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Romain Rolland: Letter to Gandhi on confronting age of global wars

January 16, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From a letter to Mohandas Gandhi
April 16, 1928
Translated by R. A. Francis

However great would be my joy to see you and speak with you, I still believe that it would be neither right nor fair for you to come to Europe solely for that.

But it would be right and it would be fair for you to come to Europe in order to make contact with the youth of Europe, which needs your help, your advice and your enlightenment.

And it is necessary in either case (whether you come or not), it is indispensable that you should give an absolutely clear, precise and definitive formulation to the listening world of your doctrine, your faith, on the matter of war and non-acceptance.

We are both of us fairly old and of suspect health; we may disappear any day. It is important that we should leave a precise testament to the youth of the world which it can use as a rule of conduct, for it will have a terrible burden to bear in the coming half-century. I see fearful trials building up in front of them. It no longer seems to me a matter of doubt that there is in preparation an era of destruction, an age of global wars beside which all those of the past will seem only children’s games, of chemical warfare which will annihilate whole populations. What moral armour are we offering to those who will have to face up to the monster which we shall not live to see? What immediate answer to the riddle of the murderous Sphinx, who will not wait? What marching orders?

Our words must not be equivocal. We have the sad example of Christ, whose admirable Gospels contain too many passages which, though not contradictory in fundamental content, at least appear so in form, and lend them selves to the self-interested interpretations of the worst Pharisees. In the last war we saw in all countries how hypocrites, fanatics, statesmen like Lloyd George, bishops and pastors, false believers and, worst of all, true believers, could by chosen passages from the New Testament justify themselves for extolling war, vengeance and holy murder. In the coming crises, there must be no doubt about Gandhi’s thought.

Then again, it is necessary to weigh all the consequences of the orders given, to weigh the forces of the men to whom they will be entrusted. The young men of Europe are aware of the trials waiting for them. They don’t want to be duped about the imminence of the danger, which too many “pacifists” are trying not to see and to put out of their minds. They want to look it clearly in the face, and they ask: “To what extent is it reasonable, to what extent is it human, not to accept? Must the sacrifice be total, absolute, without exception, without any consideration either for ourselves or for the things which surround us and depend on us? And in all honesty to ourselves, can we be sure that this total sacrifice will diminish the sum total of future human sufferings – does it not risk handing over man’s destiny to a barbarity without counterweight?”

I’m asking the questions (some of the questions) which I feel are being turned over in the minds of the young. I’m not giving my own answers. I don’t count. My importance in this matter is secondary alongside yours. The man of pure thought (pure in the intellectual sense) has no more than a weak effect on the present; his forecasts have only a long-term chance of working themselves out. But you as a man of active faith are the direct intermediary between the forces of Eternity and present movements. You are on the poop-deck; you have the power to give direct orders to the sailors how to steer the ship in the storm. Give those orders! Let’s stop thinking about the port we have left (that 1914 war, about which we seem unable to reach understanding and which risks confusing all our discussions) and look to the port we must reach – in the future! My dear friend, I’m sorry to be always speaking to you so freely. I am aware of my moral inferiority. I am not worthy to touch your feet. But I know the anxiety and the doubts which assail the best men in Europe, and I am passing on what they say.

Assuring you of my respectful affection,
Romain Rolland

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Stefan Zweig: A single conscience defies the madness of war

January 15, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

In the eyes of the patriots, Rolland’s first crime was that he openly discussed the moral problems of the war. On ne discute pas la patrie. The first axiom of war ethics is that those who cannot or will not shout with the crowd must hold their peace. Soldiers must never be taught to think; they must only be incited to hate. A lie which promotes enthusiasm is worth more in wartime than the best of truths.

***

Would the war between European brethren have ever broken out if every townsman, every countryman, every artist, had looked within to enquire whether the mines of Morocco and the swamps of Albania were truly precious to him? Would there have been a war if every one had asked himself whether he really hated his brothers across the frontier as vehemently as the newspapers and the professional politicians would have him believe? The herd instinct, the pattering of others’ arguments, a blind enthusiasm on behalf of sentiments that were never truly felt, could alone render such a catastrophe possible.

***

The war-current rose yet higher, the stream being fed by new and ever new blood flowing from innocent victims. Again and again some additional country became involved in the carnage. At length, as the clamor still grew louder, Rolland paused for a moment to take breath. He felt that it would be madness were he to continue the attempt to outcry the cries of so many madmen.

***

The spiritual character of the new work [Clerambault] recalls a long-forgotten tradition, the meditations of the old French moralists, the sixteenth century stoics who during a time of war-madness endeavored in besieged Paris to maintain their intellectual serenity by engaging in Platonic dialogues. The war itself, however, was not to be the theme, for the free soul does not strive with the elements. The author’s intention was to discuss the spiritual accompaniments of this war, for these to Rolland seemed as tragical as the destruction of millions of men. His concern was the destruction of the individual soul in the deluge produced by the overflowing of the mass soul.

***

The quiet suburban household is suddenly struck as by a thunderbolt with the news of the outbreak of war. Clerambault takes the train to Paris; and no sooner is he sprinkled with spray from the hot waves of enthusiasm, than all his ideals of international amity and perpetual peace vanish into thin air. He returns home a fanatic, oozing hate, and steaming with phrases. Under the influence of the tremendous storm he begins to sound his lyre: Theocritus has become Pindar, a war poet. Rolland gives a marvelously vivid description of something every one of us has witnessed, showing how Clerambault, like all persons of average nature, really takes a delight in horrors, however unwilling he may be to admit it even to himself. He is rejuvenated, his life seems to move on wings; the enthusiasm of the masses stirs the almost extinguished flame of enthusiasm in his own breast; he is fired by the national fire; he is physically and mentally refreshed by the new atmosphere. Like so many other mediocrities, he secures in these days his greatest literary triumph. His war songs, precisely because they give such vigorous expression to the sentiments of the man in the street, become a national property. Fame and public favor are showered upon him, so that (at this time when millions of his fellows are perishing) he feels well, self-confident, alive as never before.

“Forgive us, ye Dead,” the dialogue of the country with its children, is published. At first no one heeds the pamphlet. But after a time it arouses public animosity. A storm of indignation bursts upon Clerambault, threatening to lay his life in ruins. Friends forsake him. Envy, which had long been crouching for a spring, now sends whole regiments to the attack. Ambitious colleagues seize the opportunity of proclaiming their patriotism in contrast with his deplorable sentiments. Worst of all for Clerambault in that his innocent wife and daughter have to suffer on his account. They do not upbraid him, but he feels as if he had aimed a shaft against them. He who has hitherto sunned himself in the warmth of family life and has enjoyed the comforts of modest fame, is now absolutely alone.

He perseveres in his pilgrimage even when he has lost faith in his power to help his fellow men, for this is no longer his goal. He passes men by, marching onward towards the unseen, towards truth; his love for truth exposing him ever more pitilessly to the hatred of men. By degrees he becomes entangled in a net of calumnies; his troubles develop into a “Clerambault affair”; at length a prosecution is initiated. The state has recognized its enemy in the free man. But while the case is still in progress, the “defeatist” meets his fate from the pistol bullet of a fanatic. Clerambault’s end recalls the opening of the world catastrophe with the assassination of Jaurès.

***

For five years Romain Rolland was at war with the madness of the times. At length the fiery chains were loosened from the racked body of Europe. The war was over, the armistice had been signed. Men were no longer murdering one another; but their evil passions, their hate, continued. Romain Rolland’s prophetic insight celebrated a mournful triumph. His distrust of victory, his reiterated warnings that conquerors are merciless, were more than justified by the revengeful reality. “Victory in arms is disastrous to the ideal of an unselfish humanity. Men find it extraordinarily difficult to remain gentle in the hour of triumph.” These forecasts were terribly fulfilled. Forgotten were all the fine words anent the victory of freedom and right. The Versailles conference devoted itself to the installation of a new regime of force and to the humiliation of a defeated enemy. What the idealism of simpletons had expected to be the end of all wars, proved, as the true idealists who look beyond men towards ideas had foreseen, the seed of fresh hatred and renewed acts of violence.

***

Strange has been the rhythm of this man’s life, surging again and again in passionate waves against the time, sinking once more into the abyss of disappointment, but never failing to rise on the crest of faith renewed. Once again we see Romain Rolland as prototype of those who are magnificent in defeat. Not one of his ideals, not one of his wishes, not one of his dreams, has been realized. Might has triumphed over right, force over spirit, men over humanity.

Yet never has his struggle been grander, and never has his existence been more indispensable, than during recent years; for it is his apostolate alone which has saved the gospel of crucified Europe; and furthermore he has rescued for us another faith, that of the imaginative writer as the spiritual leader, the moral spokesman of his own nation and of all nations. This man of letters has preserved us from what would have been an imperishable shame, had there been no one in our days to testify against the lunacy of murder and hatred. To him we owe it that even during the fiercest storm in history the sacred fire of brotherhood was never extinguished. The world of the spirit has no concern with the deceptive force of numbers. In that realm, one individual can outweigh a multitude. For an idea never glows so brightly as in the mind of the solitary thinker; and in the darkest hour we were able to draw consolation from the signal example of this poet. One great man who remains human can for ever and for all men rescue our faith in humanity.

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Romain Rolland: The intellectual drunkeness of war propaganda

January 14, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From a letter to Mohandas Gandhi
February 17, 1929
Translated by R. A. Francis

All I should like to do is to offer you a few reflections on the fearful days which India faces.

You know the conditions of modern combat. You know that the first act of the modern state in warfare is to ruin its adversary in the opinion of the rest of the world; to this end it stifles its enemy’s voice and fills the world with its own. You know that the British Empire is past master in this art, and that it has all the wherewithal to blockade India and cut her off from the rest of the world, which it can then flood with its own propaganda. The process has already started. For the last month events in Bombay have served as a pretext for making the world think that India is in flames, and every day the main French papers, with a docility which I suspect is well-paid, receive the reports coming from England and carry stories with large headlines about “Hell in Bombay” and the “sinister tally” of each day – as if the trouble extended to the whole of India and as if there were no evil, crimes or massacres anywhere but in India – as if the salvation of all humanity depended on the good gaoler keeping the prison doors well bolted, to protect the world from the Indian hydra which he alone in his heroism is able to keep in chains! It is easy to imagine how shrill this propaganda will become as the decisive hour approaches, and when the gauntlet is down it will know no bounds.

Now I have already seen far too much evidence of the terrifying intellectual passivity in which the peoples of Europe are at present lying. Ever since the first day of the 1914 war their poor brains have been subjected to so much daily intoxication from the whole of their press that they have become unable to react. This is another type of intellectual alcoholism, no less ravaging in its effects than the other. There is hardly a free newspaper left in the West. There is not one where a free man like myself can write (except for a few poor news-sheets with no circulation and one or two large reviews which do not reach a wide public because they appear at infrequent intervals and cost quite a lot).

***

No one fights alone today. The whole world is involved in every conflict, and it throws the enormous weight of its opinion into one of the trays of the balance – either for or against. It was largely by this weight of opinion, well directed and well manipulated by the Allies, that the German Empire was crushed.

It would be unwise of the Indian leaders to neglect these great forces. It seems to me indispensable that they should use this year to prepare European opinion, to open the eyes of the thousands of men here who are blindfolded by their domesticated press.

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From his diary, June 1930

The British Empire may use whatever arms it wishes, but its days are numbered. Let us not be deceived by its displays of power and bluster! From this day forth it is a hunted animal fighting for its life. The British Empire was built on a pile of monstrous injustices, on the murderous exploitation of millions of men; these millions of men have rediscovered their own strength. They only have to shrug their shoulders and the British Empire is already trembling on its foundations. We all see it crumble, and may all empires based on pillage follow in its fall! We too need to settle our accounts with humanity!

***

From his diary, 1931

For our enemy is almost impossible to grasp, and has no name. It is not a foreign master, creeping in like a maggot under a nation’s skin, nor is it a national master, with whom one can, and must, settle accounts man to man. It is an international combination of capitalist interests and enterprises, secretly including the great industrial and commercial tycoons of a whole bloc of nations (even nations officially hostile to each other, like France and Germany) and spreading its net over the whole world. For twenty or thirty years now it has been working in the shadows. Its intrigues in the pre-war years have been precisely traced, and during the war it strengthened its position in monstrous fashion, as revealed by a large number of publications and even public revelations in parliamentary debates – subsequently strangled and stifled by occult financial powers. During the war, national policies and even, in some circumstances (such as the Briey mining basin in Lorraine), troop movements were subordinated to them. In the last twelve years their supremacy has become established; most national governments on the continent are no more than screens for their activities, and nearly all the European press is subject to them. How can one fight? Pacifist organizations are senile almost as soon as they are born; they waste all their energy, most of which is merely verbal anyway, against false targets; for the hidden masters of politics and the shady international businessmen use peace as well as war, one after another, to serve their profits and their domination.

We can no longer count as we used to do on the slow evolutionary rhythm of events. The same accelerated movement which carries along the European machine-age and its inventions is also arousing peoples and states. A social conflict or a world war which in the past would have taken decades or a half-centuries to ripen now takes shape, swells and erupts like an abscess in a few years. Resistance and defence must be just as prompt – and, if necessary, as overwhelming – as the attack.

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Stefan Zweig: Idea of human brotherhood buried by the grave-diggers of war

January 13, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

The events of August 2, 1914, broke Europe into fragments. Therewith collapsed the faith which the brothers in the spirit, Jean Christophe and Olivier, had been building with their lives. A great heritage was cast aside. The idea of human brotherhood, once sacred, was buried contemptuously by the grave-diggers of all the lands at war, buried among the million corpses of the slain.

***

In Jean Christophe, Romain Rolland had delivered his message to this fated hour. To make the confession a live thing, he had to give something more, himself. The time had come for him to do what Jean Christophe had done for Olivier’s son. He must guard the sacred flame; he must fulfil what his hero had prophetically foreshadowed. The way in which Rolland fulfilled this obligation has become for us all an imperishable example of spiritual heroism, which moves us even more strongly than we were moved by his written words. We saw his life and personality taking the form of an actually living conviction. We saw how, with the whole power of his name, and with all the energy of his artistic temperament, he took his stand against multitudinous adversaries in his own land and in other countries, his gaze fixed upon the heaven of his faith.

Rolland had never failed to recognize that in a time of widespread illusion it would be difficult to hold fast to his convictions, however self-evident they might seem. But, as he wrote to a French friend in September, 1914, “We do not choose our own duties. Duty forces itself upon us. Mine is, with the aid of those who share my ideas, to save from the deluge the last vestiges of the European spirit…Mankind demands of us that those who love their fellows should take a firm stand, and should even fight, if needs must, against those they love.”

For five years we have watched the heroism of this fight, pursuing its own course amid the warring of the nations. We have watched the miracle of one man’s keeping his senses amid the frenzied millions, of one man’s remaining free amid the universal slavery of public opinion. We have watched love at war with hate, the European at war with the patriots, conscience at war with the world. Throughout this long and bloody night, when we were often ready to perish from despair at the meaninglessness of nature, the one thing which has consoled us and sustained us has been the recognition that the mighty forces which were able to crush towns and annihilate empires, were powerless against an isolated individual possessed of the will and the courage to be free. Those who deemed themselves the victors over millions, were to find that there was one thing which they could not master, a free conscience.

Vain, therefore, was their triumph, when they buried the crucified thought of Europe. True faith works miracles. Jean Christophe had burst the bonds of death, had risen again in the living form of his own creator.

***

We do not detract from the moral services of Romain Rolland, but we may perhaps excuse to some extent his opponents, when we insist that Rolland had excelled all contemporary imaginative writers in the profundity of his preparatory studies of war and its problems. If to-day, in retrospect, we contemplate his writings, we marvel to note how, from the very first and throughout a long period of years, they combined to build up, as it were, a colossal pyramid, culminating in the point upon which the lightnings of war were to be discharged. For twenty years, the author’s thought, his whole creative activity, had been unintermittently concentrated upon the contradictions between spirit and force, between freedom and the fatherland, between victory and defeat. Through a hundred variations he had pursued the same fundamental theme, treating it dramatically, epically, and in manifold other ways. There is hardly a problem relevant to this question which is not touched upon by Christophe and Olivier, by Aërt and by the Girondists, in their discussions. Intellectually regarded, Rolland’s writings are a maneuvering ground for all the incentives to war. He thus had his conclusions already drawn when others were beginning an attempt to come to terms with events. As historian, he had described the perpetual recurrence of war’s typical accompaniments, had discussed the psychology of mass suggestion, and had shown the effects of wartime mentality upon the individual. As moralist and as citizen of the world, he had long ere this formulated his creed. We may say, in fact, that Rolland’s mind had been in a sense immunized against the illusions of the crowd and against infection by prevalent falsehoods.

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Romain Rolland: Gandhi vs Einstein: War must be stopped before it starts

January 12, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

Romain Rolland: Gandhi and the Satanic nature of war

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Romain Rolland
From his diary, 1931
Translated by R. A. Francis

I tell Gandhi at some length about the moral and social state of continental Europe, and France in particular. I go back briefly to the period of 1900-1914, to explain the double bankruptcy during and after the war of the so-called realists (the politicians) and the idealists, symbolized by the final failure of both Clemenceau and Wilson – hence the bitter disillusionment of the following generations. I show him the true hidden face of politics, which we began to suspect only about the middle of the war: Money, the great adventurers and industrial tycoons (Zaharoff, Deterding), the international trusts and cartels, – and their daily growing supremacy over the nation states, and over public opinion through the press which they control. I give some of the more striking examples: the Comite des Forges, the Briey affair during the war, the steelworks, the oil and petrol companies, the Hugenberg-Reynaud negotiations, the worst kind of war-mongering nationalism stimulated and made drunk by business internationalism. I consider what form of opposition may today be set up against this cancer, gnawing at the West and America, and seeking to eat away the rest of the world. The democracies have no means of defending themselves: Money has corrupted them to the core, bribed, divided and emasculated them…

***

(Quoting Gandhi) “The problems you have placed before me are terrible. Whereas non-violence is effective and will continue to be so in India, it may well be that in Europe it will fail. But this does not embarrass me. I believe non-violence has a universal application. But I do not believe that I myself can give this message to Europe…I have spoken with many sincere Englishmen, and foreigners too, and I say to them: You must not budge an inch if you do not have faith within you. But I should still believe even if the whole world did not believe. After having seen the difficulties, after yesterday’s conversation, it remains my faith that non-violence alone can save Europe. Otherwise all is lost…From what I have seen of Europe, I believe that Europe cannot avoid the need for non-violence. Luckily no extensive organization is necessary; all that is required is one man who will be faith and non-violence incarnate. Until that man appears you must wait, hope and prepare the atmosphere.”

***

England is a privileged country. The situation is different elsewhere. But there is one more danger in Europe and America, in the existence of a middle class living at the expense of the oppressed peoples of other nations. After the victory, we were told in France that “Germany will pay”. Now all the peoples of the West are being told: “The world – Asia and Africa – will pay.” Armies of coloured men are being trained for the coming wars. We are returning to the system of the Roman Empire with its privileged people, who unloaded all their burdens on to the people they enslaved. At present my people, in France, are still enjoying a well-being based on world poverty. Even our most open-minded intellectuals prefer not to look too closely; they gain too much from the situation and don’t want the present order, based on force, to be disturbed.

Gandhi: Is not the remedy in the hands of the exploited peoples? In non-co-operation with the exploiters?…

R. R.: For people without religion this is impossible. The workers will be tempted by high salaries to make the arms and ammunitions which will be used against their brothers in other lands. First of all we ought to preach to them a gospel of poverty, selflessness and abnegation, a gospel of love. But it is more difficult to preach poverty and abnegation to victors and conquerors than it is to the vanquished and the oppressed.

***

The main discussion is about the “Theory and Practice of Non-violence”, and a report of it can be read in the “Letters from Europa” sent by Desai to Young India. I shall report here only the parts of it relevant to Einstein’s thesis, about which I have written myself, and the objections to it from Gandhi’s point of view. “How to carry out nonviolence effectively.” Should one simply refuse to carry arms? Einstein has made an appeal to men not to take part in war…Gandhi replies humorously: “Really, if I may say this about a great man, it seems that Einstein has stolen my method. But if you want me to go to the heart of the matter, I should say that simply refusing military service is not enough. To refuse military service when the time has come is to leave action until the time available for combating the evil has practically passed. Military service is only a symptom of a deeper evil. All those not inscribed for military service still participate equally in the crime if they support the state in other ways. Anyone who supports, directly or indirectly, a state with a military organization participates in the crime. Every man, young or old, participates in the crime if he contributes to the maintenance of the state by paying taxes…That is why all those who wish to stop military service should do it by withdrawing all co-operation from the state. The refusal of military service is much more superficial than non-co-operation with the whole system supporting the state. But then the opposition becomes so sharp and effective that you risk not only being put in prison, but also being thrown into the street…What Einstein says can happen only once a year and with a very small number of people, but I suggest non-co-operation with the state as your first duty.”

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Stefan Zweig: The whole world of feeling, the whole world of thought, became militarized

January 11, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

During the five years of the war Romain Rolland remained in Switzerland, Europe’s heart; remained there that he might fulfil his task, “de dire ce qui est juste et humain.” Here, where the breezes blow freely from all other lands, and whence a voice could pass freely across all the frontiers, here where no fetters were imposed upon speech, he followed the call of his invisible duty. Close at hand the endless waves of blood and hatred emanating from the frenzy of war were foaming against the frontiers of the cantonal state. But throughout the storm, the magnetic needle of one intelligence continued to point unerringly towards the immutable pole of life – to point towards love.

***

In Rolland’s view it was the artist’s duty to serve his fatherland by conscientious service to all mankind, to play his part in the struggle by waging war against the suffering the war was causing and against the thousandfold torments entailed by the war. He rejected the idea of absolute aloofness. “An artist has no right to hold aloof while he is still able to help others.” But this aid, this participation, must not take the form of fostering the murderous hatred which already animated the millions. The aim must be to unite the millions further, where unseen ties already existed, in their infinite suffering. He therefore took his part in the ranks of the helpers, not weapon in hand, but following the example of Walt Whitman, who, during the American Civil War, served as hospital assistant.

Romain Rolland was one of the first to offer personal assistance. The Musée Rath was quickly made available for the purposes of the Red Cross. In one of the small wooden cubicles, among hundreds of girls, women, and students, Rolland sat for more than eighteen months, engaged each day for from six to eight hours side by side with the head of the undertaking, Dr. Ferrière, to whose genius for organization myriads owe it that the period of suspense was shortened. Here Rolland filed letters, wrote letters, performed an abundance of detail work, seemingly of little importance. But how momentous was every word to the individuals whom he could help, for in this vast universe each suffering individual is mainly concerned about his own particular grain of unhappiness. Countless persons to-day, unaware of the fact, have to thank the great writer for news of their lost relatives. A rough stool, a small table of unpolished deal, the turmoil of typewriters, the bustle of human beings questioning, calling one to another, hastening to and fro – such was Romain Rolland’s battlefield in this campaign against the afflictions of the war. Here, while other authors and intellectuals were doing their utmost to foster mutual hatred, he endeavored to promote reconciliation, to alleviate the torment of a fraction among the countless sufferers by such consolation as the circumstances rendered possible. He neither desired, nor occupied, a leading position in the work of the Red Cross; but, like so many other nameless assistants, he devoted himself to the daily task of promoting the interchange of news. His deeds were inconspicuous, and are therefore all the more memorable.

When he was allotted the Nobel peace prize, he refused to retain the money for his own use, and devoted the whole sum to the mitigation of the miseries of Europe, that he might suit the action to the word, the word to the action. Ecce homo! Ecce poeta!

***

Too well did he know as historian that in the initial outbursts of war passion the veneer of civilization and Christianity would be rubbed off; that in all nations alike the naked bestiality of human beings would be disclosed; that the smell of the shed blood would reduce them all to the level of wild beasts. He did not conceal from himself that this strange halitus is able to dull and to confuse even the gentlest, the kindliest, the most intelligent of souls. The rending asunder of ancient friendships, the sudden solidarity among persons most opposed in temperament now eager to abase themselves before the idol of the fatherland, the total disappearance of conscientious conviction at the first breath of the actualities of war – in Jean Christophe these things were written no less plainly than when of old the fingers of the hand wrote upon the palace wall in Babylon.

***

During the opening days of the war, Rolland was horrified to note how all previous wars were being eclipsed in the atrocity of the struggle, in its material and spiritual brutality, in its extent, and in the intensity of its passion. All possible anticipations had been outdone. Although for thousands of years, by twos or variously allied, the peoples of Europe had almost unceasingly been warring one with another, never before had their mutual hatreds, as manifested in word and deed, risen to such a pitch as in this twentieth century after the birth of Christ. Never before in the history of mankind did hatred extend so widely through the populations; never did it rage so fiercely among the intellectuals; never before was oil pumped into the flames as it was now pumped from innumerable fountains and tubes of the spirit, from the canals of the newspapers, from the retorts of the professors. All evil instincts were fostered among the masses. The whole world of feeling, the whole world of thought, became militarized. The loathsome organization for the dealing of death by material weapons was yet more loathsomely reflected in the organization of national telegraphic bureaus to scatter lies like sparks over land and sea. For the first time, science, poetry, art, and philosophy became no less subservient to war than mechanical ingenuity was subservient. In the pulpits and professorial chairs, in the research laboratories, in the editorial offices and in the authors’ studies, all energies were concentrated as by an invisible system upon the generation and diffusion of hatred. The seer’s apocalyptic warnings were surpassed.

A deluge of hatred and blood such as even the blood-drenched soil of Europe had never known, flowed from land to land. Romain Rolland knew that a lost world, a corrupt generation, cannot be saved from its illusions. A world conflagration cannot be extinguished by a word, cannot be quelled by the efforts of naked human hands. The only possible endeavor was to prevent others adding fuel to the flames, and with the lash of scorn and contempt to deter as far as might be those who were engaged in such criminal undertakings. It might be possible, too, to build an ark wherein what was intellectually precious in this suicidal generation might be saved from the deluge, might be made available for those of a future day when the waters of hatred should have subsided. A sign might be uplifted, round which the faithful could rally, building a temple of unity amid, and yet high above, the battlefields.

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Percy Bysshe Shelley: Peace, love and concord once shall rule again

January 10, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Selections on war

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Percy Bysshe Shelley
From Essay on the Existing State of Things

If he who murders one to death is due,
Should not the great destroyer perish too?
The wretch beneath whose influence millions bleed?
And yet encomium is the villain’s meed.

***

The fainting Indian, on his native plains,
Writhes to superior power’s unnumbered pains;
The Asian, in the blushing face of day.
His wife, his child, sees sternly torn away;
Yet dares not to revenge, while war’s dread roar
Floats, in long echoing, on the blood-stain’d shore.
In Europe too wild ruin rushes fast:
See! like a meteor on the midnight blast,
Or evil spirit brooding over gore,
Napoleon calm can war, can misery pour.
May curses blast thee; and in thee the breed
Which forces, which compels, a world to bleed;
May that destruction, which ’tis thine to spread,
Descend with ten-fold fury on thy head.

***

Oppressive law no more shall power retain,
Peace, love, and concord, once shall rule again,
And heal the anguish of a suffering world;
Then, then shall things, which now confusedly hurled,
Seem Chaos, be resolved to order’s sway,
And error’s night he turned to virtue’s day.

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Romain Rolland: Civilized warfare allows victims choice of how to be slaughtered

January 9, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From Liluli
Translator unknown

THE WORKMEN coming back from either side with the planks of the bridge which they proceed to lay down; singing.

THE DIPLOMATS lifting up their hands in horror.
A bridge?…A bridge!…They’re making a bridge!…a bridge!

THE DIPLOMATS
By what right? In whose name? Did you ask for authorization?

THE WORKMEN
Strong enough? Our bridge. You could go across, three men, four women and five geese abreast.

THE DIPLOMATS
Men! It isn’t a question of men. The question with a proper bridge is, in primis: that cannons can pass over it!

THE WORKMEN
Cannons? Why? To shoot partridges, or wild boars, or what?

THE DIPLOMATS peremptorily.
No reason. Just to try.

THE FAT MEN with authority.
It’s always done.

THE DIPLOMATS
Back! No one may cross a bridge before the inauguration.

THE WORKMEN
Will it take long?

THE DIPLOMATS
It will take as long as is proper.

THE THIN MEN resignedly.
O, well, everything must end by coming to an end.

POLONIUS mounts the rostrum.
Dear fellow citizens, brothers of both banks, of this bank and the other and of yet a third (I don’t know if there is one; but it doesn’t matter…) All men are but a single body. Men and women…[A guffaw.] In all modesty, all honor, I speak. I come here to give my blessing to this future union. The future is not tomorrow. By no means, no, understand me well. That is what makes it so charming, so unexacting, so little troublesome. A good subject for toasts and after-dinner speeches. I know all about it. I am a delegate of the Peace Congress…[He introduces himself.] Polonius, Modeste-Napoleon. Napoleon is my Christian name. Modeste was added so as not to frighten people; I am a simple, kindly man. You see my ribbons, my decorations. [He shows them.]

There’s the order of Kamchatka now, with the Kattegat; here is the Karatschi and the Gaurisanka. [He turns round and shows his back.] I have more there. [He turns back again, satisfied.] I speak in all honor, all modesty. It commits one to nothing. Well, then, my friends, my brothers – my brothers of to-morrow, or rather of the day after to-morrow – I have come to pay my tribute to this bridge, this bridge, this prodigious bridge, this bridge so long and pompous…

ALL HANDS
Abridge, abridge! . . .

POLONIUS
This bridge of love and alliance which stretches through the air like a rainbow in the firmament. Touching symbol of the great day that is to come (it will come! it will come!…but don’t let us be in any hurry!) when States shall disarm, when the walls shall crumble, the walls of those prisons – those nations – when peoples shall fall into one another’s arms, when the ravening wolf and the gentle lamb shall crop the grass of the meadow side by side , casting sweet eyes at one another, when the workers shall have a long snooze every mornings when the rich shall share their beds and their cellars with the workmen, when arms, armies and treaties shall be put away in the museum, and to the museum the concession-mongers, governors and contractors – when hens shall have teeth…The day will come, will come, indeed it will! But we haven’t got there yet. Advance must come step by step. We make no rash pretensions that we’re going to deprive you, before the hour has struck, of war, poverty, business and land sharks. The birch is a necessary evil for children. Young folks must pass. Let us pass it by, scratching ourselves in the process.

THE ASS, rolling on the ground.
Hee-haw!

POLONIUS
The point, then, my good friends, in these happy days in which we lire is to choose, like the rabbit, with what sauce you wish your giblets stewed. Do you prefer being slaughtered above ground, under ground, in the air or in the water? (For my part, I don’t like water; good wine is more in my line.) Do you long to get in the belly a round bullet or a painted one, brown or plated, shrapnel, shell-splinter, crump or bomb, or rather the good cold steel, which is clean and pleasant? Which would you like best, to be disemboweled, broiled, punctured, squashed, boiled, roasted, or – the last fashion – electrocuted? We will deny you nothing. We only draw the line, for your own good, at the barbarous, the common – at submarines and stinking gases; in a word, badly-bred death and uncivilized war. But you’ll lose nothing by that. We police war. Let us polish it, gentlemen, and re-polish it! What should we be without war? It is through war that peace has its price. And it is by means of war that we are building up in saecula per pocula the Society of Nations. For everything hangs together; follow me carefully. Without nations, there could be no Society of Nations. And no nation, no war! No war, no nation! Well, then, all is very well and will h% much better. Count on us! Give us a free hand. We know so well how to mix black and white, right and might, peace and war, concocting war-like peaces and peace-bringing wars; we shall embellish nature for you so skillfully that yon won’t be able to recognize her at all.

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Stefan Zweig: War, the ultimate betrayal of the intellectuals

January 8, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

While the masses, deceived by words, were raging against one another in blind fury, the artists, the writers, the men of science, of Germany, France, and England, who for centuries had been coöperating for discoveries, advances, ideals, could combine to form a tribunal of the spirit which, with scientific earnestness, should devote itself to extirpating the falsehoods that were keeping their respective peoples apart. Transcending nationality, they could hold intercourse on a higher plane. For it was Rolland’s most cherished hope that the great artists and great investigators would refuse to identify themselves with the crime of the war, would refrain from abandoning their freedom of conscience and from entrenching themselves behind a facile “my country, right or wrong.” With few exceptions, intellectuals had for centuries recognized the repulsiveness of war. More than a thousand years earlier, when China was threatened by ambitious Mongols, Li Tai Peh had exclaimed: “Accursed be war! Accursed the work of weapons! The sage has nothing to do with these follies.” The contention that the sage has naught to do with such follies seems to rise like an unenunciated refrain from all the utterances of western men of learning since Europe began to have a common life. In Latin letters (for Latin, the medium of intercourse, was likewise the symbol of supranational fellowship), the great humanists whose respective countries were at war exchanged their regrets, and offered mutual philosophical solace against the murderous illusions of their less instructed fellows. Herder was speaking for the learned Germans of the eighteenth century when he wrote: “For fatherland to engage in a bloody struggle with fatherland is the most preposterous, barbarism.” Goethe, Byron, Voltaire, and Rousseau, were at one in their contempt for the purposeless butcheries of war. To-day, in Rolland’s view, the leading intellectuals, the great scientific investigators whose minds would perforce remain unclouded, the most humane among the imaginative writers, could join in a fellowship whose members would renounce the errors of their respective nations.

Such was the mood in which Rolland took up his pen for the first time after the outbreak of war. He wrote an open letter to Hauptmann, to the author whom among Germans he chiefly honored for goodness and humaneness. Within the same hour he wrote to Verhaeren, Germany’s bitterest foe. Rolland thus stretched forth both his hands, rightward and leftward, in the hope that he could bring his two correspondents together, so that at least within the domain of pure spirit there might be a first essay towards spiritual reconciliation, what time upon the battlefields the machine-guns with their infernal clatter were mowing down the sons of France, Germany, Belgium, Britain, Austria-Hungary, and Russia.

***

During these days, Rolland may well have recalled sacred memories of the time when Leo Tolstoi‘s letter came to give him a mission in life. Tolstoi had stood alone in the utterance of his celebrated outcry, “I can no longer keep silence.” At that time his country was at war. He arose to defend the invisible rights of human beings, uttering a protest against the command that men should murder their brothers. Now his voice was no longer heard; his place was empty; the conscience of mankind was dumb. To Rolland, the consequent silence, the terrible silence of the free spirit amid the hurly-burly of the slaves, seemed more hateful than the roar of the cannon. Those to whom he had appealed for help had refused to answer the call. The ultimate truth, the truth of conscience, had no organized fellowship to sustain it. No one would aid him in the struggle for the freedom of the European soul, the struggle of truth against falsehood, the struggle of human loving-kindness against frenzied hate. Rolland once again was alone with his faith, more alone than during the bitterest years of solitude.

***

To understand the ethical import, the heroic character, of these manifestoes, we must recall to mind the frenzy of the opening year of the war, the spiritual infection which was devastating Europe, turning the whole continent into a madhouse. It has already become difficult to realize the mental state of those days. We have to remember that maxims which now seem commonplace, as for instance the contention that we must not hold all the individuals of a nation responsible for the outbreak of a war, were then positively criminal, that to utter them was a punishable offense…Men were still so drunken with the fumes of the first bloodshed that they would have been fain, as Rolland himself has phrased it, “to crucify Christ once again should he have risen; to crucify him for saying, Love one another.”

***

This faith in a lofty ideal soars like a sea-mew over the ocean of blood. Rolland is well aware how little hope there is that his words can make themselves audible above the clamor of thirty million warriors. “I know that such thoughts have little chance of being heard to-day. I do not speak to convince. I speak only to solace my conscience. And I know that at the same time I shall solace the hearts of thousands of others who, in all lands, cannot and dare not speak for themselves.” As ever, he is on the side of the weak, on the side of the minority. His voice grows stronger, for he knows that he is speaking for the silent multitude.

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Romain Rolland: Letter to Gandhi on total inadmissibility of war

January 7, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
Translated by R. A. Francis

There are two sorts of pacifism: pacifism by renunciation, out of impoverished vitality, and pacifism by calm trust in one’s strength, out of superabundance of vitality.

Diary 1921

***

Tagore sees a universal symbol in the tragedy of Hamlet: the drama of a great idealist wanting to do his duty by means of a criminal action, who is ruined as soon as he dabbles in crime, even in intention; with his integrity, he has lost his force and his reasons for existence. This, Tagore says (in his eyes, at any rate), is the drama of Gandhi. Ever since the compromise which, during the Great War, led him to recruit soldiers for England, it has been a story of moral collapse (Tagore thinks). He honestly thought that in this way he could achieve his great object, the liberation of his people; but in vain.

Diary 1926

***

Even Gandhi, whom I revere, has made mistakes. Shall I tell him how many times I’ve had the job of calming the worries of his obscure Western disciples upset by his attitude during the 1914 war and his attempts to conciliate nonviolence with his preaching inciting people to take part in the British Empire’s war!

Letter 1927

***

From Letter to Mohandas Gandhi 1928

I (or rather my sister) have read in Young India of 16 February your examination of the part you played in the 1914 war. Forgive me if I tell you that though I should dearly love to enter into your thoughts and approve of them, I have not been able to do so!

I can understand…that men who do not believe in the nation and are horrified by war, but who cannot avoid it other than by getting themselves shot and have not enough moral force or faith to welcome this sacrifice which dishonours them in the eyes of the mass of their fellow-citizens, should weaken and allow themselves to be enlisted. I pity them, I suffer with them, and I have no right to reproach them. Each man must act according to his strength.

But for a man of great courage and absolute faith like yourself, who uncompromisingly condemns human bloodshed and national warfare, to take part in such activities – and out of choice, without being forced – in that case, nothing in the world can make me either admit or even understand it. And the reasons you cite (forgive me!) do not seem to me good ones. I could even go so far as to say that I should better understand your action without reasons than with the reasons you give!

Let us look at them:

You set out three alternatives:

1. As a citizen (either willing or by accepted force) of the British Empire, enjoying its protection and aspiring to obtain from it Home Rule for your people within the Imperial framework, you feel yourself obliged to share in its trials and injustices as well as its sufferings, – even in its crimes; and you think that from this evil heroically accepted there may come a good: that of Imperial recognition of the independence of your people, which, once master of itself, may impose on the Empire in its turn, by spiritual force alone, the law of justice and humanity called Ahimsa…Events have given you your answer – from the practical point of view. If you consider only the results, this most frank opportunism has been of no use to you; but even if it had led to practical success, to the recognition of your people’s independence, my friend, allow me to tell you quite bluntly that independence bought at that price, at the price of an accepted share in the bloody sacrifice of millions of men, would be a crime before God.

2. Boycott of the war and the Empire, which you rightly judge impracticable.

3. Individual civil disobedience, bringing with it the penalty of imprisonment. This you merely state, without dwelling on it. Why not? I don’t understand. It seems to me the only one of the three alternatives which is morally acceptable, if not adequate. And in many other circumstances you have set the example of accepting it – simply, without great gestures or phrases, without calculating the practical results – as the only way open to a conscience which has no accounts to render to anyone but God. Why not, then, have recourse to it at the hour of this “worst of crimes”, this mutual slaughter of peoples driven to the butchery by their bad shepherds. I don’t understand! And what grieves me is that an example like yours may and certainly will be exploited by our political masters as an acquiescence, as consent to the most loathsome of their crimes, which is the enlistment to help in their wars of sordid interest, of the wretched human masses of Asia and Africa, which they exploit and use as cannon and machine-gun fodder, as a substance less precious than European flesh. I’m writing to you just as I feel…I hope that one day soon we may better clarify our thought on this matter, and I rejoice in the dream that Europe – and my own eyes – may see you this year.

I assure you of my respectful and profound affection,
Romain Rolland

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Percy Bysshe Shelley: The fatal trump of useless war to swell

January 6, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Selections on war

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Percy Bysshe Shelley
From Essay on the Existing State of Things

If he who murders one to death is due,
Should not the great destroyer perish too?
The wretch beneath whose influence millions bleed?
And yet encomium is the villain’s meed.

***

When glory’s views the titled idiot guide,
Then will oppression’s iron influence show
The great man’s comfort as the poor man’s woe,
Is’t not enough that splendour’s useless glare,
Real grandeur’s bane, must mock the poor man’s stare;
Is’t not enough that luxury’s varied power
Must cheat the rich parader’s irksome hour,
While what they want not, what they yet retain,
Adds tenfold grief, more anguished throbs of pain
To each unnumbered, unrecorded woe,
Which bids the bitterest tear of want to flow;
But that the comfort, which despotic sway
Has yet allowed, stem War must tear away.

Ye cold advisers of yet colder kings,
To whose fell breast no passion virtue brings,
Who scheme, regardless of the poor man’s pang,
Who coolly sharpen misery’s sharpest fang,
Yourselves secure, your’s is the power to breathe
O’er all the world the infectious blast of death,
To snatch at fame, to reap red murder’s spoil,
Receive the injured with a courtier’s smile,
Make a tired nation bless the oppressor’s name,
And for injustice snatch the meed of fame.
Were fetters made for anguish, for despair?
Must starving wretches torment, misery bear?

***

Though hot with gore from India’s wasted plains,
Some Chief, in triumph, guides the tightened reins
Though disembodied from this mortal coil,
Pitt lends to each smooth rogue a courtier’s smile;
Yet does not that severer frown withhold,
Which, though impervious to the power of gold,
Could daunt the injured wretch, could turn the poor
Unheard, unnoticed, from the statesman’s door.
This is the spirit which can reckless tell
The fatal trump of useless war to swell;
Can bid Fame’s loudest voice awake his praise,
Can boldly snatch the honorary bays,
Gifts to reward a ruthless, murderous deed,
A crime for which some poorer rogue must bleed.

 

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Stefan Zweig: Opposition to war, a higher heroism still

January 5, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

He only who had contemplated the coming European war as an abyss towards which the mad hunt of recent decades, making light of every warning, had been speeding, only such a one could command his soul, could refrain from joining the bacchanalian rout, could listen unmoved to the throbbing of the war drums. Who but such a man could stand upright in the greatest storm of illusion the world has ever known?

Thus it came to pass that not merely during the first hour of the war was Rolland in opposition to other writers and artists of the day. This opposition dated from the very inception of his career, and hence for twenty years he had been a solitary. The reason why the contrast between his outlook and that of his generation had not hitherto been conspicuous, the reason why the cleavage was not disclosed until the actual outbreak of war, lies in this, that Rolland’s divergence was a matter not so much of mood as of character. Before the apocalyptic year, almost all persons of artistic temperament had recognized quite as definitely as Rolland had recognized that a fratricidal struggle between Europeans would be a crime, would disgrace civilization. With few exceptions, they were pacifists. It would be more correct to say that with few exceptions they believed themselves to be pacifists. For pacifism does not simply mean, to be a friend to peace, but to be a worker in the cause of peace, an εἱρηνοποιὁς, as the New Testament has it. Pacifism signifies the activity of an effective will to peace, not merely the love of an easy life and a preference for repose. It signifies struggle; and like every struggle it demands, in the hour of danger, self-sacrifice and heroism. Now these “pacifists” we have just been considering had merely a sentimental fondness for peace; they were friendly towards peace, just as they were friendly towards ideas of social equality, towards philanthropy, towards the abolition of capital punishment. Such faith as they possessed was a faith devoid of passion. They wore their opinions as they wore their clothing, and when the time of trial came they were ready to exchange their pacifist ethic for the ethic of the war-makers, were ready to don a national uniform in matters of opinion. At bottom, they knew the right just as well as Rolland, but they had not the courage of their opinions. Goethe’s saying to Eckermann applies to them with deadly force. “All the evils of modern literature are due to lack of character in individual investigators and writers.”

Thus Rolland did not stand alone in his knowledge, which was shared by many intellectuals and statesmen. But in his case, all his knowledge was tinged with religious fervor; his beliefs were a living faith; his thoughts were actions. He was unique among imaginative writers for the splendid vigor with which he remained true to his ideals when all others were deserting the standard; for the way in which he defended the European spirit against the raging armies of the sometime European intellectuals now turned patriots. Fighting as he had fought from youth upwards on behalf of the invisible against the world of reality, he displayed, as a foil to the heroism of the trenches, a higher heroism still. While the soldiers were manifesting the heroism of blood, Rolland manifested the heroism of the spirit, and showed the glorious spectacle of one who was able, amid the intoxication of the war-maddened masses, to maintain the sobriety and freedom of an unclouded mind.

***

Of a sudden it seemed as if his whole life had become meaningless. Vain had been his exhortations, vain the twenty years of ardent endeavor. He had feared this disaster since early boyhood. He had made Olivier cry in torment of soul: “I dread war so greatly, I have dreaded it for so long. It has been a nightmare to me, and it poisoned my childhood’s days.” Now, what he had prophetically anticipated had become a terrible reality for hundreds of millions of human beings. The agony of the hour was nowise diminished because he had foreseen its coming to be inevitable. On the contrary, while others hastened to deaden their senses with the opium of false conceptions of duty and with the hashish dreams of victory, Rolland’s pitiless sobriety enabled him to look far out into the future. On August 3rd he wrote in his diary: “I feel at the end of my resources. I wish I were dead. It is horrible to live when men have gone mad, horrible to witness the collapse of civilization. This European war is the greatest catastrophe in the history of many centuries, the overthrow of our dearest hopes of human brotherhood.” A few days later, in still greater despair, he penned the following entry: “My distress is so colossal an accumulation of distresses that I can scarcely breathe. The ravaging of France, the fate of my friends, their deaths, their wounds. The grief at all this suffering, the heartrending sympathetic anguish with the millions of sufferers. I feel a moral death-struggle as I look on at this mad humanity which is offering up its most precious possessions, its energies, its genius, its ardors of heroic devotion, which is sacrificing all these things to the murderous and stupid idols of war. I am heartbroken at the absence of any divine message, any divine spirit, any moral leadership, which might upbuild the City of God when the carnage is at an end. The futility of my whole life has reached its climax. If I could but sleep, never to reawaken.”

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Anthony Trollope: Leader appointed to save the empire – with warships

January 4, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Anthony Trollope: How wars are arranged

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Anthony Trollope
From The Prime Minister

Sir Orlando’s present idea of a policy was the building four bigger ships of war than had ever been built before, – with larger guns, and more men, and thicker iron plates, and, above all, with a greater expenditure of money. He had even gone so far as to say, though not in his semi-official letter to the Prime Minister, that he thought that “The Salvation of the Empire” should be the cry of the Coalition party. “After all,” he said, “what the people care about is the Salvation of the Empire!” Sir Orlando was at the head of the Admiralty; and if glory was to be achieved by the four ships, it would rest first on the head of Sir Orlando.

***

Sir Orlando Drought had not been allowed to build his four ships, and was consequently eager in his fears that the country would be invaded by the combined forces of Germany and France, that India would be sold by those powers to Russia, that Canada would be annexed to the States, that a great independent Roman Catholic hierarchy would be established in Ireland, and that Malta and Gibraltar would be taken away from us; – all which evils would be averted by the building of four big ships.

***

In those days Sir Orlando was unhappy and irritable, doubtful of further success as regarded the Coalition, but quite resolved to pull the house down about the ears of the inhabitants rather than to leave it with gentle resignation. To him it seemed to be impossible that the Coalition should exist without him. He too had had moments of high-vaulting ambition, in which he had almost felt himself to be the great man required by the country, the one ruler who could gather together in his grasp the reins of government and drive the State coach single-handed safe through its difficulties for the next half-dozen years. There are men who cannot conceive of themselves that anything should be difficult for them, and again others who cannot bring themselves so to trust themselves as to think that they can ever achieve anything great. Samples of each sort from time to time rise high in political life, carried thither apparently by Epicurean concourse of atoms; and it often happens that the more confident samples are by no means the most capable. The concourse of atoms had carried Sir Orlando so high that he could not but think himself intended for something higher.

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Romain Rolland: Oh, fair diplomats, you rid us of irksome peace

January 3, 2019 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From Liluli
Translator unknown

THE FAT MEN among themselves.
Lord! Do you hear what these beggars are saying? No more frontiers, it’s scandalous…Look at them passing round the loving-cup, drinking out of the same jug and lapping out of the same dish…Ugh, ugh! The ideal of these swine would be to impose on every man of them one trough, one hovel, one dung-hill. These sharers are dangerous. I want each man to have his own; give me mine – and the others can have what’s left. Good God! Good God! Better and better! And see, they’re dancing now, hugging one another…It’s scandalous!…If they were all united it would be a calamity…The pee-pul wouldn’t want to work any more. Zounds, god’s blood, then we should have to sweat and work! No more rich, no more poor, no more states, no more nations. It would be, it would be sheer topsy-turvydom!…If we let them do as they liked, why, there would be no more war; why, there’d be no more God. It’s enough to make one tear one’s hair…no more anything, no more property! Every one would only think of being happy. It’s scandalous!…What an insolent pretension! To want to eliminate evil from this earth! Then what would be left for honest folk to rest their heads on? Not a stone…God created evil, pestilence, patriotism, wealth and war. He knew very well why! The earth needs manuring. Evil, that is the manure. There must be enrichment. There most be common people. There must be beggars. And there must be poverty for plow and hatred for goad,so that they may drive their furrow…Gee, haw! get along! These oxen must be made to go.

But you, gentlemen of the Diplomatic Corps, you prickers of oxen, what the devil are you doing with the goad? We had charged you with the task of watching over our safety, of maintaining the order and injustice consecrated by the past, the abuses, the traditions and the disunion of nations…And that’s the way you conduct the pee-pul for us! Oho, gentlemen, that isn’t good…straight into one another’s arms! Is it for this noble result…ha, ha!…that you’ve been paid, gilded and braided before, behind, from top to toe, covered with honor and stars! Now, then, gentlemen of the Diplomatic Corps!

THE DIPLOMATS
It’s a game. Leave us to act with our partners, the gentlemen of the Service on the other side.

THE FAT MEN
Are you in agreement, then?

THE DIPLOMATS
According to the rules, one must be: we have our game. Diplomacy is a game of chess. The roles demand that, to win, one must lose pawns. The pawns are there [pointing to the peoples]; we have only to put them on the chess-board.

CHORUS
O fair Diplomacy, thou angel sent from heaven to temper the wearisomeness of life, to rid us of irksome peace, of happiness and love, which are things all too vulgar; thou dost undo the work of nature (for nature is good for beasts); thou makest enemies of those who are united; and those who cannot bear with one another thou knittest together. None so well as thou knows the art of finding in a hayloft the solitary needle. If it be not there, thou puttest it there: thus Joseph slipping a cup into Benjamin’s wallet. We owe it to thy conjuring tricks in the manner of Robert Houdin that, on rising each morning we never know what thou wilt have done with us by evening. Through thee we are acquainted with war and its delights – ravished wife, ravaged fields, my skin punctured (ow! ow!), but then I puncture other people’s – the exquisite joys of envy (how sweet it is to get the jaundice through coveting one’s neighbor’s goods! We shall take him and destroy him; taking is very good; destroying is better; destroying is a feast for the gods.)…With thy wondrous fingers thou knowest how to tangle the thread as thou windest it, to make knots in the skein. Clever must be he who shall undo them! No one has the right to nose out the secrets of the green table. Thou playest with us, our money, our goods, our skins, our souls and our children, and none may penetrate thy game…It’s stunning!…And when, afterwards, I am beaten, pounded, fleeced and thoroughly contented, thou presentest me with a lovely treaty, covered with signed initials, and the bill, to be paid cash down. And we pay, and we say: “Thank you, thank you! Till next time.” When one’s the oyster, one must be swallowed, mustn’t one? And I am, and I shall be. It makes me gape with pleasure and pride…O lovely Diplomacy, what would life be without thee. A wine without dregs. A pleasure without envy. A summer day without rain…A most insipid contentment.

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Stefan Zweig: Origin of the Nobel Peace Prize

January 2, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

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Stefan Zweig
From The World of Yesterday
Translated by Benjamin W. Huebsch and Helmut Ripperger

In Germany, it was Werfel who gave world brotherhood its strongest lyric accent with Der Weltfreund; Rene Schickele, an Alsatian, placed by fate between the two nations, laboured passionately for an understanding; from Italy, G. A. Borgese hailed us as a comrade, and encouragement came from thee Scandinavian and the Slavic countries as well. “Why don’t you come over here!” a great Russian writer said in a letter. “Show the Panslavists who are trying to egg us into the war that you Austrians are against it.” Oh, we loved our inspired time well enough and we loved our Europe ! But this blind belief, that reason would baulk the madness at the last minute, established itself as our one shortcoming. True, we did not regard the handwriting on the wall with sufficient misgiving, but is it not the very essence of youth not to be distrustful but to believe? We relied on Jaurès, on the Socialist International, we believed that the railroad men would rather tear up the tracks than transport their comrades to the front as so much cattle to be slaughtered, we counted on the women, who would refuse to sacrifice their children and husbands to Moloch, we were convinced that the spiritual and moral forces of Europe would reveal themselves triumphantly at the critical moment. Our common idealism, our optimism based on progress, led us to misjudge and contemn the common danger.

***

The Balkan War, where Krupp and Schneider-Creusot rehearsed their guns against foreign “human material,” as later the Germans and Italians rehearsed their planes in the Spanish Civil War, drew us closer and closer to the cataract. Again and again we started up, only to breathe again: “Not yet, this time – and let us hope, never!”

***

By chance, the very next day I met Berta von Suttner, that majestic and grandiose Cassandra of our time. An aristocrat of one of the first families, in her early youth she had experienced the cruelty of the War of 1866 in the vicinity of her family seat in Bohemia. And with the passion of a Florence Nightingale she saw but one task for herself in life: to hinder a second war, or any war at all. She wrote a novel. Lay Down Your Arms, which met with universal success; she organized countless pacifist meetings, and the triumph of her life was that she had aroused the conscience of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, to such an extent that, to compensate for the evil that he had caused with his dynamite, he had established the Nobel Prize for Peace and International Understanding. She came up to me in great excitement. “The people have no idea of what is going on !” she cried quite loudly in the street, although she usually spoke quietly and with deliberation. “The war is already upon us, and once again they have hidden and kept it from us. Why don’t you do something, you young people? It is your concern most of all. Defend yourselves! Unite! Don’t always let a few old women to whom no one listens do everything.” I told her that I was going to Paris ; perhaps one could really attempt a common manifesto. “Why only ‘perhaps’?” she pressed on. “Things are worse than ever, the machine is already in motion.” Being disturbed myself, I had difficulty in quieting her.

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Percy Bysshe Shelley: Titled idiot kindles flames of war

January 1, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Selections on war

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Percy Bysshe Shelley
From Declaration of Rights

Man has no right to kill his brother, it is no excuse that he does so in uniform. He only adds the infamy of servitude to the crime of murder.

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From Essay on the Existing State of Things

Destruction marks thee! o’er the blood-stain’d heath
Is faintly borne the stifled wail of death;
Millions to fight compell’d, to fight or die
In mangled heaps on Mar’s red altar lie.
The sternly wise, the mildly good, have sped
To the unfruitful mansions of the dead.
Whilst fell Ambition o’er the wasted plain
Triumphant guides his car – the ensanguin’d rein
Glory directs; fierce brooding o’er the scene,
With hatred glance, with dire unbending mien.
Fell Despotism sits by the red glare
Of Discord’s torch, kindling the flames of war.
For thee then does the Muse her sweetest lay
Pour ’mid the shrieks of war, ’mid dire dismay;
For thee does Fame’s obstrep’rous clarion rise,
Does Praise’s voice raise meanness to the skies.
Are we then sunk so deep in darkest gloom,
That selfish pride can virtue’s garb assume?
Does real greatness in false splendour live?
When narrow views the futile mind deceive,
When thirst of wealth, or frantic rage for fame,
Lights for awhile self-interest’s little flame,
When legal murders swell the lists of pride;
When glory’s views the titled idiot guide.

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Romain Rolland: Tolstoy and peace among men

December 31, 2018 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From Life of Tolstoy (1911)
Translated by Bernard Miall

Ours it was by its ardent love of life, by its quality of youth; ours by its irony, its disillusion, its pitiless discernment, and its haunting sense of mortality. Ours by its dreams of brotherly love, of peace among men; ours by its terrible accusation of the lies of civilisation; ours by its realism; by its mysticism ours; by its savour of nature, its sense of invisible forces, its vertigo in the face of the infinite.

***

Tolstoy the Christian, forgetting the patriotism of his first narrative [Sebastopol], curses this impious war:

“And these men, Christians, who profess the same great law of love and of sacrifice, do not, when they perceive what they have done, fall upon their knees repentant, before Him who in giving them life set within the heart of each, together with the fear of death, the love of the good and the beautiful. They do not embrace as brothers, with tears of joy and happiness!”

***

Russia should withdraw from all warfare because she must accomplish “the great revolution.”

***

For a long time the Old Believers, known in Russia as the Sectators, had been obstinately practising, in spite of persecution, non-obedience to the State, and had refused to recognise the legitimacy of its power. The absurdity of the Russo-Japanese war enabled this state of mind to spread without difficulty through the rural districts. Refusals of military service became more and more general; and the more brutally they were punished the more stubborn the revolt grew in secret.

***

Those are blind who do not perceive the miracle of this great mind, the incarnation of fraternal love in the midst of a people and a century stained with the blood of hatred!

***

His article on War, written on the occasion of the Universal Peace Congress in London in 1891, is a rude satire on the peacemakers who believe in international arbitration:

“This is the story of the bird which is caught after a pinch of salt has been put on his tail. It is quite as easy to catch him without it. They laugh at us who speak of arbitration and disarmament by consent of the Powers. Mere verbiage, this! Naturally the Governments approve: worthy apostles! They know very well that their approval will never prevent their doing as they will.” (Cruel Pleasures.)

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Anthony Trollope: How wars are arranged

December 30, 2018 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Anthony Trollope: Leader appointed to save the empire – with warships

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Anthony Trollope
From The Prime Minister

Does not all the world know that when in autumn the Bismarcks of the world, or they who are bigger than Bismarcks, meet at this or that delicious haunt of salubrity, the affairs of the world are then settled in little conclaves, with greater ease, rapidity, and certainty than in large parliaments or the dull chambers of public offices? Emperor meets Emperor, and King meets King, and as they wander among the rural glades in fraternal intimacy, wars are arranged, and swelling territories are enjoyed in anticipation.

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Stefan Zweig: The army of the spirit, not the army of force

December 29, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

For Olivier there is but one true freedom, that which comes from within, the freedom which a man must win for himself. The illusion of the crowd, its eternal class struggles and national struggles for power, distress him, but do not arouse his sympathy. Standing quite alone, he maintains his mental poise when war between Germany and France is imminent, when all are shaken in their convictions, and when even Jean Christophe feels that he must return home to fight for his fatherland. “I love my country,” says the Frenchman to his German brother. “I love it just as you love yours. But am I for this reason to betray my conscience, to kill my soul? This would signify the betrayal of my country. I belong to the army of the spirit, not to the army of force.” But brute force takes its revenge upon the man who despises force, and he is killed in a chance medley…

Jean Christophe’s goodness is that of instinct; it is elemental, therefore, and liable to be interrupted by passionate relapses into hate. Olivier’s goodness, on the other hand, is intellectual and wise, and is tinged merely at times by ironical skepticism. But it is this contrast between them, it is the fact that their aspirations towards goodness are complementary, which draws them together. Christophe’s robust faith revives joy in life for the lonely Olivier. Christophe, in turn, learns justice from Olivier. The sage is uplifted by the strong, who is himself enlightened by the sage’s clarity. This mutual exchange of benefits symbolizes the relationship between their nations. The friendship between the two individuals is designed to be the prototype of a spiritual alliance between the brother peoples. France and Germany are “the two pinions of the west.” The European spirit is to soar freely above the blood-drenched fields of the past.

***

The defeat which had spiritualized French idealism, had, from the German side, as a victory, materialized German idealism. “What has victorious Germany given to the world?” asks Jean Christophe. He answers his own question by saying: “The flashing of bayonets; vigor without magnanimity; brutal realism; force conjoined with greed for profit; Mars as commercial traveler.” He is grieved to recognize that Germany has been harmed by victory. He suffers; for “one expects more of one’s own country than of another, and is hurt more by the faults of one’s own land.” Ever the revolutionist, Christophe detests noisy self-assertion, militarist arrogance, the churlishness of caste feeling.

***

“The fire which had been smouldering in the European forest was now breaking forth into flame. Extinguished in one place, it promptly began to rage in another. Amid whirlwinds of smoke and a rain of sparks, it leaped from point to point, while the parched undergrowth kindled. Outpost skirmishes in the east had already begun, as preludes to the great war of the nations. The whole of Europe, that Europe which was still skeptical and apathetic like a dead forest, was fuel for the conflagration. The fighting spirit was universal. From moment to moment, war seemed imminent. Stifled, it was continually reborn. The most trifling pretext served to feed its strength. The world felt itself to be at the mercy of chance, which would initiate the terrible struggle. It was waiting. A feeling of inexorable necessity weighed upon all, even upon the most pacific. The ideologues, sheltering in the shade of Proudhon the titan, hailed war as man’s most splendid claim to nobility.

“It was for this, then, that there had been effected a physical and moral resurrection of the races of the west! It was towards these butcheries that the streams of action and passionate faith had been hastening!”

***

Christophe recalls those earlier days when he and Olivier had been concerned about the prospect of war. At that time there were but distant rumblings of the storm. Now the storm clouds covered all the skies of Europe. Fruitless had been the call to unity; vain had been the pointing out of the path through the darkness. Mournfully the seer contemplates in the distance the horsemen of the Apocalypse, the heralds of fratricidal strife.

But beside the dying man is the Child, smiling and full of knowledge; the Child who is Eternal Life.

***

“Display everyday life to everyday people – the life that is deeper and wider than the ocean. The least among us bears infinity within him…Describe the simple life of one of these simple men; …describe it simply, as it actually happens. Do not trouble about phrasing; do not dissipate your energies, as do so many contemporary writers, in straining for artistic effects. You wish to speak to the many, and you must therefore speak their language…Throw yourself into what you create; think your own thoughts; feel your own feelings. Let your heart set the rhythm to the words. Style is soul.”

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Romain Rolland: Chorus of war’s secular high priests and intellectual carpet knights

December 28, 2018 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From Liluli
Translator unknown

THE GRAND DERVISH turning toward the Fat-of-Fats, the Diplomats, the Journalists, etc.
To your posts, gentlemen! The time has come for singing. Poets, philosophers, dry-as-dusts, pedants, penny-a-liners and literary men, lords of the inkhorn, you whose blood bears a flood of generous ink, come now, complete the chorus! Let there be no one heard but you. Fly on your best goose quills, fly to the rescue of Right! Holy guardians of the capitol, blow, blow your clarion notes! Be Brutuses, be Catos! Immolate all for the Fatherland – all except your lives, for you must be left to sing of those you kill. All honor to those magnificent voices of yours that crucify and resurrect, that make corpses and heroes!…In the baser ranks let us put the counterbasses: theologians, metaphysicians – my 18-inch howitzers, who crash upon the barbarians, the Jack Johnsons of the absolute and the aerial torpedoes of the ideal!…Above them come the baritones – the historians, the jurists, all the skillful camouflagers of the
Law and the Past. Let us also have a few ministers, economists and the big industrial journalists to send up the munition shares. A few Secretaries of State: they sing out of tune; but the croak of a bird with fine feathers sounds always sweet…And now my contraltos and tenors – the writers of every sex or of – no sex (they will be the sopranos): the Amazons of the pen who, like their grandmother Venus, burn for Mars; and the despised poets who, in their effort to regain lost love and lost laurels, are all dressed up as warriors…Ah! how handsome they are, my military men, quinquagenarians, tight-laced, be-medaled, marking time!…Left, right; left, right! Keep in step! They’re regular thunderbolts – on parade. What will they be like in a battle? But fortunately – I breathe again – they don’t fight. They are the guards, and, wisely, they remember that the guard’s first duty is to guard itself. All honor to the men of duty!…Finally, on top, at their posts among the timbrels and cymbals, we shall place the fanatics, the mystics, the Mad Mullahs of journalism; they can be delirious to order, can bark away for so much the yelp, and with their howling rouse the old instinct in the sleeping crowd, the lust of blood…As soloists, one Socialist and one Catholic shall sing a duet to celebrate the virtues according to the Church and the Councils. They are not of the same brew. But what matters the wine, so long as it has no water in it! And what matters the vintage so long as men believe and drink?

***

CHORUS OF INTELLECTUALS in doggerel verse. They chant in sprightly and monotonous tones, beating time with their whole body. At, isn’t it brave – to go down to the grave – when one’s quite a boy – one gets all life’s joy – and none of its worries, or flurries, or scurries. – If I were in – your youthful skin – how gladly I’d battle – or gladlier send – these stupid cattle – to meet their end. – For death and glory I thirst and hunger! – If only I were twenty years younger!

***

THE GRAND DERVISH
Nothing will come of this…Despite our holy efforts to disgust them with it, these common people, my word! set great store by their wretched mortal bodies! [To the Intellectuals.] And these fellows hold their tongue and don’t say a word!…Sing, I say, sing, O heroes of the brain!

THE INTELLECTUALS
But one must take breath! My tongue is quite sore with singing. What a trade! We’re exhausted. Give us a drink! It’s too hot…And to tell the truth, I’d rather sing another time: I’m not Tyrtaeus. The bugles and drums, beaten with might and main, to lead to the fight these poor dolts fairly burst my ears; I’d rather suck at the whispering flute with tip of tongue or else the rheumy oboe. For the poet is made to celebrate love and the fields and peace.

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Stefan Zweig: Propaganda is as much war matériel as arms and planes

December 27, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

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Stefan Zweig
From The World of Yesterday
Translated by Benjamin W. Huebsch and Helmut Ripperger

It had only been a second, but one that showed me how easily people anywhere could be aroused in a time of a crisis, despite all attempts at understanding, despite all efforts. My whole evening was spoiled. I could not sleep. If this had occurred in Paris, it would have made me uneasy, but I would not have been so shocked. I shuddered at the thought that this hatred had eaten its way deep into the provinces, deep into the hearts of the simple, naive people. A few days later I told my friends about the episode. Most of them did not take it seriously: ‘‘How we Frenchmen laughed at fat Queen Victoria, and yet two years later we formed an alliance with England. You don’t know the French, politics do not enter into them too deeply.” Only Rolland saw things in a different light. “The more naive a people are, the easier it is to get around them. Things are bad since Poincaré was elected. His trip to Petersburg will not be a pleasure jaunt.” We spoke at length about the socialist congress which had been called for that summer in Vienna, but here too Rolland was more sceptical than the others. “Who knows how many will remain steadfast once the mobilization order has been nailed up? We live in a time of mass emotion, mass hysteria, whose power in the case of war cannot be estimated.”

***

A great wave crashed over mankind so suddenly, with so much violence, that as its foam covered the surface it brought from the depths the dark and subconscious primeval promptings and instincts of the human animal – what was insightfully described by Feud as the rejection of civilization, a yearning to escape from the middle-class world of laws and their wisdom for once and indulge in the ancient bloodlust of man. And maybe these dark forces also played a part in the savage intoxication that combined alcohol with the joy of self-sacrifice, a wish for adventure and simple gullibility, the old superstition of flags and patriotic declamations, a grotesque frenzy, one that for a time unleashed mad and virtually inexorable momentum to the gravest crime of our era.

***

Who in the villages and the cities of Austria remembered “real” war? A few ancients at best, who, in 1866, had fought against Prussia, which was now their ally. But what a quick, bloodless, far-off war that had been, a campaign that had ended in three weeks with few victims and before it had well started! A rapid excursion into the romantic, a wild, manly adventure – that is how the war of 1914 was painted in the imagination of the simple man, and the young people were honestly afraid that they might miss this most wonderful and exciting experience of their lives; that is why they hurried and thronged to the colours, and that is why they shouted and sang in the trains that carried them to the slaughter; wildly and feverishly the red wave of blood coursed through the veins of the entire nation.

But the generation of 1939 knew war. It no longer deceived itself. It knew that it was not romantic but barbaric. It knew that it would last for years and years, an irretrievable span of time. It knew that the men did not storm the enemy, decorated with oak leaves and ribbons, but hung about for weeks at a time in trenches or quarters covered with vermin and mad with thirst, and that men were crushed and mutilated from afar without ever coming face to face with the foe. The newspapers and cinemas had already made the new and devilish techniques of destruction familiar; people knew how the giant tanks ground the wounded under them in their path, and how aeroplanes destroyed women and children in their beds. They knew that a World War of 1939, because of its soulless mechanization, would be a thousand times more cruel, more bestial, more inhuman than all of the former wars of mankind. Not a single individual of the generation of 1939 believed any longer in the God-decreed justice of war : and what was worse, they no longer believed in the justice and permanence of die peace it was to achieve.

***

[T]he tales of gouged-out eyes and severed hands which appear on the third or fourth day of every war filled the newspapers. They did not know, those innocents who spread such lies, that the accusation of every possible cruelty against the enemy is as much war matériel as are munitions and planes, and that they are systematically taken out of storage at the beginning of every war. War does not permit itself to be co-ordinated with reason and righteousness. It needs stimulated emotions, enthusiasm for its own cause and hatred for the adversary.

It lies in human nature that deep emotion cannot be prolonged indefinitely, either in the individual or in a people, a fact that is known to all military organizations. Therefore it requires an artificial stimulation, a constant ‘‘doping” of excitement; and this whipping-up was to be performed by the intellectuals, the poets, the writers, and the journalists, scrupulously or otherwise, honestly or as a matter of professional routine. They were to beat the drums of hatred and beat them they did, until the ears of the unprejudiced hummed and their hearts quaked. In Germany, in France, in Italy, in Russia, and in Belgium, they all obediently served the war propaganda and thus mass delusion and mass hatred, instead of fighting against it.

The results were disastrous. At that time, propaganda not yet having worn itself thin in peace time, the nations believed everything that they saw in print in spite of thousands of disillusionments. And so the pure, beautiful, sacrificial enthusiasm of the opening days became gradually transformed into an orgy of the worst and most stupid impulses.

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Romain Rolland: The way to peace is not through weakness

December 25, 2018 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From Mahatma Gandhi
Translated by Catherine D. Groth

The world is swept by the wind of violence. This storm which ravages the harvest of our civilization did not break out from a clear sky. Centuries of brutal notional pride, whetted by the idolatrous ideology of the Revolution, spread by the empty mockery of democracies, and crowned by a century of inhuman industrialism, rapacious plutocracy, and a materialistic system of economics where the soul perishes, stifled to death, were bound to culminate in these dark struggles where the treasures of the West succumbed. It is not enough to say all this was inevitable. There is a Δίκη in it. Each people kills the other in the name of the same principles which hid the same covetousness and Cainish instincts. All…claim that they have the right to use force, while refusing this right to others. Half a century ago might dominated right. To-day things are far worse. Might is right. Might has devoured right.

***

The peace of the world is far off. We have no illusions. We have seen, abundantly, during the course of half a century, the hypocrisy, the cowardice, and the cruelty of mankind. But this does not prevent us from loving mankind. For even among the worst’ there is a nescio quid Dei. We know the material ties that weigh on twentieth century Europe, the crushing determinism of economic conditions which hem it in; we know that centuries of passions and systematized error have built a crust about our souls which the light cannot pierce. But we also know what miracles the spirit can work.

***

The Realpolitiker of violence, whether revolutionary or reactionary, ridicule our faith, and reveal thereby their ignorance of deep reality. Let them jeer! I have this faith, I know it is scorned and persecuted in Europe, and that in my own land we are but a handful – are we even a handful? – who believe in it. And even if I were the only one to believe in it, what would it matter? The true characteristic of faith is not to the hostility of the world, but to recognize it and to believe in spite of it! Faith is a battle. And our non-violence is the most desperate battle. The way to peace is not through weakness. We do not fight violence so much as weakness. Nothing is worth while unless it is strong, neither good nor evil. Absolute evil is better than emasculated goodness. Moaning pacifism is the deathknell of peace; it is cowardice and lack of faith. Let those who do not believe, who fear, withdraw! The way to peace leads through self-sacrifice.

This is Gandhi’s message.

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While the whole earth was at peace

December 24, 2018 Leave a comment

Laurence Sterne: Follow Peace

William Cullen Bryant: Christmas 1875

Edwin Arnold: Light of the World

Alexander Pope: Messiah

Christmas Proclamation

In the twenty-fourth day of the month of December;
In the year five-thousand one-hundred and ninety-nine from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;
In the year two-thousand nine-hundred and fifty-seven from the flood;
In the year two-thousand and fifty-one from the birth of Abraham;
In the year one-thousand five-hundred and ten from the going forth of the people of Israel out of Egypt under Moses;
In the year one-thousand and thirty-two from the anointing of David as king;
In the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;
In the one-hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
In the year seven-hundred and fifty-two from the foundation of the city of Rome;
In the forty-second year of the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus;
In the sixth age of the world, while the whole earth was at peace –

Jesus Christ
eternal God and the Son of the eternal Father, willing to consecrate the world by His gracious coming, having been conceived of the Holy Ghost, and the nine months of His conception being now accomplished, was born in Bethlehem of Judah of the Virgin Mary, made man. The birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the flesh.

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Stefan Zweig: I would never have believed such a crime on the part of humanity possible

December 24, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

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Stefan Zweig
From The World of Yesterday
Translated by Benjamin W. Huebsch and Helmut Ripperger

For the first time, I saw the “enemy.” In Tarnow I came upon the first transport of captured Russian soldiers. Fenced within a large square, they sat about on die ground, smoking and chatting, guarded by two or three dozen mature, bearded Tyrolese militia who were as tattered and tom as then: captives, and had but little in common with the smart, clean-shaven, brilliantly uniformed soldiers we saw pictured in the illustrated papers at home. But the guard had nothing martial or severe about it. The captives did not display the slightest desire to escape, nor the Austrian militia the slightest inclination to be strict about their duties. They sat about in a neighbourly fashion with then: captives, and the very fact that they could not understand each other s language caused huge enjoyment. They exchanged cigarettes and laughed at each other. A Tyrolese militiaman was just taking some pictures of his wife and children out of a very old and dirty pocketbook and showing them to the “enemy,” who passed them about amongst themselves asking the Austrian by means of their fingers if this child was three, or four. I could not escape the feeling that these simple, primitive people had understood the war more truly than our university professors and poets: namely, as a disaster that had come over them with which they had had nothing to do, and that everyone who had happened into this misfortune was somehow a brother. This knowledge comforted me on my entire trip past the shelled cities and the plundered shops, whose contents lay about in the middle of the streets like broken limbs or tom-out entrails . Then, too, the well-tilled fields in between the war areas made me hope that in a few years all the destruction would have disappeared. Obviously at that time I was unable to conceive that just as quickly as the traces of the war would disappear from the face of the earth, the memory of its horrors would also as quickly disappear from the minds of men.

I did not face the actual horrors of war during those first days, and when I did they exceeded my worst imaginings. As there were practically no passenger trains, on occasion I rode on an open artillery car, sitting on a caisson, or in one of the cattle cars where men, completely tired out, slept alongside and on top of each other in the midst of stench and filth, and while they were being led to the slaughter, already looked like slaughtered cattle. But the worst of all were the hospital trains which I had to use two or three times. How little they resembled the well-lighted, white, carefully cleaned ambulance trains in which the archduchesses and the fashionable ladies of Viennese society had their pictures taken as nurses at the beginning of the war! What I saw to my dismay were ordinary freight cars without real windows, with only one narrow opening for air, lighted within by sooty oil lamps. One crude stretcher stood next to the other, and all were occupied by moaning, sweating, deathly pale men, who were gasping for breath in the thick atmosphere of excrement and iodoform. The hospital orderlies staggered rather than walked, for they were terribly tired; nothing was to be seen of the gleaming bed Iinen of the photographs. Covered with blood-stained rags, the men lay on straw on the hard wood of the stretchers, and in each one of the cars there lay at least two or three dead among the dying and groaning. I spoke with the doctor who, as he admitted to me, had been nothing more than a dentist in a small Hungarian village and had had no surgical practice for years. He was in despair. He had already telegraphed ahead to seven stations for morphine. But none was available; he had no more cotton, no fresh bandages, and it was still twenty hours away to the hospital in Budapest. He asked me to help him, for his own people were too fatigued. I tried, clumsy as I was, and found that I could at least be of some use in getting out at each station to fetch a few pails of water (bad, dirty water intended for the locomotive, but still refreshing), so that the men could be washed a bit, and the blood which was constantly dripping on the floor could be mopped up.

Since all nationalities had been thrown together into this rolling coffin, the soldiers suffered additionally from the Babelish confusion of tongues. Neither the doctor nor the orderlies understood Ruthenian or Croatian. The only one who could be of some help was an old white-haired priest who – like the doctor who was in despair for want of morphine – complained for his part that he lacked the oil for the Last Sacraments. In all his long life he had never administered to so many people as during the past month. It was from him that I heard the words that I was never to forget spoken in a hard, angry voice: “I am sixty-seven and I have seen much. But I would never have believed such a crime on the part of humanity possible.”

***
It was only now that the true impulse was given me: one had to fight against war! The material lay ready within me, only this last visible confirmation of my instinct had been lacking to make me start. I had recognized the foe I was to fight – false heroism that prefers to send others to suffering and death, the cheap optimism of the conscienceless prophets, both political and military who, boldly promising victory, prolong the war, and behind them the hired chorus, the “word makers of war’’ as Werfel has pilloried them in his beautiful poem. Whoever voiced a doubt hindered them in their patriotic concerns, whoever uttered a warning was ridiculed as a pessimist, whoever fought against the war in which they themselves did not suffer was branded as a traitor. It has always been the same, the eternal pack throughout the times, calling the prudent cowardly, the humane weak, only to be supine themselves in the hour of catastrophe which they themselves wantonly conjure up. It was always the same pack, the same who derided Cassandra in Troy, Jeremiah in Jerusalem, and never had I sensed the greatness and the tragedy of those figures as in these all too similar hours. From the very beginning I had no faith in victory and was certain of but one thing: that even if it could be achieved by immeasurable sacrifice, it could never justify that sacrifice.

 

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Francis Hutcheson: To poets, war is impetuous, cruel, undistinguishing monster

December 23, 2018 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

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Francis Hutcheson
From An Inquiry Into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue

Upon this same sense is founded the power of that great beauty in poetry, the prosopopoeia, by which every affection is made a person; every natural event, cause, object, is animated by moral epithets…War is an impetuous, cruel, undistinguishing monster, whom no virtue, no circumstance of compassion, can move from his bloody purposes. The steel is unrelenting; the arrow and spear are impatient to destroy, and carry death on their points. Our modern engines of war are also frightful personages, counterfeiting with their rude throats the thunder of Jove…

[The poets] show us Peace as springing up from the Earth, and mercy looking down from Heaven.

***

When one reads the fourth book of Homer, and is prepared, from the council of the Gods, to imagine the bloody Sequel, and amidst the most beautiful Description which ever was imagined of shooting an Arrow, meets with its moral Epithet:

μελαινάων ἕρμ’ ὀδυνᾴων
The source of blackest woes

he will find himself more moved by this circumstance, than by all the profusion of natural description which man could imagine.

***

A late ingenious author justly observes, “That the various sects, parties, factions, cabals of mankind in larger societies are all influenced by a public spirit…That all the contentions of the different factions, and even the fiercest wars against each other are influenced by a sociable public spirit in a limited system.” But certain it is, that men are little obliged to those who often artfully raise and foment this party spirit; to cantonize them into several sects for the defence of very trifling cause…

***

The idea of an ill-natured villain is too frightful ever to become familiar to any mortal. Hence we shall find that the basest actions are dressed in some tolerable mask…Fire, sword and desolation among enemies [appears] a just, thorough defence of our country…

***

Beauty gives a favourable presumption of good moral dispositions, and acquaintance confirms this into a real love of esteem, or begets it, where there is little beauty. This raises an expectation of the greatest moral pleasures along with the sensible, and a thousand tender sentiments of humanity and generosity; and makes us impatient for a society which we imagine big with unspeakable moral pleasures: where nothing is indifferent, and every trifling service, being an evidence of this strong love. Esteem, is mutually received with the rapture and gratitude of the greatest benefit, and of the most substantial obligation. And where prudence and good-nature influence both sides, this society may answer all their expectations…

This powerful determination even to a limited benevolence, and other moral sentiments, is observed to give a strong bias to our minds toward a universal goodness, tenderness, humanity, generosity, and contempt of private good in our whole conduct; besides the obvious Improvement it occasions in our external deportment, and in our relish of beauty, order, and harmony. As soon as a heart, before hard and obdurate, is soften’d in this flame, we shall observe arising along with it, a Love of poetry, music, the beauty of nature in rural scenes, a contempt of other selfish pleasures of the external senses, a neat dress, a humane deportment, a delight in and emulation of everything which is gallant, generous and friendly.

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Rabindranath Tagore: Secure disarmament, transform it into strength

December 22, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Rabindranath Tagore
Quoted in Romain Rolland‘s Mahatma Gandhi

I hope this spirit of sacrifice will grow, and also the will to suffer…This is real liberty. Nothing is higher, not even national independence. The West has an unshakable belief in force and material wealth; therefore no matter how much it cries for peace and disarmament, its ferocity will cry still louder…We, in India, must show the world what this truth is which not only makes disarmament possible, but transmutes it into strength. The fact that moral force is a stronger power than brute force will be proved by an unarmed people. The evolution of life shows that it has gradually cast off its formidable armature of scales and carapaces and a monstrous quantity of flesh until man was evolved who conquered brute force. The day will come when a weak, noble man absolutely unarmed will prove that the meek shall inherit the earth. It is logical that Mahatma Gandhi, weak of body and without material resources, should prove the unconquerable strength.

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Romain Rolland: The equivocating sages of Armed Peace

December 21, 2018 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Romain Rolland
From Liluli
Translator unknown

Noise of a heavy brigade marching with a ponderous beat; breathless bugles. At the head of the procession – all of them loaded with knapsacks and arms – is a stout man, tightly strapped into his uniform; plumed helmet of an Offenbach soldier, enormous knapsack, saber and rifle – sweating, puffing, mopping his face.

ALTAÏR
What harness to wear when one has to climb a steep hill without shade in the middle of the day! You’re mad, my friends! Throw away your shells…Are they convicts condemned to hard labor? Who is that fat black beetle, pot-bellied and whiskered, who, like Agamemnon, marches, rolls along at their head?

The fat man stumbles.

POLICHINELLO
It’s Peace advancing – advancing backwards.

ALTAÏR
Peace!

POLICHINELLO
O, well, of course – Armed Peace.

***

LILULI

Why do you move? You have a sound pair of legs at any rate. March a little, let me see. Swing your arms, lift your legs…What a fine soldier!

POLICHINELLO
Yes, I should be good at running away.

LILULI
That’s something. In these days, my friend, one can only run from under one fire into another. So I undertake you will always be a hero. Don’t worry.

POLICHINELLO
I don’t worry at all. A hero on a bier…I prefer beer in my gullet.

LILULI
But you’ll get it, in addition to everything else. Cool beer, good cheer, glory, obituary…”0 glorious dead, I envy you!”…by one of the great gentlemen of our Academies, whose greatness keeps him, poor man! on the hither shore…

***

ONE OF THE RECRUITING SERGEANTS at the foot of the tree, nose in air.

Come, sir, come. They’re only waiting for you. Everybody has enlisted. Come now, we’re shutting up shop. Look at these uniforms! This helmet would suit you nicely. It’s a bargain. Would you like some gold lace?

FIRST RECRUITING SERGEANT
That isn’t done. Kindly understand, sir, that a single man, if he isn’t a soldier, has no right to defend himself. It’s criminal.

***

POLICHINELLO
Never! Laughter is a weapon against Illusion.

LILULI
You’re mistaken, my good friend. You work for me. You think yourself clever because you “don’t believe in it.” “You don’t believe in it,” you laugh; but you do as the rest do. Laugh away, my boy, laugh! Your laughter helps the men I enlist to march.

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Stefan Zweig: The bloody cloud-bank of war will give way to a new dawn

December 20, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

For us moderns, it is the overwhelming power of the state, organized political force, massed destiny, against which as individuals we stand weaponless; it is the great spiritual storms, les courants de foi, which inexorably sweep us away like straws before the wind. No less incalculably than did the fabled gods of antiquity, no less overwhelmingly and pitilessly, does the world-destiny make us its sport. War is the most powerful of these mass influences, and, for this reason, nearly all Rolland’s plays take war as their theme. Their moral force consists in the way wherein again and again they show how the individual, a Prometheus in conflict with the gods, is able in the spiritual sphere to break the unseen yoke; how the individual idea remains stronger than the mass idea, the idea of the fatherland – though the latter can still destroy a hardy rebel with the thunderbolts of Jupiter.

***

The Greeks first knew the gods when the gods were angry. Our gloomy divinity, the fatherland, blood-thirsty as the gods of old, first becomes fully known to us in time of war. Unless fate lowers, man rarely thinks of these hostile forces; he despises them or forgets them, while they lurk in the darkness, awaiting the advent of their day. A peaceful, a Laodicean era had no interest in tragedies foreshadowing the opposition of the forces which were twenty years later to engage in deadly struggle in the blood-stained European arena. What should those care who strayed into the theater from the Parisian boulevards, members of an audience skilled in the geometry of adultery, what should they care about such problems as those in Rolland’s plays: whether it is better to serve the fatherland or to serve justice; whether in war time soldiers must obey orders or follow the call of conscience?…These dramas, parerga as it seemed, were aimed, in an hour when peace still ruled the world, at the center of our contemporary consciousness, which was then still unwoven by the looms of time. The stone which the builders of the stage contemptuously rejected, will perhaps become the foundation of a new theater, grandly conceived, contemporary and yet heroical, the theater of the free European brotherhood, for whose sake it was fashioned in solitude decades ago by the lonely creator.

***

Rolland has known this long night of labor. When he assumed the fateful burden, when he took the work upon his shoulders, he meant to recount but a single life. As he proceeded, what had been light grew heavy. He found that he was carrying the whole destiny of his generation, the meaning of the entire world, the message of love, the primal secret of creation. We who saw him making his way alone through the night, without recognition, without helpers, without a word of cheer, without a friendly light winking at him from the further shore, imagined that he must succumb. From the hither bank the unbelievers followed him with shouts of scornful laughter. But he pressed manfully forward during these ten years, what time the stream of life swirled ever more fiercely around him; and he fought his way in the end to the unknown shore of completion. With bowed back, but with the radiance in his eyes undimmed, did he finish fording the river. Long and heavy night of travail, wherein he walked alone! Dear burden, which he carried for the sake of those who are to come afterwards, bearing it from our shore to the still untrodden shore of the new world. Now the crossing had been safely made. When the good ferryman raised his eyes, the night seemed to be over, the darkness vanished. Eastward the heaven was all aglow. Joyfully he welcomed the dawn of the coming day towards which he had carried this emblem of the day that was done.

Yet what was reddening there was naught but the bloody cloud-bank of war, the flame of burning Europe, the flame that was to consume the spirit of the elder world. Nothing remained of our sacred heritage beyond this, that faith had bravely struggled from the shore of yesterday to reach our again distracted world. The conflagration has burned itself out; once more night has lowered. But our thanks speed towards you, ferryman, pious wanderer, for the path you have trodden through the darkness. We thank you for your labors, which have brought the world a message of hope. For the sake of us all have you marched on through the murky night. The flame of hatred will yet be extinguished; the spirit of friendship will again unite people with people. It will dawn, that new day.

***

Rolland thus recognizes that there is another greatness, a profounder greatness, than that of action, the greatness of suffering. Unthinkable would be a Rolland who did not draw fresh faith from all experience, however painful; unthinkable one who failed, in his own suffering, to be mindful of the sufferings of others. As a sufferer, he extends a greeting to all sufferers on earth. Instead of a fellowship of enthusiasm, he now looks for a brotherhood of the lonely ones of the world, as he shows them the meaning and the grandeur of all sorrow. In this new circle, the nethermost of fate, he turns to noble examples. “Life is hard. It is a continuous struggle for all those who cannot come to terms with mediocrity. For the most part it is a painful struggle, lacking sublimity, lacking happiness, fought in solitude and silence. Oppressed by poverty, by domestic cares, by crushing and gloomy tasks demanding an aimless expenditure of energy, joyless and hopeless, most people work in isolation, without even the comfort of being able to stretch forth a hand to their brothers in misfortune.” To build these bridges between man and man, between suffering and suffering, is now Rolland’s task. To the nameless sufferers, he wishes to show those in whom personal sorrow was transmuted to become gain for millions yet to come. He would, as Carlyle phrased it, “make manifest…the divine relation…which at all times unites a Great Man to other men.” The million solitaries have a fellowship; it is that of the great martyrs of suffering, those who, though stretched on the rack of destiny, never foreswore their faith in life, those whose very sufferings helped to make life richer for others. “Let them not complain too piteously, the unhappy ones, for the best of men share their lot. It is for us to grow strong with their strength. If we feel our weakness, let us rest on their knees. They will give solace. From their spirits radiate energy and goodness. Even if we did not study their works, even if we did not hearken to their voices, from the light of their countenances, from the fact that they have lived, we should know that life is never greater, never more fruitful – never happier – than in suffering.”

***

The preface to Beethoven proclaims: “The air is fetid. Old Europe is suffocating in a sultry and unclean atmosphere. Our thoughts are weighed down by a petty materialism…The world sickens in a cunning and cowardly egoism. We are stifling. Throw the windows wide; let in the free air of heaven. We must breathe the souls of the heroes.” What does Rolland mean by a hero? He does not think of those who lead the masses, wage victorious wars, kindle revolutions; he does not refer to men of action, or to those whose thoughts engender action. The nullity of united action has become plain to him. Unconsciously in his dramas he has depicted the tragedy of the idea as something which cannot be divided among men like bread, as something which in each individual’s brain and blood undergoes prompt transformation into a new form, often into its very opposite. True greatness is for him to be found only in solitude, in struggle waged by the individual against the unseen. “I do not give the name of heroes to those who have triumphed, whether by ideas or by physical force. By heroes I mean those who were great through the power of the heart. As one of the greatest (Tolstoi) has said, ‘I recognize no other sign of superiority than goodness. Where the character is not great, there is neither a great artist nor a great man of action; there is nothing but one of the idols of the crowd; time will shatter them together…What matters, is to be great, not to seem great.'”

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Stefan Zweig: “How much rottenness there is in war”

December 19, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

Le temps viendra is the third, the most impressive variation upon the earlier theme, depicting the cleavage between conviction and duty, citizenship and humanity, the national man and the free man. A war drama of the conscience staged amid a war in the material world. In Le triomphe de la raison, the problem was one of freedom versus the fatherland; in Les loups it was one of justice versus the fatherland. Here we have a yet loftier variation of the theme; the conflict of conscience, of eternal truth, versus the fatherland. The chief figure, though not spiritually the hero of the piece, is Clifford, leader of the invading army. He is waging an unjust war – and what war is just? But he wages it with a strategist’s brain; his heart is not in the work. He knows “how much rottenness there is in war”; he knows that war cannot be effectively waged without hatred for the enemy; but he is too cultured to hate. He knows that it is impossible to carry on war without falsehood; impossible to kill without infringing the principles of humanity; impossible to create military justice, since the whole aim of war is unjust. He knows this with one part of his being, which is the real Clifford; but he has to repudiate the knowledge with the other part of his being, the professional soldier. He is confined within an iron ring of contradictions. “Obéir à ma patrie? Obéir à ma conscience?” It is impossible to gain the victory without doing wrong, yet who can command an army if he lack the will to conquer? Clifford must serve that will, even while he despises the force which his duty compels him to use. He cannot be a man unless he thinks, and yet he cannot remain a soldier while preserving his humanity. Vainly does he seek to mitigate the brutalities of his task; fruitlessly does he endeavor to do good amid the bloodshed which issues from his orders. He is aware that “there are gradations in crime, but every one of these gradations remains a crime.” Other notable figures in the play are: the cynic, whose only aim is the profit of his own country; the army sportsman; those who blindly obey; the sentimentalist, who shuts his eyes to all that is painful, contemplating as a puppet-show what is tragedy to those who have to endure it. The background to these figures is the lying spirit of contemporary civilization, with its neat phrases to justify every outrage, and its factories built upon tombs. To our civilization applies the charge inscribed upon the opening page, raising the drama into the sphere of universal humanity: “This play has not been written to condemn a single nation, but to condemn Europe.”

The true hero of the piece is not General Clifford, the conqueror of South Africa, but the free spirit, as typified in the Italian volunteer, a citizen of the world who threw himself into the fray that he might defend freedom, and in the Scottish peasant who lays aside his rifle with the words, “I will kill no longer.” These men have no other fatherland than conscience, no other home than their own humanity. The only fate they acknowledge is that which the free man creates for himself. Rolland is with them, the vanquished, as he is ever with those who voluntarily accept defeat. It is from his soul that rises the cry of the Italian volunteer, “Ma patrie est partout où la liberté est menacée.” Aërt, Saint Louis, Hugot, the Girondists, Teulier, the martyrs in Les loups, are the author’s spiritual brethren, the children of his belief that the individual’s will is stronger than his secular environment. This faith grows ever greater, takes on an ever wider oscillation, as the years pass. In his first plays he was still speaking to France. His last work written for the stage addresses a wider audience; it is his confession of world citizenship.

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Romain Rolland: Gandhi and the Satanic nature of war

December 18, 2018 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

Romain Rolland: Gandhi vs Einstein: War must be stopped before it starts

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Romain Rolland
From Mahatma Gandhi
Translated by Catherine D. Groth

[T]he document to which there can be no rejoinder is that which Europe herself has traced in the life-blood of races oppressed and despoiled in the name of lying principles and, above all, in the brazen revelation of Europe’s lies, greed, and ferocity as unfolded during the last war, called the “War for Civilization.” And in it Europe sank to such depths that in her insanity she even invited the peoples of Asia and Africa to contemplate her nudity:

“The last war has shown, as nothing else has, the Satanic nature of the civilization that dominates Europe to-day. Every canon of public morality has been broken by the victors in the name of virtue. No lie has been considered too foul to be uttered. The motive behind every crime is not religious or spiritual but grossly material…Europe to-day is only nominally Christian. In reality it is worshipping Mammon.” [Mohandas Gandhi]

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Rainer Maria Rilke: War is always a prison

December 17, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

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Stefan Zweig
From The World of Yesterday
Translated by Benjamin W. Huebsch and Helmut Ripperger

One day there was a knock at my door. A timid soldier stood outside. For the moment I was frightened: Rilke – Rainer Maria Rilke, in military disguise! He looked so touchingly awkward, his collar too tight, disturbed by the thought that he had to salute every officer, clicking his heels together. And since, in his high impulse to perfection, he wished to perform even this insignificant formality of the ritual in as exemplary a manner as possible, he found himself in a perpetual state of confusion. “I have always hated this military uniform,” he said to me in his soft tone of voice, “since my time in the military academy. I thought that I had escaped it once and for all. And now again, at almost forty!” Fortunately there were helping hands to protect him and, thanks to a benevolent medical examination, he was soon discharged. Once more he came into my room, this time to take leave – back in civilian clothes again – it seemed almost as if he had been wafted in, so noiseless were his movements. He wished to thank me for endeavouring, through Rolland, to rescue his library which had been confiscated in Paris. For the first time he no longer looked young; it was as if the thought of all this horror had exhausted him. “Abroad,” he said, “if one could only go abroad! War is always prison.” Then he left. Again I was all alone.

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Stefan Zweig: The fruits of peace, the drive toward war

December 15, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

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Stefan Zweig
From The World of Yesterday
Translated by Benjamin W. Huebsch and Helmut Ripperger

It may perhaps be difficult to describe to the generation of today, which has grown up amidst catastrophes, collapses, and crises, to which war has been a constant possibility and even a daily expectation, that optimism, that trustfulness in the world which had animated us young people since the turn of the century. Forty years of peace had strengthened the economic organism of the nations, technical science had given wings to the rhythm of life, and scientific discoveries had made the spirit of that generation proud; there was sudden upsurge which could be felt in almost
identical measure in all countries of Europe. The cities grew more beautiful and more populous from year to year. The Berlin of 1905 no longer resembled the city that I had known in 1901; the capital had grown into a metropolis and, in turn, had been magnificently overtaken by the Berlin of 1910. Vienna, Milan, Paris, London, and Amsterdam on each fresh visit evoked new astonishment and pleasure. The streets became broader and more showy, the public buildings more impressive, the shops more luxurious and tasteful. Everything manifested the increase and spread of wealth. Even we writers experienced it in the editions of our works which, within some ten years, had increased three-, five-, and tenfold. New theatres, libraries, and museums sprang up everywhere ; comforts such as bathrooms and telephones, formerly the privilege of the few, became the possession of the more modestly placed, and the proletariat emerged, now that working hours had been shortened, to participate in at least the small joys and comforts of life. There was progress everywhere. Whoever ventured, won. Whoever bought a house, a rare book, or a painting saw it increase in value; the more daring and the larger the scale on which an enterprise was founded, the more certain a profit. A wondrous unconcernedness had thus spread over the world, for what could interrupt this rapid ascent, restrict the élan, which constantly drew new force from its own soaring? Never had Europe been stronger, richer, more beautiful, or more confident of an even better future…

But there was danger too in the very thing that brought joy, although we did not perceive it. The storm of pride and confidence which rushed over Europe was followed by clouds; perhaps the rise had come too quickly, the States and cities had become powerful too hastily. The sense of power always leads men as well as States to use or to abuse it. France was puffed up with wealth; it wanted yet more, wanted a colony even though there was no superfluous population for the old ones; it almost went to war over Morocco. Italy wanted Cyrenaica; Austria annexed Bosnia; Serbia and Bulgaria pushed toward Turkey; and Germany, still excluded for the time being, raised its paw for an angry blow. In all these States there was a congestive rush of blood to the head. Out of the fruitful will for internal union there developed everywhere, simultaneously, an in infectious greed for expansion. The French industrialists with their big profits agitated against the Germans who were fattening no less fast, because both of them, Krupp and Schneider-Creusot, wanted to produce more guns. The Hamburg shipping interests with their huge dividends worked against those of Southampton, the Hungarian agriculturists against the Serbians, one corporation against another. The critical juncture everywhere evident had made them frantic for more and more. Calmly reflecting on the past, if one asks why Europe went to war in 1914, neither reasonable ground nor even provocation can be found. It had nothing to do with ideas and hardly even with petty frontiers. I cannot explain it otherwise than by this surplus of force, a tragic consequence of the internal dynamism that had accumulated in those forty years of peace and now sought violent release. Every State suddenly had the feeling of being strong, and forgot that every other State had the same feeling, each wanted more and wanted something from the other. And the worst was that just the sentiment which we most highly valued – our common optimism – betrayed us. For each one thought that in the last moment the other would draw back affrightedly; and so the diplomats began their game of bluff. Four or five times, at Agadir, in the Balkan War, in Albania, it remained a game; but the great coalitions drew together always more tightly and more militaristically. In Germany a war tax was introduced in the midst of peace, in France the period of military service was prolonged. The surplus energy had finally to discharge itself and the vanes showed the direction from which the clouds were already approaching Europe.

It was not yet panic, but there was a constantly swelling unrest; we sensed a slight discomfort whenever a rattle of shots came from the Balkans. Would war really come upon us without our knowing why and wherefore? Slowly – all too slowly, all too timidly, as we are now aware! – the opposing forces assembled themselves.

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Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

December 12, 2018 Leave a comment
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Stefan Zweig: The idealism which sees beyond blood-drenched battlefields

December 9, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

Romain Rolland’s work cannot be understood without an understanding of the epoch in which that work came into being. For here we have a passion that springs from the weariness of an entire country, a faith that springs from the disillusionment of a humiliated nation. The shadow of 1870 was cast across the youth of the French author. The significance and greatness of his work taken as a whole depend upon the way in which it constitutes a spiritual bridge between one great war and the next. It arises from a blood-stained earth and a storm-tossed horizon on one side, reaching across on the other to the new struggle and the new spirit.

It originates in gloom. A land defeated in war is like a man who has lost his god. Divine ecstasy is suddenly replaced by dull exhaustion; a fire that blazed in millions is extinguished, so that nothing but ash and cinder remain. There is a sudden collapse of all values. Enthusiasm has become meaningless; death is purposeless; the deeds, which but yesterday were deemed heroic, are now looked upon as follies; faith is a fraud; belief in oneself, a pitiful illusion. The impulse to fellowship fades; every one fights for his own hand, evades responsibility that he may throw it upon his neighbor, thinks only of profit, utility, and personal advantage. Lofty aspirations are killed by an infinite weariness. Nothing is so utterly destructive to the moral energy of the masses as a defeat; nothing else degrades and weakens to the same extent the whole spiritual poise of a nation.

Such was the condition of France after 1870; the country was mentally tired…

How can a vanquished nation be solaced? How can the sting of defeat be soothed? The writer must be competent to divert his readers’ thoughts from the present; he must fashion a dialectic of defeat which shall replace despair by hope. These young authors endeavored to bring help in two different ways. Some pointed towards the future, saying: “Cherish hatred; last time we were beaten, next time we shall conquer.” This was the argument of the nationalists, and there is significance in the fact that it was predominantly voiced by the sometime companions of Rolland, by Maurice Barrès, Paul Claudel, and Péguy. For thirty years, with the hammers of verse and prose, they fashioned the wounded pride of the French nation that it might become a weapon to strike the hated foe to the heart. For thirty years they talked of nothing but yesterday’s defeat and to-morrow’s triumph. Ever afresh did they tear open the old wound. Again and again, when the young were inclining towards reconciliation, did these writers inflame their minds anew with exhortations in the heroic vein. From hand to hand they passed the unquenchable torch of revenge, ready and eager to fling it into Europe’s powder barrel.

The other type of idealism, that of Rolland, less clamant and long ignored, looked in a very different direction for solace, turning its gaze not towards the immediate future but towards eternity. It did not promise a new victory, but showed that false values had been used in estimating defeat. For writers of this school, for the pupils of Tolstoi, force is no argument for the spirit, the externals of success provide no criterion of value for the soul. In their view, the individual does not conquer when the generals of his nation march to victory through a hundred provinces; the individual is not vanquished when the army loses a thousand pieces of artillery. The individual gains the victory, only when he is free from illusion, and when he has no part in any wrong committed by his nation. In their isolation, those who hold such views have continually endeavored to induce France, not indeed to forget her defeat, but to make of that defeat a source of moral greatness, to recognize the worth of the spiritual seed which has germinated on the blood-drenched battlefields.

***

In ultimate analysis, his thirty years’ work may be regarded as one continuous attempt to prevent a new war – to hinder the revival of the horrible cleavage between victory and defeat. His aim has been, not to teach a new national pride, but to inculcate a new heroism of self-conquest, a new faith in justice.

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Stefan Zweig: World war and Romain Rolland, the conscience of the world

December 3, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

The first fifty years of Romain Rolland’s life were passed in inconspicuous and almost solitary labors. Thenceforward, his name was to become a storm center of European discussion. Until shortly before the apocalyptic year [1914], hardly an artist of our days worked in such complete retirement, or received so little recognition.

Since that year, no artist has been the subject of so much controversy. His fundamental ideas were not destined to make themselves generally known until there was a world in arms bent upon destroying them…

The significance of his life’s work becomes plain only when it is contemplated as a whole. It was slowly produced, for it had to encounter great dangers; it was a gradual revelation, tardily consummated. The foundations of this splendid structure were deeply dug in the firm ground of knowledge, and were laid upon the hidden masonry of years spent in isolation. Thus tempered by the ordeal of a furnace seven times heated, his work has the essential imprint of humanity. Precisely owing to the strength of its foundations, to the solidity of its moral energy, was Rolland’s thought able to stand unshaken throughout the war storms that have been ravaging Europe. While other monuments to which we had looked up with veneration, cracking and crumbling, have been leveled with the quaking earth, the monument he had builded stands firm “above the battle,” above the medley of opinions, a pillar of strength towards which all free spirits can turn for consolation amid the tumult of the world.

***

There is a mystical significance in Romain Rolland’s rise to fame, just as in every event of his life. Fame came late to this man whom fame had passed by during the bitter years of mental distress and material need. Nevertheless it came at the right hour, since it came before the war. Rolland’s renown put a sword into his hand. At the decisive moment he had power and a voice to speak for Europe. He stood on a pedestal, so that he was visible above the medley. In truth fame was granted at a fitting time, when through suffering and knowledge Rolland had grown ripe for his highest function, to assume his European responsibility. Reputation, and the power that reputation gives, came at a moment when the world of the courageous needed a man who should proclaim against the world itself the world’s eternal message of brotherhood.

***

The year 1914 marks the close of Romain Rolland’s private life. Henceforth his career belongs to the world; his biography becomes part of history; his personal experiences can no longer be detached from his public activities. The solitary has been forced out of his workroom to accomplish his task in the world. The man whose existence has been so retired, must now live with doors and windows open. His every essay, his every letter, is a manifesto. His life from now onward shapes itself like a heroic drama. From the hour when his most cherished ideal, the unity of Europe, seemed bent on its own destruction, he emerged from his retirement to become a vital element of his time, an impersonal force, a chapter in the history of the European spirit. Just as little as Tolstoi’s life can be detached from his propagandist activities, just so little is there justification in this case for an attempt to distinguish between the man and his influence. Since 1914, Romain Rolland has been one with his ideal and one with the struggle for its realization. No longer is he author, poet, or artist; no longer does he belong to himself. He is the voice of Europe in the season of its most poignant agony. He has become the conscience of the world.

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Stefan Zweig: Stendhal, in war but not of it

December 1, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

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Stefan Zweig
From Adepts in Self-Portraiture: Casanova, Stendhal, Tolstoy
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

He sits in the shadow of war, and is well content to read his book, translate German poetry, and write exquisite letters to his sister Pauline. He is acquiring knowledge and experience, is developing into a connoisseur of life, is a straggler in the wake of every battle, an intellectual dilettante of every art; day by day he throws off further bonds, gaining freedom; and the wider his acquaintance with the world, the better he observes its phenomena, the more intricate is his cognition of himself.

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Opposition is the very breath of life to him; independence his delight There are a hundred examples to show how dauntlessly and impudently this fearless malcontent throws down the gauntlet, challenging public opinion to the fight In an epoch when everyone is belauding war, when in France ‘‘the idea of heroism is inseparably connected with that of a drum-major,” he describes Waterloo as an immense medley of chaotic forces; he unblushingly acknowledges that he is bored to death during the Russian campaign, though historians in general are wont to extol this adventure as an epic of universal history; he is not ashamed to say that a journey to Italy where he hopes to see his beloved is more important than the fate of his country, and an aria by Mozart more interesting than a political crisis. II se fiche d’etre conquis, he does not care a snap of the fingers if France is occupied by foreign armies; for, being by choice a European and a cosmopolitan, he does not bother about the mad breaks of fortune in war, about opinions which happen to be fashionable at the moment, about patriotism le ridicule le plus sot, about nationalism et hoc genus omne.

****

We recognize in him, “man” par excellence, the eternal individual, the rare and subtle exemplar psychologically complete – precisely because he did not allow himself to be coloured with the dye-stuffs of his epoch. No other author’s work in the French literature of his century, no other man of letters, has remained so fresh, so new, so intact. His books seem to be for all time, to be full of vitality, because, irrespective of what was going on around him, he lived his own life. A man may serve his fellows quite as effectively by safeguarding his personality from the world, as by sacrificing himself to the world.

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This “marvellously prescient man,” as Nietzsche calls him, though living in the days of post-chaises and wearing a Napoleonic uniform, is amazingly one of ourselves. His total lack of dogmatism, his early preference for being a European rather than a man of some specific nationality, his detestation of the mechanical regularization of the world, his hatred of pompous mass heroics, seem to us parts of our own make-up. How fine is his serene self-composure when compared with the sentimental bleatings of his contemporaries, and how splendidly did he make good by the influence he exerted upon great writers of a later generation. Innumerable are the trails and the ways he has opened to subsequent men of letters: Dostoeffsky’s Raskolnikoff is unthinkable had Stendhal’s Julien not been created; Tolstoy’s battle of Borodino owes much to its classical exemplar, Stendhal’s memorable description of Waterloo; and much of Nietzsche’s joy in thinking was derived from the refreshing perusal of his predecessor’s works. Thus the ames fraternelles, the etres superieurs, whom Stendhal sought in vain during his lifetime, gathered round him in the end, in the only fatherland his free cosmopolitan spirit could recognize and love, the fatherland of men who resembled himself.

Of all his contemporaries, Balzac alone hailed him as brother, and there are none of that generation who are more akin to us to-day in spirit and in feeling than this man, Henri Beyle. Through the medium of cold print and paper we can feel his warm and breathing presence. Although he plumbed his own depths as none other before him, he remains unfathomable. He revels in contradictions, dazzles us with the phosphorescent hues of his enigmatical personality; he lays bare his innermost secrets and hides others from our gaze, fulfilling himself and yet never completing the picture of himself, always and always a live and palpitating personality.

Those who have been out of touch with their own epoch are the very ones whom a new epoch delights to honour. The most delicate spiritual oscillations have the longest wave-length in time and eternity.

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Hugh Walpole: The dark, crippling advent of war

November 28, 2018 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

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Hugh Walpole
From The Duchess of Wrexe

At four o’clock on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 11th, in this year 1899 war between England and South Africa was declared…

They flowed forward, they retreated. About them, around them, behind and in front of them hovered this War…

And beyond, away from that house, a war that that old woman and those self-important people saw only as a means of increasing their own self-importance.

It was all as a box of tin soldiers and a parcel of stiff china-faced dolls –

What were they all about? What did they think they were all doing? What, after all, was she, Rachel? Had they no conception of the sawdust that they all were beside this real, swiftly moving, death-dealing War that was suddenly amongst them?

***

The War had the City in its grip. There was now, during these early weeks of November, no other thought, no other anxiety, no other interest. The shock of its reality came most severely upon those whose lives had been most unreal. Here, in the midst of their dining and their dancing, was the sure fact that many whom they knew and with whom they had been in the habit of playing might now, at any moment, find death –

Here was a reality against which there was no argument, and against the harshness of it music screamed and food was uninteresting.

During that first month of that war, so new a thing was the horrid grimness of it, that hysteria was abroad, life was twopence coloured. For everyone now it was the question – “What might they do?”

Something to help, something to ease that biting truth – “Your life has been the most utterly useless business – no purpose, no strength, no unselfishness from first to last – what now?”

***

“I’m not so well,” she said; “I’ve slept badly.”

“I’m sorry for that,” he said; “what’s the trouble?”

“It’s this war,” she said, taking her eyes away from his face. “This war – I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything before, but this – ah! I’m old, old at last,” she said almost savagely.

“Everybody’s feeling it just now,” Christopher answered her quietly. “I suppose I’m as level-headed as most people, but even I have been imagining things to-day – Nerves, simply nerves -”

“Nonsense,” she answered him – “Don’t tell me, Christopher. What have I ever had to do with nerves?”

“Wait a little. All we want is to get used to War: it’s a new experience for all of us -”

Her voice was trembling.

She went on again, more quietly. “Every hour now one hears some horrible thing. This morning that young Dick Staveling dead, shot in some skirmish or another – Fine boy he was. They’re all going out, one after the other – Not useless idiots who aren’t wanted here like John or Vincent – but boys, boys like – like Roddy.”

***

During that terrible December week in 1899, England suffered more defeats to her arms than during any other week of the century. Magersfontein, Stormberg, Colenso, their names leapt one after another on to the screen.

London was dismayed; London was impatient. Easy enough to declare that the most criminal blunders had been perpetrated, easy enough to explain how one would oneself have conducted this or that, maneuvred hither or thither some pawn in the game.

Dismay remained – a wide active alarm at the things that Life, so suddenly real and dominating and destructive, might in the future be preparing.

To Lord John this terrible week was simply the climax to a succession of disturbing revelations of reality. All his days had he been denying Life, wrapping it up in one covering after another, calling it finally a box of chocolates or a racing card, a good cigar or a pretty woman, knowing, at his heart, that somewhere in the dark forest the wild beast was waiting for him, hoping that he might survive to the end without facing it.

Now it was before him and its glittering eyes were upon him.

He had gone on the Friday of this week, to pay a week-end visit at a country house near Newmarket. Many jolly, happy week-ends he had spent at this same house on other occasions, now, from first to last, it was nightmare.

On the Monday morning at breakfast a sudden conviction of the impossible horror of this world struck at his heart. It came as a revelation, life was for him never to be the same again. His hostess, a large-bosomed white-haired lady, planted at the end of the table like an enormous artificial toy in the middle of whose back some key must be turned if the affair is to amuse the crowd, suddenly horrified him; the women of the party, their noses a little blue, their cheeks a touch too white, their voices hard and sharp, the men, red and brown, boisterously hearty about the animals they hoped to kill before the day was done, the cold food in a glazed and greedy row, the hot food – kidneys, fish, bacon, sausages, sizzling and scenting the air – : the table itself with its racks of toast and marmalade and silver and fruit: the conversation that sounded as though the speakers were afraid that the food would all disappear were they spontaneous or natural – all these things suddenly appeared to Lord John in a very horrible light, so that, in an instant, racing and women and clothes and food were banished from a naked biting world in which he was a naked solitary figure.

He caught a train as one flies from some horrible plague: he arrived in London, breathless, confused, miserable, the foundations of Life broken from beneath him.

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Thomas Hardy: Ever consign all Lords of War to sleep

November 26, 2018 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Thomas Hardy: Selections on war

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Thomas Hardy
I Met A Man

I met a man when night was nigh,
Who said, with shining face and eye
Like Moses’ after Sinai: –

“I have seen the Moulder of Monarchies,
Realms, peoples, plains and hills,
Sitting upon the sunlit seas! –
And, as He sat, soliloquies
Fell from Him like an antiphonic breeze
That pricks the waves to thrills.

“Meseemed that of the maimed and dead
Mown down upon the globe, –
Their plenteous blooms of promise shed
Ere fruiting-time – is words were said,
Sitting against the western web of red
Wrapt in His crimson robe.

“And I could catch them now and then:
-‘Why let these gambling clans
Of human Cockers, pit liege men
From mart and city, dale and glen,
In death-mains, but to swell and swell again
Their swollen All-Empery plans,

“‘When a mere nod (if my malign
Compeer but passive keep)
Would mend that old mistake of mine
I made with Saul, and ever consign
All Lords of War whose sanctuaries enshrine
Liberticide, to sleep?

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Arnold Bennett: The Slaughterer

November 16, 2018 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Arnold Bennett: War casualties and war profiteers

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Arnold Bennett
From Riceyman Steps

“Pentonville! Joe, d’ye mean ye’ve been to prison?” He nodded. “What a shame!” she exclaimed in protest, not at his having done anything wicked enough to send him to prison, but at the police having been wicked enough to send him to prison. She assumed instinctively and positively that he was an innocent victim of the ruthless blue men whom some people know only as pilots of perambulators across busy streets.

“There was no option, ye know, so I had fourteen days.”

She dropped on her knees at the bedside, and put her left arm under his neck and threw her right arm over his waist, and with it felt again the familiar shape of his waist through the bedclothes, and gazed into his homely, ugly face upon which soft, dark hair – a beard on the chin – as sprouting. This faith and tenderness made Joe cry.

“Tell me,” she murmured, scarcely hoping that he would succeed in any narrative.

“Oh, it’s nothin’,” Joe replied gloomily. “Armistice Day, ye know. I had my afternoon, and I went out.”

“Were ye in a place, Joe?”

“I had a part-time place in Oxford Street – carrying coal upstairs, and cleaning brasses and sweeping and errands. And a bed. Yes, in the basement. Sort of a watchman. Doctor he give me a testimonial. Least, he sent it me when I wrote and asked him…I went down to Piccadilly to see the sights, and when it was about dark I see our old divisional general in a damn big car with two young ladies. There was a block, ye see, in Piccadilly Circus, and he was stopped by the kerb where them flower-girls are, ye know, by the fountain, and I was standing there as close as I am to you, Elsie. We used to call him the Slaughterer. That was how we called him. We never called him nothin’ else. And there he was with his two rows o’ ribbons and his flash women, perhaps they weren’t flash, and I didn’t like the look of his face – hard, ye know. Cruel. We knowed him, we did. And then I thought of the two minutes’ silence, and hats off and stand at ‘tention, and the Cenotaph, and it made me laugh. I laughed at him through the glass. And he didn’t like it, he didn’t. I was as close to him as I am to you, ye see. And he lets down the glass and says something about insultin’ behaviour to these ladies, and I put my tongue out to him. That tore it, that did. That fair put the lid on. I felt something coming over me – ye know. Then there was a crowd, and I caught a policeman one on the shoulder. Oh, they marched me off, three of ’em! The doctor at the station said I was drunk, me as hadn’t had a drop for three days! Next morning the beak he said he’d treat me lenient because it was Armistice Day, and I’d had some and I’d fought for the old country, but assaulting an officer of the law, he couldn’t let that pass. No option for that, so he give me fourteen days.”

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From Sacred and Profane Love

Great grief is democratic, levelling – not downwards but upwards. It strips away the inessential, and makes brothers. It is impatient with all the unavailing inventions which obscure the brotherhood of mankind.

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Baruch Spinzoa: War corrupts civil society

November 13, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Baruch Spinoza: Men shouldn’t choose slavery in time of peace for better fortune in war

Baruch Spinoza: Peace is not mere absence of war

Baruch Spinoza: Tyrants and war for its own sake

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Baruch/Benedictus Spinoza
From Tractatus Politicus
Translated by R.H.M. Elwes

Besides, in war, there can be no greater or more honourable inducement to victory than the idea of liberty. But if, on the contrary, a certain portion of the citizens be designated as soldiers, on which account it will be necessary to award them a fixed pay, the king will, of necessity, distinguish them above the rest – that is, will distinguish men who are acquainted only with the arts of war, and, in time of peace, from excess of leisure, become debauched, and, finally, from poverty, meditate nothing but rapine, civil discord, and wars. And so we can affirm, that a monarchy of this sort is, in fact, a state of war, and in it only the soldiery enjoy liberty, but the rest are slaves.

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[E]veryone that judges things fairly will admit, that that dominion is the most durable of all which can content itself with preserving what it has got, without coveting what belongs to others, and strives, therefore, most eagerly by every means to avoid war and preserve peace.

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They who can treat secretly of the affairs of a dominion have it absolutely under their authority, and, as they plot against the enemy in time of war, so do they against the citizens in time of peace.

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The emoluments of the senators should be of such a kind, that their profit is greater from peace than from war. And therefore let there be awarded to them a hundredth or a fiftieth part of the merchandise exported abroad from the dominion, or imported into it from abroad. For we cannot doubt, that by this means they will, as far as they can, preserve peace, and never desire to protract war. And from this duty not even the senators themselves, if any of them are merchants, ought to be exempt; for such an immunity cannot be granted without great risk to trade, as I think no one is ignorant. Nay, on the contrary, it must be by law ordained, that no senator or ex-senator may fill any military post; and further, that no one may be declared general or prætor, which officers we said were to be only appointed in time of war, whose father or grandfather is a senator, or has held the dignity of senator within two years. Which laws we cannot doubt, that the patricians outside the senate will defend with all their might: and so it will be the case, that the senators will always have more profit from peace than from war, and will, therefore, never advise war, except the utmost need of the dominion compels them. But it may be objected to us, that on this system, if, that is, syndics and senators are to be allowed so great profits, an aristocracy will be as burdensome to the subjects as any monarchy. But not to mention that royal courts require larger expenditure, and are yet not provided in order to secure peace, and that peace can never be bought too dear; it is to be added, first, that all that under a monarchy is conferred on one or a few, is here conferred upon very many. Lastly, the burdens of a monarchy spring not so much from its king’s expenditure, as from its secret policy. For those burdens of a dominion, that are imposed on the citizens in order to secure peace and liberty, great though they be, are yet supported and lightened by the usefulness of peace. What nation ever had to pay so many and so heavy taxes as the Dutch? Yet it not only has not been exhausted, but, on the contrary, has been so mighty by its wealth, that all envied its good fortune. If therefore the burdens of a monarchy were imposed for the sake of peace, they would not oppress the citizens; but, as I have said, it is from the secret policy of that sort of dominion, that the subjects faint under their lord; that is, because the virtue of kings counts for more in time of war than in time of peace, and because they, who would reign by themselves, ought above all to try and have their subjects poor…

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Baruch Spinoza: Men shouldn’t choose slavery in time of peace for better fortune in war

November 12, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Baruch Spinoza: Peace is not mere absence of war

Baruch Spinoza: Tyrants and war for its own sake

Baruch Spinzoa: War corrupts civil society

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Baruch/Benedictus Spinoza
From Tractatus Politicus
Translated by R.H.M. Elwes

Yet if slavery, barbarism, and desolation are to be called peace, men can have no worse misfortune. No doubt there are usually more and sharper quarrels between parents and children, than between masters and slaves; yet it advances not the art of housekeeping, to change a father’s right into a right of property, and count children but as slaves. Slavery then, not peace, is furthered by handing over to one man the whole authority. For peace, as we said before, consists not in mere absence of war, but in a union or agreement of minds.

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War is only to be made for the sake of peace, so that, at its end, one may be rid of arms. And so, when cities have been taken by right of war, and terms of peace are to be made after the enemies are subdued, the captured cities must not be garrisoned and kept…

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For as to the case which often arises, where a king is chosen on account of war, that is, because war is much more happily conducted by kings, it is manifest folly, I say, that men should choose slavery in time of peace for the sake of better fortune in war; if, indeed, peace can be conceived of in a dominion, where merely for the sake of war the highest authority is transferred to one man, who is, therefore, best able to show his worth and the importance to everyone of his single self in time of war; whereas, on the contrary, democracy has this advantage, that its excellence is greater in peace than in war.

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But it cannot be doubted that the majority of this council will never be minded to wage war, but rather always pursue and love peace. For besides that war will always cause them fear of losing their property and liberty, it is to be added, that war requires fresh expenditure, which they must meet, and also that their own children and relatives, though intent on their domestic cares, will be forced to turn their attention to war and go a-soldiering, whence they will never bring back anything but unpaid-for scars.

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For the king by himself cannot restrain all by fear. But his power, as we have said, rests upon the number of his soldiers, and especially on their valour and faith, which will always remain so long enduring between men, as with them is joined need, be that need honourable or disgraceful. And this is why kings usually are fonder of exciting than restraining their soldiery, and shut their eyes more to their vices than to their virtues, and generally, to hold under the best of them, seek out, distinguish, and assist with money or favour the idle, and those who have ruined themselves by debauchery, and shake hands with them, and throw them kisses, and for the sake of mastery stoop to every servile action. In order therefore that the citizens may be distinguished by the king before all others, and, as far as the civil state and equity permit, may remain independent, it is necessary that the militia should consist of citizens only, and that citizens should be his counsellors; and on the contrary citizens are altogether subdued, and are laying the foundations of eternal war, from the moment that they suffer mercenaries to be levied, whose trade is war, and who have most power in strifes and seditions.

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For it cannot be, that a mercenary force be hired without great expense; and citizens can hardly endure the exactions required to maintain an idle soldiery.

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In order that the citizens may be as far as possible equal, which is of the first necessity in a commonwealth, none but the descendants of a king are to be thought noble. But if all the descendants of kings were allowed to marry wives, or beget children, they would grow, in process of time, to a very large number, and would be, not only burdensome, but also a cause of very great fear, to king and all. For men who have too much leisure generally meditate crime. And hence it is that kings are, on account of their nobles, very much induced to make war, because kings surrounded with nobles find more quiet and safety in war than in peace.

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War to end all wars: A century later

November 10, 2018 Leave a comment

Each human life represents a value. Mankind is not alike. There is slight consolation in the fact that our losses were one thousand, and the enemy’s ten.

Who knows if among those one thousand there was not a man who would have been the honour of his country, the benefactor of humanity throughout the centuries?

There may have been a Shakespeare or a Newton, a Kant or a Goethe, a Moliere or a Pasteur, a Copernicus, a Rubens, a Tolstoi among the hundreds of thousands of twenty-year-old English, French, German, Polish, Belgian, or Russian soldiers who have fallen.

The press, in belligerent countries, has taken upon itself to excite hatred against the enemy in order to create war enthusiasm. It should remember that the destroying hatred it calls into existence will live long after the war, and will inevitably give birth to new wars. The longer the war lasts, the shorter the coming peace will be.

Georg Brandes

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World
U.S.
Britain
France
Germany
Russia
Italy
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Samuel von Pufendorf: Perverted animals wage wars for superfluities

November 10, 2018 Leave a comment

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

German writers on peace and war

Plato: All wars arise for the sake of gaining money

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Samuel von Pufendorf
From On the Duty of Man and Citizen
Translator unknown

Now man shares with all the animals that have consciousness the fact that he holds nothing dearer than himself…

Yet this animal, though so useful to his kind, suffers from not a few faults, and is endowed with no less power to injure; which facts make contact with him rather uncertain, and call for great caution, that one may not receive evil from him instead of good. First of all, there is generally a greater tendency to injure found in man than in any of the brutes. For the brutes are usually excited by the desire for food and for love, both of which, however, they can themselves easily satisfy. But having stilled that craving, they are not readily roused to anger or to injure people, unless someone provokes them. But man is an animal at no time disinclined to lust, and by its goad he is excited much more frequently than would seem necessary for the conservation of the race. And his belly desires not merely to be satisfied, but also to be tickled, and often craves more than nature is able to digest. That the brutes should not need clothing nature has provided. But man delights to clothe himself, not for necessity only, but also for display. Many more passions and desires unknown to the brutes are found in man, as the desire to have superfluities, avarice, the love of glory and eminence, envy, emulation, and rivalry of wits. Witness the fact that most wars, in which men clash with men, are waged for reasons unknown to the brutes.

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Baruch Spinoza: Peace is not mere absence of war

November 9, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Baruch Spinoza: Men shouldn’t choose slavery in time of peace for better fortune in war

Baruch Spinoza: Tyrants and war for its own sake

Baruch Spinzoa: War corrupts civil society

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Baruch/Benedictus Spinoza
From Tractatus Politicus
Translated by R.H.M. Elwes

Reason altogether teaches to seek peace…

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Now the quality of the state of any dominion is easily perceived from the end of the civil state, which end is nothing else but peace and security of life. And therefore that dominion is the best, where men pass their lives in unity, and the laws are kept unbroken. For it is certain, that seditions, wars, and contempt or breach of the laws are not so much to be imputed to the wickedness of the subjects, as to the bad state of a dominion. For men are not born fit for citizenship, but must be made so…For a civil state, which has not done away with the causes of seditions, where war is a perpetual object of fear, and where, lastly, the laws are often broken, differs but little from the mere state of nature, in which everyone lives after his own mind at the great risk of his life.

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But be it remarked that, by the dominion which I have said is established for this end, I intend that which has been established by a free multitude, not that which is acquired over a multitude by right of war. For a free multitude is guided more by hope than fear; a conquered one, more by fear than hope: inasmuch as the former aims at making use of life, the latter but at escaping death. The former, I say, aims at living for its own ends, the latter is forced to belong to the conqueror; and so we say that this is enslaved, but that free. And, therefore, the end of a dominion, which one gets by right of war, is to be master, and have rather slaves than subjects. And although between the dominion created by a free multitude, and that gained by right of war, if we regard generally the right of each, we can make no essential distinction; yet their ends, as we have already shown, and further the means to the preservation of each are very different.

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Of a commonwealth, whose subjects are but hindered by terror from taking arms, it should rather be said, that it is free from war, than that it has peace. For peace is not mere absence of war, but is a virtue that springs from force of character: for obedience is the constant will to execute what, by the general decree of the commonwealth, ought to be done. Besides that commonwealth, whose peace depends on the sluggishness of its subjects, that are led about like sheep, to learn but slavery, may more properly be called a desert than a commonwealth.

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In so far as men are tormented by anger, envy, or any passion implying hatred, they are drawn asunder and made contrary one to another, and therefore are so much the more to be feared, as they are more powerful, crafty, and cunning than the other animals. And because men are in the highest degree liable to these passions, therefore men are naturally enemies. For he is my greatest enemy, whom I must most fear and be on my guard against.

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[Men] are of necessity liable to passions, and so constituted as to pity those who are ill, and envy those who are well off; and to be prone to vengeance more than to mercy: and moreover, that every individual wishes the rest to live after his own mind, and to approve what he approves, and reject what he rejects. And so it comes to pass, that, as all are equally eager to be first, they fall to strife, and do their utmost mutually to oppress one another; and he who comes out conqueror is more proud of the harm he has done to the other, than of the good he has done to himself.

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Baruch Spinoza: Tyrants and war for its own sake

November 8, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Baruch Spinoza: Men shouldn’t choose slavery in time of peace for better fortune in war

Baruch Spinoza: Peace is not mere absence of war

Baruch Spinzoa: War corrupts civil society

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Baruch/Benedictus Spinoza
From Tractatus Theologico-Politicus
Translated by R.H.M. Elwes

There was another very important check on the unbridled license of the captains, in the fact that the army was formed from the whole body of the citizens, between the ages of twenty and sixty, without exception, and that the captains were not able to hire any foreign soldiery. This I say was very important, for it is well known that princes can oppress their peoples with the single aid of the soldiery in their pay…

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[N]either captains nor army had any reason for preferring war to peace. The army, as we have stated, consisted entirely of citizens, so that affairs were managed by the same persons both in peace and war. The man who was a soldier in the camp was a citizen in the market-place, he who was a leader in the camp was a judge in the law courts, he who was a general in the camp was a ruler in the state. Thus no one could desire war for its own sake…

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It is remarkable that during all the period, during which the people held the reins of power, there was only one civil war, and that one was completely extinguished, the conquerors taking such pity on the conquered, that they endeavoured in every way to reinstate them in their former dignity and power. But after that the people, little accustomed to kings, changed its first form of government into a monarchy, civil war raged almost continuously; and battles were so fierce as to exceed all others recorded; in one engagement (taxing our faith to the utmost) five hundred thousand Israelites were slaughtered by the men of Judah, and in another the Israelites slew great numbers of the men of Judah (the figures are not given in Scripture), almost razed to the ground the walls of Jerusalem, and sacked the Temple in their unbridled fury. At length, laden with the spoils of their brethren, satiated with blood, they took hostages, and leaving the king in his well-nigh devastated kingdom, laid down their arms, relying on the weakness rather than the good faith of their foes. A few years after, the men of Judah, with recruited strength, again took the field, but were a second time beaten by the Israelites, and slain to the number of a hundred and twenty thousand, two hundred thousand of their wives and children were led into captivity, and a great booty again seized. Worn out with these and similar battles set forth at length in their histories, the Jews at length fell a prey to their enemies.

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Hence it comes to pass that peoples have often changed their tyrants, but never removed them or changed the monarchical form of government into any other.

The English people furnish us with a terrible example of this fact. They sought how to depose their monarch under the forms of law, but when he had been removed, they were utterly unable to change the form of government, and after much bloodshed only brought it about, that a new monarch should be hailed under a different name (as though it had been a mere question of names); this new monarch could only consolidate his power by completely destroying the royal stock, putting to death the king’s friends, real or supposed, and disturbing with war the peace which might encourage discontent, in order that the populace might be engrossed with novelties and divert its mind from brooding over the slaughter of the king.

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Simplicity and truth of character are not produced by the constraint of laws, nor by the authority of the state, no one the whole world over can be forced or legislated into a state of blessedness; the means required for such a consummation are faithful and brotherly admonition, sound education, and, above all, free use of the individual judgment.

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No, the object of government is not to change men from rational beings into beasts or puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security, and to employ their reason unshackled; neither showing hatred, anger, or deceit, nor watched with the eyes of jealousy and injustice. In fact, the true aim of government is liberty.

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It is far from possible to impose uniformity of speech, for the more rulers strive to curtail freedom of speech, the [262] more obstinately are they resisted; not indeed by the avaricious, the flatterers, and other numskulls, who think supreme salvation consists in filling their stomachs and gloating over their money-bags, but by those whom good education, sound morality, and virtue have rendered more free. Men, as generally constituted, are most prone to resent the branding as criminal of opinions which they believe to be true, and the proscription as wicked of that which inspires them with piety towards God and man; hence they are ready to forswear the laws and conspire against the authorities, thinking it not shameful but honourable to stir up seditions and perpetuate any sort of crime with this end in view. Such being the constitution of human nature, we see that laws directed against opinions affect the generous-minded rather than the wicked, and are adapted less for coercing criminals than for irritating the upright; so that they cannot be maintained without great peril to the state.

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He that knows himself to be upright does not fear the death of a criminal, and shrinks from no punishment; his mind is not wrung with remorse for any disgraceful deed: he holds that death in a good cause is no punishment, but an honour, and that death for freedom is glory.

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Giovanni Pico della Mirandola: Holy peace wherein men become angels

November 5, 2018 Leave a comment

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

Italian writers on war and militarism

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Giovanni Pico della Mirandola
From Oration on the Dignity of Man
Translated by A. Robert Caponigri

Let us also inquire of the just Job, who made his covenant with the God of life even before he entered into life, what, above all else, the supreme God desires of those tens of thousands of beings which surround Him. He will answer, without a doubt: peace, just as it is written in the pages of Job: He establishes peace in the high reaches of heaven. And since the middle order interprets the admonitions of the higher to the lower orders, the words of Job the theologian may well be interpreted for us by Empedocles the philosopher. Empedocles teaches us that there is in our souls a dual nature; the one bears us upwards toward the heavenly regions; by the other we are dragged downward toward regions infernal, through friendship and discord, war and peace; so witness those verses in which he laments that, torn by strife and discord, like a madman, in flight from the gods, he is driven into the depths of the sea. For it is a patent thing, O Fathers, that many forces strive within us, in grave, intestine warfare, worse than the civil wars of states. Equally clear is it that, if we are to overcome this warfare, if we are to establish that peace which must establish us finally among the exalted of God, philosophy alone can compose and allay that strife. In the first place, if our man seeks only truce with his enemies, moral philosophy will restrain the unreasoning drives of the protean brute, the passionate violence and wrath of the lion within us. If, acting on wiser counsel, we should seek to secure an unbroken peace, moral philosophy will still be at hand to fulfill our desires abundantly; and having slain either beast, like sacrificed sows, it will establish an inviolable compact of peace between the flesh and the spirit…Natural philosophy…cannot assure us a true and unshakable peace. To bestow such peace is rather the privilege and office of the queen of the sciences, most holy theology.

***

Summoned in such consoling tones and invited with such kindness, like earthly Mercuries, we shall fly on winged feet to embrace that most blessed mother and there enjoy the peace we have longed for: that most holy peace, that indivisible union, that seamless friendship through which all souls will not only be at one in that one mind which is above every mind, but, in a manner which passes expression, will really be one, in the most profound depths of being. This is the friendship which the Pythagoreans say is the purpose of all philosophy. This is the peace which God established in the high places of the heaven and which the angels, descending to earth, announced to men of good will, so that men, ascending through this peace to heaven, might become angels. This is the peace which we would wish for our friends, for our age, for every house into which we enter and for our own soul, that through this peace it may become the dwelling of God…

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Nicolas Malebranch: Ignorance, brutality and training for war

October 27, 2018 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

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Nicolas Malebranch
From Search After Truth: Or a Treatise of the Nature of the Human Mind
Translator unknown

The confused sensation which young men have of the disposition of their bodies make them please themselves in the thoughts of their strength and activity…Thus, by little and little, they strengthen their inclination for all bodily exercises, which is one of the chief causes of the ignorance and brutality  of men…This is the reason most part of the nobility, and such as are trained up to war, are incapable of applying themselves to anything; they argue about things according to the proverb, a word and a blow.

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The great are united to many more things than others, their slavery is further extended. A general of an army is united to all his soldiers, because they all reverence him: This slavery often creates valor; and the desire of being esteemed by all those who look upon him often obliges him to sacrifice other more sensible and more reasonable desires to it. It is the same with those that are in power, or that are popular. ‘Tis vanity which often animates their virtue; because the love of glory is commonly stronger than the love of truth.

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Auguste Comte: Permanent warfare as foundation of retrograde system, incompatible with modern civilization

October 21, 2018 2 comments

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

French writers on war and peace

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Auguste Comte
From Positive Philosophy
Translated by Harriet Martineau

The whole nature of Napoleon Bonaparte was incompatible with political ability; with any conception of social progression; with the mere idea of an irrevocable extinction of the old theological and military system, outside of which he could conceive of nothing…

The continuous development of military activity was the foundation, necessary at any cost, of this disastrous domination. To set up for awhile a system thoroughly repugnant to social conditions, it was necessary to enlist and humor, by perpetual stimulation, all the general vices of mankind, and all the special imperfections of the national character; and above all, an excessive vanity, which, instead of being carefully regulated by wise opposition, was directly excited to something like madness, by means derived, like all the rest of the system, from the most discredited customs of the ancient monarchy. Nothing but active warfare could have intercepted the effect of ridicule which could not but be excited to attempts so ill-suited to the age as the restoration of a nobility and a priesthood. In no other way could France have been oppressed so long and so shamefully…The second lesson is of the necessity of active and permanent warfare as the foundation of a retrograde system, which in no other way have developed any temporary consistence; and this condemns as chimerical and disturbing a policy which depends on a policy incompatible with modern civilization as a whole. It is true, the revolutionary warfare was defended as the necessary means of propagating revolutionary benefits: but the result is a sufficient reply to the sophism. The propagation was of oppression and pillage…

This system, founded on war, fell by a natural consequence of the war, when the resistance had become popular and the attack despotic.

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Thus the time is come when we may congratulate ourselves on the final passing away of serious and durable warfare among the most advanced nations. In this case as in others, the dreams and aspirations which have multiplied in recent times are an expression of a real and serious need, – a prevision of the heart rather than of the head, of a happier state of things approaching…

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August Wilhelm Schlegel: Aristophanes, tragedian of peace

October 20, 2018 Leave a comment

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

German writers on peace and war

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August Wilhelm Schlegel
From Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature
Translated by John Black

With the exception of [an] attack on Cleon, and with the exception also of the attacks on Euripides, whom he seems to have pursued with the most unrelenting perseverance, the other pieces of Aristophanes are not so exclusively pointed against individuals. They have always a general, and for the most part a very important aim, which the poet, with all his turnings, digressions, and odd medleys, never loses sight of. The Peace, the Acharnae, and the Lysistrata, with many turns, still all recommend peace…

Peace begins in the most spirited and lively manner…War, a desolating giant, with his comrade Riot, alone, in place of all the other gods, inhabits Olympus, and there pounds the cities of men in a great mortar, making use of the most celebrated generals for pestles. The Goddess Peace lies buried in a deep well, out of which she is hauled up by ropes, through the united exertions of all the states of Greece…

Acharnae…Dikaiopolis, the honest citizen, enraged at the base artifices by which the people are deluded, and by which they are induced to reject all proposals for peace, sends an embassy to Lacedaemon, and concludes a separate treaty for himself and his family. He then retires to the country, and, in spite of all assaults, encloses a piece of ground before his house, within which there is a peaceful market for the people of the neighbouring states, while the rest of the country is suffering from the calamities of war. The blessings of peace are represented most temptingly to hungry stomachs…

Lysistrata…According to the story of the poet, the women have taken it into their heads to compel their husbands, by a severe resolution, to make peace. Under the direction of a clever leader they organize a conspiracy for this purpose throughout all Greece, and at the same time gain possession in Athens of the fortified Acropolis. The terrible plight the men are reduced to by this separation gives rise to the most laughable scenes; plenipotentiaries appear from the two hostile powers, and peace is speedily concluded under the management of the sage Lysistrata. Notwithstanding the mad indecencies which are contained in the piece, its purpose, when stript of these, is upon the whole very innocent: the longing for the enjoyment of domestic joys, so often interrupted by the absence of the husbands, is to be the means of putting an end to the calamitous war by which Greece had so long been torn in pieces.

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Jules Janin: War aborts orators and writers, bears soldiers

October 15, 2018 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Jules Janin: War needs blood and gold

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Jules Janin
From An American in Paris
Translator unidentified

People of spirit who, under the empire, might have been orators or political writers became soldiers in order to have a good reason for neither speaking nor writing; – everything gave way, in republican France, to the passive obedience of the soldier to his chief. What the man of spirit would not have granted to the head of the nation without blushing at his own weakness the soldier would willingly yield to his captain. This accounts for the fact that there were so many good soldiers and so few passable writers under the empire. It was because as long as Napoleon lived such a captain contented himself with going to war, who was born and made his appearance in the world solely to be a great orator or a great writer. Thus Napoleon had misappropriated all the noble instincts, and had forced all the splendid intellects to the profit of his own power and supreme will. The proof of this is that – Napoleon fallen – French eloquence, that forgotten power, suddenly made its way through so many ravages. More than one eloquent voice made itself heard from the wrecks of armies, which foreign cannon had overwhelmed in the dust.

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