Home > Uncategorized > Henri Troyat: I prefer to die, so that I no longer have to see the others die

Henri Troyat: I prefer to die, so that I no longer have to see the others die


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

French writers on war and peace

Henri Troyat: Selections on war


Henri Troyat
From The Red and the White

Since war had broken out, intelligence was of no avail. Decisions were made with flesh, blood, heart, belly, with everything in fact except with the brain.


As he reflected on the impressions he had received in Stavka, Malinov compared the G.H.Q. to an engineer’s office. There the war was still only an abstraction, a game of numbers, a calculation of probabilities. There were no burning villages, vast stretches of Russian territory falling into the enemy hands, but only tiny sections of a map shaded blue or red. No doubt this had to be so, for war would be impossible if its leaders were not so mentally detached that they could forget that they were commanding fellow humans and not ants.


“We’re both maniacs for sacrifice. And who will thank us for it?”

“The wounded.”

“Are you sure? Don’t you think they’ll curse us for saving their lives when they return home, amputated, weakened, incapable of working or thinking normally? I often say to myself that it’s not the dying we should pity, but the cripples who live, thanks to our care, and go on suffering. I often envy those who leave us, those who will not see the end of the show….”

He picked up a green leaf and rubbed it nervously between his fingers. Nina was struck by a delightful memory of her father in his sunbaked garden, the bees humming around the fruit trees. Were there still, somewhere, young girls in love picking flowers in the meadows, open pastry shops, children playing hide-and-seek?

“They say the dead number four million,” said Siferov, “and the butchery goes on. Why don’t they sign a peace? It would not be treachery. The Tsar must let the Allies know the state of extreme exhaustion of Russia. He must admit quite openly that we were unprepared, that we lack equipment and the political situation is dangerous. Has the Tsar greater responsibilities towards his Allies than to his own people? To whom did he swear allegiance when he was crowned? Russia, or France and England?”

He wiped his face with a dirty handkerchief. His hands were trembling.

“I know very well,” he continued, “what I’m saying sounds terrible. Only a few months ago I would never have dared to say such things. But in the face of this absurd mass-murder I can’t be silent any longer. They invoke the treaty of eighteen twelve, comparing the Grand Duke Nicholas to Kutuzov and prophesy that ‘the vast spaces of Russia will absorb the enemy and destroy him.’ Words! Words! And meanwhile Russia’s best sons are dying. A Cossack N.C.O. said to me today before the operation, ‘I prefer to die, so that I no longer have to see the others die.’ I too, I would rather die than see the others dying.”

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