Home > Uncategorized > William Faulkner: All we ever needed to do is just say, Enough of this

William Faulkner: All we ever needed to do is just say, Enough of this

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

American writers on peace and against war

William Faulkner: There is only the question: When will I be blown up?

William Faulkner: To militarists, all civilians, even their own, are alien intruders

Thomas Mann: William Faulkner’s love for man, protest against militarism and war

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William Faulkner
From A Fable (1954)

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[Posted with fair use understanding and with the sole intent of acquainting those not already familiar with the matter with William Faulkner’s view of war. Despite the complex and often challenging narrative style and structure, all who can afford to are encouraged to purchase the novel from which the excerpts are taken.]

Standing not quite at attention, looking not at anything but merely staring at rigid eyelevel above the group commander’s head, the division commander made his formal request for permission to have the whole regiment executed. The group commander heard him through. There was nothing whatever in the group commander’s face.

‘Endorsed as received,’ he said. ‘Return to your troops.’ The division commander did not move. The group commander sat back in his chair and spoke to the army commander without even turning his head: ‘Henri. Will you conduct these gentlemen to the little drawing room and have them bring wine, whisky, tea, whatever they fancy?’ He said to the American colonel in quite passable English: ‘I have heard of your United States coca cola. My regrets and apologies that I do not have that for you yet. But soon we hope, eh?’

***

The group commander looked at the division commander for another moment. Then he said: ‘It cant be possible that you don’t even see that it has already ceased to matter whether these three thousand or these four men die or not. That there is already more to this than the execution of twice three thousand men could remedy or even change.’

‘Speak for yourself,’ the division commander said. ‘I have seen some ten times three thousand dead Frenchmen.’ He said, ‘You will say, Slain by other Frenchmen?’ He said, repeated, rote-like, cold, unemphasized, almost telegraphic: ‘Comite des Forges. De Ferrovie. S.P.A.D. The people at Billancourt. Not to mention the English and the Americans, since they are not French, at least not until they have conquered us. What will it matter to the three thousand or the ten times three thousand when they are dead? Nor matter to us who killed them, if we are successful?’

***

Because there are rules, the division commander said harshly. ‘Our rules. We shall enforce them, or we shall die – the captains and the colonels – no matter what the cost -‘

‘It wasn’t we who invented war,’ the group commander said. ‘It was war which created us. From the loins of man’s furious ineradicable greed sprang the captains and the colonels to his necessity. We are his responsibility; he shall not shirk it.’

‘But not me,’ the division commander said.

”You,’ the group commander said. ‘We can permit even our own rank and file to let us down on occasion; that’s one of the prerequisites of their doom and fate as rank and file forever. They may even stop the wars, as they have done before and will again; ours merely to guard them from the knowledge that it was actually they who accomplished that act. Let the whole vast moil and seethe of man confederate in stopping wars if they wish, so long as we can prevent them for learning that they have done so. A moment ago you said that we must enforce our rules, or die. It’s no abrogation of a rule that will destroy us. It’s less. The simple effacement from men’s memory of a single word will be enough. But we are safe. Do you know what that word is?’

The division commander looked at him for a moment. ‘Yes?’

‘Fatherland,’ the group commander said…

***

‘…Oh, I know it too: the men who, in hopes of being recorded as victorious prime- or cabinet-ministers, furnish men for this. The men who, in order to become millionaires, supply the guns and shells. The men who, hoping to be addressed someday as Field Marshall or Viscount Plugstreet or Earl of Loos, invent the gambles they call plans. The men who, to win a war, will go out and dig up if possible, invent if necessary, an enemy to fight against…’

***

“Wasn’t one enough then to tell us the same thing all them two thousand years ago: that all we ever needed to do is just say, Enough of this; – us, not even the sergeants and the corporals, but just us, all of us, Germans and Colonials and Frenchmen and all the other foreigners in the mud here, saying together: Enough. Let them that’s already dead and maimed and missing be enough of this: – a thing so easy and simple that even human man, as full of evil and sin and folly as he is, can understand and believe it this time…”

***

They could only execute so many of us before they will have worn out the last rifle and pistol and expended the last live shell…then the field officers: colonels and senators and Members; then, last and ultimate, the ambassadors and ministers and lesser generals themselves frantic and inept among the slowing wheels and melting bearings, while the old men, the last handful of kings and presidents and field marshals and spoiled-beef and shoe-peg barons, their backs to the last crumbling wall of their real, their credible, their believable world, wearied, spend, not with blood-glut at all but with the eye-strain of aiming and the muscle-tension of pointing and the finger-cramp of squeezing, fired the last puny scattered and markless fusillade as into the face of the sea itself…

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