Home > Uncategorized > Bertha von Suttner: Armaments, without fighting each other the nations would all come to ruin in making preparations for war

Bertha von Suttner: Armaments, without fighting each other the nations would all come to ruin in making preparations for war


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

True, the war was over. That is, it had been proclaimed that peace was concluded. A word is sufficient to unchain the horrors, and thence one is apt to think that a word will also suffice to remove them again, but no spell has in reality that power. Hostilities may be suspended, and yet hostility may persist. The seed of future war is sown, and the fruit of the war just ended spreads still further, in wretchedness, savagery, and plagues. Yes, no falsehood and no “not thinking of it” was any good now, the cholera was raging through the country.


“…The heartless egotism, which is capable of rejoicing over material gains that proceed out of the ruin of others – this impulse which every individual, even if he is base enough to feel it, still takes all possible care to hide – is proudly and openly confessed by nations and dynasties. ‘Thousands have perished in untold sufferings; but we have thereby increased in territory and in power: so let there be praises and thanks to Heaven for the successful war!’”


“I have,” he said, “renounced the trade of war, and that I have done from convictions gained in actual war. I will now work for these convictions. I enter the service of the peace army. A very small army indeed, it is true, and one whose combatants have no other shield or sword than the sentiment of justice and the love of humanity. Still, everything which has ultimately become great has started from small or invisible beginnings.”


“Well, the meaning of that is, that if we had had more material, the material which our enemy had would not have served him. Ergo – if the Landwehr were introduced everywhere it would not benefit anybody. The war game would be played with more pieces, but the game nevertheless depends still on the luck and the ability of the players. I will suppose that all the European powers have introduced the obligation of universal defence; the proportion of forces in that case remains exactly the same, the only difference would be that, in order to come to a decision, instead of hundreds of thousands, millions would have to be slaughtered.”

“But do you think it just and fair that a part only of the population should sacrifice themselves in order to protect the dearest possessions of the others, and that these others, chiefly because they are rich, should be entitled to stop quietly at home? No, no; that will cease with this new law. Then there will be no more buying-off – every one will have to take his part. And it is especially the educated – the students – those who have some learning, who will contribute the elements of intelligence and therefore of victory.”

“The other side has the same elements ready to hand, and so the advantages to be gained from educated petty officers neutralise each other. On the other hand, what remains (and equally to both sides) is the loss of material of priceless mental worth, of which the country is deprived by the fact that the most educated, those who might have promoted its civilisation by means of inventions, works of art, or scientific inquiry, are set up in rank and file to be marks for the enemy’s shot – ”

“There would be something to say for that, if it fell less heavily on individuals on that account. But that would not be the case; the blood tax would not be divided by that measure, but increased. I hope the project may not be carried out. There is no seeing whither it may lead. One state would then try to outvie the other in strength of army, till at last there would no longer be any armies, but only armed nations. More people would be constantly drawn into the service; the length of service would be constantly increased; the incidence of war taxes and the costs of armaments constantly greater; – so that without fighting each other the nations would all come to ruin in making preparations for war!”

“But, dear Tilling, you look too far.”

“One can never look too far. Everything a man undertakes he ought to think out to its remotest consequence – at least as far as his mind reaches. We were likening war just now to a game at chess. Politics also is of the same nature, your excellency, and those are only very feeble players who look no further forward than a single move, and are quite pleased with themselves if they have got into a position in which they can threaten a pawn. I want to develop the thought of defensive forces constantly increasing and the universal extension of liability to military service still more widely, till we reach the extremest verge, i.e., where the mass becomes excessive. What then, if after the greatest numbers and the furthest limits of age are reached, one nation should take it into its head to recruit regiments of women too? The others must imitate it. Or battalions of boys? The others must imitate it. And in the armaments – in the means of destruction – where can the limit be? Oh this savage, blind leap into the pit!”

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