Alfred de Vigny: When armies and war exist no more
Alfred de Vigny
From Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835)
Translated by Humphrey Hare
We cannot sufficiently forestall the time when the army is identified with the nation if we are ever to see the day when armies and war exist no more, when the world consists of but one nation unanimous at last as regards its social structure – an event which should already have occurred ages ago.
The army is a nation within a nation; this is a defect of our times.
The fate of a modern army is quite other [than that of the Middle Ages to the middle of the eighteenth century], and the centralization of power has made it what it is. It is a body divorced from the great body of the nation, resembling a child in its lagging intelligence, a child, moreover, forbidden to grow up. The modern army, as soon as it ceases to be at war, becomes a kind of constabulary. It is ashamed, knowing neither its duty nor its status, whether it rules the state or is its slave; a body searching in vain for its own soul.