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Archive for May, 2016

Benito Pérez Galdós: Good God! why are there wars?

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

Spanish writers on war and peace

Benito Pérez Galdós: Cannon should be cast into church bells

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Benito Pérez Galdós
From Trafalgar (1882)
Translated by Clara Bell

There were both English and Spaniards in our boat – though most Spaniards – and it was strange to note how they fraternized, helping and encouraging each other in their common danger, and quite forgetting that only the day before they had been killing each other in hideous fight, more like wild beasts than men. I looked at the English who rowed with as good a will as our own sailors, I saw in their faces the same tokens of fear or of hope, and above all the same expression, sacred to humanity, of kindness and fellowship which was the common motive of all. And as I noted it I said to myself: “Good God! why are there wars? Why cannot these men be friends under all the circumstances of life as they are in danger? Is not such a scene as this enough to prove that all men are brothers?”

But the idea of nationality suddenly occurred to me to cut short these speculations, and my geographical theory of islands. “To be sure,” said I to myself, “the islands must need want to rob each other of some portion of the land, and that is what spoils everything. And indeed there must be a great many bad men there who make wars for their own advantage, because they are ambitious and wish for power, or are avaricious and wish for wealth. It is these bad men who deceive the rest – all the miserable creatures who do the fighting for them; and to make the fraud complete, they set them against other nations, sow discord and foment envy – and here you see the consequences. I am certain” – added I to myself, “that this can never go on; I will bet two to one that before long the inhabitants of the different Islands will be convinced that they are committing a great folly in making such tremendous wars, and that a day will come when they will embrace each other and all agree to be like one family.” So I thought then; and now, after sixty years of life, I have not seen that day dawn.

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Benito Pérez Galdós: Cannon should be cast into church bells

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

Spanish writers on war and peace

Benito Pérez Galdós: Good God! why are there wars?

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Benito Pérez Galdós
From Trafalgar (1882)
Translated by Clara Bell

“This is not living !” Dona Francisca went on, throwing up her arms: “God forgive me, but I hate the sea, though they say it is one of His most glorious works. What is the use of the Holy Inquisition, will you tell me, if it is not to burn those diabolical ships of war to ashes? What is the good of this incessant firing of cannon, – balls upon balls, all directed against four boards, as you may say, which are soon smashed to leave hundreds of hapless wretches to drown in the sea? Is not that provoking God? – And yet you men are half-wild as soon as you hear a cannon fired! Merciful Heaven ! my flesh creeps at the sound, and if every one was of my way of thinking, we should have no more sea-fights, and the cannon would be cast into bells. Look here, Alonso,” she said, standing still in front of her husband, “it seems to me that they have done you damage enough already; what more do you want? You and a parcel of madmen like yourself…?

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“This is a pretty state of things, sir, – yes, and the fault is yours; yours,” she went on, raising her voice and turning purple. “Yes, senor, yours, who offend God by killing so many people – and if you would go to church and tell your beads instead of wanting to go in those, diabolical ships of war, the devil would not find time to trot round Spain so nimbly, playing the mischief with us all.”

 

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Diogenes Laertius: Steel and eloquence

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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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Diogenes Laertius
From Lives of Eminent Philosophers
Translated by R.D. Hicks

[Demetrius said] that all that steel could achieve in war was won in politics by eloquence.

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[Solon] compared laws to spiders’ webs, which stand firm when any light and yielding object falls upon them, while a larger thing breaks through and makes off.

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Spanish writers on war and peace

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Montesquieu: Wars abroad aggravate conflicts at home

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

French writers on war and peace

Montesquieu: Distemper of militarism brings nothing but public ruin

Montesquieu: Military glory leads to torrents of blood overspreading the earth

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Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu
From Spirit of the Laws
Translated by Thomas Nugent

If a prince is shut up in a seraglio, he cannot leave his voluptuous abode without alarming those who keep him confined. They will not bear that his person and power should pass into other hands. He seldom, therefore, wages war in person, and hardly ventures to intrust the command to his generals.

A prince of this stamp, unaccustomed to resistance in his palace, is enraged to see his will opposed by armed force; hence he is generally governed by wrath or vengeance…War, therefore, is carried on under such a government in its full natural fury, and less extent is given to the law of nations than in other states.

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Most of the European nations are still governed by the principles of morality. But if from a long abuse of power or the fury of conquest, despotic sway should prevail to a certain degree, neither morals nor climate would be able to withstand its baleful influence: and then human nature would be exposed, for some time at least, even in this beautiful part of the world, to the insults with which she has been abused in the other three.

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The real power of a prince does not consist so much in the facility he meets with in making conquests as in the difficulty an enemy finds in attacking him, and, if I may so speak, in the immutability of his condition. But the increase of territory obliges a government to lay itself more open to an enemy.

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It was a saying of the Lord of Coucy to King Charles V “that the English are never weaker, nor more easily overcome, than in their own country.” The same was observed of the Romans; the same of the Carthaginians; and the same will happen to every power that sends armies to distant countries, in order to re-unite by discipline and military force those who are divided among themselves by political or civil interests. The state finds itself weakened by the disorder that still continues, and more so by the remedy.

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Montesquieu: Military glory leads to torrents of blood overspreading the earth

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

French writers on war and peace

Montesquieu: Distemper of militarism brings nothing but public ruin

Montesquieu: Wars abroad aggravate conflicts at home

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Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu
From Spirit of the Laws
Translated by Thomas Nugent

The right…of war is derived from necessity and strict justice. If those who direct the conscience or councils of princes do not abide by this maxim, the consequence is dreadful: when they proceed on arbitrary principles of glory, convenience, and utility, torrents of blood must overspread the earth.

But, above all, let them not plead such an idle pretext as the glory of the prince: his glory is nothing but pride; it is a passion, and not a legitimate right.

It is true the fame of his power might increase the strength of his government ; but it might be equally increased by the reputation of his justice.

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The authors of our public law, guided by ancient histories, without confining themselves to cases of strict necessity, have fallen into very great errors. They have adopted tyrannical and arbitrary principles, by supposing the conquerors to be invested with I know not what right to kill: thence they have drawn consequences as terrible as the very principle, and established maxims which the conquerors themselves, when possessed of the least grain of sense, never presumed to follow. It is a plain case, that when the conquest is completed, the conqueror has no longer a right to kill, because he has no longer the plea of natural defence and self-preservation.

What has led them into this mistake is, that they imagined a conqueror had a right to destroy the state; whence they inferred that he had a right to destroy the men that compose it: a wrong consequence from a false principle. For from the destruction of the state it does not at all follow that the people who compose it ought to be also destroyed. The state is the association of men, and not the men themselves; the citizen may perish, and the man remain.

From the right of killing in the case of conquest, politicians have drawn that of reducing to slavery – a consequence as ill grounded as the principle.

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To prevent the executive power from being able to oppress, it is requisite that the armies with which it is intrusted should consist of the people, and have the same spirit as the people, as was the case at Rome till the time of Marius. To obtain this end, there are only two ways, either that the persons employed in the army should have sufficient property to answer for their conduct to their fellow-subjects, and be enlisted only for a year, as was customary at Rome; or if there should be a standing army, composed chiefly of the most despicable part of the nation, the legislative power should have a right to disband them as soon as it pleased; the soldiers should live in common with the rest of the people; and no separate camp, barracks, or fortress should be suffered.

 

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Montesquieu: Distemper of militarism brings nothing but public ruin

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

French writers on war and peace

Montesquieu: Military glory leads to torrents of blood overspreading the earth

Montesquieu: Wars abroad aggravate conflicts at home

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Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu
From Spirit of the Laws
Translated by Thomas Nugent

A new distemper has spread itself over Europe, infecting our princes, and inducing them to keep up an exorbitant number of troops. It has its redoublings, and of necessity becomes contagious. For as soon as one prince augments his forces, the rest, of course, do the same; so that nothing is gained thereby but the public ruin. Each monarch keeps as many armies on foot as if his people were in danger of being exterminated: and they give the name of peace to this general effort of all against all. Thus is Europe ruined to such a degree that were private people to be in the same situation as the three most opulent powers of this part of the globe, they would not have necessary subsistence. We are poor with the riches and commerce of the whole world; and soon, by thus augmenting our troops, we shall be all soldiers, and be reduced to the very same situation as the Tartars.

Great princes, not satisfied with hiring or buying troops of petty states, make it their business on all sides to pay subsidies for alliances, that is, generally to throw away their money.

The consequence of such a situation is the perpetual augmentation of taxes; and the mischief which prevents all future remedy is, that they reckon no more upon their revenues, but in waging war against their whole capital. It is no unusual thing to see governments mortgage their funds even in time of peace, and to employ what they call extraordinary means to ruin themselves -means so extraordinary, indeed, that such are hardly thought of by the most extravagant young spendthrift.

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Armando Palacio Valdés: “He would be better with a pickaxe in his hand, and more useful to his country”

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

Armando Palacio Valdés
From The Grandee (1893)
Translated by Rachell Challice

He had a military bearing and quite a martial aspect, with his white moustache, large rolling eyes, thick eyebrows, and powerful hands. Nevertheless, there was not a kinder man in the Spanish dominions. His career had been cast in Exchequer offices, and he always expressed strong opinions against the power of the army. He maintained that the blood-suckers of the State were not those employed in civil functions, but the army and navy. The fact was demonstrated by the production of figures and notes on the subject, when he would quite lose himself in bureaucratic divagations. He said that war was caused by the thirst for blood emanating from the superfluous energy of the nation. This was a phrase he had read in the Boletin de Contribuciones Indirectas and appropriated as his own with marked effect. He said soldiers were vagrants, and his aversion to all uniforms and epaulettes was extreme. When the Corporation of Lancia talked of applying to the government for a regiment to garrison the city, he, as councillor, opposed the measure most resolutely.

What was the good of bringing a lot of spongers into the neighbourhood? Instead of having the comfort of being at some distance from a regiment, they would have all the disadvantages of harbouring one. Everything would get dear, for the colonels and officers liked to live well and have the best of everything, “after all the hard work they did to earn it,” he added, ironically…

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Mateo gnashed his teeth, and gave utterance to sounds indicative of his hatred of the armed force, and then exclaimed in an ironical tone:

“How delightful to see warriors in time of peace!”

“You are quite cracked about them, Don Cristobal. Soldiers are very useful.”

“Useful!” exclaimed the Pensioner, in a rage. “What use are they I should like to know? How are they useful?”

“They keep the peace, man.”

“They keep war, you mean. The Civil Guard can keep us from rogues, but they foment dissensions and cause the ruin of the country. Directly they see the enemy appear, they take care to go off in another direction, and then they get appointments, crosses, and pensions. I maintain that as long as there are soldiers, there will be no peace in Spain.”

“But, Don Cristobal, supposing a foreign nation attacked us?”

The Pensioner gave an ironical smile and shook his head several times before replying.

“Get along, silly; why the only country that could attack us by land is France, and if France should ever do so, what good would these stupid little officers in uniform be to us?”

“Well, apart from that, soldiers are good for trade. The shops profit by them, and the hotel-keepers benefit also.”

Manuel Antonio only defended the military to aggravate Mateo, but there was a shade of irony in his present remarks that was excessively aggravating.

“That is just what it is! And it is that which annoys me so, for where does the money come from that they spend, you foolish fellow? Why, from you and from me, and from that gentleman; in fact, from every one who pays anything to the State in one form or another. The result is that they spend without producing, and so set a bad example in the towns; for idleness is a corrupting influence to those that are inclined to be lazy. Do you know what the army costs? Why, the naval and military Ministers take between them half of the national grant. That is to say, justice, religion, the expenses of the maintenance of our relations with other countries, and the working of all material interests, do not take as much to keep as these scarlet trousered young gentlemen. If other nations of Europe have a great army, what is that to do with it? Let them have it. Besides, they can allow themselves this luxury because they have money. But we are a poor little nation with only outside show. Besides, in other countries there are international complications, from which we are fortunately free. France is too afraid of the intervention of other countries to attack us, but if perchance it did attack us, it would conquer us just as much with an army as without one.”

The Pensioner was very emphatic in his arguments, which, with his eyes blazing with anger, he enforced with vehement gesticulations of the hands.

Manuel Antonio was delighted at seeing him get into a rage; and at that moment the little company of officers passed near with a polite “Good-day,” which they all returned excepting Don Cristobal, who took no notice of the greeting.

“I really think you go too far, Don Cristobal. Now what do you think of Captain Nuñez who has just gone by? Is he not a perfect gentleman with courteous, pleasant manners?”

“He would be better with a pickaxe in his hand, and more useful to his country,” returned the Pensioner crossly.

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