Home > Uncategorized > Henry David Thoreau: It is commonly said that history is a chronicle of war

Henry David Thoreau: It is commonly said that history is a chronicle of war


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

American writers on peace and against war

Henry David Thoreau: Taxes enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood

Henry David Thoreau: War belies the claim that civilization is making rapid progress


Henry David Thoreau
February 27, 1856

The papers are talking about the prospect of a war between England and America. Neither side sees how its country can avoid a long and fratricidal war without sacrificing its honor. Both nations are ready to take a desperate step, to forget the interests of civilization and Christianity and their commercial prosperity and fly at each other’s throats. When I see an individual thus beside himself, thus desperate, ready to shoot or be shot, like a blackleg who has little to lose, no serene aims to accomplish, I think he is a candidate for bedlam. What asylum is there for nations to go to? Nations are thus ready to talk of wars and challenge one another, because they are made up to such an extent of poor, low-spirited, despairing men, in whose eyes the chance of shooting somebody else without being shot themselves exceeds their actual good fortune. Who, in fact, will be the first to enlist but the most desperate class, they who have lost all hope? And they may at last infect the rest.


July 29, 1852

It is commonly said that history is a history of war, but it is at the same time a history of development. Savage nations – any of our Indian tribes, for instance – would have enough stirring incidents in their annals, wars and murders enough, surely, to make interesting anecdotes without end, such a chronicle of startling and monstrous events as fill the daily papers and suit the appetite of barrooms; but the annals of such a tribe do not furnish the materials for history.

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