Home > Uncategorized > Ödön von Horváth: We must prepare them to be warriors. Just that.

Ödön von Horváth: We must prepare them to be warriors. Just that.

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

Ödön von Horváth
From Youth Without God
Translated by R. Willis Thomas

You could have a son too, I thought to myself: but I can easily control any wish I have to bring a son into the world. To be shot down in some war….

***

“You’re forgetting the private memorandum that went round – number 5679, paragraph 33! We are supposed to keep youth at a distance from everything which doesn’t in some way or another prepare their minds for war – which means, morally, we must prepare them to be warriors. Just that.”

***

If these fellows merely rejected everything that’s still sacred to me – well, that wouldn’t be so bad. What hurts is that they put it aside without even having known it. Worse still, they haven’t the slightest desire to know it.

Thinking is a process they hate.

They turn up their noses at human beings. They want to be machines – screws, knobs, belts, wheels – or better still, munitions – bombs, shells, shrapnel. How readily they’d die on a battlefield! To have their name on some war memorial – that’s the dream of their puberty.

***

The priest showed me into his charming study.

“Sit down. I’ll get the wine.”

He left me while me made his way to the cellar.

A picture on the wall attracted my notice. I had seen it before. My parents have a copy of it – my parents are very pious. It was not until the war that I abandoned God. It was asking too much of a youngster to understand that God could allow a war like that. I looked at the picture. God hung nailed to a cross, dead. Mary cried, and John was comforting her. Lightning played across the dark sky. In the foreground stood a warrior in helmet and armor – the Roman Captain.

***

Why was that picture still before my mind? Was I haunted by the Crucified One? No. Or by the face of His mother? No. It was the warrior, the armed and helmeted warrior, the Roman Captain, whose face haunted me.

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