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Joseph Conrad: War makes earth a pagan planet

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

British writers on peace and war

Joseph Conrad: Selections on war

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Joseph Conrad
From A Warrior’s Soul

“…His was fundamentally a fine nature. He grieved at the appalling amount of human suffering he saw around him. Yes, he was full of compassion for all forms of mankind’s misery in a manly way.

“Less fine natures than his own did not understand this very well. In the regiment they had nicknamed him the Humane Tomassov.

“He didn’t take offence at it. There is nothing incompatible between humanity and a warrior’s soul. People without compassion are the civilians, government officials, merchants and such like. As to the ferocious talk one hears from a lot of decent people in war time – well, the tongue is an unruly member at best and when there is some excitement going on there is no curbing its furious activity.”

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“I was no longer sleepy. Indeed, I had become awake with an exaggerated mental consciousness of existence extending beyond my immediate surroundings. Those are but exceptional moments with mankind, I am glad to say. I had the intimate sensation of the earth in all its enormous expanse wrapped in snow, with nothing showing on it but trees with their straight stalk-like trunks and their funeral verdure; and in this aspect of general mourning I seemed to hear the sighs of mankind falling to die in the midst of a nature without life. They were Frenchmen. We didn’t hate them; they did not hate us; we had existed far apart – and suddenly they had come rolling in with arms in their hands, without fear of God, carrying with them other nations, and all to perish together in a long, long trail of frozen corpses. I had an actual vision of that trail: a pathetic multitude of small dark mounds stretching away under the moonlight in a clear, still, and pitiless atmosphere – a sort of horrible peace.

“But what other peace could there be for them? What else did they deserve? I don’t know by what connection of emotions there came into my head the thought that the earth was a pagan planet and not a fit abode for Christian virtues.”

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