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Jean Renoir: War’s solemn human sacrifice

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

French writers on war and peace

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Jean Renoir
From The Notebooks of Captain Georges
Translated by Norman Denny

At first I thought he was simply responding out of kindness with a similar tale of his own. However he continued with it, in the offhand manner with which I had become familiar, but which I knew to be only an appearance. He asked me to stop him if he was boring me. “After all,” he said, “this gorse and bracken is really more interesting than our human ups and downs. The struggle for life goes on forever, unlike the high-flown sentiments that inspire our wars.”

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On the other hand, the war which we are now fighting does not hold up. Everybody knows that as soon as the echoes of gunfire have died down the former adversaries will be dancing in a ring around the golden calf.

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Sixteen grindstones had been set up in the barracks square, one for each platoon. The armorers went back and forth, showing officers and men how to use them. It might have been the ritual of some barbaric religion. Each man piously held his blade against the stone, which he operated with treadle. The scream of steel against stone was like the wailing of wind through a thicket. Blunt in times of peace, the blades were now given their cutting edge, no longer to be aimed at straw-stuffed dummies but at human breasts. The regiment was passing from the frivolity of horsemanship to the solemnity of human sacrifice.

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I might have stayed in the army, but I hated war and we may as well admit that the one exists only for the other.

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War had hardened me. I had killed Germans who had done me no harm. I remember to this day a round-cheeked boy into whom I thrust my bayonet, like killing a baby.

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