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Bertha von Suttner: The Protocol of Peace


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

Women writers on peace and war

Bertha von Suttner: Selections on peace and war


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

Translated by T. Holmes

We had at that time commenced a little book of our own – we called it The Protocol of Peace – into which all news, notices, articles, and so forth, bearing on the subject, were to be sedulously entered. The history also of the idea of Peace, as far as we could gain a knowledge of it, was incorporated in the Protocol; and along with this the expressions of various philosophers, poets, priests, and authors on the subject of “Peace and War”. It had soon grown into an imposing little volume; and in course of time – for I have carried on this composition down to the present day – it has grown into several little volumes. If one were to compare it with the libraries which are filled with works on strategical subjects, with the untold thousands of volumes containing histories of wars, studies on war, and glorification of war, with the text-books of military science and military tactics, and guides for the instruction of recruits and artillery, with the chronicles of battles and annals of états-majors, soldiers’ ballads and war songs: well, then, I allow that the comparison with these one or two poor little volumes of peace-literature might humiliate one, on the assumption that one might measure the power and value – especially the future value – of a thing by its size. But if one reflects that a single grain of seed hides in itself the virtual power of causing the growth of an entire forest, which will displace whole masses of weeds, though spread over acres of country, and further reflects that an idea is in the mental kingdom what a seed is in the vegetable, then one need not be anxious about the future of an idea, merely because the history of its development may be as yet contained in one little manuscript.


I know a tale of George Sand named Gribouille. This Gribouille has the peculiarity, when rain is threatened, of plunging into the river, for fear of getting wet. Whenever I hear that war is contemplated in order to avert threatened dangers, I can never help thinking of Gribouille.


Declaration of war! Three words, which can be pronounced quite calmly. But what is connected with them? The beginning of an extra-political action, and thus, along with it, half-a-million sentences of death.


Necessity of defence – necessity of defence – that is the only recognised way of killing, and so both parties cry out: “I am defending myself”. Is not that a contradiction? Not altogether, for over both there presides a third power, the power of the conquering, ancient war-spirit. It is only against him that all should join in a defensive league.


Their battle-cry is, “War on War,” their watchword, the only word which can have power to deliver from ruin Europe armed against herself is, “Lay down your arms.”


The war, which is now being fought out, is of too powerful a nature not to proceed to its end, and give rise to renewed war. On the side of the vanquished it has scattered such a plenty of the seeds of hatred and revenge, that a future harvest of war must grow out of them; and on the other side, it has brought such magnificent and bewildering successes to the victors, that for them an equally great seed-time of warlike pride must grow out of it.”


That is, there were every day between 400 and 500 unnatural deaths – that is to say, murders. For if the murderer is not an individual man, but an impersonal thing, viz., war, it is not any the less murder. Whose is the responsibility? Does it not lie on those parliamentary swaggerers, who in their provocative speeches declared with proud self-assumption – as that Girardin did in the sitting of July 15 – that they “took on themselves the responsibility for this war in the face of history”? Could, then, any man’s shoulders be sufficiently strong to bear such a load of guilt? Surely not. But no one thinks of taking such boasters at their word.


“Forgive me, your excellence. I should like to call out to those unanimous voters, one after the other, ‘Your “Yes” will rob that mother of her only child. Yours will put that poor fellow’s eyes out. Yours will set fire to a collection of books which cannot be replaced. Yours will dash out the brains of a poet who would have been the glory of your country. But you have all voted “yes” to this, just in order not to appear cowards, as if the only thing one had to fear in giving assent was what regards oneself. Is then human egotism so great that this is the only motive which can be suggested for opposing war? Well, I grant you egotism is great: for each one of you prefers to hound on a hundred thousand men to destruction rather than that you should expose your dear self even to the suspicion of having ever experienced one single paroxysm of fear.’ ”

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