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Josephus: Admonition against war

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Josephus
From The Jewish War
Translated by H. St. J. Thackeray

“How absurd it were, because of one man to make war on a whole people…But war once set on foot cannot be lightly either broken off or carried through without risk of disaster…All who embark on war do so in reliance on the support either of God or man; but when, in all probability, no assistance from either quarter is forthcoming, then the aggressor goes with his eyes open to certain ruin. What is there, then, to prevent you from dispatching with your own hands your children and wives and from consigning this surpassingly beautiful home of yours to flames? By such an act of madness you would at least spare yourselves the ignominy of defeat. It were well, my friends, it were well, while the vessel is still in port, to foresee the coming storm, and not to put out into the midst of the hurricane to meet your doom. For the victims of unforeseen disaster there is left at least the meed of pity; but he who rushes to manifest destruction incurs opprobrium to boot.”

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Even those who had been reputed the very mildest of men were instigated by avarice to murder their adversaries; for they would then with impunity plunder the property of their victims and transfer to their own homes, as from a battle-field, the spoils of the slain, and he who gained the most covered himself with glory as the most successful murderer. One saw cities choked with unburied corpses, dead bodies of old men and infants exposed side by side, poor women stripped of the last covering of modesty, the whole province full of indescribable horrors; and even worse than the tale of atrocities committed was the suspense caused by the menace of evils in store.

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