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William Makepeace Thackeray: War’s slave dealers

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

British writers on peace and war

William Makepeace Thackeray: Selections on war

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William Makepeace Thackeray
From Barry Lyndon

There are a thousand opportunities of plunder, &c., offered to the soldier in war-time, out of which he can get both pleasure and profit: make use of these, and be happy.

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I am not going to give any romantic narrative of the Seven Years’ War. At the close of it, the Prussian army, so renowned for its disciplined valour, was officered and under-officered by native Prussians, it is true; but was composed for the most part of men hired or stolen, like myself, from almost every nation in Europe.

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The country was desolate beyond description. The prince in whose dominions we were was known to be the most ruthless seller of men in Germany. He would sell to any bidder, and during the five years which the war (afterwards called the Seven Years’ War) had now lasted, had so exhausted the males of his principality, that the fields remained untilled: even the children of twelve years old were driven off to the war, and I saw herds of these wretches marching forwards, attended by a few troopers, now under the guidance of a red-coated Hanovarian sergeant, now with a Prussian sub-officer accompanying them….

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The great and illustrious Frederick had scores of these white slave-dealers all round the frontiers of his kingdom, debauching troops or kidnapping peasants, and hesitating at no crime to supply those brilliant regiments of his with food for powder….

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