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Alexander Serafimovich: Down with war!

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

Russian writers on war

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Alexander Serafimovich
From The Iron Flood
Translator unidentified

Could it be Easter? No, the people were not celebrating a church feast. This was a human feast, the first of its kind in the long ages. The first since the creation of the world.

Down with war!

Cossacks embraced one another. They embraced aliens. There were no longer either Cossacks or aliens – all were citizens. There were no longer “kulaks” or “devil’s offal.” All were citizens.

Down with war!

In February the tzar had been overthrown. Then, in October, in far-off Russia, something else had happened. What it was nobody could tell exactly, but it was something which had gone deep into every heart.

Down with war!

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Shrapnel again. Thousands of deaths, blood, agony. Again his machine-guns had done their grim work and rows of human bodies had been cut down like grass. For he’d had a wonderfully true eye. For whose sake, in those days of superhuman strength, with death perpetually beside him, for whose sake had this knee-deep blood been shed? Was it for the tsar, the fatherland, the orthodox faith? Perhaps he asked himself those questions, but he never found a definite answer.

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They had seen all at once that which for ages they had been unable to see, but nevertheless had been keenly aware of – the generals, officers, judges, chiefs, the big army of officials, and the intolerable, ruinous military service. Each Cossack had had to equip his sons for military service at his own expense; after buying a horse, saddle, rifle and equipment for three or four sons, he was ruined. Things were otherwise for the peasants. They had gone to the wars empty-handed and had been given all they needed, equipped from head to foot. The mass of Cossacks had grown steadily poorer, dividing into layers, the well-to-do Cossacks rising to the top, gaining in strength and influence, the others gradually going under.

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The German commandant, quartered on the battleship, observing the movement of crowds in this foreign town which he still held under control of the kaiser’s guns, resented it as a sign of disorder and issued a command that these unknown people, these carts, soldiers, women, and children, this great crowd hurrying past the town, must halt immediately, must deliver all their arms, forage, food supplies, and await his further instructions….

The German commandant waited in vain for them to stop.

Then, breaking the blue stillness, came a boom from the battleship, roaring and breaking against the mountains, in the precipices and ravines, as if huge rocks were hurtling down. Echo sent the crash back into the far distance of the tranquil blue.

Over the gliding human snake mysteriously and unobtrusively appeared a white puff, followed by a heavy crash; the white puff, gently floating sideways, began to melt.

A sorrel gelding reared and thumped heavily to the ground, breaking both the shafts of the cart he was hitched to. A score of people rushed to him, seized his mane, tail, legs. ears, forelock and dragged him from the high-road into the ditch where they dumped the cart after him….

Another huge, blinding tongue flashed on the battleship, once more a crash shook the town, rolled among the mountains, and echoed back from behind the smooth sea; again a snowy white puff appeared in the sparkling blue sky and several people fell moaning. In a cart an infant, greedily sucking the breast of a young woman with black eyebrows and rings in her ears, suddenly became limp, his little hands fell away from the breast, his lips opened and let go of the nipple.

The mother gave a savage animal cry. People rushed to her but she pushed them away fiercely and obstinately squeezed her nipple from which the milk was dripping in warm white drops, into the baby’s tiny mouth. The little face, with upturned eyes which had lost the sparkle of life, was already turning yellow.

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