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.”