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Archive for March, 2016

Suetonius: Caligula and military glory

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Suetonius: Not let slip any pretext for war, however unjust and dangerous

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Suetonius
From Lives of the Twelve Caesars
Translated by J. C. Rolfe

So much for Caligula as emperor; we must now tell of his career as a monster…

He had but one experience with military affairs or war, and then on a sudden impulse; for having gone to Mevania to visit the river Clitumnus and its grove, he was reminded of the necessity of recruiting his body-guard of Batavians and was seized with the idea of an expedition to Germany. So without delay he assembled legions and auxiliaries from all quarters, holding levies everywhere with the utmost strictness, and collecting provisions of every kind on an unheard of scale. Then he began his march and made it now so hurriedly and rapidly, that the praetorian cohorts were forced, contrary to all precedent, to lay their standards on the pack-animals and thus to follow him; again he was so lazy and luxurious that he was carried in a litter by eight bearers, requiring the inhabitants of the towns through which he passed to sweep the roads for him and sprinkle them to lay the dust.

On reaching his camp, to show his vigilance and strictness as a commander, he dismissed in disgrace the generals who were late in bringing in the auxiliaries from various places, and in reviewing his troops he deprived many of the chief centurions who were well on in years of their rank, in some cases only a few days before they would have served their time, giving as a reason their age and infirmity; then railing at the rest for their avarice, he reduced the rewards given on completion of full military service to six thousand sesterces.

All that he accomplished was to receive the surrender of Adminius, son of Cynobellinus king of the Britons, who had been banished by his father and had deserted to the Romans with a small force; yet as if the entire island had submitted to him, he sent a grandiloquent letter to Rome, commanding the couriers who carried it to ride in their post-chaise all the way to the Forum and the House, and not to deliver it to anyone except the consuls, in the temple of Mars the Avenger, before a full meeting of the senate.

Presently, finding no one to fight with, he had a few Germans of his body-guard taken across the river and concealed there, and word brought him after luncheon with great bustle and confusion that the enemy were close at hand. Upon this he rushed out with his friends and a part of the praetorian cavalry to the woods close by, and after cutting the branches from some trees and adorning them like trophies, he returned by torchlight, taunting those who had not followed him as timorous and cowardly, and presenting his companions and the partners in his victory with crowns of a new kind and of a new name, ornamented with figures of the sun, moon and stars, and called exploratoriae. Another time some hostages were taken from a common school and secretly sent on ahead of him, when he suddenly left a banquet and pursued them with the cavalry as if they were runaways, caught them, and brought them back in fetters, in this farce too showing immoderate extravagance. On coming back to the table, when some announced that the army was assembled, he urged them to take their places just as they were, in their coats of mail. He also admonished them in the familiar line of Vergil to “bear up and save themselves for better days.”

Meanwhile he rebuked the absent senate and people in a stern edict because “while Caesar was fighting and exposed to such dangers they were indulging in revels and frequenting the theatres and their pleasant villas.”

Finally, as if he intended to bring the war to an end, he drew up a line of battle on the shore of the Ocean, arranging his ballistas and other artillery; and when no one knew or could imagine what he was going to do, he suddenly bade them gather shells and fill their helmets and the folds of their gowns, calling them “spoils from the Ocean, due to the Capitol and Palatine.” As a monument of his victory he erected a lofty tower, from which lights were to shine at night to guide the course of ships, as from the Pharos.Then promising the soldiers a gratuity of a hundred denarii each, as if he had shown unprecedented liberality, he said, “Go your way happy; go your way rich.”

Then turning his attention to his triumph, in addition to a few captives and deserters from the barbarians he chose all the tallest of the Gauls, and as he expressed it, those who were “worthy of a triumph,” as well as some of the chiefs. These he reserved for his parade, compelling them not only to dye their hair red and to let it grow long, but also to learn the language of the Germans and assume barbarian names. He also had the triremes in which he had entered the Ocean carried overland to Rome for the greater part of the way. He wrote besides to his financial agents to prepare for a triumph at the smallest possible cost, but on a grander scale than had ever before been known, since the goods of all were at their disposal.

Before leaving the province he formed a design of unspeakable cruelty, that of butchering the legions that had begun the mutiny years before just after the death of Augustus, because they had beleaguered his father Germanicus, their leader, and himself, at the time an infant; and though he was with difficulty turned from this mad purpose, he could by no means be prevented from persisting in his desire to decimate them. Accordingly he summoned them to an assembly without their arms, not even wearing their swords, and surrounded them with armed horsemen. But seeing that some of the legionaries, suspecting his purpose, were stealing off to resume their arms, in case any violence should be offered them, he fled from the assembly and set out for the city in a hurry, turning all his ferocity upon the senate, against which he uttered open threats, in order to divert the gossip about his own dishonour. He complained among other things that he had been cheated of his fairly earned triumph; whereas a short time before he had himself given orders that on pain of death no action should be taken about his honours.

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Mark Aldanov: War was the only subject she avoided

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

Russian writers on war

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Mark Aldanov
From For Thee the Best (1945)
Translated by Nicholas Wreden

She liked to engage a pleasant person in a pleasant conversation on mundane or even spiritual matters. She loved to speculate on what awaits us in the next world. War was the only subject she avoided. People were being maimed for no reason, and if a man returned home without a leg how could he enjoy liberty?

***

Later, perhaps much later and probably by accident, history would discover which among these statesmen had actually been insane. Sometimes, even history might not reveal the full truth. The most talented actors disappear from the stage to the accompaniment of boos and hisses, and only the buffoons remain and enjoy tremendous, continuous popularity…

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Charles Nodier: Fruitless is the glory of battles

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

French writers on war and peace

Charles Nodier: Painful to the eyes and the heart of he who cherishes liberty

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Charles Nodier
From Promenade from Dieppe to the Mountains of Scotland (1821)
Translated unknown

The church of St. Paul is the Pantheon of the illustrious men of the last generation, beginning with Johnson and Reynolds, of whom there are statues. Around them are monuments of a number of officers, who were killed during the last thirty years, fighting against France. Fruitless is the glory of battles, which plants a palm wherever it sinks a grave!

***

The armoury of the Tower of London is of very little importance to the traveller who has seen the arsenal of Venice, or any other great collection of instruments invented for the destruction of man. It is always, more or less, nothing but an armourer’s shop…

***

In a very industrious and very intelligent nation, the docks are the most extraordinary monument of the industry, and perhaps of the intelligence of man. They are certainly the most useful. They have this incontestible advantage over columns and pyramids which bear above the clouds the parade of our impotence and vanity. The statue of the founder of the docks is not erected at the expense of the sweat, the tears, and the blood of his countrymen…

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Vladimir Korolenko: Final judgment

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

Russian writers on war

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Vladimir Korolenko
From Makar’s Dream (1883)
Translated by Suzanne Rozenberg

Hunger and misery drove him hard; he had suffered from the drought in summer and the bitter frosts in winter; the taiga and the frozen soil had yielded him nothing. His life had been like that of cattle which are being driven on and do not know where they are going. Did he know what the priest’s sermons in church meant and why he had to pay the tithes? Did he know what had become of his eldest son, who had been taken as a soldier? He did not know where he died, in what place his poor bones lay!

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Nikolai Leskov: Immorality

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

Russian writers on war

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Nikolai Leskov
From The Cathedral Folk (1872)
Translated by Isabel F. Hapgood

Owing to the illness of the teacher Gonorsky, Prepotensky was temporarily entrusted with the history lessons, and he immediately began to hold forth on the immorality of war, and applied this directly to the happenings in Poland. But as though this  were not enough for him, he also ridiculed civilization, censured patriotism, and the principle of nationality, furthermore he made fun of decency to the children, representing it even as, in many respects, immoral; and he cited as an example of this, that cultivated peoples conceal the begetting of a man, but do not conceal the act of murder, and even carry the weapons of war on their shoulders…

 

 

 

 

 

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Maurice Baring: Unalterable horror, misery, pain and suffering which is caused by modern war

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

British writers on peace and war

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Maurice Baring
From With the Russians in Manchuria (1905)

As to the war I shall be satisfied if there is a single sentence in this book which will have brought home to anyone the unalterable horror, misery, pain, and suffering which is caused by a modern war – anything which will make people reflect when, or rather before, they beat the big drum and appeal to St. Jingo.

War is an insensate abomination…

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Ivan Turgenev: “Militarism, the soldiery, have got the upper hand”

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

Russian writers on war

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Ivan Turgenev
From Old Portraits
Unknown Translator

‘There was more freedom in those days, more decorum; on my honour, I assure you! but since the year eighteen hundred…militarism, the soldiery, have got the upper hand. Our soldier gentlemen stuck some sort of turbans of cocks’ feathers on their heads then, and turned like cocks themselves; began binding their necks up as stiff as could be…they croak, and roll their eyes – how could they help it, indeed? The other day a police corporal came to me; “I’ve come to you,” says he, “honourable sir,”…(fancy his thinking to surprise me with that!…I know I’m honourable without his telling me!) “I have business with you.” And I said to him, “My good sir, you’d better first unfasten the hooks on your collar. Or else, God have mercy on us – you’ll sneeze. Ah, what would happen to you! what would happen to you! You’d break off, like a mushroom … and I should have to answer for it!” And they do drink, these military gentlemen – oh, oh, oh! I generally order home-made champagne to be given them, because to them, good wine or poor, it’s all the same; it runs so smoothly, so quickly, down their throats – how can they distinguish it? And, another thing, they’ve started sucking at a pap-bottle, smoking a tobacco-pipe. Your military gentleman thrusts his pap-bottle under his moustaches, between his lips, and puffs the smoke out of his nose, his mouth, and even his ears – and fancies himself a hero!’

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Alphonse Daudet: Revenge and war

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

French writers on war and peace

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Alphonse Daudet
From Support of the Family
Unknown translator

“Mauglas, whom we just picked up on the road, declares that from one generation to another is as far as from Mars to the earth or any other planet, and that urchins like Raymond here, when I talk to them of the coup d’État of 1852 and of Badingue’s [Napoleon III’s] cowardly recantation, do not know what I mean.”

“Any more than they understand those of my generation who preach revenge and war to them.”

***

Mademoiselle Pulchérie, the older sister, betrayed by a very keen taste for hussars, gave every year a fresh proof of her affection for them to some officer of the 12th, then in garrison at Saint-Lô. When the war of 1870 scattered the jaunty hussars with their wasp-waists, one of Monsieur Denizan’s clerks took the place left vacant by the officers of the 12th, and, being less scrupulous than they, ran away with the daughter and the money-box.

***

There was no more carting, but the roads were abandoned to parties of abandoned troops, Algerian swallows who devoured even the window curtains. Twice, soldiers on their way to their regiments had set the house on fire.

***

“I agree with you, my boy. But the novelist, who is the historian of unimportant people, of those who have no history, has no more right than other historians to deal in imposture and evil speaking…”

 

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Anton Chekhov: You can’t remember a single year without war

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

Russian writers on war

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Anton Chekhov
The Rook
Translator unknown

The rooks had arrived and swarmed in great circles around the Russian cornfields. I singled out the most important-looking I could find, and began to talk to him. Unfortunately I hit upon a rook who was a moralist and a great reasoner; consequently our conversation was a dull one.

This is what we talked about:

I. “It’s said that you rooks live to a great age. The naturalists cite you and the pike as great examples of longevity. How old are you?”

The Rook. “I am three hundred and seventy-six years old.”

I. “Well, I never! You’ve lived precious long! In your place, old bird, the devil only knows how many articles I could have written for the Russian Antiquarian and the Historical Journal. If I had lived three hundred and seventy-six years I can’t imagine how many novels, stories, plays, scenes and other trifles I should have written. What numbers of fees I should have pocketed! Now, what have you, old rook, done during all those years?”

The Rook. “Nothing, Mr. Man. I have only eaten, drunk, slept and multiplied.”

I. “Shame! I really feel shame for you, silly old bird. You have lived in the world three hundred and seventy-six years, and you are as stupid today as you were three hundred years ago. Not a ha’p’orth of progress.”

The Rook. “Wisdom, Mr. Man, comes not from age, but from education and learning. Look at China – she has existed much longer than I have, and she is till as great a simpleton to-day as she was a thousand years ago.”

I (with astonishment). “Three hundred and seventy-six years! What do you call that? An eternity! During that time I should have been able to attend lectures in every faculty; I could have been married twenty times; tried every profession and employment; attained the devil only knows what high rank and, no doubt, have died a Rothschild. Just think of it, you fool, one rouble placed in the bank at five per cent compound interest becomes in two hundred and eighty-three years a million. Just calculate. That means, if you had placed one rouble on interest two hundred and eighty-three years ago, you would have had a million roubles today. Ah, you fool, you fool! Are you not ashamed, don’t you feel a fool to be so stupid?”

The Rook. “Not at all. We are stupid; but we can comfort ourselves with the thought that during the four hundred years of our life we do fewer foolish things than a man does during his forty years. Yes, Mr. Man, I have lived three hundred and seventy-six years, and I have never once seen rooks make war on one another, or kill one another, and you can’t remember a single year without war. We do not rob one another, or open savings banks or schools for modern languages; we do not bear false witness or blackmail; we do not write bad novels and bad verse, or edit blasphemous newspapers…I have lived three hundred and seventy-six years and I have never seen that our mates have been unfaithful to, or have injured their husbands…and with you, Mr. Man, how is it? We have no lackeys, no back-biters, no sycophants, no swindlers, no panderers, no hypocrites…”

At that moment this talker was called by his companions, and flew away over the fields before he had time to finish his sentence.

***

From Miss N. N.’s Story

There is never a wall that cannot be broken through; but the heroes of present-day fiction, as far as I know them, are too timid, too slow, too lazy and fearsome, and they are too apt to be satisfied with the thought that they are failures, and that their own life has duped them; instead of struggling, they only criticize and call the world mean, and they forget that their own criticism gradually degenerates into meanness.

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From At Home

Such appears to be the law of life; the more intangible the evil the more fiercely and mercilessly is it combated.

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From Two Tragedies

The general stupefaction, the mother’s pose, the father’s indifferent face, exhaled something attractive and touching; exhaled that subtle, intangible beauty of human sorrow which cannot be analysed or described, and which music alone can express.

In general, phrases, however beautiful and profound, act only on those who are indifferent, and seldom satisfy the happy or unhappy; it is for this reason that the most touching expression of joy or sorrow is always silence; sweethearts understand one another best when they are silent; and a burning passionate eulogy spoken above a grave touches only the strangers present, and seems to widow and child inexpressive and cold.

In each was expressed the egoism of the unfortunate. And men who are unfortunate, egotistical, angry, unjust, and heartless are even less than stupid men capable of understanding one another. For misfortune does not unite, but sever; and those who should be bound by community of sorrow are much more unjust and heartless than the happy and contented.

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Alfred de Vigny: Selections on war

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Libanius: Rulers more popular for granting mercy than possessing multitudes of soldiers

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Libanius: War in time of peace

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Libanius
From Orations
Translated by A. F. Norman

[T]he ruling power gets its popularity not so much from its trophies, from cities either taken in war or received into alliance, from the multitudes of its soldiery, or from its legislation, wisdom and scrupulous administration of justice, as from its grants of pardon in their misdeeds.

***

This is the normal treatment of the weaker at the hands of the influential, of the penniless at the hands of the wealthy, of the masses at the hands of the elite…[T]his the treatment accorded to the manufacturing class by…lackeys of the governors to such as do not gratify their every whim. Brutal masters make full use of this technique every single day, for any one who is compelled by law to remain silent, however wronged he may be, must needs be arrested also. Into this category are also to be put the peasants who work for the landlords, for some treat them just as though they were slaves, and if they do not acquiesce in the extortions that are practised upon them, just a word or two is needed, and a soldier goes down to the farm, complete with fetters, they are arrested, and the jail takes them in…

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Henry Noel Brailsford: Who is the happy warrior?

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

British writers on peace and war

Henry Noel Brailsford: Waiting for the horrors of a war that was coming

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Henry Noel Brailsford
From The Broom of the War God (1898)

“Ah! I have killed them. A sergeant and five men. I shot them with my own hand from behind a rock as they entered Domoko this morning. A sergeant and five men! And you?”

“We chased the Turks for two miles.”

Kala,” said Alexi, as he rolled himself in his rug.

“Nay, simple shepherd. It is not well,” thought Graham.“ Six Moslem mothers are desolate in Anatolia, and Varatasi has fallen, and all that true men loved is lost, and there is none to heed. And now there is joy in all the Chancelries, and the Philistines make merry.” And he envied Varatasi.

“Who is the happy warrior? who is be
That every man in arms would wish to be!”

And then as the grey dawn defined the outlines of the hills, blackened the great fortress and revealed the snows, he fell asleep and dreamed. And in his dream he was at rest. He lay on his back on the plain of Domoko, dead, and Varatasi was near him. A blaze of white light illumined the hillside. It shone till the blood danced as to the noise of a trumpet. And men in shimmering armour swept up towards him, with a song in their mighty throats and a purpose of victory in their tread.

“Hail, Saviour, Prince of Peace,
Thy Kingdom shall increase.”

They sang the brave words to that old crusader’s tune, with the clang of arms in its rhythms, the resistless ardour in the throbbing of its accents…

Wearily he rose, rubbing his eyes, for he was fain of victory and the magic wrought by courage.

He noticed Alexi peacefully resting. He looked more closely and saw the stain of blood on his sheepskin cloak. He had been shot in the side, and had died quietly as he slept.

And then he turned and went without a word to his thankless task. As he tramped the three miles in the grey light and the bitter cold along the mountain path, he thought of his dream, and found comfort. For there is a time to fight and a time to rest. He took up the great burden of peace and dishonour; he thought no more of the madness of the charge; he ceased to long for a death among the enemy. The time for fierce energy was past…For there is a time to fight and a time to rest, a time for resurrection and a time to acquiesce in death. He trudged long accepting the mortal prose of failure.

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Suetonius: Not let slip any pretext for war, however unjust and dangerous

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Suetonius: Caligula and military glory

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Suetonius
From Lives of the Twelve Caesars
Translated by J. C. Rolfe

Caesar compelled Pompeius and Crassus to come to Luca, a city in his province, where he prevailed on them to stand for a second consulship, to defeat Domitius; and he also succeeded through their influence in having his term as governor of Gaul made five years longer. Encouraged by this, he added to the legions which he had received from the state others at his own cost, one actually composed of men of Transalpine Gaul…which he trained in the Roman tactics and equipped with Roman arms; and later on he gave every man of it citizenship. After that he did not let slip any pretext for war, however unjust and dangerous it might be, picking quarrels as well with allied, as with hostile and barbarous nations; so that once the senate decreed that a commission be sent to inquire into the condition of the Gallic provinces, and some even recommended that Caesar be handed over to the enemy.

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He doubled the pay of the legions for all time. Whenever grain was plentiful, he distributed it to them without stint or measure, and now and then gave each man a slave from among the captives.

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He took no less pains to win the devotion of princes and provinces all over the world, offering prisoners to some by the thousand as a gift, and sending auxiliary troops to the aid of others whenever they wished, and as often as they wished, without the sanction of the senate or people…

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There is a saying of Marcus Cato that Caesar was the only man who undertook to overthrow the state when sober.

***

Neither when in command of armies nor as a magistrate at Rome did he show a scrupulous integrity; for as certain man have declared in their memoirs, when he was proconsul in Spain,he not only begged money from the allies, to help pay his debts, but also attacked and sacked some towns of the Lusitanians although they did not refuse his terms and opened their gates to him on his arrival. In Gaul he pillaged shrines and temples of the gods filled with offerings, and oftener sacked towns for the sake of plunder than for any fault. In consequence he had more gold than he knew what to do with, and offered it for sale throughout Italy and the provinces at the rate of three thousand sesterces the pound. In his first consulship he stole three thousand pounds of gold from the Capitol, replacing it with the same weight of gilded bronze. He made alliances and thrones a matter of barter, for he extorted from Ptolemy alone in his own name and that of Pompey nearly six thousand talents, while later on he met the heavy expenses of the civil wars and of his triumphs and entertainments by the most bare-faced pillage and sacrilege.

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Alfred de Vigny: It is war that is wrong, not we

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

French writers on war and peace

Alfred de Vigny: Selections on war

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Alfred de Vigny
From Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835)
Translated by Humphrey Hare

‘We were at war. He’s no more a murderer than I was myself at Rheims. When I killed the Russian boy perhaps I, too, was a murderer? In the great war in Spain the men who stabbed our sentries did not consider themselves murderers and, since they were at war, perhaps they were not. Did the Catholics and Huguenots murder each other or not? How many murders are there in a big engagement? That is a point upon which our reasoning fails and is silent. It is war that is wrong, not we…’

The dazzling Grandeur of conquerors is quenched, perhaps for ever. Their past luster fades, I repeat, in proportion to the growth in human minds of contempt for war and, in human hearts, of loathing for its ruthless cruelty. Standing armies are an embarrassment to their masters…Happily, philosophy has belittled war; negotiations replaced it; scientific invention will end by abolishing it.

***

Soldiers fight and die with little thought of God. Our age knows this is so, would wish it otherwise, and can do nothing.

***

Cold calculation now enables war to be waged with scientific violence.

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Rutilius Namatianus: Races of demigods who knew not iron-harnessed Mars

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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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Rutilius Namatianus
From A Voyage Home to Gaul
Translated by J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff

More good is done to the world by teeming earth which gives birth to iron than by the golden gravel washed down by the Tagus in the distant West; for deadly gold is the substance that makes vice: blind lust of gold leads into every crime: golden gifts carry by storm the troth of wedded brides: a golden shower can buy the maid’s embraces: loyalty sapped by gold betrays the well-walled town: scandalous misuse of gold ambition itself pursues its wild career. But not so iron: it is with iron that neglected fields are tilled; by iron was the first way of living found. Races of demigods, who knew not iron-harnessed Mars, by iron faced the charge of savage beasts.

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Alexandre Dumas: The dove

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

French writers on war and peace

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Alexandre Dumas
From The Chevalier de Maison Rouge (1845)
Translator unknown

In the tempest which unchains the wind and hurls the thunderbolt, the nest of the dove is shaken in the tree where it had retired for shelter.

***

The house of justice was a large and somber building, exciting more fear than love for the goddess. There might be seen united in this narrow space all the instruments and attributes of human vengeance.

***

These cries were mournful and prolonged; there was about them something unearthly and piercing, like the howling of wind in the dark and deserted corridor, when the tempest borrows the human voice to animate the passions of the elements.

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Alfred de Vigny: Admiration for military commander turns us into slaves and madmen

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

French writers on war and peace

Alfred de Vigny: Selections on war

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Alfred de Vigny
From Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835)
Translated by Humphrey Hare

Such things happen in a society where feeling is repressed. The constant and excessive effort to toughen one’s character is one of the bad sides of the profession of arms. The heart is trained to be hard, and pity hidden for fear it should seem weakness; one tries one’s hardest to conceal the divine sense of compassion, without realizing that by dint of locking up a good emotion the prisoner is stifled.

***

Martial Grandeur…seems to me to be of two kinds: that of command and that of obedience. The first, wholly superficial, active, brilliant, proud, egotistical and capricious, will daily become rarer, and less coveted, as civilization grows more peaceful; the other, wholly interior, passive, hidden, modest, devoted and persevering, will be honoured more every day; for, to-day, when the spirit of conquest is dying out, the only kind of greatness an exalted character can bring to the profession of arms seems to me to reside to less in the glory of battle than in the honour of silent suffering…

***

O dreams of command and slavery! O corrupting thoughts of power, fit only to deceive children! False enthusiasms! Subtle poisons, who will ever succeed in finding an antidote for you?

***

Admiration for a military commander becomes a passion, a fanaticism, a frenzy, which blinds us and turns us into slaves and madmen.

 

 

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Libanius: War in time of peace

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Libanius: Rulers more popular for granting mercy than possessing multitudes of soldiers

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Libanius
From Oration 30
Unknown translator

[T]he husbandman is impoverished, and the revenue suffers. For, be the will ever so good, impossibilities are not to be surmounted. Of such mischievous consequence are the arbitrary proceedings of those persons in the country, who say, ‘they fight with the temples.’ But that war is the gain of those who oppress the inhabitants: and robbing these miserable people of their goods, and what they had laid up of the fruits of the earth for their sustenance, they go off as with the spoils of those whom they have conquered…[T]hese also are your subjects, and so much more profitable than those who injure them, as laborious men are than the idle: for they are like bees, these like drones…Others glory and boast, and tell their exploits to those who are ignorant of them, and say they are more deserving than the husbandmen. Nevertheless, what is this but in time of peace to wage war with the husbandmen? For it by no means lessens these evils that they suffer from their countrymen. But it is really more grievous to suffer the things which I have mentioned in a time of peace, from those who ought to assist them in a time of trouble.

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Alfred de Vigny: War is condemned of God and even of man who holds it in secret horror

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

French writers on war and peace

Alfred de Vigny: Selections on war

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Alfred de Vigny
From Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835)
Translated by Humphrey Hare

I had not at that time any comprehensive view of our Fatherland of France or of that other Fatherland of Europe which surrounds it; indeed, looking further, of the fatherland of humanity, the whole world, which happily becomes smaller each day, as the hand of civilization closes around it. I had not then thought how much happier the soldier would be at heart if he could feel that there were two men within him, the one obeying the other; if he knew that after the hard part he must play in war, he had the right to play another, more benevolent and no less glorious, in peace…

[I]t is too much for a single head to bear the heavy responsibility of so many murders; if there were as many to bear it as there are combatants, they would be none too many. Those who are responsible for executing the law of bloodshed should in justice at least properly understand it…I repeat once more, armies and wars will not endure for ever. Despite the words of the sophist, with whom I have argued elsewhere, it is quite untrue to suppose that there is anything sacred about war, even against a foreign enemy; nor is there any truth in the saying that the earth thirsts for blood. War is condemned of God and even of man who, though he makes it, holds it in secret horror; and the earth cries to heaven for no more than the fresh water of its rivers and the pure dew of its clouds.

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Henry Noel Brailsford: Waiting for the horrors of a war that was coming

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

British writers on peace and war

Henry Noel Brailsford: Who is the happy warrior?

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Henry Noel Brailsford
From The Broom of the War God (1898)

It was a charitable darkness. The persons of the farce dropped their masks. They moved about, black human figures, neither petty nor frivolous, black human figures waiting for the horrors of a war that was coming. A sense of pity and forgiveness, of a simple sadness in the tragedy that called for no clever phrase to express it, came over Graham as he sat on his bench, thinking without words. Yes, yes, it was Fate that moved them, those black masses on legs, those things in the dark without eyes. And he abandoned himself to the fancy. It seemed the road to rest, to walk towards Death in this fashion, with grown-up children about one, with “Folly” for the rule of life.

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The company had covered half-a-mile when a halt was called, and the captain and the sergeant went aside again to peer over the plain and discuss the situation.

“Hallo!” said Smith, “that road wasn’t red a minute ago.” It was as though a vein had been opened on the moor three miles away, and the red blood trickled slowly down, a thin streak soaking its way through the yellow dust. The eyes of the company were fixed on the dry road, greedily watching the yellow absorbing the red.

It had a fascination like nothing else on earth, this thin red symbol of terror that crept remorselessly over the sand.

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