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Ernest Crosby: War and Hell


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

American writers on peace and against war

Ernest Crosby: Selections against war, for peace


Ernest Crosby
From War and Hell

Here is “great rejoicing at the nation’s capital.” So says the morning’s paper.
The enemy’s fleet has been annihilated.
Mothers are delighted because other mothers have lost sons just like their own;
Wives and daughters smile at the thought of new made widows and orphans;
Strong men are full of glee because other strong men are either slain or doomed to rot alive in torments;
Small boys are delirious with pride and joy as they fancy themselves thrusting swords into soft flesh, and burning and laying waste such homes as they themselves inhabit;
Another capital is cast down with mourning and humiliation just in proportion as ours is raised up, and that is the very spice of our triumph.
How could we exult without having a fellow man to exult over?
Yesterday it was the thrill of grappling with him and hating him;
To-day we grind our heel into his face and despise him.
This is life – this is patriotism – this is rapture –
But we – what are we, men or devils? and our Christian capital – what is it but an outpost of hell?

Who are you at Washington who presume to declare me the enemy of anybody or to declare any nation my enemy?
However great you may be, I altogether deny your authority to sow enmity and hatred in my soul.
I refuse to accept your ready-made enemies, and, if I did accept them, I should feel bound to love them, and, loving them, would you have me caress them with bombshells and bayonets? When I want enemies, I reserve the right to manufacture them for myself.
If I am ever scoundrel enough to wish to kill, I will do my own killing on my own account and not hide myself behind your license.
Before God your commissions and warrants and enlistment rolls, relieving men of conscience and independence and manhood, are not worth the paper they are written on.
Away with all your superstitions of a statecraft worse than priestcraft.
Hypnotize fools and cowards if you will, but for my part, I choose to be a man.

O shade of Cervantes: Come back and draw for us another Don Quixote.
Prick this bubble of militarism as you pricked that other bubble of knight-errantry.
The world yearns for your reappearing.
Come and depict the hero!

But, you say, there have been good wars.
Never, never, never!
As I look back at our “good” war – at the indelible bloody splash upon our history – the four years’ revel of hatred – the crowded shambles of foiled Secession –
I see that it was all a pitiable error.
That which we fought for, the Union of haters by force, was a wrong, misleading cause: the worship of bigness, the measure of greatness by latitude and longitude.
A single town true enough to abhor slaughter as well as slavery would have been better worth dying for than all that tempestuous domain.
The incidental good – the freedom of the slaves, illusive, unsubstantial freedom at best, freedom by law but not from the heart – does it really quite balance the scales?
From the seed then sown grew up imperialism and militarism and capitalism and a whole forest of stout, deep-rooted ills in whose shadow we lead an unhealthy, stunted life to-day.

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