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