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


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

French writers on war and peace

Alfred de Vigny: Selections on war


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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