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Paul Morand: You did not believe in the war


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

French writers on war and peace

Paul Morand: The magic disappearance of ten millions of war dead

Paul Morand: Nations never lay down their arms; death which is still combative

Paul Morand: The War for Righteousness ends in the burying of moral sense


Paul Morand
From Clarisse
Translated by H. I. Woolf

You did not believe in the war. You said:

“Anyhow, it won’t last long.”

“It would be terrible….”


“But, it’s impossible, I’ve been in Munich.”


When I telephoned you that Germany was declaring war on Russia, you answered:

“I was in the garden cutting roses….”

You were anguished at the thought of all your relatives, your friends of France, but you could not free yourself from the security of dwellers in a place surrounded by water,

This country waked slowly to the war. The certainty of it came from without, at seeing the German Jews of the Commercial Road close their shutters, those of the West End hide their pictures, the drop of Consols in London, the fall of wool in Sydney, the flight of the Americans in nickelled carriages, and gold, still more timorous; at learning that arthritic diplomats were leaving the spas, in the middle of the cure, that kings were regaining their capitals, that other countries were closing their frontiers like bolted doors. Then it was the departure of French hair-dressers and cooks going down to the stations with a flag.

We saw warships leaving Portsmouth as every year for Cowes regatta, but their guns were unmuzzled and the German yachts were not there. The sea reacted first, then the coast where the coastguards climbed to the semaphores with their bundles wrapped in a green canvas bag. And the fever spread at last from the circumference to the center.

All this happened insensibly. England did not make acquaintance with that sleepless August night when millions of men kissed their wives with dry lips and burned their letters. She ignored the “clear for action,” did not close her port-holes, did not slip her moorings.

A policeman was merely put on point duty outside the German embassy.

And when it was understood, barracks were built.

But could it be understood other than slowly by this unscarred country where the children have never found the bullets of former wars bedded in the walls of their homes?

Would you hope to see the streets emptied of their walkers and their traffic at a given signal? Gowned advocates, amaranthyne-robed bailiffs, bewigged judges, book-makers in putty-colored overcoats with mother-of-pearl buttons, going on foot to the stations, on the road to inland garrisons, and peers guarding the bridges over which, as yet, no overfilled trains were passing toward our frontier?

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