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Vauvenargues: Soldiers


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

French writers on war and peace

Vauvenargues: If we could discover the secret of banishing war forever


From Reflections and Maxims
Translated by F. G. Stevens

Small men must be given small duties; they perform them with ability and self-respect; so far from despising their subordinate functions, they are proud of them. Some of them like distributing straw, imprisoning soldiers who have ill adjusted their cravats, or hitting them with canes during drill; they are rogues, self-satisfied, overbearing, but all satisfied with their petty positions; a man of greater worth would feel humiliated at what gives them pleasure, and would perhaps neglect his duties.

Soldiers march against the enemy as monks do to matins. It is neither the excitement of war, nor the love of fame or country, that inspires the armies of to-day; it is the drum that leads them to and fro, and keeps them in the ranks, as the bell makes the monks get up and go to bed. Men still become monks because they are pious and soldiers because they are dissolute; but later they rarely perform their duties except under compulsion or by force of habit.

The profession of arms makes fewer reputations than it ruins.

Soldiers can secure promotion only on account of their rank or their abilities: two pretexts which favoritism can make use of to cloak injustice.

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