Alfred de Vigny: The army is a machine wound up to kill
Alfred de Vigny
From Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835)
Translated by Humphrey Hare
The army is blind and dumb, strikes down unquestioningly those to whom it is opposed, desires nothing for itself and acts under compulsion; it is a machine wound up to kill…
In looking closely at the life of the armed forces – the daily burden imposed upon us by successive governments – we shall indeed find, as I have said, that the soldier’s lot is the most melancholy relic if barbarism (next to capital punishment) that lingers on among mankind…
The life is regular, monotonous and dull. The hours are as muffled and sullen as the drum that marks their passing. Bearing and demeanor are as uniform as the dress. The animation of youth and the sluggishness of age are reduced to the same denominator, which is that of Service. The Service in which one serves is the mould into which one’s character is thrown and there changed, recast, shaped for ever to a common pattern. The Man is lost in the Soldier.
Military bondage is as oppressive and inflexible as the iron mask of the unknown prisoner and confers upon all soldiers and aspect of uniformity and reserve.
I shall choose among my memories those that seem to me at once to clothe, most fitly and decently, a chosen subject, and to show how many conditions, which are opposed to the development of character and intelligence, arise from the gross bondage and primitive customs of standing armies.
Their crown is a crown of of thorns, and among its spokes there is none, I think, more painful than passive obedience…