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Romain Rolland: To Gandhi on mental unbalance leading whole world to destruction

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
Translated by R. A. Francis

From his diary, 1931

Gandhi tackled squarely and openly the two burning questions of capitalism and militarism…On the second, he said that all militarisms and all armies were to be condemned, and more than all the rest those of a nation claiming to be neutral and without aggressive intent. When someone raised the insidious objection: “If a foreign army wanted to cross Switzerland in order to attack another nation, would it not be the duty of Switzerland to stop it and block the way with its own army?” he replied: “Certainly it would be your duty to stop it. But the only true way of doing so would be by a wall of your own people, men, women and children, without arms. No army would dare to pass over their bodies, and if it did so once, it would not do so a second time, as it would be overwhelmed by the revolted conscience of the whole universe; thus your sacrifice would bear fruit.”

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We are living in a fine age, despite all the disorders it brings with it. Happy the man who can live in it with a healthy body and a strong heart!

Gandhi assents, his eyes shining. And we touch on the underside of scientific grandeur, the dizzy whirlpool of murderous inventions, machines of destruction, poison gas, etc. Gandhi (confidently): This will kill itself. If such a war and such destructions take place and meet with no resistance, there will follow a revulsion against the horrible acts committed. It is not in human nature to advance without resistance and to fight, so to speak, in a vacuum. If a nation is heroic enough to submit to violence without responding to it, it will be the strongest possible object lesson. But it cannot be done without absolute faith.

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I throw out the idea that Europe seems to be moving towards a privileged class of labourers with a sort of sacrificed proletariat below it for hard and repulsive jobs. This proletariat, recruited among foreigners and the conquered races of Africa and Asia in particular, would end up by forming a class of slaves, as in the time of the Roman Empire, when the Roman plebs unloaded its labour – and also its military defence – on to the plebs of the rest of the world. I also speak, uncomplimentarily, of Kalergi’s “Pan-Europe”.

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From a letter to Mohandas Gandhi, 1933

At this tragic moment of history, when the whole world is exposed to the most atrocious violence, on the eve of world wars surpassing in cruelty and extent all that have gone before, – a moment when the whole of humanity is divided between oppressors and oppressed, and when the latter, maddened by their sufferings and by injustice, as if drunk by the violence which rends them, see no other recourse than in that very violence, – our self-immolation to that sacred Justice which is all love and no violence takes on a universal and holy value, – like the Cross.

Though, alas! the Cross has not saved the world, it has shown the world the way to save itself, and its rays have cast light on the night of millions of unfortunate people.

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From a letter to Mohandas Gandhi, 1934

Europe, in which men’s minds are everywhere under excessive tension, is on the eve of a general war in which all the frenzy accumulated over the years risks being let loose, and it will be difficult then for the voices of reason and humanity to make themselves heard.

Permit me, in feverish Europe’s supreme hour of vigil, to appeal to you.

Of all forms of violence, the most crushing at the moment is that of a social state whose demon is Money. The power of Money was always great, but over the last half-century and even more so since the last war, it has become formidably extended by its close connection with the big industries (“heavy” industry, armaments, chemical products) and a colonial imperialism which spreads its exploitation over all the races of the earth. It has taken control of political affairs (governments have become nothing more than instruments in its hand), and its monstrous power has produced in those who wield it a mental unbalance which is leading the whole world to destruction. Large-scale industrial capitalism is fomenting war; it is speculating on the death of whole peoples (opium and its ever more murderous compounds, heroin, etc.). And unfortunately the middle classes are blindly sharing in the profits of these criminal speculations without being aware of it.

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