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Voltaire: Invoking the gods of war

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

French writers on war and peace

Voltaire: Selections on war

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Voltaire
From Philosophical Dictionary
Translated by William F. Fleming

At length all become armed with nearly the same description of weapons; and the blood flows from one extremity of the world to the other.

Men, however, cannot forever go on killing one another; and peace is consequently made, till either party thinks itself sufficiently strong to recommence the war. Those who cannot write draw up these treaties of peace; and the chiefs of every nation, with a view more successfully to impose upon their enemies, invoke the gods to attest with what sincerity they bind themselves to the observance of these compacts. Oaths of the most solemn character are invented and employed, and one party engages in the name of the great Somonocodom, and the other in that of Jupiter the Avenger, to live forever in peace and amity; while in the names of Somonocodom and Jupiter, they take the first opportunity of cutting one another’s throats.

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In our own times, in the course of the wars that we frequently undertake for the sake of particular cities, or even perhaps villages, the Germans and the Spaniards, when they happened to be the enemies of the French, prayed to the Virgin Mary, from the bottom of their hearts, that she would completely defeat the Gauls and the Gavaches, who in their turn supplicated her, with equal importunity, to destroy the Maranes and the Teutons.

In England advocates of the red rose offered up to St. George the most ardent prayers to prevail upon him to sink all the partisans of the white rose to the bottom of the sea. The white rose was equally devout and importunate for the very opposite event. We can all of us have some idea of the embarrassment which this must have caused St. George; and if Henry VII. had not come to his assistance, St. George would never have been able to get extricated from it.

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In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money from one part of the citizens to give to the other.

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