Home > Uncategorized > François-René de Chateaubriand: What is war? A barbaric profession.

François-René de Chateaubriand: What is war? A barbaric profession.

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

French writers on war and peace

Chateaubriand: Would-be master of the world who knew only how to destroy

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François-René de Chateaubriand
From Mémoires d’Outre-tombe
Translated by Robert Baldick

In the middle of the night Napoleon sent for one of his aides-de-camp, who found him with his head buried in his hands.

“What is war?” he asked. “A barbaric profession whose only secret consists in being stronger at a given point.”

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Our sovereign’s fame cost us only two or three hundred thousand men a year: we paid for it with only three million of our soldiers; our fellow-citizens bought it only at the cost of their sufferings and their liberties for fifteen years: can such trifles count? Are not the generations that have come after us resplendent in their glory? So much the worse for those who have disappeared! The calamities which occurred under the republic served to insure the safety of us all; our misfortunes under the Empire did much more: they deified Bonaparte! That should be enough for us.

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Napoleon had closed the era of the past: he made war too great for it to return in a form capable of interesting mankind. He slammed the doors of the Temple of Janus behind him; and behind those doors he heaped up piles of corpses to prevent them from ever opening again.

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To become disgusted with conquerors, one has to know all the evils they cause; one has to see the indifference with which men sacrifice the most inoffensive creatures to them in a corner of the globe in which they have never set foot…

The world sees nothing in Napoleon but his victories; the tears with which the triumphal columns are cemented do not fall from his eyes. As for myself, I believe that out of these despised sufferings, our of those calamities of the humble and lowly, there are formed in the counsels of Providence the secret causes which hurl the tyrant from his pinnacle. When individual injustices have accumulated in such numbers as to exceed the weight of good fortune, then the scale descends. There is blood which is dumb and blood which cries out: the blood of the battlefield is drunk in silence by the earth; pacific blood when sheds spurts with a moan toward Heaven; God receives it and avenges it…

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