Home > Uncategorized > Hans Hellmut Kirst: Each thinks it’s in the right, each wants peace and only wishes to defend itself

Hans Hellmut Kirst: Each thinks it’s in the right, each wants peace and only wishes to defend itself


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

German writers on peace and war

Hans Hellmut Kirst: Selections on war and peace


Hans Helmutt Kirst
From The Revolt of Gunner Asch (8/15 in der Kaserne)
Translated by Robert Kee

Foreman Freitag left the repair shop, climbed on his bicycle and rode off to the artillery barracks. He wasn’t particularly worried by the fact that this man who had upset Elizabeth turned out to be a soldier. He had a dislike of uniforms, admittedly, and he could never really understand how any normal healthy hard-working man could bring himself to waste his time in an activity of which the ultimate aim was to kill and destroy.


“And then came the war,” cried Asch Senior. “The local postman went for a tour of France and lived like a king. When he came back he could speak three words of French and he spoke them thirty times over when he got tight of an evening and started remembering the good old days. A man who worked in a coal merchant’s and who had never been able to save himself a Sunday suit in his whole life destroyed three houses, two guns, four trucks, and several dozen human beings….”

“It’s fundamentally the same today,” said Herbert Asch. “War represents a glorious escape from everyday life, from the dreary rut of the office, the dull monotony of the factory. A man suddenly gets lifted right out of all this. He’s given some ammunition and a license to kill. He’s got men under him – he’s allowed to bully them….”

“But perhaps,” said old Freitag thoughtfully, “men have some sort of primitive urge to be soldiers. I don’t mean just an urge to kill and exercise power, but an urge to protect life and limb, wife and child, the sick and weak. Against wild beasts first of all, against robbers, lunatics, against the enemy….”

“Yes, that may be,” said Asch Senior, “but a perfectly justifiable primitive instinct like that often gets perverted for the worst of ends. Someone wants something the other man’s got. So he simply declares him to be a wild beast, a lunatic, the enemy. It takes two sides to make a war, and each usually has the blessing of the Church. But each thinks it’s in the right, each thinks its honor is at stake, each wants peace and only wishes to defend itself. But one or the other must be in the wrong. Or are both in the wrong?”

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