Home > Uncategorized > William Faulkner: It’s simple nameless war which decimates our ranks

William Faulkner: It’s simple nameless war which decimates our ranks


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

American writers on peace and against war

William Faulkner: There is only the question: When will I be blown up?

Thomas Mann: William Faulkner’s love for man, protest against militarism and war


William Faulkner
From A Fable (1954)


[Posted with fair use understanding and with the sole intent of acquainting those not already familiar with the matter William Faulkner’s view of war. Despite the complex and often challenging narrative style and structure, all who can afford to are encouraged to purchase the novel from which the excerpts are taken.]

It – the war – would hang on a while yet, of course; it would take the Americans, the innocent newcomers, another year probably to discover that you cannot really whip Germans: you can only exhaust them. It might even last another ten years or even twenty, by which time France and Britain would have vanished as military and even political integers and the war would have become a matter of a handful of Americans who didn’t even have ships to go back home in, battling with limbs from shattered trees and the rafters from ruined houses and the stones from fences of weed-choked fields and the broken bayonets and stocks of rotted guns and rusted fragments wrenched from crashed aeroplanes and burned tanks, against the skeletons of German companies stiffened by a few Frenchmen and Britons tough enough like himself to endure still, to endure as he would always, immune to nationality, to exhaustion, even to victory – by which time he hoped he himself would be dead.


[He] would not even be paid for risking his life and what remained of his reputation, until he corrected that: thinking how war and drink are the two things that man is never too poor to buy. His wife and children may be shoeless; someone will always buy him drink or weapons, thinking More than that. The last person a man planning to set up in the wine trade would approach for a loan would be a rival wine-dealer. A nation preparing for war can borrow from the very nation it aims to destroy.


He said: ‘So it’s not we who conquer each other, because we are not even fighting each other. It’s simple nameless war which decimates our ranks. All of us: captains and colonels, British and American and German and us, shoulder to shoulder, our backs to the long invincible wall of our invincible tradition, giving and asking….Asking? not even accepting quarter -‘

‘Bah,’ the corps commander said again. ‘It is man who is our enemy: the vast seething moiling spiritless mass of him. Once to each period of his inglorious history, one of us appears with the stature of a giant, suddenly and without warning in the middle of a nation as a dairymaid enters a buttery, and with his sword for paddle he heaps and pounds and stiffens the malleable mass and even holds it cohered and purposeful for a time. But never for always, not even for very long: sometimes before he can even turn his back, it has relinquished, discohered, faster and faster flowing and seeking back its back to its own base anonymity…”

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