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Montaigne: Invasion concerns all men; not so defense: that concerns only the rich

January 31, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Montaigne: Selections on war

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Michel de Montaigne
Translated by George B. Ives

From Desire is Increased by Difficulty

Perchance the ease of attack serves, among other conditions, to shield my house from the violence of our civil wars. Defence attracts the attempt, and defiance the offence. I have weakened the design of the soldiers, depriving their exploit of risk and of all manner of military glory, which is wont to serve them as pretext and excuse. A brave deed is always an honourable one in times when justice is dead. I render the conquest of my house a dastardly and treacherous act…Our fathers did not dream of building frontier strongholds. The means of assailing – that is to say, without artillery and without an army – and taking our houses by surprise increases every day beyond the means of protection. Men’s wits are universally whetted in that direction. Invasion concerns all men; not so defence: that concerns only the rich…

From Fame

We are right in discrediting the forms of pretence seen in war; for what is easier for a skilfull man than to avoid dangers, and to swagger when his heart is full of cowardice? There are so many ways of shunning occasions of risking oneself individually, that we shall have deceived the world a thousand times before we are engaged in a dangerous strait; and even when we find ourselves caught in it, we can, for the nonce, cloak our play with a bold countenance and confident speech, although our heart is quaking within us.

[In] a whole battle in which ten thousand men are maimed or killed, there are not fifteen that are talked of…For, to kill one man, or two, or ten, to offer oneself bravely to death, is in truth something to each of us, for we risk every thing; but to the world they are things so common, so many of them are seen every day, and so many of the like are needed to produce a noteworthy effect, that we cannot expect any special commendation for them…

Of so many thousands of valiant men who have died in France during the last fifteen hundred years, arm in hand, there are not a hundred who have come to our knowledge. The memory, not of the leaders only, but of the battles and victories, is buried.

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Morning song

January 31, 2016 Leave a comment

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Prosper Mérimée: To the shame of humanity, horrors of war have their charm

January 30, 2016 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

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Prosper Mérimée
From Letters from Spain (1830)
Translated by Emily Mary Waller and Mary Helena Dey

It must be admitted, to the shame of humanity, that war…with all its horrors, has extraordinary charms, especially for those who contemplate it from a safe distance.

***

A ring of soldiers around them held back the curious. This is why: the gallows (for gallows it was), is erected by forced labour; and the conscripted workmen cannot refuse their services without being held guilty of rebellion. As a sort of compensation, the authorities take care they their work, which public opinion regards as almost dishonourable, shall be more or less secretly done. For this purpose soldiers surround them and keep the crowd at a distance, and they work only at night; so that it is almost impossible to recognise them, and they run no risk of being called gallows-carpenters.

***

I understood why the monks, and above all those of the mendicant orders, exercise so much influence over the lower classes. They are in reality (if intolerant liberals will permit me to say so) the support and consolation of the unfortunate from birth until death.

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Morning song

January 30, 2016 1 comment

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Eugène Sue: War, murder by proxy

January 29, 2016 1 comment

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

French writers on war and peace

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Eugène Sue
From The Mysteries of the People (1842-1843)
The Branding Iron
Translated by Daniel De Leon

“You seem to be in good spirits this morning, my dear children! What is the reason of your joy?”

“Grandmother, it is our brother Corbe, who made us laugh.”

“What did Corbe do that was so funny?”

“He plucked all the feathers off his white turtle dove – and she screeched so – she screeched -”

“And you laughed – you laughed – you little imps!”

“Yes, grandmother, but our little brother Merovee wept.”

“Did he laugh so hard that he cried?”

“Oh, no; I wept because the bird bled.”

“And I thereupon told Merovee: ‘You have no courage, if blood frightens you! And when we go to battle, will you weep there also at the sight of blood?'”

“And while Corbe was saying so to Merovee, I took a knife and cut the dove’s head off. Oh, I am not afraid of blood; not I; and when I am a big man I shall go to war, not so grandmother?”

“Ah, children! You know not what you are wishing. It is easy to amuse yourselves cutting off the heads of doves, without feeling obliged some day to go to war. To make war means to ride day and night, suffer hunger, heat and cold, to sleep under tents, and what is worst of all, run the risk of being wounded and killed, all of which causes great pain. Is it not far better, dear children, to promenade quietly in a cart or a litter, to lie down in a soft bed, eat dainties, have fun all day long, and please your whims? The blood of royal families is too precious a thing to expose it recklessly, my pretty little kinglets. You have your leudes to go to war and fight the enemy in battle, your servants to kill the people who may displease or offend you; your priests to order the people to obey you. So, you see, all you have to do is to amuse yourselves, to enjoy the delights of life, happy children that you are, having nothing to say but ‘I will.’ Do you understand these words well, my dear little ones?…”

***

No, never yet was promised land better calculated to reward industry with abundance. Half way up the slope of the hill, the purple colored vines; above the vineyards, the agricultural fields, on which the stubble of rye and wheat left from the last harvest is here and there seen burning. The fertile acreage stretches up to the skirts of the forests that crown the surrounding eminences, within which the spacious valley is locked. Below the vineyards are meadowlands watered by the river. Numerous flocks of sheep and herds of horses browse and graze upon the succulent pasture. The bells of the bulls and wethers are heard tinkling their rural melody. Here and yonder carts drawn by oxen slowly roll over the ground where the stubble was burned the day before, or four-wheeled wagons slowly descend the slopes of the vineyards and wend their way towards the common wine-presses, which, together with the stables, the sheep-folds and the pig-sties, all alike common, are located in the neighborhood of the river. Several workshops also lie contiguous to the river; the wash and spinning houses, where the flax is prepared and the wool washed preparatorily to being transformed into warm clothing; there also are situated the tanneries, the forges, the mills equipped with enormous grind-stones. Peace, security, contentment and work are seen everywhere reflected in the valley. The sound of the beetles of the washerwomen and the curriers, the clang of the blacksmiths’ hammers, the joyful cries of the men and women engaged at the vintage, the rhythmic chant of the husbandmen keeping time to the even and slow gait of the draft-oxen, the rustic flute of the shepherds,- all these sounds, including the hum of the swarming bees, another set of indefatigable toilers, who are busily gathering the honey from the last autumnal flowers, – all these different sounds, from the furthest and vaguest to the nearest and loudest, mingle into one harmony that is at once sweet and imposing; it is the voice of labor and happiness rising heavenward as a continuous thanksgiving.

***

“The swords, always the swords! Thus the best of things turn to evil through abuse and hot-headedness!”

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Morning song

January 29, 2016 1 comment

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William Hazlitt: And this is patriotism. Practitioners of eternal war.

January 28, 2016 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

William Hazlitt: Selections on war

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William Hazlitt
From Illustrations of Vetus (1813)

[T]here is, in our opinion, a third extreme of English faction (if Vetus will spare us the anomaly) not less, absurd, and more mischievous than either of the others: we mean those who are the blind adherents of every minister who happens to been engaged in a war, however unnecessarily or wantonly it may have been begun, or however weakly and wickedly carried on: who see no danger in repeated disgraces, and impending ruin provided we are obstinately bent on pursuing the same dreadful career which has led to them; who, when our losses come thronging in upon us, urge us to persist till we recover the advantages we have lost, and, when we recovered them, force us on till we lose all again; with whom peace, in a time of adverse fortune, is dishonour, and in the pride of success, madness: who only exaggerate “our pretensions at a peace,” that they may never be complied with; who assume a settled unrelenting purpose in our adversary to destroy us, in order to inspire us with the same principle of never-ending hostility against him: who leave us no alternative but eternal war, or inevitable ruin: who irritate the hatred and the fears of both parties, by spreading abroad incessantly a spirit of defiance, suspicion, and the most galling contempt: who, adapting every aspect of affairs to their own purposes, constantly return in the same circle to the point from which they set out: with whom peace is always unattainable, war always necessary!

***

From the moment that we make the destruction of an enemy (be he who he may) the indispensable condition of our safety, our destruction from that moment becomes necessary to his, and an act of self-defence… “What has this nation of Saxon warriors ever yet endured from France but injury and affliction?” Yet we have made a shift to exist as a nation under all this load of calamity. We still breathe and live notwithstanding some intervals of repose, some short resting places afforded us, before this morbid inspector Doctor Pedro Positive injoined his preposterous regimen of incessant war as necessary to lasting peace, and to our preservation as a people!

***

[I]f it is once laid down and acted upon as a maxim in national morality, that the best and most desirable security of a state is in the destruction of its neighbours, or that there is to be an unrelenting ever watchful critical approximation to this object as far as possible, there is an end of civil society…Terrified with the phantom of imaginary danger, he would have us rush headlong on the reality. We are obstinately to refuse the enjoyment of a moment’s repose, and proceed to commit willful dilapidation on the estate of our happiness, because it is not secured to us by an everlasting tenure. Placed at the mercy of the malice or hypocrisy of every venal alarmist, our only resource must be to seek a refuge from our fears in our own destruction, or to find the gratification of our revenge in that of others…That exclusive patriotism which claims for our country an exemption from “contingent danger” which would place its wealth, its power, or even its safety beyond the reach of chance and the fluctuation of human affairs, claims for it an exemption from the common lot of human nature. That exclusive patriotism which seeks to enforce this claim (equally impious and unwise) by the absolute conquest of rival states, tempts the very ruin it professes to avert.

***

[T]he hired scribbler of a profligate newspaper sits secure and self-satisfied at his desk – with a venomed word, or a lie that looks like truth, sends thousands of his countrymen to death, – receives his pay, and scribbles on, regardless of the dying and the dead! – And this is patriotism.

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From What is the People? (1818)

We appeal to the pen, and they answer us with the point of the bayonet; and, at one time, when that had failed, they were for recommending the dagger…They exalt the war-whoop of the Stock Exchange into the voice of undissembled patriotism, while they set down the cry for peace as the work of the Jacobins, the ventriloquism of the secret enemies of their country…Loyalty, patriotism, and religion, are regarded as the natural virtues and plain unerring instincts of the common people: the mixture of Ignorance or prejudice is never objected to in these: it is only their love of liberty or hatred  of oppression that are discovered, by the same liberal-minded junto, to be proofs of a base and vulgar disposition….The voice of (he country has been for war, because the Voice of the King was for it, which was echoed by Parliament, both Lords and Commons, by Clergy and Gentry, and by the populace, till…the cry for war became so popular that all those who did not join in it…were “persecuted, insulted, and injured in their persons, fame, and fortune.”

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Morning songs

January 28, 2016 Leave a comment

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Jules Barbey D’Aurevilly: The jackals of war

January 27, 2016 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

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Jules Barbey D’Aurevilly
From Bewitched (1852)
Translated by Louis Collier Willcox

All wine has its dregs and every army its brutes. They were those horrible brutes which one finds in the slums of every war, belonging to the inevitable race of jackals who come to sully the blood they lap up after the lions have passed…

Despite the impostures of civilizations there is at the heart of man an eternal barbarism. Recent events have shown us that men are ever ready to recommence past horrors.

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[I]t is always what one understands the least that one explains best. The human mind avenges its ignorance by its errors.

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Morning song

January 27, 2016 Leave a comment

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Montaigne: This furious monster war

January 26, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Montaigne: Selections on war

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Michel de Montaigne
From Apology for Raymond Sebond
Translated by George B. Ives

As for war, which is the mightiest and most magnificent of human actions, I should like to know if we choose to make use of it as an argument in favour of any prerogative, or, on the contrary, as testifying to our weakness and imperfection; for, truly, in the ability to overcome and kill one another, to despoil and injure our own species, there is not much to make it desired by those beasts who have it not…

For those upheavals of war which astound us with their dreadfulness; that storm of sound and outcries, –

Then the glitter rises to the sky, and the whole earth around gleams with brass, and a noise is raised by the mighty trampling of men, and the mountains, struck by the shouting, reverberate the sound to the stars of heaven; –

that terrifying array of so many thousands of armed men; all the fury and ardour and courage – one could laugh in noting by what futile causes it is set in motion, and by what trivial causes suppressed.

[T]his furious monster with so many arms and so many heads is still man, feeble, unfortunate, and miserable. It is but an ant-hill stirred up and excited,

The black troop goes over the fields.

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Morning songs

January 26, 2016 Leave a comment

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Strabo: Ares, the only god they worship

January 25, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Strabo: Studying war is wickedness

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Strabo
From The Geography
Translated by Horace Leonard Jones

Because of the scarcity of horses most of the Carmanians use asses, even for war; and they sacrifice an ass to Ares, the only god they worship, and they are a warlike people. No one marries before he has cut off the head of an enemy and brought it to the king; and the king stores the skull in the royal palace; and he then minces the tongue, mixes it with flour, tastes it himself, and gives it to the man who brought it to him, to be eaten by himself and his family; and that king is held in the highest repute to whom the most heads have been brought.

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Morning song

January 25, 2016 Leave a comment

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Plutarch: The privilege of being wounded and killed in war for the defense of their creditors

January 24, 2016 2 comments

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Plutarch: Selections on war and peace

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Plutarch
Translated by John Dryden

From Poblicola

The year after, Poblicola was made consul the fourth time, when a confederacy of the Sabines and Latins threatened a war…There were appearances of great preparation and of a formidable confederacy. Amongst the Sabines there was one Appius Clausus, a man of great wealth and strength of body, but most eminent for his high character and eloquence; yet, as is usually the fate of great men, he could not escape the envy of others, which was much occasioned by his dissuading the war…Knowing how welcome these reports would be to the multitude, and how offensive to the army and the abettors of the war, he was afraid to stand a trial…

From Pericles

Diopithes proposed a decree, that public accusations should be laid against persons who neglected religion, or taught new doctrines about things above, directing suspicion, by means of Anaxagoras, against Pericles himself. The people receiving and admitting these accusations and complaints, at length, by this means, they came to enact a decree, at the motion of Dracontides, that Pericles should bring in the accounts of the moneys he had expended, and lodge them with the Prytanes; and that the judges, carrying their suffrage from the altar in the Acropolis, should examine and determine the business in the city. This last clause Hagnon took out of the decree, and moved that the causes should be tried before fifteen hundred jurors, whether they should be styled prosecutions for robbery, or bribery, or any kind of malversation. Aspasia, Pericles begged off, shedding, as Aeschines says, many tears at the trial, and personally entreating the jurors. But fearing how it might go with Anaxagoras, he sent him out of the city. And finding that in Phidias’s case he had miscarried with the people, being afraid of impeachment, he kindled the war, which hitherto had lingered and smothered, and blew it up into a flame; hoping, by that means, to disperse and scatter these complaints and charges, and to allay their jealousy; the city usually throwing herself upon him alone, and trusting to his sole conduct, upon the urgency of great affairs and public dangers, by reason of his authority and the sway he bore.

From Coriolanus

The repute of his integrity and courage had, by this time, gained him a considerable influence and authority in Rome, when the senate, favouring the wealthier citizens, began to be at variance with the common people, who made sad complaints of the rigorous and inhuman usage they received from the money-lenders. For as many as were behind with them, and had any sort of property, they stripped of all they had, by the way of pledges and sales; and such as through former exactions were reduced already to extreme indigence, and had nothing more to be deprived of, these they led away in person and put their bodies under constraint, notwithstanding the scars and wounds that they could show in attestation of their public services in numerous campaigns; the last of which had been against the Sabines, which they undertook upon a promise made by their rich creditors that they would treat them with more gentleness for the future, Marcus Valerius, the consul, having, by order from the senate, engaged also for the performance of it. But when, after they had fought courageously and beaten the enemy, there was, nevertheless, no moderation or forbearance used, and the senate also professed to remember nothing of that agreement, and sat without testifying the least concern to see them dragged away like slaves and their goods seized upon as formerly, there began now to be open disorders and dangerous meetings in the city; and the enemy, also, aware of the popular confusion, invaded and laid waste the country. And when the consuls now gave notice, that all who were of an age to bear arms should make their personal appearance, but found no one regard the summons, the members of the government, then coming to consult what course should be taken, were themselves again divided in opinion; some thought it most advisable to comply a little in favour of the poor, by relaxing their overstrained rights, and mitigating the extreme rigour of the law, while others withstood this proposal; Marcius in particular, with more vehemence than the rest, alleging that the business of money on either side was not the main thing in question, urged that this disorderly proceeding was but the first insolent step towards open revolt against the laws, which it would become the wisdom of the government to check at the earliest moment.

There had been frequent assemblies of the whole senate, within a small compass of time, about this difficulty, but without any certain issue; the poor commonalty, therefore, perceiving there was likely to be no redress of their grievances, on a sudden collected in a body, and, encouraging each other in their resolution, forsook the city, with one accord, and seizing the hill which is now called the Holy Mount, sat down by the river Anio, without committing any sort of violence or seditious outrage, but merely exclaiming, as they went along, that they had this long time past been, in fact, expelled and excluded from the city by the cruelty of the rich; that Italy would everywhere afford them the benefit of air and water and a place of burial, which was all they could expect in the city, unless it were, perhaps, the privilege of being wounded and killed in time of war for the defence of their creditors. The senate, apprehending the consequences, sent the most moderate and popular men of their own order to treat with them.

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Morning songs

January 24, 2016 Leave a comment

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William Hazlitt: War is in itself is a thriving, sensible traffic only to cannibals

January 23, 2016 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

William Hazlitt: Selections on war

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William Hazlitt
The Speeches of Western and Broughan (1816)

This is a sore subject; and it is here handled with much tenderness and delicacy. It puts one in mind of the traveller’s nose, and the nuns of Strasburgh, in the tale of Slaukenbergius. “I will touch it, said one; I dare not touch it, said another; I wish I had touched it, said a third; let me touch it, said a fourth.” While the gentlewomen were debating the point, the traveller with the great nose rode on. It would be no ungracious task to treat of the distresses of the country, if all were distressed alike; but that is not the case; nor is it possible to trace the necessities of one part of the community to their source, or to hint at a remedy, without glancing invidiously at the superfluities of others. “Why, there’s the rub, that makes calamity of so long life.” The speeches before us are to the subject what a veil is to a lady’s face, or a blind to a window. Almost all that has been said or written upon it is a palpable delusion – an attempt to speak out and say nothing; to oppose something that might be done, and propose something that cannot be done; to direct attention to the subject, and divert it from it; to do something and nothing; and to come to this potent conclusion, that while nothing is done, nothing can be done. “But have you then any remedy to propose instead?” What sort of a remedy do you mean? “Oh, one equally safe and efficacious, that shall set every thing to rights, and leave every thing just as it is, that does not touch either the tythes or the national debt, nor places and pensions, nor property of any kind, except the poor’s fund; that you may take from them to make them independent of the rich, as you leave Lord Camden in possession of thirty thousand a year to make him independent of the poor.” – Why, then, what if the Lord Chancellor and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to play a game at push-pin on the top of St. Paul’s; or if Mr Brougham and Mr Horner were to play at cat’s-cradle on the top of the Monument; or if the little garden between the Speaker’s house and the river-side were to be sown with pearls and cockle-shells? Or if – Pshaw! Patience, and shuffle the cards.

The great problem of our great problem-finders appears to be, to take nothing from the rich, and give it to the poor. That will never do. We find them and their schemes of diversion well described in Rabelais, book v. chap. xxii.

“How Queen Whims’ officers were employed; and how the said Lady retained us among her Abstractors.”
“I then saw a great number of the queen’s officers, who made blackamoors white as fast as hops, just rubbing their bellies with the bottom of a pannier.
“Others, with three couples of foxes in one yoke, ploughed a sandy shore, and did not lose their seed.
“Others washed burnt tiles, and made them lose their colour.
“Others extracted water out of pumice-stones, braying them a good while in a mortar, and changed their substance.
“Others sheared asses, and thus got long fleece wool.
“Others gathered off of thorns grapes, and figs off of thistles.
“Others stroked he-goats by the dugs, and saved their milk; and much they got by it.
“Others washed asses’ heads without losing their soap.
“Others taught cows to dance, and did not lose their fiddling.
“Others pitched nets to catch the wind, and took cock-lobsters in them.
“Others out of nothing made great things, and made great things return to nothing.
“Others made a virtue of necessity, and the best of a bad market, which seemed to me a very good piece of work.
“I saw two Gibroins by themselves keeping watch on the top of a tower, and we were told they guarded the moon from the wolves.”

The war has cost the country five or six hundred millions of money. This has not been a nominal expence, a playing at ducks and drakes with the King’s picture on the water, or a manufacturing of bank-notes, and then lighting our pipes with them, but real bona fide waste of the means, wealth, labour, produce or resources of the country, in the carrying on of the war. About one hundred of these five or six hundred millions have been sent directly out of the country in loans to our Allies, from the year 1793 to the year 1815, inclusive, during which period there is not a single year in which we did not (from our desire of peace with the legitimate government of that country) subsidise one or all of the powers of Europe to carry on war against the rebels, regicides, republicans and usurpers of France. Now the interest on this money alone would be five millions yearly, which would be nearly enough to pay the amount of the poor-rates of the whole country, which is seven millions of our yearly taxes, or might at least be applied to mitigate the mild severity of Mr Malthus’s sweeping clauses on that defenceless part of the subject. Here is a hundred millions then gone clean out of the country: there are four of five hundred millions more which have been sunk in the expenses of the war, and which might as well have been sunk in the sea; or what has been saved out of the wreck by those who have been most active in running the vessel aground, is in the hands of persons who are in no hurry that the public should go snacks with them in their excessive good fortune. In all three cases, and under each several head of loans, waste, or monopoly, John Bull pays the piper, or the interest of the whole money in taxes. He is just so many hundred millions the worse for the war, (whoever may be the better for it) not merely in paper, which would be nothing, nor in golden guineas, which would be something; but in what is better and more substantial than either, in goods and chattels, in the produce of the soil, and the work of his hands – in the difference between what the industry of man, left to itself, produces in time for peace for the benefit of man, and what the same industry, under the direction of government, produces in time of war for the destruction of others, without any benefit to himself, real, imaginary, or pretended; we mean in a physical and economical point of view, which is here the question – a question, which seems to last when the religion, politics, and morality of the affair are over. We have said that the expenses of the war might as well have been sunk in the sea; and so they might, for they have been sunk in unproductive labour, that is, in maintaining large establishments, and employing great numbers of men in doing nothing or mischief; for example, in making ships to destroy other ships, guns and gun-powder to blow out men’s brains, pikes and swords to run them through the body, drums and fifes to drown the noise of cannon and the whizzing of bullets, in making caps and coats to deck the bodies of those who live by killing others; in buying up pork and beef, butter and cheese to enable them to do this with more effect: in barracks, in transport-ships, in baggage and baggage-waggons, on horses, bridles and saddles in suttlers and followers of the camp, in chaplains of the regiment, in common trulls, and the mistresses of generals and commanders in chief; in contractors, in army and navy agents, their partners, clerks, relations, dependents, wives, families, servants in and out of livery, their town and country houses, coaches, curricles, parks, gardens, grottos, hot-houses, green-houses, pictures, statues, libraries; in treasury scribes, in secretaries and under-secretaries of state, of the foreign, colonial, and war departments, with their swarms of underlings, all of whom are maintained out the labour and sweat of the country, and for all of whom, and for all that they do (put together) the country is not one pin the better, or at least, one penny more in pocket, than if they were at the bottom of the Channel. The present may have been the most just and necessary war, in a political, moral and religious point of view, that ever was engaged in; but it has also been the most expensive; and what is worse, the expense remains just the same, though it may have been the most unjust and unnecessary in the world. We have paid for it and we must pay for it equally in either case, and wholly out of our own pockets. The price of restoring the Pope, the Inquisition, the Bourbons and the doctrine of Divine Right, is half of our nine hundred millions of debt. That is the amount of the government bill of costs, presented to John Bull for payment, not of the principle but the interest; that is what he has got by the war; the load of taxes at his back, with which he comes out of his glorious five and twenty-years’ struggle, like Christian’s load of sins, which whether it will not fall off from his back like Christian’s, into the Slough of Despond, will be seen before long. The difference between the expense of war or a peace establishment is just the difference between a state of productive and unproductive labour. Now this whole question, which from its complexity puzzles many people, and has given rise to a great deal of partly wilful and partly shallow sophistry, may be explained in two words. – Suppose I give a man five shillings a day for going out in a boat and catching fish for me. This is paying for productive labour: that is, I give him so much for what he does, or a claim upon so much of the public stock: but in taking so much from the stock, by laying out his five shillings, he adds so much to it by his labour, or the disposal of his time it catching fish. But if I, having the money to do what I please with, give him five shillings a day for shooting at crows, he is paid equally for his trouble, and accordingly takes so much from the public stock, while he adds nothing to it but so much carrion. So if the government pay him so much a-day for shooting at Frenchmen and Republicans, this is a tax, a loss, a burthen to the country, without any thing got by it; for we cannot, after all, eat Frenchmen and Republicans when we have killed them. War is in itself is a thriving, sensible traffic only to cannibals! Again – if I give a man five shillings for making a pair of shoes, this is paying for productive labour, viz. for labour that is useful, and that must be performed by some one; but if I give the same man five shillings for standing on his head or behind my chair while I am picking my teeth, or for running up a hill and down again for a wager – this is unproductive labour, nothing comes of it, and though the man who thus idly employed live by it, others starve, upon whose pittance and whose labour he lives through me. Such is the nature and effect of war; all the energies of which tend to waste, and to throw an additional and heavy burthen upon the country, in proportion to the extent and length of time that it is carried on. It creates so many useless members of the community: every man paid by the war out of the taxes paid by the people, is, in fact, a dead body fastened to a living one, that by its weight drags it to the earth. A five and twenty years’ war, and nine hundred millions in debt, are really a couple of millstones round the neck of a country, that must naturally press her down a little in the scale of prosperity. That seems to be no riddle. We defy any sophist to answer this statement of the necessary tendency of war in its general principle to ruin and impoverish a country. We are not to wonder, when it does so; but when other causes operate to counteract or retard this tendency. What is extraordinary in our own case is, that the pernicious effects of war have been delayed so long, not that they have come upon us at last. – That money laid out in war is thrown away is self-evident from this single circumstance, that government never refund. The reason is, because they never do any thing with their money that produces money again. They are the worst bankers in the world. The exchequer is a true Sinking Fund. If you lend money to a farmer, a manufacturer, a merchant, he employs it in getting something done for which others will pay, because it is useful; as in raising corn, in weaving cotton, in bringing home sugar or tobacco. But money sunk in a war brings in no returns – except of killed and wounded. What will any one give the government for the rotten bones that lie buried at Walcheren, or the dry ones at Waterloo? Not a six-pence. They cannot make a collection of wooden legs or dangling sleeves from the hospitals at Greenwich or Chelsea to set up a raffle or a lottery. They cannot bring the fruits of war to auction, or put up the tottering throne of the Bourbons to the best bidder. They can neither bring back a drop of the blood that has been shed, nor recover a shilling of the treasure that has been wasted. If the expenses of the war are not a burden to the people, which must sink it according to their weight, why do not government take the whole of this thriving concern into their own hands, and pay the national debt out of the Droits of Admiralty? In short, the way to ascertain this point is, by the old method of reductio ad absurdam: Suppose we had to pay the expense of such another peace-establishment and such another war. Who does not see that they would eat up the whole resources of the country, as the present peace-establishment and the actual debt do just one half?

[Second Part]

“Come, let us leave off children’s play, and go to push-pin.”
Polite Conversation.

The war has wasted the resources of the country in foolery, which the country has now to pay for in a load of taxes on its remaining resources, its actual produce and labour. The tax-gatherer is a government-machine that takes sixty-five millions a-year from the bankrupt pockets of the nation, to give to those who have brought it into that situation; who take so much from the necessaries of life belonging to the poor, to add to the superfluities of the rich; who adds so much to the hard labour of the working part of the community, to “relieve the killing languor and over-laboured lassitude of those who have nothing to do;” who, in short, out of the grinding poverty and ceaseless toil of those who pay the taxes, enables those who receive them to live in luxury and idleness.

Mr Burke, whom we have just quoted, has said that “if the poor were to cut the throats of the rich, they would not have a meal the more for it.” First, (for truth is the first thing in our thoughts, and not to give offence the second) this is a falsehood; a greater one than the answer of a Bond-street lounger, who coming out of a confectioner’s shop, where he has had a couple of basins of turtle-soup, an ice, some jellies, and a quantity of pastry, as he saunters out picking his teeth and putting the change into his pockets, says to a beggar at the door, “I have nothing for you.” We confess, we have always felt it an awkward circumstance to be accosted in this manner, when we have been caught in the act of indulging a sweet tooth, and it costs us an additional penny. The rich and poor may at present be compared to the two classes of frequenters of pastry-cooks’ shops, those on the outside and those on the in. We would seriously advise the later, who see the gaunt faces staring at them through the glass door, to recollect, that though custard is nicer than bread, bread is the greatest necessary of the two. – We had forgot Mr Burke’s sophism, to which we reply in the second place, that the cutting of throats is a figure of speech, like the dagger which he produced in the House of Commons, not necessary to the speculative decision of the question. The most civil, peaceable, and complaisant way of putting it is this – whether if the rich were to give all that they are worth to the poor, the latter would be none the richer for it? If so, the rich would be none the poorer, and so far could be no losers on Mr Burke’s own hypotheses, which supposes, with that magnanimity of contempt for plain matter of fact which distinguished the author’s theories, that the rich have nothing, and the poor have every thing? Had not Mr Burke a pension of 4000£. a year? Was this nothing? But even this is not the question neither. It is not, whether if the rich were to part with all they have to the poor (which is a mere absurdity) but whether if the rich do not take all they have left from the poor (which we humbly hope is a proposition that has common sense in it) the latter may not be the better off with something to live upon than with nothing? Whether, if the whole load of taxes could be taken off from them, it would not be a relief to them? Whether, if half the load of taxes were taken off from them, it would not be a relief to them? Whether, if any part of the load of taxes that can be taken off from them were taken off, it would not be in the same proportion be relief to them? We will venture to say, that no one will deny these propositions who does not receive so much a year for falsehood and impudence. The resistance which is made to the general or abstract principle is not intended to prevent the extreme sweeping application of that principle to the plundering or (as Mr Burke will have it) to the cutting of the throats of the rich, but it is a manoeuvre, by getting rid of the general principle altogether, viz. that the extravagance and luxury of the rich, war, taxes, &c. have a tendency to increase the distresses of the poor, or measures of retrenchment and reform to lighten those distresses – to give carte-blanche to the government to squander the wealth, the blood, the happiness of the nation at pleasure; to grant jobs, places, pensions, sinecures, reversions without end, to grind down, to starve and impoverish the country with systematic impunity. It is a legerdemain trick played off by hireling politicians, to enable their patrons and employers to pick our pockets and laugh in our faces at the same time.

It has been said by such person that taxes are not a burthen to the country; that the wealth collected in taxes returns through those who receive to those who pay them, only divided more equally and beneficially among all parties, just (they say) as the vapours and moisture of the earth collected in the clouds return to enrich the soil in soft and fertilizing showers. We shall set ourselves to shew that this is not true.

Suppose a society of ten persons, without taxes to pay, and who live on their own labour on the produce of the ground, and the exchange of one commodity among themselves for another. Some of these persons will be naturally employed in tilling the ground, others in tending cattle, others in making instruments of husbandry, others in waving cloth, others in making shoes, others in building houses, others in making roads, others in buying and selling, other in fetching and carrying what the others want. All will be employed in something that they want themselves, or that others want. In such a state of society, nothing will be given for nothing. If a man has a bushel of wheat, and only wants half of it, he will give the other half to some one, for making him a coat or a pair of shoes. As every one will be paid for what he does out of the earnings of the labour of others, no one will waste his time or his strength in doing any thing that is not wanted by some one else, that is not as useful and necessary to his subsistence and comfort, and more so, than the commodity which he gives in exchange for it. There will be no unproductive labour. What each person gets will be either in proportion to what he has done for himself, or what he has added to the comforts of others. Exchange there will be no robbery. The wealth of all will be the results of the exertions of each individual, and will circulate equally and beneficially, because those who produce that wealth will share it among themselves. This is an untaxed state of society, where wealth changes hands indeed, but finds its level, notwithstanding. – Now suppose two other individuals to be fastened upon this society of ten persons – a government-man and a fund-holder. They change the face of it in an instant. The equilibrium, the balance is upset. The amount of the wealth of the society before was a thousand pound a-year, suppose. The two new-comers take a writ out of their pockets, by which they quietly lay hands on five hundred of it as their fair portion. Where are the ten persons now? Mr Burke, Mr Coleridge, Mr Vanstitart, The Courier, say – Just where they were before! We say, No such thing. For three reasons: 1. It cannot be denied that the interlopers, the government-man and his friend, the fund-holder, who has lent him money to sport with on all occasions, are substantial bona fide persons, like other men., who live by eating, drinking &c. and who, if they only shared equally with the other ten what they had got amongst them, (for they added nothing to the common stock) must be a sufficient burthen upon the rest, that is, must diminish the comforts or increase the labour of each person one-fifth. To hear the other side talk, one would suppose that those who raise and are paid out of the taxes never touch a farthing of them, that they have no occasion for them, that they neither eat nor drink, nor buy clothing, or build houses with them; that they live upon air, or that harmless food, bank notes (a thing not to speak of), and that all the money they are so anxious to collect is distributed by them again for the sole benefit of others, or passes back through the Exchequer, as if it were a conduit-pipe or empty tunnel, in the hands of the original proprietors, without diminution or diversion. Now this is not so. 2. Not only do our government-man and his friend live like other people upon their means, but they live better than other people for they have better means, that is, these two take half of what the other ten get. They would be fools if they gave it back to them; no, depend upon it, they lay out their five hundred a-year upon themselves, for their own sole use, benefit, pleasure, mirth and pastime. For each of these gentleman has just five times as much to spend as any of those that he lives upon at free cost, and he has nothing to do but to think how he shall spend it. He eats and drinks as much as he can, and always of the best and most costly. It is pretended that the difference in the consumption of the produce of the soil is little or nothing, for a poor man’s belly will hold as much as a rich man’s. But not if the one is full, and the other empty. The man who lives upon the taxes, feasts upon venison and turtle, and crams himself to the throat with fish, flesh, and fowl; the man who pays the taxes, upon a crust of mouldy bread, and fat rusty bacon: the man who receives the taxes drinks rich and sparkling wines, hock and canary; the man who pays them, sour small beer. If the poor man gets drunk and leads an idle life, his family starve: the rich man drinks his three bottles a day and does nothing, while his family live on the fat of the land. If the poor man dies of hard labour and poor living, his family comes to the parish; if the rich man dies of hard living and want of exercise, he leaves his family to be provided for by the state. But, 3. All that the government-man and the fund-holder do not spend upon their bellies, in reveling and gormandising, they lay out upon their backs, their houses, their carriages, &c in inordinate demands upon the labour of the former ten persons, who are now employed, not in working for one another, but in pampering the pride, ostentation, vanity, folly, or vices of our two gentleman comers. After glutting their physical appetites, they take care to apply all the rest to the gratification of their factitious, arbitrary, and fantastic wants, which are unlimited, and which the universe could not supply. “They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these:” – while the poor are clothed in rags, and the dogs lick up their sores. The money that is taken from you and me, or the more industrious members of the community, and that we should have laid on in having snug, comfortable houses built for us all, or two bed-rooms for our families instead of one, is employed, now that it has got into the tax-gatherer’s hands, in hiring the same persons to build two enormous houses for the government-man and the fund-holder, who live in palaces while we live in hovels. What are we, the people, the original ten men, the better for that? The taxes enable those who receive them to pay our masons, carpenters, &c. for working for them. If we had not been forced to pay the money in taxes, the same persons would have been employed by us for our common benefit. Suppose the government-man takes it into his head to build a colossus, a rotunda, a pyramid, or any thing else equally absurd and gigantic, it would, we say, be a nuisance in proportion to its size. It would be ten times as great a nuisance if it was ten times bigger. If it covered a whole county, it would ruin the landed interest. If it was spread over the whole country, the country must starve. When the government-man and the fund holder, have got their great houses built, they must next have them furnished with proportionable magnificence, and by the same means; with Persian and Turkey carpets, with Egyptian sofas, down beds, silk curtains, china vases, services of plate, tables chairs, stoves, glasses, mirrors, chandeliers, paper hangings, pictures, busts, ornaments, kickshaws without number, while you and I live on a mud floor, with bare walls, stuck with a penny ballad, with a joint-stool to sit upon, a tea-pot without a tea-spout to drink out of, a truckle-bed or some straw and a blanket to lie upon! Yet Mr. Burke says, that if we were suddenly converted into state-pensioners with thirty-thousand a-year, we could not furnish our houses a bit the better for it. This is like Lord Peter, in the Tale of a Tub. Then the government-man and his friend must have their train of coaches, horses, dogs, footmen dressed in blue, green, yellow, and red, lazy rascals, making work for the taylor, the hatter, the shoe-maker, the button-maker, the hair-dresser, the gold and silver laceman, to powder, dress and trick them out, that they may lounge behind their mistresess’ coaches, walk before their sedan chairs, help on their master’s stockings, block up his doors, and perform a variety of little nameless offices much to the ease and satisfaction of the great, but not of the smallest benefit to any one else. With respect to the article of dogs and horses, a word in Mr Malthus’s ear. They come under the head of consumption, and a swinging item they are. They eat up the food of the children of the poor. The pleasure and coach-horses kept in this kingdom consume as much of the produce of the soil as would maintain all the paupers in it. Let a tax be laid upon them directly, to defray the expense of the poor-rates, and to suspend the operation of Mr Malthus’s geometrical and arithmetical ratios. We see no physical necessity why that ingenious divine should put a stop to the propagation of the species that he may keep two sleek geldings in his stable. We have lately read Swift’s account of the Houyuhyms and Yahoos. There is some truth in it; but still it has not reconciled us to Mr Malthus’s proposal of starving the children of the poor to feed the horses of the rich. But no more of that! We have said enough at present to shew how taxes fly away with the money of a nation; how they go into the hands of the government-man and the fund holder, and do not return into the pockets of the people, who pay them. For the future, Mr. Burke’s assertion, that the taxes are like the vapours that ascend into the clouds and return to earth in fertilizing showers, may pass for an agreeable metaphor, but for nothing more. A pretty joke truly, this of people’s receiving their taxes back again in payment for what the rich want of them. It is as if I should buy a pound of beef in a butcher’s shop, and take the money out of his own till to pay him! It is as if a bill is presented to me for payment, and I ask the notary for the money to take it up with! It is as if a Noble Earl was to win 50,000 pounds. of a Noble Duke over-night, and offer to return it to him the next morning, for one of his estates! It is as if Mr Burke had been robbed of a bond for 4000 pounds. and the fortunate possessor had offered to restore it, on receiving in lieu his house and gardens at Beaconsfield! Having thus pointed out the nature of the distress, we need not inquire far for the remedy.

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Morning song

January 23, 2016 Leave a comment

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Velleius Paterculus: License of the sword inevitably leads to wars for profit

January 22, 2016 Leave a comment

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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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Velleius Paterculus
From Roman History
Translated by Frederick W. Shipley

As Gracchus fled, and was running down the steps which led from the Capitol, he was struck by the fragment of a bench, and ended by an untimely death the life which he might have made a glorious one. This was the beginning in Rome of civil bloodshed, and of the licence of the sword. From this time on right was crushed by might, the most powerful now took precedence in the state, the disputes of the citizens which were once healed by amicable agreements were now settled by arms, and wars were now begun not for good cause but for what profit there was in them. Nor is this to be wondered at; for precedents do not stop where they begin, but, however narrow the path upon which they enter, they create for themselves a highway whereon they may wander with the utmost latitude; and when once the path of right is abandoned, men are hurried into wrong in headlong haste, nor does anyone think a course is base for himself which has proven profitable to others.

***

Though I frequently search for the reasons why men of similar talents occur exclusively in certain epochs and not only flock to one pursuit but also attain like success, I can never find any of whose truth I am certain, though I do find some which perhaps seem likely, and particularly the following. Genius is fostered by emulation, and it is now envy, now admiration, which enkindles imitation, and, in the nature of things, that which is cultivated with the highest zeal advances to the highest perfection; but it is difficult to continue at the point of perfection, and naturally that which cannot advance must recede. And as in the beginning we are fired with the ambition to overtake those whom we regard as leaders, so when we have despaired of being able either to surpass or even to equal them, our zeal wanes with our hope; it ceases to follow what it cannot overtake, and abandoning the old field as though pre-empted, it seeks a new one. Passing over that in which we cannot be pre-eminent, we seek for some new object of our effort. It follows that the greatest obstacle in the way of perfection in any work is our fickle way of passing on at frequent intervals to something else.

****

[W]e are naturally more inclined to praise what we have heard than what has occurred before our eyes; we regard the present with envy, the past with veneration, and believe that we are eclipsed by the former, but derive instruction from the latter.

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Morning song

January 22, 2016 Leave a comment

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Montaigne: Blood on the sword: From slaughter of animals to slaughter of men

January 21, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Montaigne: Selections on war

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Michel de Montaigne
From Of Cruelty
Translated by Charles Cotton

I could hardly persuade myself, before I saw it with my eyes, that there could be found souls so cruel and fell, who, for the sole pleasure of murder, would commit it; would hack and lop off the limbs of others; sharpen their wits to invent unusual torments and new kinds of death, without hatred, without profit, and for no other end but only to enjoy the pleasant spectacle of the gestures and motions, the lamentable groans and cries of a man dying in anguish. For this is the utmost point to which cruelty can arrive:

“Ut homo hominem, non iratus, non timens,
tantum spectaturus, occidat.”

[“That a man should kill a man, not being angry, not
in fear, only for the sake of the spectacle.”
–Seneca, Ep., 90.]

For my own part, I cannot without grief see so much as an innocent beast pursued and killed that has no defence, and from which we have received no offence at all; and that which frequently happens, that the stag we hunt, finding himself weak and out of breath, and seeing no other remedy, surrenders himself to us who pursue him, imploring mercy by his tears:

“Questuque cruentus,
Atque imploranti similis,”

[“Who, bleeding, by his tears seems to crave mercy.”
–Aenead, vii. 501.]

has ever been to me a very unpleasing sight; and I hardly ever take a beast alive that I do not presently turn out again. Pythagoras bought them of fishermen and fowlers to do the same:

“Primoque a caede ferarum,
Incaluisse puto maculatum sanguine ferrum.”

[“I think ’twas slaughter of wild beasts that first stained
the steel of man with blood.” – Ovid, Met., xv. 106.]

Those natures that are sanguinary towards beasts discover a natural proneness to cruelty. After they had accustomed themselves at Rome to spectacles of the slaughter of animals, they proceeded to those of the slaughter of men, of gladiators. Nature has herself, I fear, imprinted in man a kind of instinct to inhumanity; nobody takes pleasure in seeing beasts play with and caress one another, but every one is delighted with seeing them dismember, and tear one another to pieces.

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Morning song

January 21, 2016 Leave a comment

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Plutarch: Venus, who more than the rest of the gods and goddesses abhors force and war

January 20, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Plutarch: Selections on war and peace

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Plutarch
Translated by John Dryden

From Coriolanus

“[We] do but desire a deliverance equally expedient for them and us; only more glorious and honourable on the Volscian side, who, as superior in arms, will be thought freely to bestow the two greatest of blessings, peace and friendship, even when they themselves receive the same. If we obtain these, the common thanks will be chiefly due to you as the principal cause; but if they be not granted, you alone must expect to bear the blame from both nations. The chance of all war is uncertain, yet thus much is certain in the present, that you, by conquering Rome, will only get the reputation of having undone your country; but if the Volscians happen to be defeated under your conduct, then the world will say, that, to satisfy a revengeful humour, you brought misery on your friends and patrons.”

From Marcellus

Marcellus, at length recalled by the people of Rome to the immediate war at home, to illustrate his triumph, and adorn the city, carried away with him a great number of the most beautiful ornaments of Syracuse. For, before that, Rome neither had, nor had seen, any of those fine and exquisite rarities; nor was any pleasure taken in graceful and elegant pieces of workmanship. Stuffed with barbarous arms and spoils stained with blood, and everywhere crowned with triumphal memorials and trophies, she was no pleasant or delightful spectacle for the eyes of peaceful or refined spectators; but, as Epaminondas named the fields of Boeotia the stage of Mars; and Xenophon called Ephesus the workhouse of war; so, in my judgment, may you call Rome, at that time (to use the words of Pindar), “the precinct of the peaceless Mars.” Whence Marcellus was more popular with the people in general, because he had adorned the city with beautiful objects that had all the charms of Grecian grace and symmetry; but Fabius Maximus, who neither touched nor brought away anything of this kind from Tarentum, when he had taken it, was more approved of by the elder men. He carried off the money and valuables, but forbade the statues to be moved; adding, as it is commonly related, “Let us leave to the Tarentines these offended gods.” They blamed Marcellus, first for placing the city in an invidious position, as it seemed now to celebrate victories and lead processions of triumph, not only over men, but also over the gods as captives…

He triumphed upon the Alban mount, and thence entered the city in ovation, as it is called in Latin, in Greek eua; but in this ovation he was neither carried in a chariot, nor crowned with laurel, nor ushered by trumpets sounding; but went afoot with shoes on, many flutes or pipes sounding in concert, while he passed along, wearing a garland of myrtle, in a peaceable aspect, exciting rather love and respect than fear. Whence I am, by conjecture, led to think that, originally, the difference observed betwixt ovation and triumph did not depend upon the greatness of the achievements, but the manner of performing them. For they who, having fought a set battle, and slain the enemy, returned victors, led that martial, terrible triumph, and, as the ordinary custom then was in lustrating the army, adorned the arms and the soldiers with a great deal of laurel. But they who without force, by colloquy, persuasion, and reasoning, had done the business, to these captains custom gave the honour of the unmilitary and festive ovation. For the pipe is the badge of peace, and myrtle the plant of Venus, who more than the rest of the gods and goddesses abhors force and war. It is called ovation, not as most think, from the Greek euasmus, because they act it with shouting and cries of Eua: for so do they also the proper triumphs. The Greeks have wrested the word to their own language, thinking that this honour, also, must have some connection with Bacchus, who in Greek has the titles of Euius and Thriambus. But the thing is otherwise. For it was the custom for commanders, in their triumph, to immolate an ox, but in their ovation, a sheep: hence they named it Ovation, from the Latin ovis. It is worth observing, how exactly opposite the sacrifices appointed by the Spartan legislator are to those of the Romans. For at Lacedaemon, a captain, who had performed the work he had undertook by cunning, or courteous treaty, on laying down his command, immolated an ox; he that did the business by battle, offered a cock; the Lacedaemonians, though most warlike, thinking exploit performed by reason and wisdom to be more excellent and more congruous to man, than one effected by mere force and courage. Which of the two is to be preferred I leave to the determination of others.

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Morning song

January 20, 2016 Leave a comment

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Strabo: Studying war is wickedness

January 19, 2016 1 comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Strabo: Ares, the only god they worship

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Strabo
From The Geography
Translated by Horace Leonard Jones

Onesieritus…describes…the country of Musicanus, lauding it rather at length for things of which some are reported as common also to other Indians, as, for example, their length of life…and simple diet, even though their country has an abundance of everything. Peculiar to them is the fact that they have a kind of Laconian common mess, where they eat in public…and that they do not use gold or silver, although they have mines; and instead of slaves they use young men in the vigour of life…and that they make no accurate study of the sciences except that of medicine, for they regard too much training in some of them as wickedness; for example, military science and the like…

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William Hazlitt: Selections on war

January 18, 2016 Leave a comment
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Morning songs

January 18, 2016 Leave a comment

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Julian: Reforming the evils that war has caused

January 17, 2016 Leave a comment

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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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Julian
Translated by Wilmer Cave Wright

From Letter to Themistius

Who, I ask you, ever found salvation through the conquests of Alexander? What city was more wisely governed because of them, what individual improved? Many indeed you might find whom these conquests enriched, but not one whom they made wiser or more temperate than he was by nature, if indeed they have not made him more insolent and arrogant…

From The Caesars

I did not give way to boundless ambition and aim at enlarging her empire at all costs, but assigned for it two boundaries defined as it were by nature itself, the Danube and the Euphrates. Then after conquering the Scythians and the Thracians I did not employ the long reign that you gods vouchsafed me in making projects for war after war, but devoted my leisure to legislation and to reforming the evils that war has caused.

 

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Morning song

January 17, 2016 Leave a comment

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Lactantius: The arms of the nations shall be burnt; and now there shall be no war, but peace and everlasting rest

January 16, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Lactantius: Selections on war

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Lactantius
From Divine Institutes
Translated by William Fletcher

For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among men. Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself, nor to accuse any one of a capital charge, because it makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited. Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception at all; but that it is always unlawful to put to death a man, whom God willed to be a sacred animal.

***

Therefore, as the end of this world approaches, the condition of human affairs must undergo a change, and through the prevalence of wickedness become worse; so that now these times of ours, in which iniquity and impiety have increased even to the highest degree, may be judged happy and almost golden in comparison of that incurable evil. For righteousness will so decrease, and impiety, avarice, desire, and lust will so greatly increase, that if there shall then happen to be any good men, they will be a prey to the wicked, and will be harassed on all sides by the unrighteous; while the wicked alone will be in opulence, but the good will be afflicted in all calumnies and in want. All justice will be confounded, and the laws will be destroyed. No one will then have anything except that which has been gained or defended by the hand: boldness and violence will possess all things. There will be no faith among men, nor peace, nor kindness, nor shame, nor truth; and thus also there will be neither security, nor government, nor any rest from evils. For all the earth will be in a state of tumult; wars will everywhere rage; all nations will be in arms, and will oppose one another; neighbouring states will carry on conflicts with each other…Then the sword will traverse the world, mowing down everything, and laying low all things as a crop…For when Carthage was taken away, which was long its rival in power, it stretched out its hands by land and sea over the whole world, until, having subdued all kings and nations, when the materials for war now failed, it abused its strength, by which it destroyed itself.

***

Then for seven continuous years the woods shall be untouched, nor shall timber be cut from the mountains, but the arms of the nations shall be burnt; and now there shall be no war, but peace and everlasting rest. But when the thousand years shall be completed, the world shall be renewed by God, and the heavens shall be folded together, and the earth shall be changed, and God shall transform men into the similitude of angels, and they shall be white as snow…

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Morning song

January 16, 2016 Leave a comment

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William Hazlitt: Ultima ratio regum: liberals and conservatives united by leaden bullets and steel bayonets

January 15, 2016 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

William Hazlitt: Selections on war

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William Hazlitt
From the preface to Political Essays, with Sketches of Public Characters (1819)

Talk of mobs as we will, the only true mob is that incorrigible mass of knaves and fools in every country, who never think at all, and who never feel for any one but themselves. I call any assembly of people a mob (be it the House of Lords or House of Commons) where each person’s opinion on any question is governed by what others say of it, and by what he can get by it. The only instance of successful resistance in the House of Commons to Ministers for many years was in the case of the Income-Tax; which touched their own pockets nearly.

***

A modern Whig is but the fag-end of a Tory…But the Opposition have pressed so long against the Ministry without effect, that being the softer substance and made of more yielding materials, they have been moulded into their image and superscription, spelt backwards, or they differ as concave and convex, or they go together like substantive and adjective, or like man and wife, they two have become one flesh…To interfere between them is as dangerous as to interfere in a matrimonial squabble. To overturn the one is to trip up the heels of the other….But the leaden bullets and steel bayonets, the ultima ratio regum by which these questions are practically decided, do their business in another-guess manner; they do not stand on the same ceremony.

***

From The Bourbons and Bonaparte (1813)

It is the spirit of treating the French people as of a different species from ourselves – as a monster or a non-entity – of disposing of their government at the will of every paragraph-monger – of arming our hatred against them by ridiculous menaces and incessant reproaches – of supposing that their power was either so tremendous as to threaten the existence of all nations, or so contemptible that we could crush it by a word, – it is this uniform system, practised by the incendiaries of the press, of inflaming our prejudices and irritating our passions, that has so often made us rush upon disaster, and submit to every extremity rather than forego the rancorous and headstrong desire of revenge.

***

Instead of a proud repose on our own strength and courage, these writers only feel secure in the destruction of an adversary. The natural intoxication of success is heightened into a sort of delirium by the recollection of the panic into which they had been thrown. The Times‘ editor thinks that nothing can be so easy as for an army “to run with the stream of popular feeling” from one end of Europe to the other. Strange that these persons, like desperate adventurers, are incorrigible to experience. They are always setting out on the same forlorn hope. The tide of fortune, while it sets in strong against us, they prove to be the most variable of all things; but it no sooner changes in our favour, than it straight

“Flows on to the Propontic,
And knows no ebb.”

To encourage themselves in the extravagance of their voluntary delusions, they are as prodigal of titles of honour as the college of heralds, and erect a standard of military fame, with all the authority, but not with the impartiality of history. Lord Wellington is “the great commander,” and “the unconquered general,” while “the little captain,” and “the hero” or “the deserter of Smorgonne,” are the only qualifications of Bonaparte.

***

We can easily believe…”it was ever the fault of our English nation” to wish to interfere with what did not concern them, for the very reason that they could interfere with comparative impunity. What is sport to them is death to others. The writer also draws a parallel as if it were a feasible case, between Holland, Spain, and Germany throwing off a foreign yoke, and the French throwing off their own; in other words, submitting to a foreign one. We beg pardon of these acute discriminators. We know they have an answer. We leave them in possession of the nice distinction – between a foreign yoke, and a yoke imposed by foreigners!

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Plutarch: Motivations and consequences of war

January 14, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Plutarch: Selections on war and peace

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Plutarch
Translated by John Dryden

From Caius Marius

There was now an edict preferred to recall Metellus from banishment; this he vigorously, but in vain, opposed both by word and deed, and was at length obliged to desist…For, in fact, being a man altogether ignorant of civil life and ordinary politics, he received all his advancement from war; and supposing his power and glory would by little and little decrease by his lying quietly out of action, he was eager by every means to excite some new commotions, and hoped that by setting at variance some of the kings, and by exasperating Mithridates, especially, who was then apparently making preparations for war, he himself should be chosen general against him, and so furnish the city with new matter of triumph, and his own house with the plunder of Pontus and the riches of its king.

From Nicias

The Athenians and the Spartans had before this concluded a truce for a year, and during this, by associating with one another, they had tasted again the sweets of peace and security and unimpeded intercourse with friends and connections, and thus longed for an end of that fighting and bloodshed, and heard with delight the chorus sing such verses as –

” – my lance I’ll leave
Laid by, for spiders to o’erweave,”

and remembered with joy the saying, In peace, they who sleep are awaked by the cock-crow, not by the trumpet. So shutting their ears, with loud reproaches, to the forebodings of those who said that the Fates decreed this to be a war of thrice nine years, the whole question having been debated, they made a peace. And most people thought, now, indeed, they had got an end of all their evils. And Nicias was in every man’s mouth, as one especially beloved of the gods, who, for his piety and devotion, had been appointed to give a name to the fairest and greatest of all blessings. For in fact they considered the peace Nicias’s work, as the war the work of Pericles; because he, on light occasions, seemed to have plunged the Greeks into great calamities, while Nicias had induced them to forget all the evils they had done each other and to be friends again; and so to this day it is called the Peace of Nicias.

From Agesilaus

For as we see in human bodies, long used to a very strict and too exquisitely regular diet, any single great disorder is usually fatal; so here one stroke overthrew the whole state’s long prosperity. Nor can we be surprised at this. Lycurgus had formed a polity admirably designed for the peace, harmony, and virtuous life of the citizens; and their fall came from their assuming foreign dominion and arbitrary sway, things wholly undesirable, in the judgment of Lycurgus, for a well-conducted and happy state.

From Alexander

It being my purpose to write the lives of Alexander the king, and of Caesar, by whom Pompey was destroyed, the multitude of their great actions affords so large a field that I were to blame if I should not by way of apology forewarn my reader that I have chosen rather to epitomize the most celebrated parts of their story, than to insist at large on every particular circumstance of it. It must be borne in mind that my design is not to write histories, but lives. And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men; sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever…

From Phocion

When he was then attacked by Hyperides, who asked him when the time would come that he would advise the Athenians to make war. “As soon,” said he, “as I find the young men keep their ranks, the rich men contribute their money, and the orators leave off robbing the treasury.”

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Justin: There would then assuredly be fewer wars in all ages and countries

January 13, 2016 Leave a comment

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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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Justin
From Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus
Translated by Rev. John Selby Watson

Justice is observed among them [the Scythians], more from the temper of the people, than from the influence of laws. No crime in their opinion is more heinous than theft; for, among people that keep their flocks and herds without fence or shelter in the woods, what would be safe, if stealing were permitted? Gold and silver they despise, as much as other men covet them. They live on milk and honey. The use of wool and clothes is unknown among them, although they are pinched by perpetual cold; they wear, however, the skins of wild animals, great and small. Such abstemiousness has caused justice to be observed among them, as they covet nothing belonging to their neighbours; for it is only where riches are of use, that the desire of them prevails. And would that other men had like temperance, and like freedom from desire for the goods of others! There would then assuredly be fewer wars in all ages and countries, and the sword would not destroy more than the natural course of destiny.

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Montaigne: War, that malady of mankind

January 12, 2016 1 comment

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

Montaigne: Selections on war

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Michel de Montaigne
Translated by George B. Ives

So many names, so many victories and conquests buried in oblivion make it ridiculous to hope to perpetuate our names by the capture of ten insignificant troops and an unimportant little fortress that is known only by its fall. The proud pomp of so many foreign nations, the swollen majesty of so many courts and stately mansions, steadies us and permits our sight to endure the brilliancy of our own without blinking…

(Of the Education of Children)

This belief is in some sort related to that other so ancient one, the thought that heaven and nature were gratified by our massacring and murdering…

(Of Moderation)

We can, then, rightly call them barbarians with respect to the rules of reason, but not with respect to ourselves, who surpass them in every sort of barbarism. Their warfare is wholly noble and honourable, and has as much excuse and beauty as that malady of mankind can have. With them it has no other motive than simply eagerness of prowess. They are not at strife for the conquest of new territories…

(Of Cannibals)

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Juvenal: War and violence, baser than the beasts

January 11, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Juvenal: Mighty warriors and their tombs are circumscribed by Fate

Juvenal: The spoils of war and the price thereof

Juvenal: Weigh the greatest military commanders in the balance

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Juvenal
From Satires
Translated by G. G. Ramsay

The Pygmy warrior marches forth in his tiny arms to encounter the sudden swoop and clamorous cloud of Thracian birds; but soon, no match for his foe, he is snatched up by the savage crane and borne in his crooked talons through the air. If you saw this in our own country, you would shake with laughter; but in that land, where the whole host is only one foot high, though like battles are witnessed every day, no one laughs.

***

It is here mostly that lies the cause of crime. No human passion has mingled more poison-bowls, none has more often wielded the murderous dagger, than the fierce craving for unbounded wealth. For the man who wants wealth must have it at once; what respect for laws, what fear, what sense of shame is to be found in a miser hurrying to be rich? “Live content, my boys, with these cottages and hills of yours,” said the Marsian or Hernican or Vestinian father in the days of yore; “let the plough win for us what bread shall suffice our table; such fare the rustic Gods approve, whose aid and bounty gave us the glad ear of corn, and taught man to disdain the acorn of ancient times. The man who is not ashamed to wear high boots in time of frost, and who keeps off the East wind with skins turned inwards, will never wish to do a forbidden thing; it is purple raiment, whatever it be, foreign and unknown to us, that leads to crime and wickedness.”

Such were the maxims which those ancients taught the young; but now, when autumn days are over, the father rouses his sleeping son after midnight with a shout: “Awake, boy, and take your tablets; scribble away and get up your cases; read through the red-lettered laws of our forefathers, or send in a petition for a centurion’s vine-staff…destroy the huts of the Moors and the forts of the Brigantes, that your sixtieth year may bring you the eagle that will make you rich…Let this maxim be ever on your lips, a saying worthy of the Gods, and of Jove himself if he turned poet: ‘No matter whence the money comes, but money you must have.'”

“When you tell a youth that a man is a fool who makes a present to a friend, or relieves and lightens the poverty of a kinsman, you teach him to plunder and to cheat and to commit any kind of crime for money’s sake, the love of which is as great in you as was love of their country in the hearts of the Decii, or in that of Menoeceus…”

***

When Nature gave tears to man, she proclaimed that he was tender-hearted; and tenderness is the best quality in man. She therefore bids us weep for the misery of a friend upon his trial, or when a ward whose streaming cheeks and girlish locks raise a doubt as to his sex brings a defrauder into court. It is at Nature’s behest that we weep when we meet the bier of a full-grown maiden, or when the earth closes over a babe too young for the funeral pyre. For what good man, what man worthy of the mystic torch, and such as the priest of Ceres would wish him to be, believes that any human woes concern him not? It is this that separates us from the dumb herd; and it is for this that we alone have had allotted to us a nature worthy of reverence, capable of divine things, fit to acquire and practise the arts of life, and that we have drawn from on high that gift of feeling which is lacking to the beasts that grovel with eyes upon the ground. To them in the beginning of the world our common maker gave only life; to us he gave souls as well, that fellow-feeling might bid us ask or proffer aid, gather scattered dwellers into a people, desert the primeval groves and woods inhabited by our forefathers, build houses for ourselves, with others adjacent to our own, that a neighbour’s threshold from the confidence that comes of union, might give us peaceful slumbers…and seek protection inside the same city walls, and behind gates fastened by a single key.

But in these days there is more amity among serpents than among men; wild beasts are merciful to beasts spotted like themselves. When did the stronger lion ever take the life of the weaker? In what wood did a boar ever breathe his last under the tusks of a boar bigger than himself? The fierce tigress of India dwells in perpetual peace with her fellow; bears live in harmony with bears. But man finds it all too little to have forged the deadly blade on an impious anvil; for whereas the first artificers only wearied themselves with forging hoes and harrows, spades and ploughshares, not knowing how to beat out swords, we now behold a people whose wrath is not assuaged by slaying someone, but who deem that a man’s breast, arms, and face afford a kind of food. What would Pythagoras say, or to what place would he not flee, if he beheld these horrors of to-day, – he who refrained from every living creature as if it were human, and would not indulge his belly with every kind of vegetable?

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Lactantius: Justice had no other reason for leaving the earth than the shedding of human blood

January 10, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Lactantius: Selections on war

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Lactantius
From Divine Institutes
Translated by William Fletcher

“Then war’s indomitable rage,
And greedy lust of gain;” (Virgil, Aeneid )

and not without reason. For the worship of God being taken away, men lost the knowledge of good and evil. Thus the common intercourse of life perished from among then, and the bond of human society was destroyed. Then they began to contend with one another, and to plot, and to acquire for themselves glory from the shedding of human blood.

***

Be just and good, and the justice which you seek will follow you of her own accord. Lay aside every evil thought from your hearts, and that golden age will at once return to you…But if God only were worshipped, there would not be dissensions and wars, since men would know that they are the sons of one God; and, therefore, among those who were connected by the sacred and inviolable bond of divine relationship, there would be no plottings, inasmuch as they would know what kind of punishments God prepared for the destroyers of souls, who sees through secret crimes, and even the very thoughts themselves. There would be no frauds or plunderings if they had learned, through the instruction of God, to be content with that which was their own, though little, so that they might prefer solid and eternal things to those which are frail and perishable…How happy and how golden would be the condition of human affairs, if throughout the world gentleness, and piety, and peace, and innocence, and equity, and temperance, and faith, took up their abode! In short, there would be no need of so many and varying laws to rule men, since the law of God alone would be sufficient for perfect innocence; nor would there be any need of prisons, or the swords of rulers, or the terror of punishments, since the wholesomeness of the divine precepts infused into the breasts of men would of itself instruct them to works of justice.

***

[J]ustice, who had no other reason for leaving the earth than the shedding of human blood…Therefore they are to be accounted as savage beasts who injure man; who, in opposition to every law and right of human nature, plunder, torture, slay, and banish.

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Pausanias: Peace cradling Wealth in her arms

January 9, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Pausanias: Woe to man

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Pausanias
From Description of Greece
Translated by W. H. S. Jones

After the sanctuary of Ammon at Thebes comes what is called the bird-observatory of Teiresias, and near it is a sanctuary of Fortune, who carries the child Wealth. According to the Thebans, the hands and the face of the image were made by Xenophon the Athenian, the rest of it by Callistonicus, a native. It was a clever idea of these artists to place Wealth in the arms of Fortune, and so to suggest that she is the mother or nurse. Equally clever was the conception of Cephisodotus, who made the image of Peace for the Athenians with Wealth in her arms.

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William Hazlitt: Keystone of indestructible war-system: Closing up the avenues to peace, shutting the gates of mercy on mankind

January 8, 2016 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

William Hazlitt: Selections on war

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William Hazlitt
From Illustrations of Vetus (1813)

We agree with the sentiment with which he commences his last Letter, that it is ”particularly desirable to follow up the question of peace” at the present crisis, but not with the reason which he assigns for his extreme anxiety to enter upon the question, “because this is just the moment to dread the entertainment of a pacific overture.” We can readily believe that at no other moment than when he dreads its approach, would Vetus ever breathe a syllable on the subject of peace, and then only to avert it. Whenever “a spurious and mawkish beneficence” an alarm of peace sounds, the dogs of war stand ready on the slip to hunt it down.

***

That which is here said to be the only legitimate basis of a treaty is one, which if admitted and acted upon, would make it impossible that any treaty should ever be formed. It is a basis, not of lasting peace, but of endless war. To call that the basis of a treaty which precludes the possibility of any concession or compensation, of every consideration either of the right or power of each party to retain its actual acquisitions, is one of those misnomers which the gravity of Vetus’s manner makes his readers overlook…We quarrel with France on continental grounds; we strip her of her colonies to support the quarrel; and yet we refuse to restore any part of them, in order to secure peace. If so, we are only ostensible parties in the contest, and in reality robbers…But still more preposterous is the madness or malice of the assertion, that no peace can be made by a wise nation, which is not a living record of their own superiority. This is the key-stone which makes up the arch of Vetus’s indestructible war-system. Can it have escaped even the short-sighted logic of this writer that to make superiority an indispensable condition of a wise peace is to proscribe peace altogether, because certainly this superiority cannot belong at the same time to both parties, and yet we conceive that the consent of both parties is necessary to a peace? Any other peace, we are told, than that which is at times impracticable between rival states, ought not only never to be made, but it ought to be held in abhorrence, we ought to shudder at its approach as the last of evils, and throw it to an immeasurable distance from us. This is indeed closing up the avenues to peace, and shutting the gates of mercy on mankind in a most consummate and scientific manner…[H]e supposes that there is some celestial ichor in our veins which we alone shed for our country, while other nations neither bleed nor suffer from war, nor have a right to profit by peace. This may be very well in poetry, or on the stage, but it will not pass current in diplomacy. Vetus, indeed, strains hard to reconcile inconsistencies, and to found the laws of nations on the sentiments of exclusive patriotism. But we would think that the common rules of peace and war, which necessarily involve the rights, interests, and feelings of different nations, cannot be dictated by the heroic caprices of a few hair-brained egotists, on either side of the question…

The general principle here stated is self-evident, and one would think indisputable. For the very ground of war is a peace whose conditions are thought to hear hard on one of the parties, and yet, according to Vetus, the only way to make peace durable, to prevent the recurrence of an appeal to force, is to impose such hard conditions on an enemy, as it is his interest, and must be his inclination to break by force. An opinion of the disproportion between our general strength, and our actual advantages, seems to be the necessary ground of war, but it is here converted into the permanent source of peace.

***

First, this security can be good only on one side: secondly, it is not good at all : the only security for peace is not in the actual losses or distresses incurred by states, but in the settled conviction that they cannot better themselves by war.

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Plutarch: Sharpened and whetted to war from their very infancy. So unsocial and wild-beast-like is the nature of ambition and cupidity.

January 7, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Plutarch: Selections on war and peace

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Plutarch
Translated by John Dryden

From Aristides

Of all his virtues, the common people were most affected with his justice, because of its continual and common use; and thus, although of mean fortune and ordinary birth, he possessed himself of the most kingly and divine appellation of just: which kings, however, and tyrants have never sought after; but have taken delight to be surnamed besiegers of cities, thunderers, conquerors, or eagles again, and hawks; affecting, it seems, the reputation which proceeds from power and violence, rather than that of virtue. Although the divinity, to whom they desire to compare and assimilate themselves, excels, it is supposed, in three things, immortality, power, and virtue; of which three the noblest and divinest is virtue. For the elements and vacuum have an everlasting existence; earthquakes, thunders, storms, and torrents have great power; but in justice and equity nothing participates except by means of reason and the knowledge of that which is divine.

From Pyrrhus

After Antigone’s death, he married several wives to enlarge his interest and power. He had the daughter of Autoleon, King of the Paeonians, Bircenna, Bardyllis the Illyrian’s daughter, Lanassa, daughter of Agathocles the Syracusan, who brought with her in dower the city of Corcyra, which had been taken by Agathocles. By Antigone he had Ptolemy, Alexander by Lanassa, and Helenus, his youngest son, by Bircenna: he brought them up all in arms, hot and eager youths, and by him sharpened and whetted to war from their very infancy. It is said, when one of them, while yet a child, asked him to which he would leave the kingdom, he replied, to him that had the sharpest sword, which indeed was much like that tragical curse of Oedipus to his sons:-

“Not by the lot decide,
But within the sword the heritage divide.”

So unsocial and wild-beast-like is the nature of ambition and cupidity.

***

For men whose ambition neither seas, nor mountains, nor unpeopled deserts can limit, nor the bounds dividing Europe from Asia confine their vast desires, it would be hard to expect to forbear from injuring one another when they touch and are close together. These are ever naturally at war, envying and seeking advantages of one another, and merely make use of those two words, peace and war, like current coin, to serve their occasions, not as justice but as expediency suggests, and are really better men when they openly enter on a war, than when they give to the mere forbearance from doing wrong, for want of opportunity, the sacred names of justice and friendship…

This person, seeing Pyrrhus eagerly preparing for Italy, led him one day when he was at leisure into the following reasonings: “The Romans, sir, are reported to be great warriors and conquerors of many warlike nations; if God permit us to overcome them, how should we use our victory?” “You ask,” said Pyrrhus, “a thing evident of itself. The Romans once conquered, there is neither Greek nor barbarian city that will resist us, but we shall presently be masters of all Italy, the extent and resources and strength of which any one should rather profess to be ignorant of than yourself.” Cineas after a little pause, “And having subdued Italy, what shall we do next?” Pyrrhus not yet discovering his intention, “Sicily,” he replied, “next holds out her arms to receive us, a wealthy and populous island, and easy to be gained; for since Agathocles left it, only faction and anarchy, and the licentious violence of the demagogues prevail.” “You speak,” said Cineas, “what is perfectly probable, but will the possession of Sicily put an end to the war?” “God grant us,” answered Pyrrhus, “victory and success in that, and we will use these as forerunners of greater things; who could forbear from Libya and Carthage then within reach, which Agathocles, even when forced to fly from Syracuse, and passing the sea only with a few ships, had all but surprised? These conquests once perfected, will any assert that of the enemies who now pretend to despise us, any one will dare to make further resistance?” “None,” replied Cineas, “for then it is manifest we may with such mighty forces regain Macedon, and make an absolute conquest of Greece; and when all these are in our power what shall we do then?” Said Pyrrhus, smiling, “We will live at our ease, my dear friend, and drink all day, and divert ourselves with pleasant conversation.” When Cineas had led Pyrrhus with his argument to this point: “And what hinders us now, sir, if we have a mind to be merry, and entertain one another, since we have at hand without trouble all those necessary things, to which through much blood and great labour, and infinite hazards and mischief done to ourselves and to others, we design at last to arrive?”

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Quintus Smyrnaeus: Mass murder’s tropes: Dread Ares drank his fill of blood

January 6, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Quintus Smyrnaeus: In his talons bore a gasping dove. Where never ceased Ares from hideous slaughter.

Quintus Smyrnaeus: While here all war’s marvels were portrayed, there were the works of lovely peace

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Quintus Smyrnaeus
From The Fall of Troy
Translated by Arthur S. Way

…earth
Ran red with blood, as slaughtered heroes fell
And horses, mid a tangle of shattered cars,
Some yet with spear-wounds gasping, while on them
Others were falling. Through the air upshrieked
An awful indistinguishable roar;
For on both hosts fell iron-hearted Strife…
Their mad hands clutched all manner of tools of death.
At first the Argives bore the ranks of Troy
Backward a little; and they rallied, charged,
Leapt on the foe, and drenched the field with blood.

***

Spears plunge into men’s flesh: dread Ares drank
His fill of blood: struck down fell man on man…

So man to man dealt death; and joyed the Fates
And Doom and fell Strife in her maddened glee
Shouted aloud, and Ares terribly
Shouted in answer…

…swift closed the fronts of war.
Loud clashed their arms all around; from either side
War-cries were mingled in one awful roar.
Swift-wined full many a dart and arrow flew
From host to host; loud clanged the smitten shields
‘Neath thrusting spears, neath javelin-point and sword:
Men hewed with battle-axes lightening down;
Crimson the armour ran with blood of men.

…without pause before the wall they fought,
Whole Death exulted o’er them; deadly Strife
Shrieked out a long wild cry from host to host.
With blood of slain men dust became red mire…

“The hand of Heaven is in our sufferings:
Some fate devised our ruin – oh that I
Had not lived to endure it, but had died
In days of wealthy peace! But now I see
Woes upon woes, and ever look to see
Worse things – my children slain, my city sacked
And burned with fire by stony-hearted foes…”

…Strife and deadly Enyo in the midst
Stalked, like the fell Erinyes to behold,
Breathing destruction from their lips like flame.
Beside them raged the ruthless-hearted Fates
Fiercely: here Panic-fear and Ares there
Stirred up the hosts: hard after followed Dread
With slaughter’s gore besprent…
And all around were javelins, spears and darts
Murder athirst from this side, that side, showered
Aye, as they hurled together, armour clashed,
As foe grappled in murderous fight.

***

…The black Fates joyed to see
Their conflict. Ares Laughed, Enyo yelled
Horrible. Loud their glancing armour clanged:
They stabbed, they hewed down hosts of foes untold
With irresistible hands. The reeling ranks
Fell, as the swath falls in the harvest heat,
When the swift-handed reapers, ranged adown
The field’s long furrows, play the sickle fast;
So fell before their hands ranks numberless:
With corpses earth was heaped, with torrent blood
Was streaming: Strife incarnate o’er the slain
Gloated…

Over the battle-slain the vultures joyed,
Hungry to rend the hearts and flesh of men.

***
…like fierce ravening beasts the Argive men
Leapt on them, mad with murderous rage of war.
Choked with their slain the river-channels were,
Heaped was the field; in red dust thousands fell,
Horses and men; and chariots overturned
Were strewn there: blood was streaming all around
Like rain, for deadly Doom raged through the fray.
Men stabbed with swords, and men impaled on spears
Lay all confusedly, like scattered beams…

So lay in dust and blood the slaughtered men,
Rapture and pain of fight forgotten now.
A remnant from the pitiless strife escaped
Entered their stronghold. scarce eluding doom.
Children and wives from their limbs blood-besprent
Received their arms bedabbled with foul gore…

***

“…Honour princely men and wise;
For the true man is still the true man’s friend,
Even as the vile man cleaveth to the knave.
If good thy though be, good shall be thy deeds:
But no man shall attain to Honour’s height,
Except his heart be right within: her stem
Is hard to climb, and high in heaven spread
Her branches: only they whom strength and toil
Attend, strain up to pluck her blissful fruit,
Climbing the Tree of Honour glory-crowned.
Thou therefore follow fame, and let thy soul
By\e not in sorrow afflicted overmuch,
Not in prosperity over-glad. To friends,
To comrades, child and wife, be kindly of heart,
Remembering still that near to all men stand
The gates of doom, the mansions of the dead:
For humankind are like the flowers of grass,
The blossom of spring; these fade the while those bloom:
Therefore be ever kindly with thy kind.

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Fronto: Devotion to peace

January 5, 2016 Leave a comment

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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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Fronto
From his letters
Translated by C.R. Haines

He made his way not only into frozen lands, but also into a southern situation, to the advantage of those provinces which, lying beyond the Euphrates and the Danube, Trajan had annexed to the Roman Empire…These entire provinces, Dacia and the parts lost by the Parthians, Hadrian voluntarily restored. His armies in Asia he amused with “sallies” in the camp instead of with swords and shields: a general the like of him the army never afterward saw.

The same devotion to peace is said to have withheld him from action absolutely justified, so that in his freedom from empty ambition he is clearly comparable in all the line of Roman Emperors to Numa alone.

***

The power of the Macedonians swelling like a torrent with mighty force in a brief day fell away to nothing: and their empire was extinguished in the lifetime of a single generation…

Not one of them anywhere has a town or permanent dwelling or settled home: they owe their freedom to their poverty, for he who goes about to subjugate the poor gets but a barren return for his labour…

Those nations whose plundering raids have caused disasters I class as brigands rather than as enemies.

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Robert Southey: Year follows year, and still we madly prosecute the war

January 4, 2016 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Robert Southey: Selections on peace and war

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Robert Southey
From Wat Tyler (1794)

Curse on these taxes – one succeeds another –
Our ministers – panders of a king’s will –
Drain all our wealth away – waste it in revels –
And lure, or force away our boys, who should be
The props of our old age! – to fill their armies
And feed the crows of France! year follows year,
And still we madly prosecute the war; –
Draining our wealth-distressing our poor peasants –
Slaughtering our youths – and all to crown our chiefs
With Glory! – I detest the hell-sprung name.

***

Think ye, my friend,
That I – a humble blacksmith, here at Deptford,
Would part with these six groats – earn’d by hard toil,
All that I have! To massacre the Frenchmen,
Murder as enemies men I never saw!
Did not the state compel me?
(Tax gatherers pass by)
There they go, privileg’d r———s! –

***

Enter Tax-gatherers.

COLLECTOR. Three groats a head for all your family.

PIERS. Why is this money gathered? – ’tis a hard tax
On the poor labourer! – it can never be
That government should thus distress the people. Go to the rich for money – honest labour
Ought to enjoy its fruits.

COLLECTOR. The state wants money.
War is expensive – ’tis a glorious war,
A war of honour, and must be supported. –
Three groats a head.

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Philostratus: War versus love

January 3, 2016 Leave a comment

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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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Philostratus
From Lives of the Sophists
Translated by Wilmer Cave Wright

Leon of Byzantium was in his youth a pupil of Plato, but when he reached man’s estate he was called a sophist because he employed so many different styles of oratory, and also because his repartees were so convincing. For example, when Philip brought an army against Byzantium, Leon went out to meet him and said: “Tell me, Philip, what moved you to begin war on us?” And when he replied: “Your birthplace, the fairest of cities, lured me on to love her, and that is why I have come to my charmer’s door.” Leon retorted: “They come not with swords to the beloved’s door who are worthy of requited love. For lovers need not the instruments of war but of music.”

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William Hazlitt: Harpies of the press. Juggling fiends. Systematic opponents of peace. Ceaseless partisans of interminable hostilities.

January 2, 2016 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

William Hazlitt: Selections on war

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William Hazlitt
From On the Courier and Times Newspapers (1814)

To produce such a passage, at such a moment, required that union of impudence and folly which has no parallel elsewhere. From the quarter from which it comes, it could not surprize us; it is consistent; it is in keeping; it is of a piece with the rest. It is worthy of those harpies of the press, whose business is to scare away the approach of peace by their obscene and dissonant noises, and to tear asunder the olive-branch, whenever it is held out to us, with their well-practised beaks; who fill their hearts with malice, and their mouths with falsehood; who strive to soothe the dastard passion of their employers by inflaming those of the multitude; creatures that would sell the lives of millions for a nod of greatness, and make their country a by-word in history, to please some punk of quality.

***

We are to understand from no less an authority than that of The Courier, that Lord Castlereagh is sent out professedly to make peace, but in reality to hinder it: and we learn from an authority equally respectable (The Times) that nothing can prevent the destruction of Bonaparte but this country’s untimely consenting to make peace with him. And yet we are told in the same breath, that the charge of eternal war which we bring against these writers, is the echo of the French war-faction, who, at the commencement of every series of hostilities, and at the conclusion of every treaty, have accused this country of a want of good faith and sincere disposition to peace. We are told, that if the French do not force Bonaparte to make peace now, which yet these writers are determined to prevent him from doing, ”they are sunk beneath the worshippers of cats and onions.” These “knavish but keen” politicians tell the French people in so many words – ” We will not make peace with your government, and yet, if it does not make peace with us, we will force what Government we please upon you.” What effect this monstrous and palpable insult must have upon the French nation, will depend upon the degree of sense and spirit they have left among them. But with respect to ourselves, if the line of policy pointed out by these juggling fiends is really meant to be pursued, if a pretended proposal to treat for peace on certain grounds is only to be converted into an insidious ground for renewed war for other purposes, if this offensive and unmanly imposture is to be avowed and practised upon us in the face of day, then we know what will be the duty of Parliament and of the country.

***

It is curious to hear these systematic opponents of peace, (with infuriate and insensate looks scattering firebrands and death,) at the same time affecting the most tender concern for the miseries of war; or like that good-natured reconciler of differences, Iago, hypocritically shifting the blame from themselves – “What, stab men in the dark!” They ask with grave faces, with very grave faces, “Who are the authors, the propagators, and practisers of this dreadful war system? who the aggressors? who the unrelenting persecutors of peace?” War is their everlasting cry,”one note day and night;” during war, during peace, during negotiation, in success, in adversity; and yet they dare to tax others as the sole authors of the calamities which they would render eternal, sooner than abate one jot of their rancorous prejudices…

But do not these persons also attach the highest degree of probability, or, when; they are so inclined, moral certainty, to every thing that tends to make peace unattainable?…But of this we are sure, from all experience, that the way to render the fruits of those reverses uncertain, or to defeat them altogether, is the very mode of proceeding recommended by the ceaseless partizans of interminable hostilities.

***

[T]he project of starving France in 1796 – of hurling her down the gulph of bankruptcy in 1797 – the coalitions of different periods in which England saved herself and Europe from peace by her energy, or her example – the contemptuous rejection of every offer of negotiation in every situation, the unwearied prosecution of the war on the avowed principle that we were never to leave it off as long as we could carry it on, or get any one to carry it on for us, or until we buried ourselves under the ruins of the civilized world (a prediction which we narrowly escaped verifying)…

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