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Waldo R. Browne: War, a parable


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

American writers on peace and against war


Waldo R. Browne
A Parable

In a certain city, little or no thought was taken for the health of its inhabitants. Open sewers ran through the streets; the water supply was polluted at its source, and the air was poisoned with foul odors. Now it chanced that a few physicians within the city, being versed in the laws of hygiene and having made them selves familiar with the horrors of pestilence, strove unremittingly to arouse in their fellow-citizens a sense of the common danger, that the sources of contagion might be purified and rendered innocuous. But for the most part their efforts were ignored, or treated with contempt and mockery.

And in due time a scourge of typhoid fell upon the city, devouring all before it.

Then said the wiseacres to the physicians: “Fools and dreamers, see how your fine theories have broken down! You would make us believe that typhoid might be done away with, and behold how it flourishes! Of what worth are your insane fancies in the face of this reality?”

Then said other wiseacres: “Base worldlings, look upon the beauty and beneficence of this scourge! See how the petty self-seekings, the low material rivalries, of every-day life are forgotten! See how rich and poor, young and old, strong and weak, are knit together in the sense of a common destiny, that exalts humanity above itself! See how the sublime spirit of sacrifice, invisible in the garish sunlight of health, now shines forth like a splendid star!”

Then said still other wiseacres: “Poltroons and weaklings, too timorous to face the fundamental realities of existence! White-livered devotees of health-at-any-price, blinded by base personal fear of typhoid, how could such as you realize that only in Disease do strong men like ourselves find opportunity and reward?”

And still other wiseacres spake, saying: “Fanatics and ignoramuses, do you not know that typhoid always has existed, and so always must? It lies in human nature – and which of you can change that?”

Then said certain members of the clergy: “Scoffers and blasphemers, who would fly in the face of the Divine Purpose! Is it not written in Holy Scripture that ‘He that abideth in this city shall die by the pestilence,’ and ‘The Lord shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee’? Who are you that dare to interfere with the appointed workings of Providence?”

This and much more they spake unto the physicians, with all manner of violent and abusive epithets. And meanwhile the scourge of typhoid swept on its course, devouring all before it.

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