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Archive for May, 2015

Alexander Kuprin: What is war after all? Perhaps it is nothing more than a mistake made by all, a universal error, a madness.

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

Russian writers on war

Alexander Kuprin: Selections on war

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Alexander Kuprin
From The Duel (1905)
Translator not identified

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“What is war after all?” said Romashov sadly, “and why – ? Perhaps it is nothing more than a mistake made by all, a universal error, a madness. Do you mean to tell me that it is natural to kill?”

***

And all the arts of war – the skilful evolutions, the cleverness of the rifle exercise, and all those tactics and fortifications on which he had wasted nine of the best years of his life, which would fill the rest of his life, and which not so very long ago had seemed to him important and so full of wisdom – all had suddenly become deadly dull, unnatural, inventions without value, a universal self-deceit resembling an absurd dream.

***

Everything outside the company, service, and drill-book, and which he was accustomed to call “rot” or “rubbish,” had no existence so far as he was concerned. After having borne for nearly all his life the heavy burden of military service, he had arrived at such a state of savagery that he never opened a book, and, as far as newspapers were concerned, he only looked at the official and military notices in the Invalid. He despised with all his innate cynicism the meetings and amusements of society, and there were no oaths, no insulting terms too gross and crude for him to incorporate in his “Soldier’s Lexicon.”

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Ellen Glasgow: “That killed how many? how many?”

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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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In the adjoining room she saw her mother sitting in a square of sunlight with her open Bible on her knees.

“Oh, speak, mamma!” she called half angrily. “Move, do anything but sit so still. I can’t bear it!” She caught her breath sharply, for with her words a low sound like distant thunder filled the room and the little street outside. As she clung with both hands to the window it seemed to her that a gray haze had fallen over the sunny valley. “Some one is dead,” she said almost calmly, “that killed how many?”

The room stifled her and she ran hurriedly down into the street, where a few startled women and old men had rushed at the first roll of the cannon. As she stood among them, straining her eyes from end to end of the little village, her heart beat in her throat and she could only quaver out an appeal for news.

“Where is it? Doesn’t any one know anything? What does it mean?”

“It means a battle, Miss, that’s one thing,” remarked an obliging by-stander who leaned heavily upon a wooden leg…

He rambled on excitedly, but Betty, frowning with impatience, turned from him and walked rapidly up and down the single street, where the voices of the guns growled through the muffling distance. “That killed how many? how many?” she would say at each long roll, and again, “How many died that moment, and was one Dan?”

***

As he tossed a last armful on the fire, his eyes roamed over the long mounds of snow that filled the clearing, and he caught his breath as a man might who had waked suddenly among the dead. In the beginning of dawn, with the glimmer of smouldering fires reddening the snow, there was something almost ghastly in the sloping field filled with white graves and surrounded by white mountains. Even the wintry sky borrowed, for an hour, the spectral aspect of the earth, and the familiar shapes of cloud, as of hill, stood out with all the majesty of uncovered laws – stripped of the mere frivolous effect of light or shade. It was like the first day – or the last.

***

“I thought you were my husband,” said the woman, blushing at her mistake. “If you want food you are welcome to the little that I have – it is very little.” She led the way into the house, and motioned, with a pitiable gesture, to a table that was spread in the centre of the sitting room.

“Will you sit down?” she asked, and at the words, a child in the corner of the room set up a frightened cry.

“It’s my supper – I want my supper,” wailed the child.

“Hush, dear,” said the woman, “they are our soldiers.”

“Our soldiers,” repeated the child, staring, with its thumb in its mouth and the tear-drops on its cheeks.

For an instant Dan looked at them as they stood there, the woman holding the child in her arms, and biting her thin lips from which hunger had drained all the red. There was scant food on the table, and as his gaze went back to it, it seemed to him that, for the first time, he grasped the full meaning of a war for the people of the soil. This was the real thing – not the waving banners, not the bayonets, not the fighting in the ranks.

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William Black: When Caesar’s legions turn on him

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

William Black: Better small farms, thriving and prosperous, than splendid ruins that tell of the fierceness of war

William Black: Military glory, the most mean, the most cruel and contemptible thing under the sun!

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William Black
From Sunrise (1881)

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“…What would you think, now, if it were possible to construct a common platform, where certain aims at least could be accepted by all, and become bonds to unite those who are hoping for better things all over the earth? That did not occur to you as a possible thing, perhaps? You have only studied the ways of kings and governments – each one for itself. ‘Come over my boundary, and I will cleave your head; or, rather, I will send my common people to do it, for a little blood-letting from time to time is good for that vile and ignorant body.’ But the vile and ignorant body may begin to tire of that recurrent blood-letting, and might perhaps even say, ‘Brother across the boundary, I have no quarrel with you. You are poor and ignorant like myself; the travail of the earth lies hard on you; I would rather give you my hand. If I have any quarrel, surely it is with the tyrants of the earth, who have kept both you and me enslaved; who have taken away our children from us; who have left us scarcely bread. How long, O Lord, how long? We are tired of the reign of Caesar; we are beaten down with it; who will help us now to establish the reign of Christ?”

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Émile Zola: The forge of peace and the pit of war

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

Émile Zola: Selections on war

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Émile Zola
From Labor (1901)
Translator not identified

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He liked to be in this hall among the rolling-mills; to watch the making of the rails and of the structural steel always pleased him. “Ours is the good forge of peace,” he used to say; and he contrasted it with the forge of war – the evil forge – at the Pit, where with so much care and at such great expense men were busy making shells and guns. Works of wonderful perfection, metal delicately manipulated, what for? – to produce monstrous engines of destruction, which cost nations millions of dollars, and ruin them that they may be prepared for war, even when war is not coming to exterminate them! Ah! let structural steel be multiplied, let useful edifices and happy cities be built, and bridges span the streams and valleys, and let rails drop ceaselessly from rolling-mills and elongate railroads endlessly, abolish frontiers, draw nations together, and conquer the whole earth, for the fraternal civilization of to-morrow!

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“…I have heard he did not care a rap for your works and your competition. He says, as to that, that he will always have shells and guns to make, because men are such fools that they will always be killing one another.”

***

“Hermeline then burst out laughing. Well, and do you know what you are doing? You are preparing revolts by doing away with class distinctions. There is only one means of giving citizens to the State, and that is to manufacture them expressly for her, such as she needs them, so that they may be strong and glorious. Hence arises the necessity of instruction, systematized, disciplined, and calculated to serve the country, carried on according to the best recognized methods, in order to furnish the working-men, the professional men, and the public functionaries of whom she has need. In the absence of authority, there is no security for all this. I have proved it; I am a republican of the old school, a free thinker, and an atheist. No one, I hope, could imagine that he detected in me a retrograde mind, but, nevertheless, what I have heard of your instruction, your elective system of education, drives me beside myself, because, under its action, before half a century is gone, there will be no more citizens, no more soldiers, no more national defenders. Yes, I defy you to produce any soldiers under your system of free choice; and, in case of war, how will the country be defended?”

“No doubt, in case of war, defence would be necessary,” said Luc, without any emotion. “But what will be the use of soldiers on the day when there is no more war?…”

***

Then again, there was a great democratic impetus, which multiplied ways of communication, an endless extension of railroads, and a tenfold increase in the construction of bridges, buildings, and entire cities, in which iron and steel were employed in large and constantly increasing quantities. From the time that Vulcan’s descendants first melted iron in a hole in order to forge weapons therefrom to defend themselves and to conquer both the animate and inanimate world, the uses of iron have steadily increased in extent; and in the future, when science shall have provided means for its production at a nominal cost, and for its adaptation to all purposes, iron will prove to be the source of justice and of peace.

***

The most immediate effect of the success of La Crecherie was to show the small manufactories in the vicinity the advantage that they would receive from following its example, and associating themselves with their larger neighbor. The Chodorge establishment, a nail manufactory, which bought all of its raw material from its powerful sister, set the example by allowing itself to be definitely absorbed in a community of interest. The Hausser establishment, which had formerly forged sabres and was now making a specialty of pruning-knives and scythes, next entered the association, and became, as it were, a natural extension of the great neighboring forge.

***

He could no longer compete with the iron and steel of commerce, and he even found himself affected in his manufacture of guns and shells. Orders for these had been diminishing ever since the money of France had been directed especially towards constructions of a peaceful character and of interest to the community at large, such as railroads, bridges, and buildings of all kinds in which iron and steel were triumphing.

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Dmitry Merezhkovsky: His God is not at all the God of the Christians, but the ancient, pagan Mars

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

Russian writers on war

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Dmitry Merezhkovsky
From Peter and Alexis (1904)
Translated by Bernard Guilbert Guerney

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He, of course, believes in God, – as he puts it himself, he “places his trust in Him Who is strong in battles. – the Lord.” But at times it seems that his God is not at all the God of the Christians, but the ancient, pagan Mars, – or Fate itself: Nemesis. If ever there has been a man who least of all resembled a Christian, that man is Peter. What concern has he with Christ? What connection is there between the iron of Mars and the lilies of the Evangel?

***

Never have I beheld such even-glows as here. To-day’s sunset was especially peculiar. The whole sky was in blood. The incarnadined clouds were scattered about, like tatters of bloodied garments, just as though a murder had been comsummated in heaven, or some sort of fearful sacrifice. And blood was dripping from heaven upon the earth. Among the sharp bristles, as black as embers, of the fir-forest, the blotches of red clay seemed like blotches of blood.

***

“Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he that cometh!”

Abandoned of all, Alësha is alone with Christ in the midst of the maddened rabble. And the wild procession is moving directly upon them, with shouting and yelling, with darkness and stench, which tarnish the gold of the regal vestments and the very sun of Christ’s Visage. Lo, they will rush upon him, crush him, trample him, sweeping everything along, – and there will spring up in the holy place the abomination that maketh desolate.

Suddenly everything vanished. He is standing upon the shore of a broad, desolate river, – apparently on the high road from Poland to Ukraine. It is late evening in late autumn. Wet snow, – black mire. The wind is tearing off the last leaves from the trembling aspens. A beggar in tatters, chilled and grown blue from the cold, is piteously begging alms: “Give, if but a kopeck, for Christ’s sake!” – “See, he is a branded man,” reflects Alësha, looking upon the beggar’s arms and legs, with their bloody sores, “probably a runaway recruit.” And he feels so sorry for the “frozen lad” that he wants to give him not merely a kopeck but seven gulden. He recalls in his dream the entry he made in his travel diary, among other expenses: “22nd of November, for ferrying across the river, three gulden: for lodgings in a Jew’s inn, five gulden; – for the frozen lad, seven gulden.” He is just about to extend his hand to the beggar, when suddenly somebody’s rough hand is placed upon upon Alësha’s shoulder, and a rough voice, – probably that of the soldier on sentry duty near the barrier, – says to him:

“For giving alms, there’s a fine of five rubles; while beggars, after being beaten with cudgels and having their nostrils torn out, shall be exiled to Rogerwick.”

“Have pity,” implored Alësha. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man have not where to lay his head…’

And, looking more closely at the frozen lad, he sees that his face is like to the sun, – that this is Christ Himself.

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Alfred Noyes: The men he must kill for a little pay. And once he had sickened to watch them slaughter an ox.

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

Alfred Noyes: Selections on war

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Alfred Noyes
From The Wine Press: A Tale of War (1913)

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The rifles flogged their wallowing herds,
Flogged them down to die.
Down on their slain the slayers lay,
And the shrapnel thrashed them into the clay,
And tossed their limbs like tattered birds
Thro’ a red volcanic sky.

Then, hard behind the thunder, swept
Long ranks of arrowy gleams;
Out of the trenches, down the hill
The level bayonets charged to kill,
And the massed terror that took the shock
Screamed as a woman screams.

***

Before Johann a young face rose
Like a remembered prayer:
He could not halt or swerve aside
In the onrush of that murderous tide,
He jerked his bayonet out of the body
And swung his butt in the air.

He yelled like a wolf to drown the cry
Of his own soul in pain.
To stifle the God in his own breast,
He yelled and cursed and struck with the rest,
And the blood bubbled over his boots
And greased his hands again.

Faces like drowned things underfoot
Slipped as he swung round:
A red mouth crackled beneath his boot
Like thorns in spongy ground.

Slaughter? Slaughter? So easy it seemed
This work that, he thought so hard!
His eyes lit with a flicker of hell,
He licked his lips, and it tasted well;
And – once – he had sickened to watch them slaughter
An ox in the cattle-yard.
For lust of blood, for lust of blood,
His greasy bludgeon swung:
His rifle-butt sang in the air,
And the things that crashed beneath it there
Were a cluster of grapes in the wine press,
A savour of wine on his tongue.

***

The men he must kill for a little pay
Had marched beside him, yesterday!
Brothers in blood! By what foul lips
Was this war-trumpet blown?

Back from the heights they had stormed together,
The gulfs that had gorged their dead,
Back, by the rotting, shot-ripped plain,
Where the black wings fluttered and perched again,

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John Dos Passos: Meat for guns. Shot for saying the war was wrong.

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

American writers on peace and against war

John Dos Passos: Selection on war

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John Dos Passos
From Three Soldiers (1921)

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Fuselli looked about him. He was sitting in one of the lowest of three tiers of bunks roughly built of new pine boards. Electric lights placed here and there gave a faint reddish tone to the gloom, except at the ladders, where high-power lamps made a white glare. The place was full of tramping of feet and the sound of packs being thrown on bunks as endless files of soldiers poured in down every ladder. Somewhere down the alley an officer with a shrill voice was shouting to his men: “Speed it up there; speed it up there.” Fuselli sat on his bunk looking at the terrifying confusion all about, feeling bewildered and humiliated. For how many days would they be in that dark pit? He suddenly felt angry. They had no right to treat a feller like that. He was a man, not a bale of hay to be bundled about as anybody liked.

“An’ if we’re torpedoed a fat chance we’ll have down here,” he said aloud.

“They got sentries posted to keep us from goin up on deck,” said someone.

“God damn them. They treat you like you was a steer being taken over for meat.”

“Well, you’re not a damn sight more. Meat for the guns.”

***

“He always did talk queer.”

“I always thought,” said Fuselli, “he’d get into trouble talking the way he did.”

“How’d he talk?” asked Daniels.

“Oh, he said that war was wrong and all that goddamed pro-German stuff.”

“D’ye know what they did out at the front?” said Daniels. “In the second division they made two fellers dig their own graves and then shot ’em for sayin’ the war was wrong.”

“Hell, they did?”

“You’re goddam right, they did. I tell you, fellers, it don’t do to monkey with the buzz-saw in this army.”

***

Fuselli noticed, at the other end of the row of bunks, a group of men who all seemed to be looking at the same thing. Rolling down his sleeves, with his tunic hitched over one arm, he walked down to see what was the matter. Through the patter of the rain, he heard a thin voice say:

“It ain’t no use, sergeant, I’m sick. I ain’t a’ goin’ to get up.”

“The kid’s crazy,” someone beside Fuselli said, turning away.

“You get up this minute,” roared the sergeant. He was a big man with black hair who looked like a lumberman. He stood over the bunk. In the bunk at the end of a bundle of blankets was the chalk-white face of Stockton. The boy’s teeth were clenched, and his eyes were round and protruding, it seemed from terror.

“You get out o’ bed this minute,” roared the sergeant again.

The boy; was silent; his white cheeks quivered.

“What the hell’s the matter with him?”

“Why don’t you yank him out yourself, Sarge?”

“You get out of bed this minute,” shouted the sergeant again, paying no attention.

The men gathered about walked away. Fuselli watched fascinated from a little distance.

“All right, then, I’ll get the lieutenant. This is a court-martial offence. Here, Morton and Morrison, you’re guards over this man.”

The boy lay still in his blankets. He closed his eyes. By the way the blanket rose and fell over his chest, they could see that he was breathing heavily.

“Say, Stockton, why don’t you get up, you fool?”‘ said Fuselli. “You can’t buck the whole army.”

The boy didn’t answer.

Fuselli walked away.

“He’s crazy,” he muttered.

The lieutenant was a stoutish red-faced man who came in puffing followed by the tall sergeant. He stopped and shook the water off his Campaign hat. The rain kept up its deafening patter on the roof.

“Look here, are you sick? If you are, report sick call at once,” said the lieutenant in an elaborately kind voice.

The boy looked at him dully and did not answer.

“You should get up and stand at attention when an officer speaks to you.

“I ain’t goin’ to get up,” came the thin voice.

The officer’s red face became crimson.

“Sergeant, what’s the matter with the man?” he asked in a furious tone.

“I can’t do anything with him, lieutenant. I think he’s gone crazy.”

“Rubbish…Mere insubordination…You’re under arrest, d’ye hear?” he shouted towards the bed.

There was no answer. The rain pattered hard on the roof.

“Have him brought down to the guardhouse, by force if necessary,” snapped the lieutenant. He strode towards the door. “And sergeant, start drawing up court-martial papers at once.” The door slammed behind him.

“Now you’ve got to get him up,” said the sergeant to the two guards.

Fuselli walked away.

“Ain’t some people damn fools?” he said to a man at the other end of the barracks. He stood looking out of the window at the bright sheets of the rain.

“Well, get him up,” shouted the sergeant.

The boy lay with his eyes closed, his chalk-white face half-hidden by the blankets; he was very still.

“Well, will you get up and go to the guardhouse, or have we to carry you there?” shouted the sergeant.

The guards laid hold of him gingerly and pulled him up to a sitting posture.

“All right, yank him out of bed.”

The frail form in khaki shirt and whitish drawers was held up for a moment between the two men. Then it fell a limp heap on the floor.

“Say, Sarge, he’s fainted.”

“The hell he has…Say, Morrison, ask one of the orderlies to come up from the Infirmary.”

“He ain’t fainted…The kid’s dead,” said the other man.

“Give me a hand.”

The sergeant helped lift the body on the bed again. “Well, I’ll be goddamned,” said the sergeant.

The eyes had opened. They covered the head with a blanket.

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Sidney Lanier: The wind blew all the vanes in the country in one way – toward war

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

American writers on peace and against war

Sidney Lanier: Selections on war

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Sidney Lanier
From Tiger-Lilies (1867)

Portrait of Sidney Lanier

An afflatus of war was breathed upon us. Like a great wind, it drew on and blew upon men, women, and children. Its sound mingled with the solemnity of the church-organs and arose with the earnest words of preachers praying for guidance in the matter. It sighed in the half-breathed words of sweethearts conditioning impatient lovers with war-services. It thundered splendidly in the impassioned appeals of orators to the people. It whistled through the streets, it stole in to the firesides, it clinked glasses in bar-rooms, it lifted the gray hairs of our wise men in conventions, it thrilled through the lectures in college halls, it rustled the thumbed book-leaves of the school-rooms.

This wind blew upon all the vanes of all the churches of the country, and turned them one way – toward war. It blew, and shook out, as if by magic, a flag whose device was unknown to soldier or sailor before, but whose every flap and flutter made the blood bound in our veins.

Who could have resisted the fair anticipations which the new war-idea brought? It arrayed the sanctity of a righteous cause in the brilliant trappings of military display; pleasing, so, the devout and the flippant which in various proportions are mixed elements in all men. It challenged the patriotism of the sober citizen, while it inflamed the dream of the statesman, ambitious for his country or for himself. It offered test to all allegiances and loyalties; of church, of state; of private loves, of public devotion; of personal consanguinity; of social ties. To obscurity it held out eminence; to poverty, wealth; to greed, a gorged maw; to speculation, legalized gambling; to patriotism, a country; to statesmanship, a government; to virtue, purity; and to love, what all love most desires – a field wherein to assert itself by action.

***

In a battle, as far as concerns the individual combatants, the laws and observances of civilization are abandoned, and primitive barbarism is king pro tem. To kill as many as possible; – this, at the actual shock of arms, is the whole duty of man. If indeed there be generals of genius managing the thing behind the lines, it is not less barbarism, but only more powerful barbarism; it is genius manœuvring the interests of brute strength; it is Apollo tending swine.

When the battle is over, to emerge from this temporary barbarism is difficult and requires a little time. Kind Heaven! To see a beautiful woman, to hear her soft tones of voice, to say pleasant things to her, seems so strange, just after you have uttered those strange, hoarse cries that men do utter, not knowing why, in battle; – just after you have killed a man, and perhaps felt the sickening warmth of his blood, and turned away from the terrible odor that rises like a curse from the wound…

***

He fell asleep, and dreamed that he saw big wars standing up in ranks, like men, and fighting with thunders and wild-fires. On the flanks hovered airy pestilences skirmishing, and anon loud worldcalamities exploded, jarring all space. Which dissolved; and he was walking upon an immeasurable plain where lay old dead universes, like skulls whitening on a deserted battle-field…

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Richard Aldington: It was a war of missiles, murderous and soul-shaking explosives, like living in the graveyard of the world

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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)

NPG x10306; (Edward Godfree) Richard Aldington by Howard Coster

He found that the real soldiers, the front-line troops, had had no more delusions about the War than he had. They hadn’t his feelings of protest and agony over it all, they hadn’t tried to think it out. They went on with the business, hating it, because they had been told it had to be done and believed what they had been told. They wanted the War to end, they wanted to get away from it, and they had no feeling of hatred for their enemies on the other side of No Man’s Land. In fact, they were almost sympathetic to them. They also were soldiers, men segregated from the world in this immense barbaric tumult. The fighting was so impersonal as a rule that it seemed rather a conflict with dreadful hostile forces of Nature than with other men. You did not see the men who fired the ceaseless hail of shells on you, nor the machine-gunners who swept away twenty men to death in one zip of their murderous bullets, nor the hands which projected trench-mortars that shook the earth with awful detonations, nor even the invisible sniper who picked you off mysteriously with the sudden impersonal “ping!” of his bullet. Even in the perpetual trench raids, you only caught a glimpse of a few differently-shaped helmets a couple of traverses away; and either their bombs got you, or yours got them. Actual hand-to-hand fighting occurred, but it was comparatively rare. It was a war of missiles, murderous and soul-shaking explosives, not a war of hand-weapons.

***

But what were they really against? who were their real enemies? He saw the answer with a flood of bitterness and clarity. Their enemies – the enemies of German and English alike – were the fools who sent them to kill each other instead of help each other. Their enemies were the sneaks and the unscrupulous; the false ideals, the unintelligent ideas imposed on them, the humbug, the hypocrisy, the stupidity…Maybe he was all wrong, maybe it was “right” for men to be begotten only to murder each other in huge, senseless combats. He wondered if he were not getting a little insane through this persistent brooding over the murders, by striving so desperately and earnestly to find out why it had happened, by agonising over it all, by trying to think how it could be prevented from occurring again. After all, did it matter so much? Yes, did it matter? What were a few million human animals more or less? Why agonise about it? The most he could do was die. Well, die, then. But O God! O God! is that all? To be born against your will, to feel that life might in its passing be so lovely and so divine, and yet to have nothing but opposition and betrayal and hatred and death forced on you! To be born for the slaughter like a calf or a pig! To be violently cast back into nothing – for what? My God! for what? Is there nothing but despair and death? Is life vain, beauty vain, love vain, hope vain? “The war to end all wars!” Is anyone so asinine as to believe that? A war to breed wars, rather…

***

The company were billeted in the ruins of a village behind the reserve trenches, over a mile from the front line. The landscape was flat, almost treeless except for a few shell-blasted stumps, and covered with snow frozen hard. Every building in sight had been smashed, in many cases almost level with the ground. It was a mining country with great queer hills of slag and strange pit-head machinery in steel, reduced by shell-fire to huge masses of twisting rusting metal. They were in a salient, with the half-destroyed, evacuated town of M- in the elbow-crook on the extreme right. The village churchyard was filled with graves of French soldiers; there were graves inside any of the houses which had no cellars, and graves flourished over the bare landscape. In all directions were crosses, little wooden crosses, in ones and twos and threes, emerging blackly from the frozen snow. Some were already askew; one just outside the ruined village had been snapped short by a shell-burst. The dead men’s caps, mouldering and falling to pieces, were hooked on to the tops of the crosses – the German grey round cap, the French blue-and-red kepi, the English khaki. There were also two large British cemeteries in sight – rectangular plantations of wooden crosses. It was like living in the graveyard of the world – dead trees, dead houses, dead mines, dead villages, dead men…

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Memorial Day: 1,200 anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

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Émile Zola: Selections on war

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Alexander Kuprin: The whole science of war exists only because humanity will not, or cannot, or dare not, say, ‘I won’t.’

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

Russian writers on war

Alexander Kuprin: Selections on war

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Alexander Kuprin
From The Duel (1905)
Translator not identified

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Romashov sat down by the table, put his elbows on it, and leaned his head on his hands. It was hard work for him to keep in check these wild thoughts which raced through his mind.

“H’m! – my friend Romashov, what a lot you have forgotten – your fatherland, the ashes of your sire, the altar of honour, the warrior’s oath and discipline. Who shall preserve the land of your sires when the foe rushes over its boundaries? Ah! when I am dead there will be no more fatherland, no enemy, no honour. They will disappear at the same time as my consciousness. But if all this be buried and brought to naught – country, enemies, honour, and all the other big words – what has all this to do with my Ego? I am more important than all these phrases about duty, honour, love, etc. Assume that I am a soldier and my Ego suddenly says, ‘I won’t fight,’ and not only my own Ego, but millions of other Egos that constitute the whole of the army, the whole of Russia, the entire world; all these say, ‘We won’t!’ Then it will be all over so far as war is concerned, and never again will any one have to hear such absurdities as ‘Open order,’ ‘Shoulder arms,’ and all the rest of that nonsense.

“Well, well, well. It must be so some day,” shouted an exultant voice in Romashov. “All that talk about ‘warlike deeds,’ ‘discipline,’ ‘honour of the uniform,’ ‘respect for superiors,’ and, first and last, the whole science of war exists only because humanity will not, or cannot, or dare not, say, ‘I won’t.’”

“What do you suppose all this cunningly reared edifice that is called the profession of arms really is? Nothing, humbug, a house hanging in midair, which will tumble down directly mankind pronounces three short words: ‘I will not.’ My Ego will never say, ‘I will not eat,’ ‘I will not breathe,’ ‘I will not see,’ But if any one proposes to my Ego that it shall die, it infallibly replies: ‘I will not.’ What, then, is war with all its hecatombs of dead and the science of war, which teaches us the best methods of murdering? Why, a universal madness, an illusion. But wait. Perhaps I am mistaken. No, I cannot be mistaken, for this ‘I will not’ is so simple, so natural, that everybody must, in the end, say it. Let us, however, examine the matter more closely. Let us suppose that this thought is pronounced this very moment by all Russians, Germans, Englishmen, and Japanese. Ah, well, what would be the consequence? Why, that war would cease for ever, and the officers and soldiers would go, every man, to his home. And what would happen after that? I know: Shulgovich would answer; Shulgovich would immediately get querulous and say: ‘Now we are done for; they can attack us now whenever they please, take away our hearths and homes, trample down our fields, and carry off our wives and sisters.’ And what about rioters, socialists, revolutionaries? But when the whole of mankind without exception has shouted: ‘We will no longer tolerate bloodshed,’ who will then dare to assail us? No one! All enemies would be reconciled, submit to each other, forgive everything, and justly divide among themselves the abundance of the earth. Gracious God, when shall this dream be fulfilled?”

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Alfred Noyes: Selections on war

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Sidney Lanier: Dialogue on the war-flower

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

American writers on peace and against war

Sidney Lanier: Selections on war

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Sidney Lanier
From Tiger-Lilies (1867)

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This was the blood-red flower of war, which grows amid thunders; a flower whose freshening dews are blood and hot tears, whose shadow chills a land, whose odors strangle a people, whose giant petals droop downward, and whose roots are in hell.

***

It is a spreading plant, like the banyan, and continues to insert new branch-roots into the ground, so as sometimes to overspread a whole continent. Its black-shadowed jungles afford fine cover for such wild beasts as frauds and corruptions and thefts to make their lair in; from which, often, these issue with ravening teeth and prey upon the very folk that have planted and tended and raised their flowery homes!

Now, from time to time, there have appeared certain individuals (wishing, it may be, to disseminate and make profit upon other descriptions of plants) who have protested against the use of this war-flower.

Its users, many of whom are surely excellent men, contend that they grow it to protect themselves from oppressive hailstorms, which destroy their houses and crops.

But some say the plant itself is worse than any hailstorm; that its shades are damp and its odors unhealthy, and that it spreads so rapidly as to kill out and uproot all corn and wheat and cotton crops. Which the plant-users admit; but rejoin that it is cowardly to allow hailstorms to fall with impunity, and that manhood demands a struggle against them of some sort.

But the others reply, fortitude is more manly than bravery, for noble and long endurance wins the shining love of God; whereas brilliant bravery is momentary, is easy to the enthusiastic, and only dazzles the admiration of the weak-eyed since it is as often shown on one side as the other.

But then, lastly, the good war-flower cultivators say, our preachers recommend the use of this plant, and help us mightily to raise it in resistance to the hailstorms.

And reply, lastly, the interested other-flower men, that the preachers should preach Christ; that Christ was worse hailed upon than anybody, before or since; that he always refused to protect himself, though fully able to do it, by any war-banyan; and that he did, upon all occasions, not only discourage the resort to this measure, but did inveigh against it more earnestly than any thing else, as the highest and heaviest crime against Love — the Father of Adam, Christ, and all of us.

Friends and horticulturists, cry these men, stickling for the last word, if war was ever right, then Christ was always wrong; and war-flowers and the vine of Christ grow different ways, insomuch that no man may grow with both!

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Ellen Glasgow: His vision of the future only an endless warfare and a wasted land

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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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Dan, fevered, pallid, leaning heavily upon Big Abel, passed unnoticed amid a throng which was, for the most part, worse off than himself. Men with old wounds breaking out afresh, or new ones staining red the cloths they wore, pushed wildly by him, making, as all made, for the country roads that led from war to peace. It was as if the hospitals of the world had disgorged themselves in the sunshine on the bright September fields.

Once, as Dan moved slowly on, he came upon a soldier, with a bandage at his throat sitting motionless upon a rock beside a clump of thistles, and moved by the expression of supreme terror on the man’s face, he stopped and laid a hand upon his shoulder.

“What’s the trouble, friend – given up?” he asked, and then drew back quickly for the man was dead. After this they went on more rapidly, flying from the horrors along the road as from the screaming shells and the dread of capture.

***

Gradually the stars went out above the dim woods, and the dawn whitened along the eastern sky. With the first light Dan went to the open door and drew a deep breath of the refreshing air. A new day was coming, but he met it with dulled eyes and a crippled will. The tragedy of life seemed to overhang the pleasant prospect upon which he looked, and, as he stood there, he saw in his vision of the future only an endless warfare and a wasted land.

***

Farther away three hoarse voices, the remnant of a once famous glee club, were singing in the endeavour to scare off sleep: –

“Rally round the flag, boys, rally once again!”

And suddenly he was fighting in the tangles of the wilderness, crouching behind a charred oak stump, while he loaded and fired at the little puffs of smoke that rose from the undergrowth beyond. He saw the low marshland, the stunted oaks and pines, and the heavy creepers that were pushed aside and trampled underfoot, and at his feet he saw a company officer with a bullet hole through his forehead and a covering of pine needles upon his face. About him the small twigs fell, as if a storm swept the forest, and as he dodged, like a sharpshooter from tree to tree, he saw a rush of flame and smoke in the distance where the woods were burning. Above the noise of the battle, he heard the shrieks of the wounded men in the track of the fire; and once he met a Union and a Confederate soldier, each shot through the leg, drawing each other back from the approaching flames. Then, as he passed on, tearing at the cartridges with his teeth, he came upon a sergeant in Union clothes, sitting against a pine stump with his cocked rifle in his hand, and his eyes on the wind-blown smoke. A moment before the man may have gone down at his shot, he knew – and yet, as he looked, an instinct stronger than the instinct to kill was alive within him, and he rushed on, dragging his enemy with him from the terrible woods. “I hope you are not much hurt,” he said, as he placed him on the ground and ran back to where the line was charging. “One life has been paid for,” he thought, as he rushed on to kill – and fell face downward on the wheel-ruts of the old road.

“Rally round the flag, boys, rally once again,” sang the three hoarse voices, straining against the wind.

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Siegfried Sassoon: The foul beast of war that bludgeons life

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

Siegfried Sassoon: Selections on war

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Siegfried Sassoon
The Dream

I

Moonlight and dew-drenched blossom, and the scent
Of summer gardens; these can bring you all
Those dreams that in the starlit silence fall:
Sweet songs are full of odours.
While I went
Last night in drizzling dusk along a lane,
I passed a squalid farm; from byre and midden
Came the rank smell that brought me once again
A dream of war that in the past was hidden.

II

Up a disconsolate straggling village street
I saw the tired troops trudge: I heard their feet.
The cheery Q.M.S. was there to meet
And guide our Company in…
I watched them stumble
Into some crazy hovel, too beat to grumble;
Saw them file inward, slipping from their backs
Rifles, equipment, packs.
On filthy straw they sit in the gloom, each face
Bowed to patched, sodden boots they must unlace,
While the wind chills their sweat through chinks and cracks.

III

I’m looking at their blistered feet; young Jones
Stares up at me, mud-splashed and white and jaded;
Out of his eyes the morning light has faded.
Old soldiers with three winters in their bones
Puff their damp Woodbines, whistle, stretch their toes:
They can still grin at me, for each of ’em knows
That I’m as tired as they are…
Can they guess
The secret burden that is always mine? —
Pride in their courage; pity for their distress;
And burning bitterness
That I must take them to the accursèd Line.

IV

I cannot hear their voices, but I see
Dim candles in the barn: they gulp their tea,
And soon they’ll sleep like logs. Ten miles away
The battle winks and thuds in blundering strife.
And I must lead them nearer, day by day,
To the foul beast of war that bludgeons life.

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Aldous Huxley: How are we to get rid of war when we celebrate militarists?

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

Aldous Huxley: Selections on war

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Aldous Huxley

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From Writers and Readers

Consult a library catalogue and you will find that more books have been written on the career of Napoleon than on any other single subject. This fact casts a strange and rather terrifying light on the mentality of modern European writers and readers. How are we to get rid of war, so long as people find their keenest bovaristic satisfaction in the story of the world’s most spectacular militarist?

From Justifications

There are plenty of pious churchmen who consider that God approves of men killing their fellows in war, but who would be horrified at the suggestion that fornication and adultery can ever be anything but detestable in His eyes.

From The Olive Tree

I like them [trees] all, but especially the olive. For what it symbolizes, first of all – peace with its leaves and joy with its olive oil. True, the crown of olive was originally worn by Roman conquerors at ovation; the peace it proclaimed was the peace of victory, the peace which is too often only the tranquillity of exhaustion or complete annihilation. Rome and its customs have passed, and we remember of the olive tree only the fact that it stood for peace, not the circumstances in which it did so.

Incertainties now crown themselves assur’d,
And peace proclaims olives of endless age. (Shakespeare)

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Émile Zola: Haunted by military matters

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

Émile Zola: Selections on war

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Émile Zola
From Truth (1902)
Translated by Ernest A. Vizetelly

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Doloir, who had been for several years in the employment of Darras, the mayor and building contractor, was a fairly good workman – one who occasionally drank a drop too much…But above everything else three years of barrack life had left an ineffaceable mark on Doloir. He had quitted the army in a transport of delight at his deliverance, freely cursing the disgusting and hateful calling in which one ceased to be a man. But ever since that time he had been continually living his three years’ service afresh; not a day passed but some recollection of it came to him. With his hand spoilt as it were by the rifle he had carried, he had found his trowel heavy, and returned to work in a spiritless fashion, like one who was no longer accustomed to toil, but whose will was broken and whose body had become used to long spells of idleness, such as those which intervened between the hours of military exercise. To become once again the excellent workman that he had been previously was quite impossible.

Besides, he was haunted by military matters, to which he was always referring apropos of any subject that presented itself.

***

At that time considerations of patriotism influenced the whole of our education system in France. The country asked us merely for soldiers, the army was like a temple, a sanctuary, that army which had remained waiting with arms grounded for thirty years, and which had devoured thousands of millions of francs! And thus we have been turned into a warrior France instead of becoming a France of progress, truth, justice, and peace, such as alone could have helped us to save the world…

The highest role and the noblest in a nascent democracy is that of the poor and scorned elementary schoolmaster, appointed to teach the humble, to train them to be happy citizens, the builders of the future City of Justice and Peace. Marc felt it was so, and he suddenly realised the exact sense of his mission, his apostleship of Truth, that fervent passion to acquire Truth, certain and positive, then cry it aloud and teach it to all, which had ever possessed him.

***

There was no possibility of real amelioration, liberation, and happiness otherwise than by truth – that is, by knowledge of the conditions in which mankind exists and progresses. All the craving for knowledge as a means for rapid attainment to health and peace bore within itself its method of free expansion, science ceasing to be a dead letter, and becoming a source of life, an excitant of temperament and character…

And yes, so long as the passion for knowledge merely for its own sake should become keener and keener in a social system which was all falsehood and injustice, it would only add to existing ruins. It was necessary that science should tend towards justice, and bring to the future city of fraternity a moral system of liberty and peace.

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Alfred Neumann: This is how it happens in history. Soldiers become thieves, thieves become murderers.

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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 The Mirror of Fools (1933)
Translated by Trevor and Phyllis Brewitt

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“This is how it happens in history,” said he musingly, and as if to himself. “Here is little Liegnitz, suddently becoming the open wound or the sore place on the great body of the Empire, or, rather, a blunderbuss that goes off of its own accord and precipitates the great disaster. The Emperor intervenes, and eighteen princes of the Empire engage against him and thus become rebels against His Holy Roman Majesty; the Poles are not slow to come forward, and of a sudden the world is split asunder into two parties, Lutherans and Catholics. The Spaniard joins the fray, and the Swede enters the field against him; the Frenchman preys upon the West and the Turk upon the East. The Bavarian sinks his teeth into the Frank, the Branderburger into the Saxon, and the Landgrave of Hesse into the Bishop of Mainz; and so it goes on. Soldiers become thieves, thieves become murderers, the peasant arises once more and strikes the nobleman dead, the starving burgher devours rats; the red death is there, white death follows in the winter, and then comes the black death, the black plague, dysentery. The years pile up the deaths, and the deaths the years; war, rebellion, hunger, pestilence, calamity upon calamity, war, rebellion, hunger, pestilence, layer upon layer…”

***

To the war…War is destruction. The business of sword, lance, and bullet is to hit. If their aim is bad or indifferent, they hit a greater or smaller part of of one’s body, causing nothing more than pain. If their aim is good, they kill. Then there is no more jesting, no more laughter, but blood, suffering, and death. Schweinichen was afraid of the life that might end thus. Was the end of the fool’s journey a bitter, cutting, stabbing, conclusive death? There were stories enough that began with laughter and ended with a rattle in the throat…

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Alfred Noyes: And the cost of war, they reckoned it in little disks of gold

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

Alfred Noyes: Selections on war

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Alfred Noyes
From The Wine Press: A Tale of War (1913)

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We must not think. We must not tell
The truth for which men die.

To watch the mouth of a harlot foam
For the blood of Baptist John
Is a fine thing while the fiddles play;
For blood and lust are the mode to-day,
And lust and blood were the mode of Rome,
And we go where Rome has gone.

***

But that fate deftly swings the net
And blood is best unseen.

God shields our eyes from too much light,
Clothes the fine brain with clay;
He wraps mankind in swaddling bands
Till the trumpet ring across all lands.

***

“The time is come to stand upright,
And flood the world with day.”
Not yet, O God, not yet the gleam
When all the world shall wake!
Grey and immense comes up the dawn
And yet the blinds are not withdrawn,
And, in the dusk, one hideous dream
Forbids the day to break!

Around a shining table sat
Five men in black tail-coats:
And, what their sin was, none could say;
For each was honest, after his way,
(Tho’ there are sheep, and armament
firms,
With all that this “connotes.”)

One was the friend of a merchant prince,
One was the foe of a priest,
One had a brother whose heart was set
On a gold star and an epaulette,
And – where the rotten carcass lies,
The vultures flock to feast.

But – each was honest after his way,
Lukewarm in faith, and old;
And blood, to them, was only a word,
And the point of a phrase their only sword,
And the cost of war, they reckoned it
In little disks of gold.

***

Play up, then, fiddles! Play, bassoon!
The plains are soaked with red.
Ten thousand slaughtered fools, out there,
Clutch at their wounds and taint the air,
And…here is an excellent cartoon
On what the Kaiser said.

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John Dos Passos: They were going to kill everybody who spoke that language

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

American writers on peace and against war

John Dos Passos: Selection on war

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John Dos Passos
From Three Soldiers (1921)

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He went on working through the endless afternoon, climbing up and down his ladder, smearing the barrack windows with a soapy rag. A silly phrase took the place of the welling of music in his mind: “Arbeit und Rhythmus.” He kept saying it over and over to himself: “Arbeit und Rhythmus.” He tried to drive the phrase out of his mind, to bury his mind in the music of the rhythm that had come to him, that expressed the dusty boredom, the harsh constriction of warm bodies full of gestures and attitudes and aspirations into moulds, like the moulds toy soldiers are cast in. The phrase became someone shouting raucously in his ears: “Arbeit und Rhythmus,” – drowning everything else, beating his mind hard again, parching it.

But suddenly he laughed aloud. Why, it was in German. He was being got ready to kill men who said that. If anyone said that, he was going to kill him. They were going to kill everybody who spoke that language, he and all the men whose feet he could hear tramping on the drill field, whose legs were all being made the same length on the drill field.

***

[T]he movie had begun again, unfolding scenes of soldiers in spiked helmets marching into Belgian cities full of little milk carts drawn by dogs and old women in peasant costume. There were hisses and catcalls when a German flag was seen, and as the troops were pictured advancing, bayonetting the civilians in wide Dutch pants, the old women with starched caps, the soldiers packed into the stuffy Y. M. C. A. hut shouted oaths at them. Andrews felt blind hatred stirring like something that had a life of its own in the young men about him. He was lost in it, carried away in it, as in a stampede of wild cattle. The terror of it was like ferocious hands clutching his throat. He glanced at the faces round him. They were all intent and flushed, glinting with sweat in the heat of the room.

As he was leaving the hut, pressed in a tight stream of soldiers moving towards the door, Andrews heard a man say:

“I never raped a woman in my life, but by God, I’m going to. I’d give a lot to rape some of those goddam German women.”

“I hate ’em too,” came another voice, “men, women, children and unborn children. They’re either jackasses or full of the lust for power like their rulers are, to let themselves be governed by a bunch of warlords like that.”

“Ah’d lahk te cepture a German officer an’ make him shine ma boots an’ then shoot him dead,” said Chris to Andrews as they walked down the long row towards their barracks.

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Stephen Spender: Lecture on Hell: battle against totalitarian war

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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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Our indignation at the death of a child killed in an air raid was deeply suspect unless we were opposed to all air raids.

***

The sense of political doom, pending in unemployment, Fascism, and the overwhelming threat of war, was by now so universal that even to ignore these things was in itself a political attitude. Just as the pacifist is political in refusing to participate in war, so the writer who refuses to recognize the political nature of our age must to some extent be refusing to deal with an experience in which he himself is involved…

***

With the fall of the Spanish Republic, followed quickly by Munich, this phase ended…

After this the emotions and the arguments used by the anti-Fascists were taken over by the democratic governments in their war against Hitler. Journalists sometime complained in the Press that the anti-Fascist writers who had shown such zeal in 1936 and 1937 seemed perversely uninterested, now that the action against Hitlerism for which they had been clamoring, was really taking place. But the fact was that the anti-Fascist battle had been lost. For it was a battle against totalitarian war, which could have made the war unnecessary…

***

To me, the idea of air raids and destruction were never quite real. The lectures at the Training Center on different types of bombs were like lecture on Hell, or on the perversion of the human will. At the end of a lecture on the effects of gases (for we had to distinguish between those that smelt like pear-drops, carnations and sickly-sweet hay), I hid for half an hour in a telephone box, overwhelmed by the vision of human beings asphyxiating one another in poisonous over-sweet scents…

***

Michael saw beyond the waste and incompetence of administration to the folly of bombing which became progressively more and more a destruction of the basis of the post-war world. Bending over his photographs which showed the immense damage done to Europe by the policy called “saturation bombing,” he saw that the methods of war could lead to the end of European civilization. “The bombing of Hamburg,” he said in his embarrassed, stifled voice, “cannot be justified as necessary to the victory. It’s the destruction, not just of Germany, but of an essential part of Europe.”

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D. H. Lawrence: Selections on war

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Émile Zola: To what field of disaster would it be taken to kill men? what harvest of human lives would it reap?

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

Émile Zola: Selections on war

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Émile Zola
From Labor (1901)
Translator not identified

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The great forge was there, with its monstrous tools, its press with a power of two thousand tons, but all these were now quiet; even the smaller hammers were quiet, which in the dim light showed their dark, dumpy profiles, looking like barbarous gods. Here Luc found shells – shells that had that day been forged by the smallest of the steam-hammers, after coming out of the moulds in which they had been annealed. What also interested him greatly was an enormous naval cannon, nine teen feet in length, which was still warm, after having passed through the press where pieces of steel weighing 4400 pounds were pressed out like soft pastry; and the great cannon stood there chained, ready to be carried off and lifted by great cranes to the lathe-house, which was some way off beyond the hall of the Martin furnace and the building where steel was cast.

****

They were about to make small shells of one hundred and thirty pounds each. The ingot moulds, shaped like bottles, were standing in two rows. Then when the helpers had raked the scorise from the crucibles by means of an iron rod, which came out smoking, with little purple dribbles, the master-smelter seized the crucibles in the jaws of his great tongs, emptied two of them into each mould, and the metal, which ran first like a jet of white lava, cooled to pink, with small blue sparks as delicate as flowers. One might have thought that liqueurs were being decanted, liqueurs sparkling like gold, and, all was done without noise, with quick and certain motions, with simple beauty in the glare and heat of the fire, which made the whole hall seem a mighty brazier. Luc, who was not accustomed to the heat, felt stifled and could stay no longer. When he stood within four or five yards of the furnaces his face seemed to be scorched, a boiling sweat burst out upon his body. The shells had interested him, he looked at them as they cooled, and asked himself who were the men that they were destined to kill. Then he went into the next building and found himself in the hall of steam-hammers. There a cannon had been fixed upon a lathe to form the proper calibre for others. It was revolving with prodigious swiftness, and chips of steel were flying about under the sharp blade that itself was motionless; the chips looked like bits of silver. Nothing more would be needed than to bore the interior of this gun, to temper it, and to finish it, and where were the men it would kill when it should be fired? Luc, as he gazed on this heroic result of human labor, saw fire subdued and made serviceable to man – man who was king and conqueror among all the forces of nature – could not help seeing before him a vision of massacre, and all the red folly of a battle-field. He walked away and soon came to another lathe, upon which another cannon was revolving just like the one he had previously seen; but this one was already polished on the outside until it shone like new money. It was in charge of a young man hard ly more than a child, who was leaning attentively over the machinery, just as a watchmaker does over that of a watch. It revolved incessantly, with a slight noise, while the tool in the interior was boring it with such precision that the deviation was not the tenth part of a millimetre. And when this cannon should have been tempered – that is, should have been dropped from the top of the tower into a bath of petroleum, to what field of disaster would it be taken to kill men? what harvest of human lives would it reap? – forged out of that steel which men and brothers ought only to use to make ploughs and rails.

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Ellen Glasgow: Then the rows of dead men stared at him through the falling rain in the deserted field

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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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Dan lay down upon the blanket, and, with his hand upon his knapsack, gazed at the small red ember burning amid the ashes. When the last spark faded into blackness it was as if his thoughts went groping for a light. Sleep came fitfully in flights and pauses, in broken dreams and brief awakenings. Losing himself at last it was only to return to the woods at Chericoke and to see Betty coming to him among the dim blue bodies of the trees. He saw the faint sunshine falling upon her head and the stir of the young leaves above her as a light wind passed. Under her feet the grass was studded with violets, and the bonnet swinging from her arm was filled with purple blossoms. She came on steadily over the path of grass and violets, but when he reached out to touch her a great shame fell over him for there was blood upon his hand.

There was something cold in his face, and he emerged slowly from his sleep into the consciousness of dawn and a heavy rain. The swollen clouds hung close above the hills, and the distance was obscured by the gray sheets of water which fell like a curtain from heaven to earth. Near by a wagon had drawn up in the night, and he saw that a group of half-drenched privates had already taken shelter between the wheels. Gathering up his oilcloth, he hastily formed a tent with the aid of a deep fence corner, and, when he had drawn his blanket across the opening, sat partly protected from the shower. As the damp air blew into his face, he became quickly and clearly awake, and it was with the glimmer of a smile that he looked over the wet meadow and the sleeping regiments. Then a shudder followed, for he saw in the lines of gray men stretched beneath the rain some likeness to that other field beyond the hill where the dead were still lying, row on row. He saw them stark and cold on the scorched grass beside the guns, or in the thin ridges of trampled corn, where the gay young tassels were now storm-beaten upon the ripped-up earth. He saw them as he had seen them the evening before – not in the glow of battle, but with the acuteness of a brooding sympathy – saw them frowning, smiling, and with features which death had twisted into a ghastly grin. They were all there – each man with open eyes and stiff hands grasping the clothes above his wound.

But to Dan, sitting in the gray dawn in the fence corner, the first horror faded quickly into an emotion almost triumphant. The great field was silent, reproachful, filled with accusing eyes – but was it not filled with glory, too? He was young, and his weakened pulses quickened at the thought. Since men must die, where was a brighter death than to fall beneath the flutter of the colours, with the thunder of the cannon in one’s ears? He knew now why his fathers had loved a fight, had loved the glitter of the bayonets and the savage smell of the discoloured earth.

Since men must die, where was a brighter death than to fall beneath the flutter of the colours, with the thunder of the cannon in one’s ears? He knew now why his fathers had loved a fight, had loved the glitter of the bayonets and the savage smell of the discoloured earth.

For a moment the old racial spirit flashed above the peculiar sensitiveness which had come to him from his childhood and his suffering mother; then the flame went out and the rows of dead men stared at him through the falling rain in the deserted field.

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Alfred Noyes: The Dawn of Peace

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

Alfred Noyes: Selections on war

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Alfred Noyes
From The Dawn Of Peace

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Yes – “on our brows we feel the breath
Of dawn,” though in the night we wait!
An arrow is in the heart of Death,
A God is at the doors of Fate!
The spirit that moved upon the Deep
Is moving through the minds of men:
The nations feel it in their sleep,
A change has touched their dreams again.

Voices, confused, and faint, arise,
Troubling their hearts from East and West.
A doubtful light is in their skies,
A gleam that will not let them rest:
The dawn, the dawn is on the wing,
The stir of change on every side,
Unsignalled as the approach of Spring,
Invincible as the hawthorn-tide.

***

Dreams are they? But ye cannot stay them,
Or thrust the dawn back for one hour!
Truth, Love, and Justice, if ye slay them,
Return with more than earthly power:
Strive, if ye will, to seal the fountains
That send the Spring thro’ leaf and spray:
Drive back the sun from the Eastern mountains,
Then – bid this mightier movement stay.

It is the Dawn of Peace! The nations
From East to West have heard a cry, –
“Through all earth’s blood-red generations
By hate and slaughter climbed thus high,
Here – on this height – still to aspire,
One only path remains untrod,
One path of love and peace climbs higher!
Make straight that highway for our God.”

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Sidney Lanier: Blood-red flower of war, whose odors strangle a people, whose roots are in hell

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

American writers on peace and against war

Sidney Lanier: Selections on war

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Sidney Lanier
From Tiger-Lilies (1867)

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The early spring of 1861 brought to bloom, besides innumerable violets and jessamines, a strange, enormous, and terrible flower.

This was the blood-red flower of war, which grows amid thunders; a flower whose freshening dews are blood and hot tears, whose shadow chills a land, whose odors strangle a people, whose giant petals droop downward, and whose roots are in hell.

It is a species of the great genus, sin-flower, which is so conspicuous in the flora of all ages and all countries, and whose multifarious leafage and fruitage so far overgrow a land that the violet, or love-genus, has often small chance to show its quiet blue.

The cultivation of this plant is an expensive business, and it is a wonder, from this fact alone, that there should be so many fanciers of it. A most profuse and perpetual manuring with human bones is absolutely necessary to keep it alive, and it is well to have these powdered, which can be easily done by hoofs of cavalry-horses and artillery-wheels, not to speak of the usual method of mashing with cannon-balls. It will not grow, either, except in some wet place near a stream of human blood; and you must be active in collecting your widows’ tears and orphans’ tears and mothers’ tears to freshen the petals with in the mornings.

It requires assiduous working; and your labor-hire will be a large item in the expense, not to speak of the amount disbursed in preserving the human bones alive until such time as they may be needed, for, I forgot to mention, they must be fresh, and young, and newly-killed.

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Émile Zola: Vulcan in service to Mars

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

Émile Zola: Selections on war

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Émile Zola
From Labor (1901)
Translator not identified

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Under the moonlike rays of the electric lights, through the shadows thrown by the sheds, the tower for tempering newly forged cannon, the cementation kilns, and all kinds of other conical constructions devoted to this barbarous worship of the god of gain, a little locomotive was slowly moving, uttering shrill whistles, that it might not run over any one…

Men were loading a car with a great piece of machinery, something to be used by a torpedo-boat destroyer, which had been finished that very morning, and which the little locomotive was to carry away. And as it steamed up whistling, Luc had to dodge it, and by following a path that seemed to lead between the rails and the smelting-furnaces, he found himself at last in a building where there were many furnaces, many puddlers, and many men to run off the molten metal. This building, one of the largest in the place, was never silent; by day it had a fearful hum of working machinery. But at this time of the night the machinery was silent. More than half the great place was in utter darkness; and, out of ten puddling furnaces, four only were lighted. These were provided with two hammers of less power.

Here and there feeble gas-jets wavered in the wind, the light of which was just enough to show great shadows in the place, and, overhead, immense smoke-stained beams that sustained the roof could be indistinctly made out. A noise of splashing water could be heard in the darkness; the earth floor, with cracks and lumps in it, was in some places a sodden mass of fetid mud, in others it was all coal-dust, and everywhere it was covered with rubbish. The whole place was an example of the filth and disorder induced by grinding labor, labor without care, with out mirth – labor hated and execrated by those engaged in it, carried on in a den full of smoke, black smuts flying about in the air, in a place filthy and dilapidated.

In some little sheds made of rough planks the out door clothes of the workmen were hung up on nails, and with them were thick cloth jackets and leathern aprons. This miserable, dark place was never lighted unless a master-puddler opened the door of his furnace and sent forth a blinding rush of flame, which illumined the whole dark building for a moment like a ray of light from some planet in the heavens.

****

Then would come the work of taking the crucibles out of the fire and emptying them, the most murderous work of all. And as he walked up to another furnace, where the men who tended it, armed with long iron rods, had just found the fusion to be complete, he recognized Fauchard in the man whose business it was to draw out the crucibles. He was pallid and withered, with a face like leather; but he had preserved his legs and arms, which were those of a Hercules. He was physically deformed by his terrible work, which was always monotonous, and in which he had been employed for fourteen years; but he suffered more from the consciousness that he was losing his intelligence, that he had become a mere machine, doing eternally the same thing – that he was a veritable automaton – a human element struggling for supremacy with fire. It was not merely that he felt what he had physically lost – his bent back, the impaired action of his lower limbs, his eyes burned out of his head, their color grown pale from gazing into the flames – he was conscious that he had deteriorated intellectually, that his intelligence was trembling in the balance, and was now nearly extinct, trodden under the terrible hoof which turned him into a blind beast, crushing him under work that first had poisoned, and then would destroy him.

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Francisco de Quevedo: Metal against metal: Learning causes peace to be sought after

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

Francisco de Quevedo: The soldierly virtues of ardor, candor, honor and valor

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Francisco de Quevedo
From La hora de todos y la Fortuna con seso (1635)
Translated by Roger L’Estrange

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Monarchies are upheld by the same arts that erect them. They have always been raised by soldiers…Kings hold their dominions by the sword; not by their books…The ignorance of the people is the great security of princes. Learning, which instructs, makes them mutinous. Learned subjects rather conspire than obey; rather examine their sovereign than respect him. No sooner do they understand, than they despise him. No sooner can they know what liberty is, than they desire it. They can judge whether he that reigns is worthy to rule…Learning causes peace to be sought after, because it stand in need of it. When a nation affects scholars and writers, goose quills take the place of swords and muskets. Ink in writing is more meritorious than blood spilt.

***

Artillery was not long since invented (to take off lives before secured by distance, to overthrow the strongest walls, and to bestow victories by aim, not by true courage) but presently was printing invented in opposition to cannon: it is metal against metal, ink against powder, and letters against bullets.

***

“You must observe that America is a rich beautiful harlot, and since she was false to her husbands, she will never be true to her bullies. Christians say that heaven punished the Indies, because they adored idols: and we Indians say that heaven will punish the Christians because they adore the Indies. You think you carry gold and silver, and you only carry well-coloured envy and precious misery. You take from us that you may for have for others to take from you. That which makes you our enemies, makes you enemies to one another.”

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William Blake: Selections on war and peace

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Juan Valera: Thou art the God of peace

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

Juan Valera
From Pepita Jiménez (1874)
Translator unidentified

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“It was anger – the terrible counselor – that at times persuaded them that it was necessary for the people to shed blood at the Divine command, and that brought before their sanguinary eyes the vision of Isaiah; they have then seen, and caused their fanatic followers to see, the meek Lamb converted into an inexorable avenger, descending from the summit of Edom, proud in the multitude of his strength, trampling the nations under foot, as the treader tramples the grapes in the wine-press, their garments raised, and covered with blood to the thighs. Ah, no. My God! I am about to become Thy minister. Thou art the God of peace, and my first duty should be meekness. Thou makest the sun to shine on the just and the unjust, and pourest down upon all alike the fertilizing rain of inexhaustible goodness. Thou art our Father, who dwellest in the heavens, and we should be perfect, even as Thou art perfect, pardoning those who have offended us, and asking Thee to pardon them, because they know not what they do. I should recall to mind the beatitudes of the Scripture: Blessed are ye when they revile you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil things against you. The minister of God, or he who is about to become His minister, must be humble, peaceable, lowly of heart; not like the oak that lifts itself up proudly until the thunderbolt strike it, but like the fragrant herbs of the woods and the modest flowers of the fields, that give sweeter and more graceful perfume after the rustic has trodden them under foot.”

***

Men, as a rule, allow themselves to be the playthings of circumstances; they let themselves be carried along by the current of events, instead of devoting all their energies to one single aim. We do not choose our part in life, but accept and play the part allotted us, that which blind fortune assigns to us. The profession, the political faith, the entire life of many men, depend on chance circumstances, on what is fortuitous, on the caprice and the unexpected turns of fate.

Against all this the pride of Don Luis vigorously rebelled. What would be thought of him, and, above all, what would he think of himself, if the ideal of his life, the new man that he had created in his soul, if all his plans of virtue, of honor, and even of holy ambition, should vanish in an instant…?

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Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson: I saw a dove fear-daunted

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

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson: All labor’s dread of war’s mad waste and murder

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Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson
From Halte Hulda (1869)
Translated by Arthur Hubbell Palmer

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The Dove

I saw a dove fear-daunted,
By howling storm-blast driven;
Where waves their power vaunted,
From land it had been riven.
No cry nor moan it uttered,
I heard no plaint repeated;
In vain its pinions fluttered –
It had to sink, defeated.

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