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Émile Zola: Why armies are maintained


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

Émile Zola: Selections on war


Émile Zola
From Labor (1901)
Translator not identified


The good Mazelle sat, entirely overlooked, between Judge Gaume and Captain Jollivet. Up to this time he had only opened his mouth to put into it large mouthfuls of food, which he masticated slowly for fear of disordering his digestion. Social economics did not interest him, since, thanks to the nature of his income, he was beyond risk from storms. But he was forced to lend an ear to the theories of the captain, who was delighted to impart them to so kindly an auditor. The army was the school for the nation, and France could never be anything, according to her immutable traditions, but the land of a warlike people; she would recover her proper place only on the day when she reconquered Europe and ruled it by the sword. It was foolish to accuse the system which sent young men to perform military service of disorganizing labor. Whose labor? What labor? Was there any such thing? Socialism was an immense humbug! There would always be soldiers, and peoples under them for fatigue duty. The sword was something tangible which could be seen, but who had ever seen an idea, this famous idea, which people pretended was the queen of the world? He laughed at his own wit, and the kind hearted Mazelle, who had a profound respect for the army, laughed with him out of complaisance, while his fiancée, Lucille, regarded him with an expression of enigmatical tenderness…


“Ah, the feudal system had its good points; all the worthless men in those days went to the wars, if they had no property and knew that they would never have any.”


Laughter and jest continued. All present, however, had felt the great wind of to-morrow pass over them; the breath of the future swept across the table, blowing away its iniquitous luxury and its poisonous pleasures. They all, therefore, began to talk about questions of interest, of capital, of bourgeois society and capitalists, all of which are based on the wage system.

“The republic will destroy itself when it interferes with property,” said Gourier, the mayor. “The laws are still in force, but everything will give way when they are no longer administered,” said Judge Gaume.

“What does it matter, in any event?” said Captain Jollivet; “the army is here for our protection, and it will never permit these rascals to triumph.”

Boisgelin and Delaveau assented approvingly to these sentiments, for the present social forces worked in their interest. Luc understood the situation. The government, the ministry, the magistracy, the army, and the Church, all were engaged in sustaining this terrible social system, this monstrous frame-work of iniquity, by means of which labor destroyed the many in order that the few might be maintained in luxury and corruption…

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