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Bertha von Suttner: Education hardens children against natural horror which terrors of war awaken

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

Women writers on peace and war

Bertha von Suttner: Mounting doubts about war

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Bertha von Suttner
From Lay Down Your Arms
The Autobiography of Martha von Tilling

Translated by T. Holmes

Speaking generally it is history which, as our youth are instructed, is the chief source of the admiration of war. From thence it is stamped on the childish mind that the Lord of armies is constantly decreeing battles, that these are, as it were, the vehicle upon which the destiny of nations is carried on through the ages; that they are the fulfilment of an inevitable law of nature and must always occur from time to time like storms at sea or earthquakes; that terror and woe are indeed connected with them; but the latter is fully counterpoised, for the commonwealth by the importance of the results, for individuals by the blaze of glory which may be won in them, or even by the consciousness of the fulfilment of the most elevated duty. Can there be a more glorious death than that on the field of honour, a nobler immortality than that of the hero? All this comes out clear and unanimous in all school-books of “readings for the use of schools,” where, besides the formal history, which is only represented as a concatenation of military events, even the separate tales and poems always manage to tell only of heroic deeds of arms. This is a part of the patriotic system of education. Since out of every scholar a defender of his country has to be formed, therefore the enthusiasm even of the child must be aroused for this its first duty as a citizen; his spirit must be hardened against the natural horror which the terrors of war might awaken, by passing over as quickly as possible the story of the most fearful massacres and butcheries as of something quite common and necessary, and laying meanwhile all possible stress on the ideal side of this ancient national custom; and it is in this way they have succeeded in forming a race eager for battle and delighting in war.

The girls – who indeed are not to take the field – are educated out of the same books as are prepared for the military training of the boys, and so in the female youth arises the same conception which exhausts itself in envy that they have nothing to do with war and in admiration for the military class. What pictures of horror out of all the battles on earth, from the Biblical and Macedonian and Punic Wars down to the Thirty Years’ War and the wars of Napoleon, were brought before us tender maidens, who in all other things were formed to be gentle and mild; how we saw there cities burnt and the inhabitants put to the sword and the conquered trodden down – and all this was a real enjoyment; and of course through this heaping up and repetition of the horrors the perception that they were horrors becomes blunted, everything which belongs to the category of war comes no longer to be regarded from the point of view of humanity, and receives a perfectly peculiar mystico-historico-political consecration. War must be – it is the source of the highest dignities and honours – that the girls see very well, and they have had also to learn by heart the poems and tirades in which war is magnified. And thus originate the Spartan mothers, and the “mothers of the colours,” and the frequent invitations to the cotillon which are given to a corps of officers when it is the turn of the ladies to choose partners….

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