From The Wine Press: A Tale of War (1913)
The lightnings leapt among the lines
Like a mountain-stream in flood.
Scattering the red clay they ran
A river of fire around Johann,
And, thrice, a spatter of human flesh
Blinded him with blood.
Then all the hills grew quiet
And the sun slept on the field,
There was no cloud in the blue sky,
No sight, no sound of an enemy;
But, over them, like a scourge of brass
The scornful bugles pealed.
Forward! At the double,
Not questioning what it means!
The long rows of young men
Carried their quivering flesh again
Over those wide inhuman zones
Against the cold machines.
Flesh against things fleshless,
Never the soul’s desire,
Never the flash of steel on steel,
But the brain that is mangled under the wheel,
The nerves that shrivel, the limbs that reel
Against a sheet of fire.
A dead man makes good covering;
Or, if the man be breathing yet,
There is none to save him now.
Across a heap of flesh, Johann
Fired at the unseen mark.
He had not fired a dozen rounds
When the shuddering lump of tattered wounds
Lifted up a mangled head
And whined, like a child, in the dark.
Its eyes were out. The raw strings
Along its face lay red;
It caught the barrel in its hands
And set it to its head.
Its jaw dropped dumbly, but Johann
Saw and understood:
The rifle flashed, and the dead man
Lay quiet in his blood.
Then all along the reeking hills
And up the dark ravines,
The long rows of young men
Leapt in the glory of life again
To carry their warm and breathing breasts
Against the cold machines;
Against the Death that mowed them down
With a cold indifferent hand;
And every gap at once was fed
With more life from the fountain-head,
Filled up from endless ranks behind
In the name of the Fatherland,
Mown down! Mown down! Mown
down! Mown down!
They staggered in sheets of fire,
They reeled like ships in a sudden blast,
And shreds of flesh went spattering past,
And the hoarse bugles laughed on high,
Like fiends from hell Retire!
Translated by W. R. Paton
Numerous speakers from each nationality now came forward all together, maintaining that the prisoners should be spared at least the infliction of torture in view of Gesco’s previous kindness to them. Nothing, however, they said was intelligible, as they were all speaking together and each stating his views in his own language. But the moment it was disclosed that they were begging for a remission of the sentence someone among the audience called out “Stone them,” and they instantly stoned all the speakers to death. These unfortunates, mangled as if by wild beasts, were carried off for burial by their friends. Spendius and his men then led out from the camp Gesco and the other prisoners, in all about seven hundred. Taking them a short distance away, they first of all cut off their hands, beginning with Gesco, that very Gesco whom a short time previously they had selected from all the Carthaginians, proclaiming him their benefactor and referring the points in dispute to him. After cutting off the hands they cut off the wretched men’s other extremities too, and after thus mutilating them and breaking their legs, threw them still alive into a trench.
With regard to treatment of prisoners in the future, the mutineers passed a resolution and engaged each other to torture and kill every Carthaginian and send back to the capital with his hands cut off every ally of Carthage, and this practice they continued to observe carefully. No one looking at this would have any hesitation in saying that not only do men’s bodies and certain of the ulcers and tumours afflicting them become so to speak savage and brutalized and quite incurable, but that this is true in a much higher degree of their souls. In the case of ulcers, if we treat them, they are sometimes inflamed by the treatment itself and spread more rapidly, while again if we neglect them they continue, in virtue of their own nature, to eat into the flesh and never rest until they have utterly destroyed the tissues beneath. Similarly such malignant lividities and putrid ulcers often grow in the human soul, that no beast becomes at the end more wicked or cruel than man. In the case of men in such a state, if we treat the disease by pardon and kindness, they think we are scheming to betray them or deceive them, and become more mistrustful and hostile to their would‑be benefactors, but if, on the contrary, we attempt to cure the evil by retaliation they work up their passions to outrival ours, until there is nothing so abominable or so atrocious that they will not consent to do it, imagining all the while that they are displaying a fine courage. Thus at the end they are utterly brutalized and no longer can be called human beings. Of such a condition the origin and most potent cause lies in bad manners and customs and wrong training from childhood, but there are several contributory ones, the chief of which is habitual violence and unscrupulousness on the part of those in authority over them. All these conditions were present in this mercenary force as a whole and especially in their chiefs.
Hamilcar, like a good draught-player, by cutting off and surrounding large numbers of the enemy, destroyed them without their resisting, while in the more general battles he would sometimes inflict large loss by enticing them into unsuspected ambuscades and sometimes throw them into panic by appearing when they least expected it by day or by night. All those he captured were thrown to the elephants. Finally, taking them by surprise and encamping opposite to them in a position unfavourable for action on their part but favouring his own strong point – generalship – he brought them to such a pass, that not daring to risk a battle and unable to escape, as they were entirely surrounded by a trench and palisade, they were at last driven by famine to eat each other…
Hannibal encamped on the side of the town next Carthage and Hamilcar on the opposite side. Their next step was to take Spendius and the other prisoners up to the walls and crucify them there in the sight of all. Mathos noticed that Hannibal was guilty of negligence and over-confidence, and attacking his camp, put many Carthaginians to the sword and drove them all out of the camp. All the baggage fell into the rebels’ hands and they made Hannibal himself prisoner. Taking him at once to Spendius’ cross they tortured him cruelly there, and then, taking Spendius down from the cross, they crucified Hannibal alive on it and slew round the body of Spendius thirty Carthaginians of the highest rank.
From The Mirror of Fools (1933)
Translated by Trevor and Phyllis Brewitt
Towards evening they reached a burnt-out village. It looked melancholy and also accusatory. The blackened walls that were still standing had jagged, pointed, or toothed and at the same time sharpened edges, as though they wanted to turn themselves, even after the event, into weapons. The gaps, windows, and breaches in them, however, revealed the interiors with an air of resignation, laying bare not only the signs of destruction, but the signs and indications of the life that had been and was now laid waste: a room, a wall, the skeleton or ruin of a table, a cupboard, a bed, and the implements of peace. They were pitiable memorials, and the place smelt of disaster – not so much of the corrosives of fire and smoke grown cold as of strange, uncanny, and abhorrent exhalations. There was a stench of disaster.
When both the eyes and nose of a man with an empty stomach and an aching head are subjected to such an impression, then all the torments of the outer and inner world are heightened. Heinrich had a gigantic stomach and, therefore, a gigantic void in his body, and a devilishly magnified nightmare before his eyes. On his brow, his temples, and the back of his head there pressed an iron hoop, which grew ever tighter. “There has already been fighting here?” he weakly asked Captain Koller.
“Not at all, a little example, probably on account of some act of indisciplne.”
The Duke thought of the swinging peasant.
“You hang up whole villages on the gallows,” he said, soemwhat confused.
“Rather, on the spit,” laughed Koller.
“There is a stench of disaster here,” coughed the Duke.
“Only of burnt flesh or of some dead body,” said Koller. “That happens sometimes.”
“There has been fighting in this district, Captain?”
“No, Your Highness.”
“Then why does Kasimir burn every district to the ground? Devil take it!”
“In order that you may have the scent and be able to follow him,” laughed Koller.
A shudder passed through the Duke, for he took the words as seriously as the war.
From The Library of History
Translated by C. Bradford Welles
So while the city was being taken, many and varied were the scenes of destruction within the walls. Enraged by the arrogance of the Theban proclamation, the Macedonians pressed upon them more furiously than is usual in war, and shrieking curses flung themselves on the wretched people, slaying all whom they met without sparing any…In the capture of the city, no Theban was seen begging the Macedonians to spare his life, nor did they in ignoble fashion fall and cling to the knees of their conquerors. But neither did the agony of courage elicit pity from the foe nor did the day’s length suffice for the cruelty of their vengeance. All the city was pillaged. Everywhere boys and girls were dragged into captivity as they wailed piteously the names of their mothers.
In sum, households were seized with all their members, and the city’s enslavement was complete. Of the men who remained, some, wounded and dying, grappled with the foe and were slain themselves as they destroyed their enemy; others, supported only by a shattered spear, went to meet their assailants and, in their supreme struggle, held freedom dearer than life. As the slaughter mounted and every corner of the city was piled high with corpses, no one could have failed to pity the plight of the unfortunates. For even Greeks – Thespians, Plataeans and Orchomenians and some others hostile to the Thebans who had joined the king in the campaign – invaded the city along with him and now demonstrated their own hatred amid the calamities of the unfortunate victims.
So it was that many terrible things befell the city. Greeks were mercilessly slain by Greeks, relatives were butchered by their own relatives, and even a common dialect induced no pity. In the end, when night finally intervened, the houses had been plundered and children and women and aged persons who had fled into the temples were torn from sanctuary and subjected to outrage without limit.
Over six thousand Thebans perished, more than thirty thousand were captured, and the amount of property plundered was unbelievable.
Thomas Love Peacock: We spilt blood enough to swim in, we orphaned many children and widowed many women
Thomas Love Peacock
The War Song of Dinas Vawr (1829)
The mountain sheep are sweeter,
But the valley sheep are fatter;
We therefore deemed it meeter
To carry off the latter.
We made an expedition;
We met a host and quelled it;
We forced a strong position,
And killed the men who held it.
On Dyfed’s richest valley,
Where herds of kine were browsing,
We made a mighty sally,
To furnish our carousing.
Fierce warriors rushed to meet us;
We met them, and o’erthrew them:
They struggled hard to beat us;
But we conquered them, and slew them.
As we drove our prize at leisure,
The king marched forth to catch us:
His rage surpassed all measure,
But his people could not match us.
He fled to his hall-pillars;
And, ere our force we led off,
Some sacked his house and cellars,
While others cut his head off.
We there, in strife bewildering,
Spilt blood enough to swim in:
We orphaned many children,
And widowed many women.
The eagles and the ravens
We glutted with our foemen:
The heroes and the cravens,
The spearmen and the bowmen.
We brought away from battle,
And much their land bemoaned them,
Two thousand head of cattle,
And the head of him who owned them:
Ednyfed, king of Dyfed,
His head was borne before us;
His wine and beasts supplied our feasts,
And his overthrow, our chorus.
From On the Peace
Translated by George Norlin
Indeed, you have caused the orators to practise and study, not what will be advantageous to the state, but how they may discourse in a manner pleasing to you. And it is to this kind of discourse that the majority of them have resorted also at the present time, since it has become plain to all that you will be better pleased with those who summon vou to war than with those who counsel peace; for the former put into our minds the expectation both of regaining our possessions in the several states and of recovering the power which we formerly enjoyed, while the latter hold forth no such hope, insisting rather that we must have peace and not crave great possessions contrary to justice, but be content with those we have and that for the great majority of mankind is of all things the most difficult. For we are so dependent on our hopes and so insatiate in seizing what seems to be our advantage that not even those who possess the greatest fortunes are willing to rest satisfied with them but are always grasping after more and so risking the loss of what they have. Wherefore we may well be anxious lest on the present occasion also we may be subject to this madness. For some of us appear to me to be over-zealously bent on war, as though having heard, not from haphazard counsellors, but from the gods, that we are destined to succeed in all our campaigns and to prevail easily over our foes.
But I marvel that the older men no longer recall and that the younger have not been told by anyone that the orators who exhort us to cling fast to peace have never caused us to suffer any misfortune whatsoever, whereas those who lightly espouse war have already plunged us into many great disasters. However, we have no memory for these facts but are always ready, without in the least advancing our own welfare, to man triremes, to levy war-taxes, and to lend aid to the campaigns of others or wage war against them, as chance may determine, as if imperilling the interests, not of our own, but of a foreign state.
I maintain, then, that we should make peace, not only with the Chians, the Rhodians, the Byzantines and the Coans, but with all mankind…But first let us discuss the question of peace and consider what we should desire for ourselves at the present juncture. For if we define this clearly and intelligently, we shall take better counsel in the light of this principle regarding our other interests as well. Let me ask, then, whether we should be satisfied if we could dwell in our city secure from danger, if we could be provided more abundantly with the necessities of life, if we could be of one mind amongst ourselves, and if we could enjoy the high esteem of the Hellenes. I, for my part, hold that, with these blessings assured us, Athens would be completely happy. Now it is the war which has robbed us of all the good things which I have mentioned; for it has made us poorer; it has compelled many of us to endure perils; it has given us a bad name among the Hellenes; and it has in every way overwhelmed us with misfortune. But if we make peace and demean ourselves as our common covenants command us to do, then we shall dwell in our city in great security, delivered from wars and perils and the turmoil in which we are now involved amongst ourselves, and we shall advance day by day in prosperity, relieved of paying war-taxes, of fitting out triremes, and of discharging the other burdens which are imposed by war, without fear cultivating our lands and sailing the seas and engaging in those other occupations which now, because of the war, have entirely come to an end. Nay, we shall see our city enjoying twice the revenues which she now receives, and thronged with merchants and foreigners and resident aliens, by whom she is now deserted.
Émile Zola: Yes, war is dead. The world has reached its last stage. Brothers may now give each other the fraternal kiss.
From Labor (1901)
Translator not identified
“How many tears, how much bloodshed, what abominable wars there have been to conquer the fraternal peace desired equally by all! How many centuries of fratricide have there been when the main question was merely who should pass to the right and who to the left, in order to reach first the bourn of final happiness.”
Suzanne, who till then had sat silent, gazing like the rest into the horizon, spoke at last, but her vision had filled her heart with a great thrill of pity:
“Ah! the last war,” said she, “the world’s last battle! It will be so terrible that men forever will break their swords and spike their cannon. At first it was great social crises that were to reconstruct the world, and I have heard fearful accounts from men who came near losing their senses by reason of the fearful shock these things produced in the world. In the mad struggle, when nations were big with projects for a future social system, half Europe arrayed itself on land against the other half, and whole continents engaged in strife; whole squadrons put to sea to establish the authority of their people over the whole earth. No nation had been able to resist the impulse; they were drawn into it by others; they drew up in line, two great armies burning with race hatreds, resolved to annihilate each other, as if in their empty and uncultivated fields where there were two men at work there was one too many. And two great armies of brothers turned to foes met somewhere in the centre of Europe upon vast plains where millions of human beings conveniently could slay each other. The troops spread out over miles and miles, followed by their reserves, such a torrent of men that the fighting lasted for a month. Every day more human flesh was food for bullets and bombs. They even did not have time to carry off the dead. Heaps of bodies served as walls, behind which fresh regiments fought and were killed. Night did not stay the carnage; they killed each other in the darkness. The sun, as it rose each day, shone upon pools of blood, on a field of carnage covered with stacks of dead. There was a roar like thunder every where, and whole regiments seemed to disappear in a flash. The men who fought had no need to draw near each other, since cannon threw their shells for miles, and each of such shells swept bare an acre of the earth, poisoning and asphyxiating the very heavens. Balloons, too, sent down balls and bombs to set fire to the cities. Science had in vented fresh explosives, murderous engines able to carry death to enormous distances, or to swallow many people at once, like an earthquake. And what a monstrous massacre took place on the last night of that tremendous battle! Never had such a human sacrifice smoked under heaven. More than a million of men lay there in the great devastated fields, beside the rivers, and scattered over the meadows. A man could have walked for hours, seeing everywhere was a harvest of dead bodies, lying with staring eyes and open mouths, seeming to reproach men for their madness. This was the world’s last battle, so completely had its horrors impressed mankind. People woke up from their mad intoxication, and all felt the certainty that war was no longer possible, for science that was meant to make life prosperous was not to be employed in the work of death.”
Suzanne was once more silent, but was trembling, and her eyes were bright. She was dreaming of peace in the future. Luc spoke once more, though he could not raise his voice above a breath:
“Yes, war,” he said, “is dead. The world has reached its last stage. Brothers may now give each other the fraternal kiss; they are in port after their long, rough voyage. My day is done, and now I may go to sleep.”
From On the Embassy
Translated by Charles Darwin Adams
What decree have I proposed, what law have I repealed, what law have I kept from being passed, what covenant have I made in the name of the city, what vote as to the peace have I annulled, what have I added to the terms of of peace that you did not vote? The peace failed to please some of our public men. Then ought they not to have opposed it at the time, instead of putting me on trial now? Certain men who were getting rich out of the war from your war-taxes and the revenues of the state, have now been stopped; for peace does not feed laziness. Shall those, then, who are not wronged but are themselves wronging the city, punish the man who was the sponsor for peace…?
Herman Melville: War-pits and rattraps. Soldier sold to the army as Faust sold himself to the devil.
From Redburn (1849)
In the British armed marine, in time of peace, they do not ship men for the general service, as in the American navy; but for particular ships, going upon particular cruises. Thus, the frigate Thetis may be announced as about to sail under the command of that fine old sailor, and noble father to his crew, Lord George Flagstaff.
Similar announcements may be seen upon the walls concerning enlistments in the army. And never did auctioneer dilate with more rapture upon the charms of some country-seat put up for sale, than the authors of these placards do, upon the beauty and salubrity of the distant climes, for which the regiments wanting recruits are about to sail. Bright lawns, vine-clad hills, endless meadows of verdure, here make up the landscape; and adventurous young gentlemen, fond of travel, are informed, that here is a chance for them to see the world at their leisure, and be paid for enjoying themselves into the bargain. The regiments for India are promised plantations among valleys of palms; while to those destined for New Holland, a novel sphere of life and activity is opened; and the companies bound to Canada and Nova Scotia are lured by tales of summer suns, that ripen grapes in December. No word of war is breathed; hushed is the clang of arms in these announcements; and the sanguine recruit is almost tempted to expect that pruning-hooks, instead of swords, will be the weapons he will wield.
Alas! is not this the cruel stratagem of Bruce at Bannockburn, who decoyed to his war-pits by covering them over with green boughs? For instead of a farm at the blue base of the Himalayas, the Indian recruit encounters the keen saber of the Sikh; and instead of basking in sunny bowers, the Canadian soldier stands a shivering sentry upon the bleak ramparts of Quebec, a lofty mark for the bitter blasts from Baffin’s Bay and Labrador. There, as his eye sweeps down the St. Lawrence, whose every billow is bound for the main that laves the shore of Old England; as he thinks of his long term of enlistment, which sells him to the army as Doctor Faust sold himself to the devil; how the poor fellow must groan in his grief, and call to mind the church-yard stile, and his Mary.
These army announcements are well fitted to draw recruits in Liverpool. Among the vast number of emigrants, who daily arrive from all parts of Britain to embark for the United States or the colonies, there are many young men, who, upon arriving at Liverpool, find themselves next to penniless; or, at least, with only enough money to carry them over the sea, without providing for future contingencies. How easily and naturally, then, may such youths be induced to enter upon the military life, which promises them a free passage to the most distant and flourishing colonies, and certain pay for doing nothing; besides holding out hopes of vineyards and farms, to be verified in the fullness of time. For in a moneyless youth, the decision to leave home at all, and embark upon a long voyage to reside in a remote clime, is a piece of adventurousness only one removed from the spirit that prompts the army recruit to enlist.
I never passed these advertisements, surrounded by crowds of gaping emigrants, without thinking of rattraps.
And though Tiberius came in the succession of the Caesars, and though unmatchable Tacitus has embalmed his carrion, yet do I account this Yankee Jackson full as dignified a personage as he, and as well meriting his lofty gallows in history; even though he was a nameless vagabond without an epitaph, and none, but I, narrate what he was. For there is no dignity in wickedness, whether in purple or rags; and hell is a democracy of devils, where all are equals. There, Nero howls side by side with his own malefactors. If Napoleon were truly but a martial murderer, I pay him no more homage than I would a felon. Though Milton’s Satan dilutes our abhorrence with admiration, it is only because he is not a genuine being, but something altered from a genuine original. We gather not from the four gospels alone, any high-raised fancies concerning this Satan; we only know him from thence as the personification of the essence of evil, which, who but pickpockets and burglars will admire? But this takes not from the merit of our high-priest of poetry; it only enhances it, that with such unmitigated evil for his material, he should build up his most goodly structure. But in historically canonizing on earth the condemned below, and lifting up and lauding the illustrious damned, we do but make examples of wickedness; and call upon ambition to do some great iniquity, and be sure of fame.
We talk of the Turks, and abhor the cannibals; but may not some of them, go to heaven, before some of us? We may have civilized bodies and yet barbarous souls. We are blind to the real sights of this world; deaf to its voice; and dead to its death. And not till we know, that one grief outweighs ten thousand joys, will we become what Christianity is striving to make us.
Aristotle: A man would be regarded as a bloodthirsty monster if he were to make war just to produce battles and slaughter
From Nicomachean Ethics
Translated by J.A.K. Thomson
Now the practical virtues find opportunity for their exercise in politics and in war, but these are occupations which are supposed to leave no room for leisure. Certainly it it is true of the trade of war, for no one deliberately chooses to make war for the sake of making it or tries to bring about a war. A man would be regarded as a bloodthirsty monster if he were to make war on a friendly state just to produce battles and slaughter.
Sailors combine for the purpose of making money from the profits of a voyage, soldiers join forces in order to exploit the profits of war, whether they are hoping for loot or conquest or the capture of a city.
From The West Indies (1825)
There are some who assert that, in a military and political point of view, the West Indies are of great importance to this country. This is a common, but a monstrous misrepresentation. We venture to say, that Colonial empire has been one of the greatest curses of modern Europe. What nation has it ever strengthened? What nation has it ever enriched? What have been its fruits? War of frequent occurrence and immense cost, fettered trade, lavish expenditure, clashing jurisdiction, corruption in governments, and indigence among the people. What have Mexico and Peru done for Spain, the Brazils for Portugal, Batavia for Holland? Or, if the experience of others is lost upon us, shall we not profit by our own? What have we not sacrificed to our infatuated passion for transatlantic dominion? This it is that has so often led us to risk our own smiling gardens and dear firesides for some snowy desert or infectious morass on the other side of the globe: This inspired us with the project of conquering America in Germany: This induced us to resign all the advantages of our insular situation – to embroil ourselves in the intrigues and fight the battles of half the Continent – to form coalitions which were instantly broken – and to give subsidies which were never earned: This gave birth to the fratricidal war against American liberty, with all its disgraceful defeats, and all its barren victories, and all the massacres of the Indian hatchet, and all the bloody contracts of the Hessian slaughterhouse. This it was which, in the war against the French republic, induced us to send thousands and tens of thousands of our bravest troops to die in West Indian hospitals, while the armies of our enemies were pouring over the Rhine and the Alps. When a colonial acquisition has been in prospect, we have thought no expenditure extravagant, no interference perilous, gold has been to us as dust, and blood as water. Shall we never learn wisdom? Shall we never cease to prosecute a pursuit wilder than the wildest dreams of alchymy, with all the credulity and all the profusion of Sir Epicure Mammon?
All the ancient fabrics of colonial empire are falling to pieces. The old equilibrium of power has been disturbed by the introduction of a crowd of new States into the system. Our West-India possessions are not now surrounded, as they formerly were, by the oppressed and impoverished colonies of a superannuated monarchy, in the last stages of dotage and debility, but by young, and vigorous, and warlike republics. We have defended our colonies against Spain. Does it therefore follow that we shall be able to defend them against Mexico or Hayti?…[What] would be the effect produced in Jamaica by the appearance of three or four Black regiments, with thirty or forty stand of arms? The colony would be lost. Would it ever be recovered? Would England engage in a contest for that object, at so vast a distance, and in so deadly a climate? Would she not take warning by the fate of that mighty expedition which perished in St. Domingo? Let us suppose, however, that a force was sent, and that, in the field, it was successful. Have we forgotten how long a few Maroons defended the central mountains of the island against all the efforts of disciplined valour? A similar contest on a larger scale might be protracted for half a century, keeping our forces in continual employment, and depriving property of all its security. The country might spend fifty millions of pounds, and bury fifty thousand men, before the contest would be terminated…
In our own time many a man shoots partridges in such numbers that he is compelled to bury them, who would chastise his son for amusing himself with the equally interesting, and not more cruel diversion, of catching flies and tearing them to pieces. The drover goads oxen – the fishmonger crimps cod – the dragoon sabres a Frenchman – the Spanish Inquisition a Jew – the Irish gentleman torments Catholics. These persons are not necessarily destitute of feeling. Each of them would shrink from any cruel employment, except that to which his situation has familiarized him.
When a community does nothing to prevent guilt, it ought to bear the blame of it. Wickedness, when punished, is disgraceful only to the offender. Unpunished, it is disgraceful to the whole society.
From Tusculan Disputations
Translated by J.E. King
The seeds of virtue are inborn in our dispositions and, if they were allowed to ripen, nature’s own hand would lead us on to happiness of life; as things are now, however, as soon as we come into the light of day and have been acknowledged, we at once find ourselves in a world of iniquity amid a medley of wrong beliefs…[T]hen obviously we are tainted by vicious beliefs, and our revolt from nature is so complete that we come to think that the clearest insight into the meaning of nature has been gained by the men who have made up their minds that there is no higher ambition for a human being, nothing more desirable, nothing more excellent than civil office, military command and popular glory; it is to this that all are attracted, and in their quest for the honour which alone is the object of nature’s eager search, they find themselves where all is vanity, and strain to win no lofty image of virtue, but a shadowy phantom of glory. For true glory is a thing of real substance and clearly wrought, no shadowy phantom: it is the agreed approval of good men, the unbiassed verdict of judges deciding honestly the question of pre-eminent merit; it gives back to virtue the echo of her voice; and as it generally attends upon duties rightly performed it is not to be disdained by good men. The other kind of glory, however, which claims to be a copy of the true, is headstrong and thoughtless and generally lends its support to faults and errors; it is public reputation, and by a counterfeit mars the fair beauty of true honour. By this illusion human beings, in spite of some noble ambitions, are blinded and, as they do not know where to look or what to find, some of them bring about the utter ruin of their country and others their own downfall…
[T]his combative irascibility of yours, when it has got back home, what is it like with wife, with children, with household? Or do you think it useful there as in battle?
O philosophy, thou guide of life, o thou explorer of virtue and expeller of vice! without thee what would have become not only of me but of the life of man altogether? Thou hast given birth to cities, thou hast called scattered human beings into the bond of social life, thou has united them first of all in joint habitations, next in wedlock, then in the ties of common literature and speech, thou hast discovered law, thou hast been the teacher of morality and order: to thee I fly for refuge, from thee I look for aid, to thee I entrust myself, at once in ample measure, so now wholly and entirely. Moreover one day well spent with and in accordance with thy lessons is to be preferred to an eternity of error. Whose help then are we to use rather than thine? thou that hast freely granted us peacefulness of life and destroyed the dread of death.
From Death of a Hero (1929)
He…suffered abominably as month after month of the war dragged on with its interminable holocausts and immeasurable degradation of mankind. The world of men seemed dropping to pieces, madly cast down by men in a delirium of homicide and destructiveness. The very apparatus of killing revolted him, took of a sort of sinister deadness. There was something in the very look of his rifle and equipment which filled him with depression. And then, in his imagination, he was already facing the existence for which this was but a preparation, already confronting the agony of his own death. Horrific tales – alas! only too true – were told of companies and battalions wiped out in a few instants…
Over the men of that generation hung doom which was admirably if somewhat ruthlessly expressed by a British Staff Officer in an address to subalterns in France: “You are the War generation. You were born to fight this War, and it’s got to be won – we’re determined you shall win it. So far as you are concerned as individuals, it doesn’t matter a tinker’s damn whether you are killed or not. Most probably you will be killed, most of you. So make up your minds to it.”
There can be no world peace because the man who has the most money gets the best woman, as the German Kaiser said at the gathering of nations. As if the nations were a set of Kiplingesque characters bidding against each other for an expensive tart! How despicable, how odious!
Yes, but why so sentimental? Why all this fuss over a few million men killed and maimed? Thousands of people die weekly and somebody’s run over in London every day. Does that argument take you in? Well, the answer is that they’re not murdered. And your “thousands die weekly” are the old and the diseased; here’s it’s the young and the strong and the healthy…Loud cheers we’re winning. Yes, but, going back to murder – people are murdered all the time; look at Chicago. Look at Chicago! We’re always patting ourselves on the back and looking smugly at wicked Chicago. When there’s a shoot-up between gangs, do you approve of it, do you give the winning side medals for their gallantry, do you tell ’em to go to it and you’ll kiss them when they come back, do you march ’em by with a brass band and tell ’em what fine fellows they are? Do you take the gunman as the high ideal of humanity?…Blood will have blood. All right, now we know. It doesn’t matter whether murder is individual or collective, whether committed on behalf of one man or a gang or a state. It’s murder. When you approve murder you violate the right instincts of every human being. And a million murders egged on, lauded, exulted over, will raise a legion of Eumenides about your ears. The survivors will pay bitterly for it all their lives. Never mind, you’ll go on? More babies, soon make the losses? Have another merry old war soon, sooner the better…
Translated by R.G. Bury
Which of the two would be the better – a judge who destroyed all the wicked among them and charged the good to govern themselves, or one who made the good members govern and, while allowing the bad to live, made them submit willingly to be governed? And there is a third judge we must mention (third and best in point of merit), – if indeed such a judge can be found, – who in dealing with a single divided family will destroy none of them but reconcile them and succeed, by enacting laws for them, in securing amongst them thenceforward permanent friendliness.
A judge and lawgiver of that kind would be by far the best.
But mark this: his aim, in the laws he enacted for them, would be the opposite of war.
And would anyone prefer that the citizens should be obliged to devote their attention to external enemies after internal concord had been secured by the destruction of one section and the victory of their opponents rather than after the establishment of friendship and peace by terms of conciliation?
Everyone would prefer the latter alternative for his own State rather than the former.
And would not the lawgiver do the same?
Would not every lawgiver in all his legislation aim at the highest good?
The highest good, however, is neither war nor civil strife – which things we should pray rather to be saved from – but peace one with another and friendly feeling. Moreover, it would seem that the victory we mentioned of a State over itself is not one of the best things but one of those which are necessary. For imagine a man supposing that a human body was best off when it was sick and aged with physic, while never giving a thought to the case of the body that needs no physic at all! Similarly, with regard to the well-being of a State or an individual, that man will never make genuine statesman who pays attention primarily solely to the needs of foreign warfare, nor will he make a finished lawgiver unless he designs his legislation for peace rather than his peace legislation for war.
[V]ictory or defeat in battle could never be called a decisive, but rather a questionable, test of the goodness or badness of an institution.
While education brings also victory, victory sometimes brings lack of education for men have often grown more insolent because of victory in war, and through their insolence they have become filled with countless other vices; and whereas education has never yet proved to be Cadmeian, the victories which men win in war often have been, and will be, Cadmeian.
From The Flowers of the Forest (1955)
War is the worst of the epidemic diseases which afflict mankind and the great genetrix of many of the others. While it lasts it impairs the power of rational judgement; millions are crippled and die and the accumulated riches of empires are destroyed by fanaticism and fear; cruelty and callousness are infectious and these toxins of the spirit make the unconscionable claim that all personal life, happiness, art and human expression must be subordinated to war, or serve it.
“I suppose you think that the war is over and that we shall go back to the kind of world you lived in before it. But the war isn’t over. The hate and evil is greater now than ever. Very soon war will break out again and overwhelm you. It makes me sick to see you rejoicing like a butterfly in the last rays of sun before the winter. The crowd outside thinks that Germany is crushed for ever. But the Germans will soon rise again. Europe is done for; England most of all the countries. This war isn’t over. Even if the fighting should stop, the evil will be worse because the hate will be dammed up in men’s hearts and will show itself in all sorts of ways which will be worse than war. Whatever happens there can be no Peace on Earth.”
From The Seventeenth Discourse: On Covetousness
Translated by J.W. Cohoon
In this passage [from Euripides], then, are enumerated all the consequences of greed: that it is of advantage neither to the individual nor to the state; but that, on the contrary, it overthrows and destroys the prosperity of families and of states as well; and, in the second place, that the law of men requires us to honour equality, and that this establishes a common bond of friendship and peace for all toward one another, whereas quarrels, internal strife, and foreign wars are due to nothing else than the desire for more, with the result that each side is deprived even of a sufficiency. For what is more necessary than life, or what do all men hold as of more importance than this? But nevertheless men will destroy even that for money, and some too have caused even their own fatherlands to be laid waste. The same poet then goes on to say that there is no greed among the divine beings, wherefore they remain indestructible and ageless, each single one keeping its own proper position night and day and through all the seasons. For, the poet adds, if they were not so ordered, none of them would be able to survive. When, therefore, greed would bring destruction even to the divine beings, what disastrous effect must we believe this malady causes to human kind? And he aptly mentions measures and weights as having been invented to secure justice and to prevent any man from over-reaching another.
And Hesiod says that the half is even more than the whole, having in mind, I presume, the injuries and losses resulting from greed. For what king or potentate or people has ever attempted to transgress the principle of justice and grasp at the greater share but he has lost all his former felicity and has suffered great and overpowering disasters, bequeathing to all men thereafter unmistakable examples of folly and wickedness? Or of those who were willing to receive the lesser share and to endure cheerfully the seeming defeat, what man has not gained more than the others many times over, things that accrued to him automatically and without effort on his part, and has gained for the longest time fair prosperity and in the greatest security has enjoyed Fortune’s blessings?
Illustrations are at hand: Did not the sons of Iocasta, when they became at variance in their desire for more, the one wishing to be sole ruler, and the other seeking by fair means or foul to secure his portion of the kingdom – did they not, though brothers, slay each the other and bring the greatest evils, both of them, upon those who espoused their causes, since the invaders of the land straightway perished, while those who fought to defend it were worsted soon after because they would not allow the corpses to be buried? And again, on account of the greed of one man who carried off Helen and the possessions of Menelaus, the inhabitants of Asia’s greatest city perished along with their children and wives, for harbouring one woman and a little property they paid so huge a penalty. Then take the case of Xerxes, the master of the other continent. When he cast covetous eyes upon Greece too, and collected and brought against her so mighty a fleet and so many myriads, he shamefully lost all his armament and with difficulty saved his own person by taking to flight himself; and afterwards he was forced to endure the ravishing of his country and of his cities on the seacoast. As a further illustration take Polycrates: They say that so long as he was ruler of Samos alone he enjoyed the greatest felicity of any man in the whole world; but that when he wished to meddle somewhat in the affairs of the people of the opposite mainland and sailed across for the purpose of getting money from Orestes, he met with no easy death, but was impaled by that barbarian prince and thus perished.
From Blind (1920)
I am blind – but no blinder than is the mind of the world, these days. The long thin splinter of German steel which struck in behind my eyes did no more to me than the war has done to the vision of humanity. In this year of deep confusion – clutching, grabbing, spending, wasting, and in Europe plague and famine, desperation and revolt — mankind is reeling in the dark. And in these long queer crowded nights, half waking and half sleeping, it has seemed to me at times as though the bedlam of it all were pounding, seething, into me. I was once a playwright – and vividly there comes to me a memory of the Broadway crowds on a big rush Saturday night. A sightless beggar stood by the curb, and in a harsh shrill piercing voice he kept repeating, “Help the blind!” The Soul of Man is like him now.
How deeply shocked we would have been had we been told of the great winds which with the roar of a tempest world-wide were to beat upon all churches, homes and courts of law, banks and seats of government, and challenge each to show good reason why it should not be struck down, swept into the raging flood and left to founder in the past. “For richer, for poorer.” In those days there was such wealth on the one hand, such poverty on the other, that the hope of winning the one and of escaping the other crept up to the very altar like a god invisible. But with the children’s children of those unions how will it be? Life is simplified for a man who is blind. For me at least the war overseas, abruptly as a thunderbolt, has cut off the past from the future. I am between, and I am in the dark. I look ahead, and it seems to me that even now there begins to appear in mighty outlines, vague and dim, the world of these children and their sons. Great wealth and poverty are not there. What then? A perfect brotherhood? Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, all in mellow glow? Far from it. Rather the hard clear light of early dawn, and climbers up a mountain side – builders, workers, seekers, dreamers – meeting the old obstacles, Greed, Envy, Sloth and many more – rocks in the path to the perfect day….
From The Roman Questions
Translated by Frank Cole Babbitt
15 Why is it that they were wont to sacrifice no living creature to Terminus, in whose honour they held the Terminalia, although they regard him as a god?
Is it that Romulus placed no boundary-stones for his country, so that Romans might go forth, seize land, and regard all as theirs, as the Spartan said, which their spears could reach; whereas Numa Pompilius, a just man and a statesman, who had become versed in philosophy, marked out the boundaries between Rome and her neighbours, and, when on the boundary-stones he had formally installed Terminus as overseer and guardian of friendship and peace, he thought that Terminus should be kept pure and undefiled from blood and gore?
19 The fact is that, in ancient days, March was counted before January, as is clear from many different proofs, and particularly from the fact that the fifth month from March is called Quintilis, the sixth Sextilis, and on to the last, which they call December, since it is the tenth in order from March. Wherefore it has also naturally occurred to some to believe and to maintain that the ancient Romans completed their year, not in twelve months, but in ten, by adding more days than thirty to some of the months. Others state that December is the tenth from March, January the eleventh, and February the twelfth; and in this month they perform rites of purification and make offerings to the dead, since it is the end of the year. But the order of these months was altered, so they say, and January was put first because in this month on the day of the new moon, which they call the Kalends of January, the first consuls entered office after the kings had been expelled.
But more worthy of credence are they who maintain that it was because Romulus was a warrior and a lover of battle, and was thought to be a son of Mars, that he placed first the month which bore Mars’ name. But Numa, in turn, who was a lover of peace, and whose ambition it was to turn the city towards husbandry and to divert it from war, gave the precedence to January and advanced the god Janus to great honours, since Janus was a statesman and a husbandman rather than a warrior…
Octave Mirbeau: It was not enough that war should glut itself with human flesh, it was necessary that it should also devour beasts, the earth itself, everything that lived in the calm and peace of labor and love
From Calvary (1886)
Translated by Louis Rich
Our regiment was what is called a march regiment, that is, one formed while on the march. It had been made up at Mans, after much trouble, of all the remains of a corps of dissimilar fighting units which encumbered the city. Zuaves, mobilized soldiers, of franc-tireurs, forestry guards, dismounted cavalrymen, including gendarmes, Spaniards and Wallachians – there were troops of every kind and description, and they were all under the command of an old captain quickly promoted for the occasion to the rank of lieutenant colonel. At that time, such promotions were not infrequent. The gaps of human flesh wrought in the ranks of the French by the cannons of Wissembourg and Sedan had to be filled. Several companies lacked officers.
For twelve days since we had been incorporated into a brigade of recent formation, we were tramping across the fields like madmen and to no purpose, as it were. Today marching to the right, tomorrow to the left, one day covering a stretch of forty kilometers, the next day going back an equal distance, we were moving in the same circle; like a scattered herd of cattle which has lost its shepherd. Our enthusiasm diminished appreciably. Three weeks of suffering were enough for that. Before we could ever hear the roar of cannon and the whiz of bullets, our forward march resembled a retreat of a conquered army, cut to pieces by cavalry charges and precipitated into wild confusion. It was like a panicky flight in which each one was allowed to shift for himself. How often did I see soldiers getting rid of their cartridges by scattering them along the roads?
“What good will they do me?” one of them said. “I don’t need them at all except one to crack the jaw of our captain, the first chance we get to fight.”
In the evening, in camp, squatted around the porridge pot or stretched out on the cold furze, with heads resting on their knapsacks, they were thinking of the homes from which they had been taken by force. All the young men, strong and healthy, had come from the villages. Many of them were already sleeping in the ground way yonder, disembowelled by shells; others with shattered backs, like shadows, were straggling in the fields and in the woods awaiting death. In the small country places, left to sorrow, there were only old men, more stooped than ever, and women who wept. The barn-floors where they thrashed corn were mute and closed, in the deserted fields where weeds sprouted, one no longer saw against the purple background of the sunset the silhouette of the laborer returning home, keeping step with his tired horses. And men with long sabres would come and in the name of the law take away the horses one day and empty the cowshed the next; for it was not enough that war should glut itself with human flesh, it was necessary that it should also devour beasts, the earth itself, everything that lived in the calm and peace of labor and love…And at the bottom of the hearts of all these miserable soldiers whose emaciated frames and flagged limbs were lit up by the sinister glare of camp fires—there was one hope, the hope of the coming battle, that is to say, the hope of flight, of butt turned upwards, and of the German fortress.
Nevertheless we were preparing for the defence of the country which we traversed and which was no longer threatened. To accomplish that we thought it would be best to fell trees and scatter them on the roads; we blew up bridges and desecrated cemeteries at the entrance to villages under the pretext of barricading them, and we compelled the inhabitants at the point of the bayonet to help us in the destruction of their property. Then we would depart, leaving behind us nothing but ruin and hatred. I remember one time we had to raze a very beautiful park to the last staddling, in order to build barracks which we never used at all. Our manner of doing things was not at all such as to reassure the people. And so at our approach the houses were shut, the peasants hid their provisions; everywhere we were met by hostile faces, surly mouths and empty hands. There were bloody scuffles over some potted pork discovered in a cupboard, and the general ordered an old and kindly man shot for hiding a few kilograms of salted pork under a heap of manure.