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Mark Twain: Cain and mankind’s legacy of war

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

American writers on peace and against war

Mark Twain: Selections on war

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Mark Twain
From The Mysterious Stranger

So, with a thought, he turned the place into the Garden of Eden, and we saw Abel praying by his altar; then Cain came walking toward him with his club, and did not seem to see us, and would have stepped on my foot if I had not drawn it in. He spoke to his brother in a language which we did not understand; then he grew violent and threatening, and we knew what was going to happen, and turned away our heads for the moment; but we heard the crash of the blows and heard the shrieks and the groans; then there was silence, and we saw Abel lying in his blood and gasping out his life, and Cain standing over him and looking down at him, vengeful and unrepentant.

Then the vision vanished, and was followed by a long series of unknown wars, murders, and massacres. Next we had the Flood, and the Ark tossing around in the stormy waters, with lofty mountains in the distance showing veiled and dim through the rain. Satan said:

“The progress of your race was not satisfactory. It is to have another chance now.”

The scene changed, and we saw Noah overcome with wine.

Next, we had Sodom and Gomorrah, and “the attempt to discover two or three respectable persons there,” as Satan described it. Next, Lot and his daughters in the cave.

Next came the Hebraic wars, and we saw the victors massacre the survivors and their cattle, and save the young girls alive and distribute them around.

Next we had Jael; and saw her slip into the tent and drive the nail into the temple of her sleeping guest; and we were so close that when the blood gushed out it trickled in a little, red stream to our feet, and we could have stained our hands in it if we had wanted to.

Next we had Egyptian wars, Greek wars, Roman wars, hideous drenchings of the earth with blood; and we saw the treacheries of the Romans toward the Carthaginians, and the sickening spectacle of the massacre of those brave people. Also we saw Caesar invade Britain – “not that those barbarians had done him any harm, but because he wanted their land, and desired to confer the blessings of civilization upon their widows and orphans,” as Satan explained.

Next, Christianity was born. Then ages of Europe passed in review before us, and we saw Christianity and Civilization march hand in hand through those ages, “leaving famine and death and desolation in their wake, and other signs of the progress of the human race,” as Satan observed.

And always we had wars, and more wars, and still other wars – all over Europe, all over the world. “Sometimes in the private interest of royal families,” Satan said, “sometimes to crush a weak nation; but never a war started by the aggressor for any clean purpose – there is no such war in the history of the race.”

“Now,” said Satan, “you have seen your progress down to the present, and you must confess that it is wonderful – in its way. We must now exhibit the future.”

He showed us slaughters more terrible in their destruction of life, more devastating in their engines of war, than any we had seen.

“You perceive,” he said, “that you have made continual progress. Cain did his murder with a club; the Hebrews did their murders with javelins and swords; the Greeks and Romans added protective armor and the fine arts of military organization and generalship; the Christian has added guns and gunpowder; a few centuries from now he will have so greatly improved the deadly effectiveness of his weapons of slaughter that all men will confess that without Christian civilization war must have remained a poor and trifling thing to the end of time.”

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Satan laughed his unkind laugh to a finish; then he said: “It is a remarkable progress. In five or six thousand years five or six high civilizations have risen, flourished, commanded the wonder of the world, then faded out and disappeared; and not one of them except the latest ever invented any sweeping and adequate way to kill people. They all did their best – to kill being the chiefest ambition of the human race and the earliest incident in its history – but only the Christian civilization has scored a triumph to be proud of. Two or three centuries from now it will be recognized that all the competent killers are Christians; then the pagan world will go to school to the Christian – not to acquire his religion, but his guns. The Turk and the Chinaman will buy those to kill missionaries and converts with.”

By this time his theater was at work again, and before our eyes nation after nation drifted by, during two or three centuries, a mighty procession, an endless procession, raging, struggling, wallowing through seas of blood, smothered in battle-smoke through which the flags glinted and the red jets from the cannon darted; and always we heard the thunder of the guns and the cries of the dying.

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