new thousands being made every day!…Such wonderful promises, a world fit for heroes, a world made safe for democracy, a world in which the last war had been won by the forces of justice! So we had been told in a golden glowing speech at least once a week for a year and a half; and now we were to see it made real. As a first step President Wilson packed up his typewriter and his fourteen points, and went over to Europe to oversee the making of a world charter. His packing appeared to be careless, for he lost one of the points in England – that providing for the “freedom of the seas” – and had only thirteen when he landed in France.

The American people had been told to trust him; he was the President, and sources of information not open to the rest of us…But now it turned out that he hadn’t any sources of information, or if he had, he hadn’t used them. He had made no bargains whatever with the allies, he had not made them give up a single one of their greedy demands. And now, of course, it was too late; the danger was over, the allies were no longer afraid, and would do exactly what they pleased.

It was a disillusioning experience, and was to produce ten years of cynicism and corruption in every department of American life. The climax came when the President capitulated to the diplomatic ravens, and let them have their prey, and came home and told the public that that was what his fourteen points had meant. He did more than that – he went before a committee of the Senate, and stated that he had not known about the secret treaties until he went to Paris; which one had to take as Pascal took the doctrine of his church, and believe it because it was impossible.

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Eleanor Farjeon: Peace Poem

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

Eleanor Farjeon
Peace Poem

Eleanor_Farjeon_(Элеанор_Фарджон)

I.

I am as awful as my brother War,
I am the sudden silence after clamour.
I am the face that shows the seamy scar
When blood and frenzy has lost its glamour.
Men in my pause shall know the cost at last
That is not to be paid in triumphs or tears,
Men will begin to judge the thing that’s past
As men will judge it in a hundred years.

Nations! whose ravenous engines must be fed
Endlessly with the father and the son,
My naked light upon your darkness, dread! –
By which ye shall behold what ye have done:
Whereon, more like a vulture than a dove,
Ye set my seal in hatred, not in love.

II.

Let no man call me good. I am not blest.
My single virtue is the end of crimes,
I only am the period of unrest,
The ceasing of horrors of the times;
My good is but the negative of ill,
Such ill as bends the spirit with despair,
Such ill as makes the nations’ soul stand still
And freeze to stone beneath a Gorgon glare.

Be blunt, and say that peace is but a state
Wherein the active soul is free to move,
And nations only show as mean or great
According to the spirit then they prove. –
O which of ye whose battle-cry is Hate
Will first in peace dare shout the name of Love?

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Mark Twain: Cecil Rhodes and the civilizing mission: He wants the earth and wants it for his own

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

American writers on peace and against war

Mark Twain: Selections on war

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Mark Twain
Member of the Anti-Imperialist League
From Following the Equator (1897)

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In the opinion of many people Mr. Rhodes is South Africa; others think he is only a large part of it. These latter consider that South Africa consists of Table Mountain, the diamond mines, the Johannesburg gold fields, and Cecil Rhodes. The gold fields are wonderful in every way. In seven or eight years they built up, in a desert, a city of a hundred thousand inhabitants, counting white and black together; and not the ordinary mining city of wooden shanties, but a city made out of lasting material. Nowhere in the world is there such a concentration of rich mines as at Johannesburg. Mr. Bonamici, my manager there, gave me a small gold brick with some statistics engraved upon it which record the output of gold from the early days to July, 1895, and exhibit the strides which have been made in the development of the industry; in 1888 the output was $4,162,440; the output of the next five and a half years was (total) $17,585,894; for the single year ending with June, 1895, it was $45,553,700.

The capital which has developed the mines came from England, the mining engineers from America. This is the case with the diamond mines also.

South Africa seems to be the heaven of the American scientific mining engineer. He gets the choicest places, and keeps them. His salary is not based upon what he would get in America, but apparently upon what a whole family of him would get there.

***

The great bulk of the savages must go. The white man wants their lands, and all must go excepting such percentage of them as he will need to do his work for him upon terms to be determined by himself. Since history has removed the element of guesswork from this matter and made it certainty, the humanest way of diminishing the black population should be adopted, not the old cruel ways of the past. Mr. Rhodes and his gang have been following the old ways. – They are chartered to rob and slay, and they lawfully do it, but not in a compassionate and Christian spirit. They rob the Mashonas and the Matabeles of a portion of their territories in the hallowed old style of “purchase!” for a song, and then they force a quarrel and take the rest by the strong hand. They rob the natives of their cattle under the pretext that all the cattle in the country belonged to the king whom they have tricked and assassinated. They issue “regulations” requiring the incensed and harassed natives to work for the white settlers, and neglect their own affairs to do it. This is slavery, and is several times worse than was the American slavery which used to pain England so much; for when this Rhodesian slave is sick, super-annuated, or otherwise disabled, he must support himself or starve – his master is under no obligation to support him.

The reduction of the population by Rhodesian methods to the desired limit is a return to the old-time slow-misery and lingering-death system of a discredited time and a crude “civilization.” We humanely reduce an overplus of dogs by swift chloroform; the Boer humanely reduced an overplus of blacks by swift suffocation; the nameless but right-hearted Australian pioneer humanely reduced his overplus of aboriginal neighbors by a sweetened swift death concealed in a poisoned pudding. All these are admirable, and worthy of praise; you and I would rather suffer either of these deaths thirty times over in thirty successive days than linger out one of the Rhodesian twenty-year deaths, with its daily burden of insult, humiliation, and forced labor for a man whose entire race the victim hates. Rhodesia is a happy name for that land of piracy and pillage, and puts the right stain upon it.

***

Next to Mr. Rhodes, to me the most interesting convulsion of nature in South Africa was the diamond-crater. The Rand gold fields are a stupendous marvel, and they make all other gold fields small, but I was not a stranger to gold-mining; the veldt was a noble thing to see, but it was only another and lovelier variety of our Great Plains; the natives were very far from being uninteresting, but they were not new; and as for the towns, I could find my way without a guide through the most of them because I had learned the streets, under other names, in towns just like them in other lands; but the diamond mine was a wholly fresh thing, a splendid and absorbing novelty. Very few people in the world have seen the diamond in its home. It has but three or four homes in the world, whereas gold has a million. It is worth while to journey around the globe to see anything which can truthfully be called a novelty, and the diamond mine is the greatest and most select and restricted novelty which the globe has in stock.

The Kimberley diamond deposits were discovered about 1869, I think. When everything is taken into consideration, the wonder is that they were not discovered five thousand years ago and made familiar to the African world for the rest of time…

Originally, the diamond deposits were the property of the Orange Free State; but a judicious “rectification” of the boundary line shifted them over into the British territory of Cape Colony. A high official of the Free State told me that the sum of $400,000 was handed to his commonwealth as a compromise, or indemnity, or something of the sort, and that he thought his commonwealth did wisely to take the money and keep out of a dispute, since the power was all on the one side and the weakness all on the other. The De Beers Company dig out $400,000 worth of diamonds per week, now. The Cape got the territory, but no profit; for Mr. Rhodes and the Rothschilds and the other De Beers people own the mines, and they pay no taxes.

***

Before the middle of July we reached Cape Town, and the end of our African journeyings. And well satisfied; for, towering above us was Table Mountain – a reminder that we had now seen each and all of the great features of South Africa except Mr. Cecil Rhodes. I realize that that is a large exception. I know quite well that whether Mr. Rhodes is the lofty and worshipful patriot and statesman that multitudes believe him to be, or Satan come again, as the rest of the world account him, he is still the most imposing figure in the British empire outside of England. When he stands on the Cape of Good Hope, his shadow falls to the Zambesi. He is the only colonial in the British dominions whose goings and comings are chronicled and discussed under all the globe’s meridians, and whose speeches, unclipped, are cabled from the ends of the earth; and he is the only unroyal outsider whose arrival in London can compete for attention with an eclipse.

That he is an extraordinary man, and not an accident of fortune, not even his dearest South African enemies were willing to deny, so far as I heard them testify. The whole South African world seemed to stand in a kind of shuddering awe of him, friend and enemy alike. It was as if he were deputy-God on the one side, deputy-Satan on the other, proprietor of the people, able to make them or ruin them by his breath, worshiped by many, hated by many, but blasphemed by none among the judicious, and even by the indiscreet in guarded whispers only.

What is the secret of his formidable supremacy? One says it is his prodigious wealth – a wealth whose drippings in salaries and in other ways support multitudes and make them his interested and loyal vassals; another says it is his personal magnetism and his persuasive tongue, and that these hypnotize and make happy slaves of all that drift within the circle of their influence; another says it is his majestic ideas, his vast schemes for the territorial aggrandizement of England, his patriotic and unselfish ambition to spread her beneficent protection and her just rule over the pagan wastes of Africa and make luminous the African darkness with the glory of her name; and another says he wants the earth and wants it for his own, and that the belief that he will get it and let his friends in on the ground floor is the secret that rivets so many eyes upon him and keeps him in the zenith where the view is unobstructed.

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Emily Dickinson: I many times thought Peace had come

April 6, 2015 1 comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Emily Dickinson
I many times thought Peace had come

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I many times thought Peace had come
When Peace was far away —
As Wrecked Men — deem they sight the Land —
At Centre of the Sea —

And struggle slacker — but to prove
As hopelessly as I —
How many the fictitious Shores —
Before the Harbor be —

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Richard Aldington: How well the premeditated mass murder of war is organized

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

Richard Aldington: Selections on war

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Richard Aldington
From Death of a Hero (1929)

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He still clung desperately to Elizabeth and Fanny, of course. He wrote long letters to them trying to explain himself, and they replied sympathetically. They were the only persons he wanted to see when on leave, and they met him sympathetically. But it was useless. They were gesticulating across an abyss. The women were still human beings; he was merely a unit, a murder-robot, a wisp of cannon fodder. And he knew it. They didn’t. But they felt the difference, felt it as a degradation in him, a sort of failure. Elizabeth and Fanny occasionally met after the row, and made acid-sweet remarks to each other. But on one point they were in agreement – George had degenerated terribly since joining the army, and there was no knowing to what preposterous depths of Tommydom he might fall.

***

The Germans were sending up some rather fancy signal-rockets from their front line, and he was vaguely wondering what they meant, when a huge rat darted, or rather scrambled, impudently just past his head. Then he noticed that a legion of the fattest and longest rats he had ever seen were popping in and out the crevices between the sandbags. As far as he could see down the trench in the dusk, they were swarming over parapet and parados. Such well-fed rats! He shuddered, thinking what they has probably fed upon.

***

The cottages were rather scattered, and unused as cellar-billets in this direction. The top storeys had gone from nearly all, but in several the ground floor was fairly intact. He looked into each as he passed. The wallpaper had long ago fallen and lay in mouldering heaps. The floors were covered with broken bricks, tiles, smashed beams, laths, and disintegrating plaster. Odd pieces of broken furniture, twisted iron beds, large rags which had once been clothes and sheets, protruded from the mass. He poked about and found photographs, letters in faded ink on damp paper, broken toys, bits of smashed vases, a soiled satin wedding-gown with its veil and wreath of artificial orange-blossom. He stood, with his head bent, looking at this pathetic debris of human lives, and absentmindedly lit a cigarette, which he immediately threw away – it tasted of phosgene. “La Gloire,” he murmured, “Deutschland über alles, God save the King.”

The next cottage was less damaged than the others, and its rough wooden shutters were still on their hinges. Winterbourne peered through, and saw the whole of the inside had been cleared of debris, and was stacked with quantities of wooden objects. He shaded his eyes more carefully, and saw they were ranks and ranks of wooden crosses. Those he could see had painted on them R.I.P.; then underneath was a blank space for the name; underneath was the name of one or other of the battalions in his division, and then the present month and year. with a blank space for the day. Excellent forethought, he reflected, as he filled his bucket and waterbottle. How well the War is organized!

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Alfred Döblin: We march to war, Death folds his cloak singing: Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes.

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

Alfred Döblin: The law and the police are at the service of the war state and its slavery

Alfred Döblin: The old grim cry for war

Alfred Döblin: War is not ineluctable fate

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Alfred Döblin
From Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929)
Translated by Eugene Jolas

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The river, the Beresina, marching legions.

The legions march along the Beresina, icy cold, an icy wind. They have crossed from France and the great Napoleon leads them. Roaring wind, flurries of snow, bullets whine. They fight on the ice, they charge and fall. And always that cry: Long live the Emperor! Long live the Emperor! The sacrifice, the sacrifice – and that is Death!

Rolling of railroads, thunder of guns, bursting hand-grenades, curtain fire, Chemin des Femmes, Langemarck, Dear Fatherland be comfort thine, be comfort thine! Shattered dug-outs, fallen soldiers. Death folds his cloak singing: Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes.

Marching, marching. We march to war, with iron tread, a hundred minstrels march ahead. Red of morning, red of night, shines on us death’s early light. One hundred minstrels beat the drum, drumm, brumm, drumm, if we can’t walk straight, we’ll walk crooked, by gum, drumm, brumm, drumm.

Death folds his cloak and sings: Oh yes, oh yes, oh yea.

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E.M. Forster: The Imperialist is not what he thinks or seems. He is a destroyer.

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

E.M. Forster: Wars spurred on by persistent talk of war, amplified by the gutter press

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E.M. Forster
From Howards End (1910)

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Her tenderness! Her innocence! The wonderful innocence that was hers by the gift of God. Ruth knew no more of worldly wickedness and wisdom than did the flowers in her garden or the grass in her field. Her idea of business – “Henry, why do people who have enough money try to get more money?” Her idea of politics – “I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars.”

***

Looking back on the past six months, Margaret realized the chaotic nature of our daily life, and its difference from the orderly sequence that has been fabricated by historians. Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere. With infinite effort we nerve ourselves for a crisis that never comes. The most successful career must show a waste of strength that might have removed mountains, and the most unsuccessful is not that of the man who is taken unprepared, but of him who has prepared and is never taken. On a tragedy of that kind our national morality is duly silent. It assumes that preparation against danger is in itself a good, and that men, like nations, are better for staggering through life fully armed. The tragedy of preparedness has scarcely been handled, save by the Greeks. Life is indeed dangerous, but not in the way morality would have us believe. It is indeed unmanageable, but the essence of it is not a battle. It is unmanageable because it is a romance, and its essence is romantic beauty.

***

Charles’ house on the left; on the right the swelling forms of the Six Hills. Their appearance in such a neighbourhood surprised her. They interrupted the stream of residences that was thickening up towards Hilton. Beyond them she saw meadows and a wood, and beneath them she settled that soldiers of the best kind lay buried. She hated war and liked soldiers – it was one of her amiable inconsistencies.

***

At the chalk pit a motor past him. In it was another type whom Nature favours – the Imperial. Healthy, ever in motion, it hopes to inherit the earth. It breeds as quickly as the yeoman, and as soundly; strong is the temptation to acclaim it as a super-yeoman, who carries his country’s virtue overseas. But the Imperialist is not what he thinks or seems. He is a destroyer. He prepares the way for cosmopolitanism, and though his ambitions may be fulfilled, the earth that he inherits will be grey.

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Hans Christian Andersen: Art, not arms, rules the world. War, an allegory.

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

Hans Christian Andersen
From The Improvisatore (1835)
Translated by Mary Howitt

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I seized her guitar; she gave me the word “Immortality.” I rapidly thought over the rich subject, struck a few chords, and then began my poem as it was born in my soul. My genius led me over the sulphur-blue Mediterranean to the wildly fertile valleys of Greece. Athens lay in ruins; the wild fig-tree grew above the broken capitals, and the spirit heaved a sigh; then onwards to the days of Pericles, when a rejoicing crowd was in motion under the proud arches. It was the festival of beauty; women, enchanting as Lais, danced with garlands through the streets, and poets sang aloud that beauty and joy should never pass away. But now every noble daughter of beauty is dust, mingled with dust, the forms forgotten which had enchanted a happy generation: and, whilst my genius wept over the ruins of Athens, there arose before me from the earth glorious images, created by the hand of the sculptor, mighty goddesses slumbering in marble raiment; and my genius recognised the daughters of Athens, beautifully exalted to divinity, which the white marble preserves for future generations. “Immortality,” sang my genius, “is beauty, but not earthly power and strength,” and wafting itself across the sea to Italy, to the city of the world, it gazed silently from the remains of the Capitol over ancient Rome. The Tiber whirled along its yellow waters, and where Horatius Cocles once combated, boats now pass along, laden with wood and oil, for Ostia. Where Curtius sprang from the forum into the flaming gulph, the cattle now lie down in the tall grass. Augustus and Titus! proud names, which now the ruined temple and arch alone commemorate! Rome’s eagle, the mighty bird of Jupiter, is dead in its nest. Rome, where is thy immortality? There flashed the eye of the eagle. Excommunication goes forth over ascending Europe. The overturned throne of Rome was the chair of St. Peter; and kings came as barefoot pilgrims to the holy city – Rome, mistress of the world! But in the light of centuries was heard the toll of death – death to all that the hand can seize upon, that the human eye can discern! But can the sword of St. Peter really rust? The eagle flies forth from the east to the west. Can the power of the Church decline? Can the impossible happen? Rome still stands proudly in her ruins with the gods of antiquity and her holy pictures which rule the world by eternal art. To thy mount, O Rome! will the sons of Europe come as pilgrims for ever; from the east and from the west, from the cold north will they come hither, and in their hearts acknowledge, – “Rome, thy power is immortal! ”

***

“And may not I, too, mount with him into the chariot of Fortune?” asked my mother, half in jest, but uttered at the same moment a loud cry, for a large eagle flew so near us down into the lake that the water at the same moment splashed into our faces from the force with which he struck it with his great wings. High up in the air his keen glance had discovered a large fish, which lay immovable as a reed upon the surface of the lake; with the swiftness of an arrow he seized upon his prey, stuck his sharp talons into the back of it, and was about to raise himself again, when the fish, which, by the agitation of the waters, we could see was of great size, and almost of equal power to his enemy, sought on the contrary, to drag him below with him. The talons of the bird were so firmly fixed into the back of the fish, that he could not lelease himself from his prey, and now, therefore, began between the two such a contest that the quiet lake trembled in wide circles. Now appeared the glittering back of the fish, now the bird struck the water with his broad wings, and seemed to yield. The combat lasted for some minutes. The two wings lay for a moment still, outspread upon the water, as if they rested themselves; then they were rapidly struck together, a crack was heard, the one wing sank down, whilst the other lashed the water to foam, and then vanished. The fish sunk beneath the waves with his enemy, where a moment afterwards they must both die.

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William Blake: Be withdrawn cloudy war, troops of warriors depart, nor around our peaceable city breathe

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

William Blake: Selections on war and peace

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William Blake
From The French Revolution (1791)

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To enrich the lean earth that craves, furrow’d with ploughs, whose seed is departing from her,
Thy Nobles have gather’d thy starry hosts round this rebellious city,
To rouse up the ancient forests of Europe, with clarions of cloud-breathing war,
To hear the horse neigh to the drum and trumpet, and the trumpet and war shout reply.

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We have call’d an Assembly, but not to destroy; we have given gifts, not to the weak;
I hear rushing of muskets and bright’ning of swords; and visages, redd’ning with war,
Frowning and looking up from brooding villages and every dark’ning city.
Ancient wonders frown over the kingdom, and cries of women and babes are heard…

***

‘…Hear the voice of valleys, the voice of meek cities,
Mourning oppressèd on village and field, till the village and field is a waste.
For the husbandman weeps at blights of the fife, and blasting of trumpets consume
The souls of mild France; the pale mother nourishes her child to the deadly slaughter.
When the heavens were seal’d with a stone, and the terrible sun clos’d in an orb, and the moon
Rent from the nations, and each star appointed for watchers of night,
The millions of spirits immortal were bound in the ruins of sulphur heaven
To wander enslav’d; black, despress’d in dark ignorance, kept in awe with the whip
To worship terrors, bred from the blood of revenge and breath of desire
In bestial forms, or more terrible men; till the dawn of our peaceful morning,
Till dawn, till morning, till the breaking of clouds, and swelling of winds, and the universal voice;
Till man raise his darken’d limbs out of the caves of night. His eyes and his heart
Expand – Where is Space? where; O Sun, is thy dwelling? where thy tent, O faint slumb’rous Moon?
Then the valleys of France shall cry to the soldier: “Throw down thy sword and musket,
And run and embrace the meek peasant.” Her Nobles shall hear and shall weep, and put off
The red robe of terror, the crown of oppression, the shoes of contempt, and unbuckle
The girdle of war from the desolate earth…

Then hear the first voice of the morning: “Depart, O clouds of night, and no more
Return; be withdrawn cloudy war, troops of warriors depart, nor around our peaceable city
Breathe fires; but ten miles from Paris let all be peace, nor a soldier be seen!”’

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