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Romain Rolland: Tolstoy and peace among men

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From Life of Tolstoy (1911)
Translated by Bernard Miall

Ours it was by its ardent love of life, by its quality of youth; ours by its irony, its disillusion, its pitiless discernment, and its haunting sense of mortality. Ours by its dreams of brotherly love, of peace among men; ours by its terrible accusation of the lies of civilisation; ours by its realism; by its mysticism ours; by its savour of nature, its sense of invisible forces, its vertigo in the face of the infinite.

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Tolstoy the Christian, forgetting the patriotism of his first narrative [Sebastopol], curses this impious war:

“And these men, Christians, who profess the same great law of love and of sacrifice, do not, when they perceive what they have done, fall upon their knees repentant, before Him who in giving them life set within the heart of each, together with the fear of death, the love of the good and the beautiful. They do not embrace as brothers, with tears of joy and happiness!”

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Russia should withdraw from all warfare because she must accomplish “the great revolution.”

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For a long time the Old Believers, known in Russia as the Sectators, had been obstinately practising, in spite of persecution, non-obedience to the State, and had refused to recognise the legitimacy of its power. The absurdity of the Russo-Japanese war enabled this state of mind to spread without difficulty through the rural districts. Refusals of military service became more and more general; and the more brutally they were punished the more stubborn the revolt grew in secret.

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Those are blind who do not perceive the miracle of this great mind, the incarnation of fraternal love in the midst of a people and a century stained with the blood of hatred!

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His article on War, written on the occasion of the Universal Peace Congress in London in 1891, is a rude satire on the peacemakers who believe in international arbitration:

“This is the story of the bird which is caught after a pinch of salt has been put on his tail. It is quite as easy to catch him without it. They laugh at us who speak of arbitration and disarmament by consent of the Powers. Mere verbiage, this! Naturally the Governments approve: worthy apostles! They know very well that their approval will never prevent their doing as they will.” (Cruel Pleasures.)

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