Home > Uncategorized > Bertha von Suttner: Among these ills the most dreadful of all – War

Bertha von Suttner: Among these ills the most dreadful of all – War

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

Women writers on peace and war

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

Translated by T. Holmes

We ourselves were so happy that we would gladly have seen all the world – aye, and future generations too – assured of the treasures of all life’s joys. Yet we did not shut our eyes to the misery in which the greater part of mankind was groaning, and in which, for some generations at any rate, they must continue to groan – poverty, ignorance, want of freedom, exposed to so many dangers and ills; and among these ills the most dreadful of all – War. “Ah, could one contribute anything towards warding it off?” This wish often sprang with groans from our hearts; but the contemplation of the prevailing circumstances and views was enough to discourage us and make us feel that it was impossible. Alas! the beautiful dream that for every one it might “be well with them, and they might live long upon the earth” could not be fulfilled, at least not at present.

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A stab of pain shot through my soul, a pain which united into one twenty different fancies: war; and he, my All, would have to go, would be crippled, shot dead; the child in my bosom, whose coming he had greeted with such joy yesterday, would be born into the world an orphan; all destroyed, all destroyed, our happiness yet scarcely full-blown, but bearing the promise of such rich fruit! This danger in the one scale – and in the other – ? Austria’s consideration in the German Bund, the liberation of Schleswig-Holstein, “fresh laurels in the army’s crown of glory” – i.e., a lot of phrases for school themes and army proclamations – and even that only dubious, for defeat is always just as possible as victory. And this supposed benefit to the country is to be set against not one individual’s suffering – mine – but thousands and thousands of individuals in our own and in the enemy’s country must be exposed to the same pain as was now quivering through me. Oh! could not this be prevented? Could it not be warded off? If all were to unite, all learned, good, and just men to avert the threatened evil!

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When the sword is once drawn nothing more is necessary than to shout “Hurrah,” and press hotly on to victory. Besides that, all that is necessary is to invoke the blessing of heaven on the war. For so much is certain, that it must be the business of the Almighty to see that the Protocol of the 8th May is maintained, and the Law of 5th November repealed. He must conduct the matter so that the precise number of men bleed to death and villages are set on fire, that are necessary in order that the family of Glückstadt, or that of Augustenburg should rule over a particular spot of earth. What a foolish world – still in leading strings – cruel, unthinking! Such was the result of my historical studies.

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“The butchery lasted more than two hours, and we remained as I said, in possession of the field. The routed enemy fled. We did not pursue. We had work enough to do on the field. A hundred paces distant from the village stood a large farmhouse, with many empty dwelling-rooms and stables; here we were to rest for the night and hither we have brought our wounded. The burial of the dead is to be done to-morrow morning. Some of the living will, of course, be shovelled in with them, for the ‘stiff cramp’ after a severe wound is a common phenomenon. Many who have remained out, whether dead or wounded, or even unwounded, we are obliged to abandon entirely, especially those who are lying under the ruins of the fallen houses. There they may, if dead, moulder slowly where they are; if wounded, bleed slowly to death; if unwounded, die slowly of famine. And we, hurrah! may go on with our jolly, joyous war!…

“Why am I writing all this to you? Why do I not break out, as a warrior should, into exalted hymns of triumph over our warlike work? Why? Because I thirst after truth, and after its expression without any reserve; because at all times I hate lying phrases; but at this moment, when I am so near death myself, and am speaking to you who, perhaps, are yourself lying in the death-agony, it presses on me doubly to speak what is in my heart. Even though a thousand others should think differently, or should hold themselves bound at least to speak differently, I will, nay, I must say it once more before I fall a sacrifice to war – I hate war. If only every man who feels the same would dare to proclaim it aloud, what a threatening protest would be shouted out to heaven! All the hurrahs which are now resounding, and all the cannon-thunder that accompanies them, would then be drowned by the battle-cry of humanity panting after humanity, by the victorious cry denouncing ‘war on war’.”

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“I recognised too soon that the desire for battle was not a super-human but an infra-human feeling, no mystic revelation from the realms of the morning, but a reminiscence of the realm of the animal, a re-awakening of the brutal. And a man who can intoxicate himself into a savage lust for blood, who – as I have seen several of our men do – can cut down with uplifted sabre an unarmed enemy, who can sink into a Berserker, or lower still, a blood-thirsty tiger – that is the man who, for the moment, revels in the ‘joy of battle’. I never did this. Believe me, my wife; I never did….”

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“Every war, however it may turn out, inevitably contains within itself the germ of a succeeding war. Very naturally; for an act of violence always violates some right. Sooner or later this right raises its claims, and the new conflict breaks out, is then again brought to a conclusion by force pregnant with injustice, and so on, ad infinitum.”

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