Home > Uncategorized > Bertha von Suttner: Higher unity in which every war will appear impious fratricide

Bertha von Suttner: Higher unity in which every war will appear impious fratricide


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

The great majority of the people usually know nothing about why or how a war exists. They only see it coming for a certain time, and then it is there. And when it is there people make no more inquiries about the petty interests and differences of opinion which brought it about, but are then only busied with the mighty events to which its progress gives birth. And when it is over at last, what one remembers chiefly are the terrors and losses we have personally experienced, the conquests and triumphs that have marked its course, but on the political grounds for its origin no one wastes a thought. In the many works of history which appear after every campaign under the title of “The war of the year so and so historically and strategically described,” or something to that effect, all the old motives for the strife and all the tactical movements of the campaign in question are recounted, and any one who takes an interest in such things can pick out the explanation from the literature in which it is wrapped up, but in the remembrance of the people such histories certainly do not live. Even of the feelings of hatred and enthusiasm, of embitterment and hope of victory, with which the whole population greets the commencement of the war – feelings expressed in the common saying: “This is a very popular war” – even of these feelings all is wiped out after a year or two.


March 31. Thank God! Austria declares that all the rumours in circulation about her secret preparations are false. It has never even entered into her head to attack Prussia. And on this she founds the demand that Prussia shall suspend her measures of warlike preparation. Prussia replies that she has not the remotest idea of attacking Austria, but that it has become compulsory, in consequence of the late preparations, to be prepared for attack.

And so the responsive song of the two voices goes on without pause: –

My preparations are defensive.
Your preparations are offensive.
I must prepare because you are preparing.
I am preparing because you prepare.
Then let us prepare,
Yes, let us go on preparing.

The newspapers give the orchestral accompaniments to this duet. The leading articles revel in what is called conjectural politics. It was all poking up, baiting, bragging, slandering. Historical works on the Seven Years’ War were published with the avowed intention of renewing the old enmity.


Beside “the offensive” there are, I find, many other ways of commencing hostilities. There are demands and interventions regarding some small third country, and which have to be resisted as unfair; there are old treaties which are declared to be violated, and for the upholding of which recourse must be had to arms; and, finally, there is “the European equilibrium,” which would be endangered by the acquisition of power by one state or the other. And so energetic steps are demanded to prevent such acquisition. It is not avowed; but one of the most violent impulses to fight is the hate which has long been stirred up, and which at last presses on to the death-dealing combat, as ardently and with the same natural force as long-cherished love to the life-giving embrace.


“The opposite party” is always the one that wishes for war. The “opposite party” are always charged with setting up force in the place of right. Why, then, is it anyhow possible, consistently with public law, that this can happen? An “impious” war, because it is one of “Germans against Germans”. Quite true. The point of view is a higher one, which, beyond “Prussia” and “Austria,” raises the wider conception of Germany. But take one step more and we shall reach that still higher unity in the light of which every war – men against men, especially civilised men against civilised – will necessarily appear an impious fratricide. And to “summon before the judgment-seat of history” – what is the use of that? History, as it has been managed hitherto, has never pronounced any other judgment than a worship of success. When any one comes out of a war as conqueror the guild of historical scribblers fall in the dust before him, and praise him as the fulfiller of his “mission of educative culture”. And “before the judgment-seat of Almighty God”. Yes; but is not this He who is represented as the producer of the fights, is not the same almighty, irresistible will equally concerned with the outbreak as with the course of the war? Oh, contradiction on contradiction! And this is what must certainly take place always, whenever the truth is hidden under hypocritical phrases – when an attempt is made to hold equally holy two principles which are mutually destructive, such as war and justice, or national hatred and humanity, or the God of Love and the God of Battles.


‘Enemy’s country;’ that is really a fossilised conception of those times when war was openly what its raison d’etre proclaims it, a piracy; and when the enemy’s country attracted the combatant as a land of prey which promised him a recompense.


When I picture to myself these two armies, composed of individuals with the gift of reason, and for the most part kind and gentle men, how they are rushing on each other, to annihilate each other, desolating at the same time the unfortunate land, in which they cast aside the villages they have ‘taken’ like cards in their game of murder. When I picture all this, I feel inclined to shriek out: ‘Do bethink you!’ ‘Do stop!’ And out of the 100,000, 90,000 individuals would certainly be glad to stop; but the mass is compelled to go on in its fury.


As long as there are wars men must be brought up to be war-loving soldiers; and so long as there are war-loving soldiers there must be war. Is that our eternal, inevitable circle? No, God be thanked!

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