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Anatole France: War ruins all trades but its own

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

French writers on war and peace

Anatole France: Selections on war

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Anatole France
From Life of Joan of Arc
Translated by Winifred Stephens

At that time Jeanne was thirteen or fourteen. War everywhere around her, even in the children’s play; the husband of one of her godmothers taken and ransomed by men-at-arms; the husband of her cousin-german Mengette killed by a mortar; her native land overrun by marauders, burnt, pillaged, laid waste, all the cattle carried off; nights of terror, dreams of horror, – such were the surroundings of her childhood.

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It was a fine war. On both sides the combatants laid hands on bread, wine, money, silver-plate, clothes, cattle big and little, and what could not be carried off was burnt. Men, women, and children were put to ransom. In most of the villages of Bassigny agriculture was suspended, nearly all the mills were destroyed.

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From the Loire to the Seine and from the Seine to the Somme the only cultivated land was around châteaux and fortresses. Most of the fields lay fallow. In many places fairs and markets had been suspended. Labourers were everywhere out of work. War, after having ruined all trades, was now the only trade.

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Unfortunately for the labourers of the castelleny of Vaucouleurs…there lived Robert de Saarbruck, Damoiseau of Commercy, who, subsisting on plunder, was especially given to the Lorraine custom of marauding. He was of the same way of thinking as that English king who said that warfare without burnings was no good, any more than chitterlings without mustard.

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