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Édouard Glissant: The planet is riddled with wars

December 8, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Édouard Glissant
From The Ripening (La Lézarde)

Words are on the surface purely superficial; they bear witness to the eternal rhythm of song and dance. It is necessary to speak and hear them but there are times when it is not important to listen. Their presence, their echo, are sufficient to stir us. Words can also reach a conclusion, and the conclusion is not coldly logical; it is warm peace-giving.

***

“Just look around you! Everywhere men are killing one another, the world is drowned in blood and tears, and life hangs by a single hair….Brother Zéphire, you who have left us never to return, forgive this man who has made a travesty of your wake by telling a preposterous story. Brother Zéphire, forgive us, the living, do not torment us even if we have offended you. You died a good, natural death, you had no enemy to strike you down. But looking now upon this miserable planet, what do you say to a man who seeks out his enemy in this childish way? Has anyone ever seen anything like it? The planet is riddled with wars, and he hands out this poppycock….”

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Friedrich Melchior von Grimm: History lauds brutal warriors, views the peaceful with contempt

December 1, 2022 Leave a comment

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

German writers on peace and war

Voltaire: Bellicose father or pacific son?

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Friedrich Melchior von Grimm

It is indubitable that the King of Russia, by yielding Silesia, could have prevented the war from ever breaking out. In so doing he would have done a very wise thing. How many evils would he have prevented! And what can there be in common between the possession of a province and the happiness of a king? Was not the great Elector a very happy and highly respected prince without possessing Silesia? It is also quite clear that a king might have taken this course in obedience to the precepts of the soundest reason, and yet – I know not how – that king would inevitably have been the object of universal contempt, while Frederick, sacrificing everything to the necessity of keeping Silesia, has invested himself with immortal glory.

Without any doubt the action of Cromwell’s son was the wisest a man could take: he preferred obscurity and repose to the bother and danger of ruling over a people sombre, fiery and proud. This wise man won the contempt of his own time and of posterity; while his father, to this day, has been held a great man by the wisdom of nations.

As cited by Stendhal in De l’Amour.

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Stendhal: Decorating it with the name of glory

November 29, 2022 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Stendhal: Dreaming of the Marshall and his glory…

Stendhal: You’ve got to learn the business before you can become a soldier

Stendhal and Byron: Military leprosy; fronts of brass and feet of clay

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Stendhal
From De l’Amour
Translated by Philip Sidney Woolf and Cecil N. Sidney Woolf

Two friends find themselves side by side with a battery at the battle of Talavera, one as Captain in command, the other as lieutenant. A passing bullet lays the Captain low. “Good,” says the lieutenant, quite beside himself with joy, “that’s done for Francis – now I shall be Captain.” “Not so quick,” cries Francis, as he gets up. He had only been stunned by the bullet. The lieutenant, as well as the Captain, were the best fellows in the world, not a bit ill-natured, and only a little stupid; the excitement of the chase and the furious egoism which the Emperor had succeeded in awakening, by decorating it with the name of glory, made these enthusiastic worshippers of him forget their humanity.

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Ernest Hemingway: Champs d’Honneur

November 16, 2022 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Nobel prize in literature recipients on peace and war

Ernest Hemingway: Selections on war

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Ernest Hemingway
Champs d’Honneur

Soldiers never do die well;
Crosses mark the places –
Wooden crosses where they fell,
Stuck above their faces.
Soldiers pitch and cough and twitch –
All the world roars red and black;
Soldiers smother in a ditch,
Choking through the whole attack.

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

November 15, 2022 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

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

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

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Henry David Thoreau
Journal
February 27, 1856

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

***

July 29, 1852

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

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

November 14, 2022 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

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

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

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Henry David Thoreau
Journal
February 26, 1852

We are told to-day that civilization is making rapid progress; the tendency is ever upward; substantial justice is done even by human courts; you may trust the good intentions of mankind. We read to-morrow in the newspapers that the French nation is on the eve of going to war with England to give employment to her army. What is the influence of men of principle, or how numerous are they? How many moral teachers has society? This Russian war is popular. Of course so many as she has will resist her. How many resist her? How many have I heard speak with warning voice? utter wise warnings? The preacher’s standard of morality is no higher than that of his audience. He studies to conciliate his hearers and never to offend them. Does the threatened war between France and England evince any more enlightenment than a war between two savage tribes, as the Iroquois and the Hurons? Is it founded in better reason?

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Halldór Laxness: Three questions about war on earth and in heaven

November 13, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Nobel prize in literature recipients on peace and war

Scandinavian writers on peace and war

Halldór Laxness: In war there is no cause except the cause of war. A bitter disappointment when it turned out they could defend themselves

Halldór Laxness: There are ideals in war too, slaughtering men by the million

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Halldór Laxness
From Independent People
Translated by J.A. Thompson

This war began with the shooting of a scruffy little foreigner, a chap called Ferdinand or something, and the death of this Ferdinand was taken so much to heart by various ill-disposed citizens that they kept on hacking one another to pieces like suet in a trough, for four consecutive years and more….

“When ten million men murder one another in bad will,” he said, I for one don’t give a damn whether it’s from no reason at all or because of a dirty little cock-sparrow like this chap Ferdinand….Let us imagine that these ten million idiots murder one another, possibly because of a dirty little cock-sparrow, possibly for no reason at all, it’s no matter to me. Let us take it mathematically and say that five million of each are killed, for twice five are ten, as everybody knows. Suppose now that all these idiots go to heaven, for even if I believed in hell I would never wish anyone so ill as to send him there. Suppose further that they meet each other in heaven on the same day as they murdered each other on earth – it’s no matter to me whether it was out of imbecility, it doesn’t affect the question at issue, as I said before, because murder is murder as Einar of Undirhilith says. Now then, here are three questions which I ponder over night and day and which, since this seems a favourable opportunity, I intend to put to you also. In the first place, do they forgive one another in heaven for having murdered one another? it’s no matter to me whether it was out of stupidity. In the second place, do they perhaps thank one another in heaven for having murdered one another and thus helped one another on the way to heaven? Or, in the third place, do they go on fighting with undiminished imbecility in heaven, and if so for how long? And if they murder one another afresh, where do they land then? Will there eventually arrive a time when the whole universe will be too small to accommodate people who want to murder one another in stupidity, for no reason and to no purpose to the end of all eternity? I expect I’ll be pretty grey at the temples before I get an answer to that, as to so much else.”

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Halldór Laxness: There are ideals in war too, slaughtering men by the million

November 12, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Nobel prize in literature recipients on peace and war

Scandinavian writers on peace and war

Halldór Laxness: In war there is no cause except the cause of war. A bitter disappointment when it turned out they could defend themselves

Halldór Laxness: Three questions about war on earth and in heaven

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Halldór Laxness
From Independent People
Translated by J.A. Thompson

This so-called World War, perhaps the most bountiful blessing that God has sent our country since the Napoleonic Wars saved the nation from the consequences of the Great Eruption and raised our culture from the ruins with an increased demand for fish and whale-oil, yes, this beautiful war, and may the Almighty grant us another equally beautiful at the earliest possible moment – this war began with the shooting of a scruffy little foreigner, a chap called Ferdinand or something, and the death of this Ferdinand was taken so much to heart by various ill-disposed citizens that they kept on hacking one another to pieces like suet in a trough, for four consecutive years and more. And in the little loft in Summerhouses, where on the occasion of the Shepherd’s Meet there had assembled once more all those indomitable warriors who themselves had waged a lifelong unremitting struggle much more serious than any World War, and one that was prosecuted for reasons far weightier than that any Ferdinand should ever have been assassinated, this war was now the theme of debate.

***

‘Well, apart from this one fellow and his name, whatever it may have been,” said Krusi of Gil, “what I could never understand about this business was why the others had to start squabbling simply because this bastard of a Ferdinand was shot”

“Oh, let them squabble, damn them,” said Bjartur. “I only hope they keep it up as long as they can. They aren’t half so particular about what they eat now that they’re face to face with the realities of life. They’ll eat anything now. They’ll buy anything from you. Prices are soaring everywhere. Soon they’ll be buying the muck from your middens. I only hope they go on blasting one another’s brains out as long as other folk can get some good out of it. There ought to be plenty of people abroad. And no one misses them.”

“Oh, there are ideals in war too, though they may not be particularly noticeable,” said Einar apologetically, for to him Bjartur invariably seemed a thought too forceful in expression, whether in prose or verse. “Bjartur,” he added, “you who are an old ballad enthusiast ought to know that there is always an ideal lying behind every war, though that ideal may not loom very large in the eyes of men who have more serious things to think about.”

“Ideal?” asked Bjartur, and did not understand the word.

“Well, significance, then,” said Einar in explanation.

“Huh, you’re the first I’ve ever heard say that there was any significance behind these wars of theirs nowadays. They’re just madmen, pure and simple. It was another matter altogether in the olden days, when your heroes sailed off perhaps to distant quarters of the globe to fight for a peerless woman, or anything else that they considered some sort of flower in their lives. But such is not the case nowadays. Nowadays they fight just from sheer stupidity and obstinacy. But, as I’ve said before, stupidity is all right as long as other people can turn it to account.”

“There may be a good deal in what you say, Bjartur,” said the Fell King then, “but I think it behoves us also to examine this war from rather a different point of view. What we have to realize is that such a World War is accompanied not only by great blessings, such as the extra money we farmers now make on all our produce, but also by extensive damage and all sorts of hardship in the countries in which It is being waged, as for instance the other day there when they destroyed that cathedral in France, a magnificent edifice that had stood there for upwards of a hundred years.”

‘What the hell does it matter to me if they destroy the cathedral in France?” cried Bjartur, spitting contemptuously. ”They’re more than welcome for me. They could shell Rauthsmyri Church itself and I still wouldn’t give a damn.”

“Unfortunately it isn’t the cathedral alone,” said the Fell King. “They say they don’t even think twice about blowing whole cities to pieces. Just think, for instance, of the amount of gold and jewels alone that must be destroyed if a large city, London or Paris for instance, is razed to the ground. Think of all those marvelous palaces of theirs. And all the libraries.”

***

“Now, if I were to give you my opinion,” said Thorir of Gilteig, “I should say that this war was being waged principally to give a dissolute rabble the chance to invade other people’s countries and rape all the foreign women. I heard from a man who was abroad for some time that these swine of soldiers and generals are the most lecherous beasts that ever crawled on the face of the earth. And some of the stories I have heard about these military whoremongers are such that it would be pointless to repeat them; one in Iceland here would believe them….”

“But,” said he, taking up his own thread again, “I agree with our worthy Fell King in this, that if you look at the war with one eye upon the ideals that lie behind it, and the other on all those thousands of men and women whom it robs of life and limb, then you can’t help wondering whether it wouldn’t be better to lay more store upon preserving peoples lives than upon fulfilling a set of ideals. For if ideals aim not at improving tire lot of mankind on earth, but at slaughtering men by the million, one may well ask whether it wouldn’t be more praiseworthy to be wholly devoid of ideals, though such a life would naturally be a very empty one. For if ideals are not life, and life is not ideals, what are ideals? And what is life?”

“Well, if they simply must have it that way,” said Bjartur, “they’ve only themselves to blame. Surely anyone who wants war must also be willing to have himself killed. Why can’t they have leave to be as idiotic as they please? And since the swine can he bothered to go to the trouble of butchering one another – from imbecility or ideals, it’s all the same to me – well, I’ll be the last man on earth to grieve for them. To hell with the lot of them. All I say is this: let them continue till doomsday, as long as the meat and the wool keep on rising in price.”

“But what happens if there’s no one left in the end?” asked Erusi of Gil.

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André Malraux: Do you think that the army budget is meant to pay for war?

November 10, 2022 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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André Malraux
From Man’s Hope
Translated by Stuart Gilbert and Alastair Macdonald

Some distant gunshots rattled across the flying-ground. How trivial all that was compared with the realities; villages going up in flames, the peasants streaming forth into the darkness from their blazing homes!

For the first time he was profoundly conscious of the loneliness of war, as he trudged across the flying-field, through the dry grass….

***

“No, Ramos old chap, there aren’t any comic-opera armies – only comic operas about the army. What they call a comic-opera army is an army fighting a civil war. Why, in ours – the Spanish Army – there’s an officer for every half dozen men. Do you think, in the innocence of your heart, that the army budget is meant to pay for the war? Not a bit of it; it’s to pay the officers – who belong to the owning class or serve its interests – and to buy automatic arms quite inadequate for actual warfare (too much goes in graft) but adequate to police the country. Our machine guns, for instance, are of the 1913 type, our planes are over ten years old; worthless in real war, but good enough to crush a rising. Our armament’s not up to the standard of a colonial war, let alone an international one. No one ever hears of the Spanish Army except in connection with defeat or rackets. And repressions. It’s not a comic-opera army, it’s a poor imitation of the Reichswehr.”

***

“It’s quite likely, Hernandez, that you’re on your way to meet your…destiny. It’s never easy to give up what one has loved, all the things one’s lived for. I’d like to help you; but the cause you’re staking on is doomed from the outset. Because you have to live politically, you have to act in terms of politics; and your duties as an officer bring you every moment in touch with politics. Whereas the cause you have in mind is not political. It is based on the contrast between the world in which you live and the world of your dreams. But action can only be envisaged in terms of action. The business of a political thinker is to compare one set of hard facts with another, one practical proposition with another; our side or Franco’s; one system or another system. He is not fighting against a dream, a theory or another apocalyptic vision.”

“It is only for a dream’s sake that men die.”

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J.M.G. Le Clézio: This is what war is

November 9, 2022 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Nobel prize in literature recipients on peace and war

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J.M.G. Le Clézio
From War
Translated by Simon Watson Taylor

War has broken out. Where or how, nobody knows any longer. By now it is behind each person’s head, its mouth agape and panting. War of crimes and insults, of hate-filled eyes, of thoughts exploding from skulls. It is there, reared up over the world, casting its network of electric wires over the earth’s surface. Each second, as it rolls on, it uproots all things in its path, reduces them to dust. It strikes indiscriminately with its bristling array of hooks, claws, beaks. Nobody will survive unscathed. Nobody will be spared. This is what war is: the eye of truth.

During daytime it strikes with the light. And when night falls it exerts the tidal force of its darkness, its coldness, its silence.

The war is all set to last ten thousand years, to last longer than the history of mankind. There can be no escape, no compromise. In the face of war, our eyes are downcast, our bodies offered as targets for its bullets. The sharp sword seeks out breasts and hearts, even bellies, to pry and gouge. The sand is thirsty for blood. The harsh mountains are longing to open up chasms beneath the feet of voyagers. The highways desire the ceaseless mutilation and death of those who travel them. The sea feels the need to throttle and choke. And in space there is the terrible determination to tighten the vice of emptiness around the stars, to smother the shimmering of matter.

The war has whipped up its all-destructive wind. Burning gas pumps out of silencers, carbon monoxide spreads through the lungs and arteries. Mouths open wide, exhaling blue-grey smoke rings that drift up to the ceiling. Lips part, releasing strings of words, mortal words that inspire fear. That is what it is: the wind of war.

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Francis Thompson: Flattering the too-much-pampered Boy of War

November 8, 2022 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Francis Thompson: Kingly crown and warrior’s crest not worth a blade of grass

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Francis Thompson
From The Nineteenth Century

Yet let it grieve, grey Dame,
Thy passing spirit, God wot,
Thou wast half-hearted, wishing peace, but not
The means of it. The avaricious flame
Thou’st fanned, which thou shouldst tame:
Cluck’dst thy wide brood beneath thy mothering plumes,
And coo’dst them from their fumes,
Stretched necks provocative, and throats
Ruffled with challenging notes;

Yet all didst mar,
Flattering the too-much-pampered Boy of War:
Whence the far-jetting engine, and the globe
In labour with her iron progeny,
Infernal litter of sudden-whelped deaths,
Vomiting venomous breaths;
The growl as of long surf that draweth back
Haifa beach in its rattling track,
When like a tiger-cat
The angry rifle spat
Its fury in the opposing foeman’s eyes;
These are thy consummating victories.
For this hast thou been troubled to be wise!

And now what child is this upon thy lap,
Born in the red glow of relighted war?
That draws Bellona s pap, –
Fierce foster-mother! – does already stare
With mimicked dark regard
And copied threat of brow whose trick it took from her
Young Century, born to hear
The cannon talking at its infant ear
The Twentieth of Time’s loins, since that
Which in the quiet snows of Bethlehem he begat.
Ah! with forthbringing such and so ill-starred,
After the day of blood and night of fate.
Shall it survive with brow no longer marred.
Lip no more wry with hate;
With all thou hadst of good.
But from its blood
Washed thine hereditary ill,
Yet thy child still?

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Francis Thompson: Kingly crown and warrior’s crest not worth a blade of grass

November 7, 2022 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Victor Hugo: Selections on war

Francis Thompson: Flattering the too-much-pampered Boy of War

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Francis Thompson
An Echo of Victor Hugo

Life’s a veil the real has:
All the shadows of our scene
Are but shows of things that pass
On the other side the screen.

Time his glass sits nodding by;
‘Twixt its turn and turn a spawn
Of universes buzz and die
Like the ephemeris of the dawn.

Turn again the wasted glass!
Kingly crown and warrior’s crest
Are not worth the blade of grass
God fashions for the swallow’s nest.

Kings must lay gold circlets down
In God’s sepulchral ante-rooms,
The wear of Heaven’s the thorny crown:
He paves His temples with their tombs.

O our towered altitudes!
O the lustres of our thrones!
What! old Time shall have his moods
Like Caesars and Napoleons;

Have his towers and conquerors forth,
Till he, weary of the toys,
Put back Rameses in the earth
And break his Ninevehs and Troys.

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Charles Fourier: If ever war was deplorable, it is at this moment

November 7, 2022 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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Charles Fourier
From Universal Harmony
Translated by Jonathan Beecher and Richard Bienvenu

If ever war was deplorable, it is at this moment. Soon the victors will be on the same level as the vanquished. What point is there in conquests when the entire globe will comprise but a single nation, will be run by a single administration? In spite of this unity, there will be no equality in harmony.

***

Some readers will cry out: “dream,” “visionary.” Patience! In a short time we will wake them from their own frightful dream, the dream of civilization. Blind savants, just look at your cities paved with beggars, your citizens struggling against hunger, your battlefields and all your social infamies. Do you still believe that civilization is the destiny of the human race? Or was J.-J. Rousseau right in saying of the civilized: “These are not men; there is a disorder in things, the cause of which we have not yet fathomed.”

Joan Roelofs’ book on Fourier

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Pascal: Why kings go to war

November 3, 2022 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Pascal on war: An assassin if he kills in his own country, a hero if in another

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Blaise Pascal
From Pensées

Whatever condition we picture to ourselves, if we muster all the good things which it is possible to possess, royalty is the finest position in the world. Yet, when we imagine a king attended with every pleasure he can feel, if he be without diversion, and be left to consider and reflect on what he is, this feeble happiness will not sustain him; he will necessarily fall into forebodings of dangers, of revolutions which may happen, and, finally, of death and inevitable disease; so that if he be without what is called diversion, he is unhappy, and more unhappy than the least of his subjects who plays and diverts himself.

Hence it comes that play and the society of women, war, and high posts, are so sought after. Not that there is in fact any happiness in them, or that men imagine true bliss to consist in money won at play, or in the hare which they hunt; we would not take these as a gift. We do not seek that easy and peaceful lot which permits us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the labour of office, but the bustle which averts these thoughts of ours, and amuses us.

But will you say what object has he in all this? The pleasure of bragging to-morrow among his friends that he has played better than another. So others sweat in their own rooms to show to the learned that they have solved a problem in algebra, which no one had hitherto been able to solve. Many more expose themselves to extreme perils, in my opinion as foolishly, in order to boast afterwards that they have captured a town.

Of the desire of being esteemed by those with whom we are. – Pride takes such natural possession of us in the midst of our woes, errors, etc. We even lose our life with joy, provided people talk of it.

The charm of fame is so great, that we like every object to which it is attached, even death.

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Arthur Schopenhauer: Are not almost all wars undertaken for purposes of plunder?

October 31, 2022 Leave a comment

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

German writers on peace and war

Arthur Schopenhauer: Beasts of prey in the human race

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Arthur Schopenhauer
From Councils and Maxims
Translated by T. Bailey Saunders

Does not all history show that whenever a king is firmly planted on a throne, and his people reach some degree of prosperity, he uses it to lead his army, like a band of robbers, against adjoining countries? Are not almost all wars ultimately undertaken for purposes of plunder? In the most remote antiquity, and to some extent also in the Middle Ages, the conquered became slaves, – in other words, they had to work for those who conquered them; and where is the difference between that and paying war-taxes, which represent the product of our previous work?

All war, says Voltaire, is a matter of robbery; and the Germans should take that as a warning.

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W. H. Auden: O What Is That Sound

October 12, 2022 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

W.H. Auden: A land laid waste, its towns in terror and all its young men slain

W. H. Auden: The shield of Achilles

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W. H. Auden
O What Is That Sound

O what is that sound which so thrills the ear
Down in the valley drumming, drumming?
Only the scarlet soldiers, dear,
The soldiers coming.

O what is that light I see flashing so clear
Over the distance brightly, brightly?
Only the sun on their weapons, dear,
As they step lightly.

O what are they doing with all that gear,
What are they doing this morning, this morning?
Only their usual manoeuvres, dear,
Or perhaps a warning.

O why have they left the road down there,
Why are they suddenly wheeling, wheeling?
Perhaps a change in their orders, dear.
Why are you kneeling?

O haven’t they stopped for the doctor’s care,
Haven’t they reined their horses, their horses?
Why, they are none of them wounded, dear,
None of these forces.

O is it the parson they want, with white hair,
Is it the parson, is it, is it?
No, they are passing his gateway, dear,
Without a visit.

O it must be the farmer who lives so near.
It must be the farmer so cunning, so cunning?
They have passed the farmyard already, dear,
And now they are running.

O where are you going? Stay with me here!
Were the vows you swore deceiving, deceiving?
No, I promised to love you, dear,
But I must be leaving.

O it’s broken the lock and splintered the door,
O it’s the gate where they’re turning, turning;
Their boots are heavy on the floor
And their eyes are burning.

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Harriet Monroe: Over me wash the seas of war

October 11, 2022 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

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Harriet Monroe
On the Porch

As I lie roofed in, screened in,
From the pattering rain,
The summer rain –
As I lie
Snug and dry,
And hear the birds complain:

Oh, billow on billow,
Oh, roar on roar,
Over me wash
The seas of war.
Over me – down – down –
Lunges and plunges
The huge gun with its one blind eye,
The armored train,
And, swooping out of the sky,
The aeroplane.

Down – down –
The army proudly swinging
Under gay flags,
The glorious dead heaped up like rags,
A church with bronze bells ringing,
A city all towers,
Gardens of lovers and flowers,
The round world swinging
In the light of the sun:
All broken, undone,
All down – under
Black surges of thunder…

Oh, billow on billow
Oh, roar on roar,
Over me wash
The seas of war…

As I lie roofed in, screened in,
From the pattering rain,
The summer rain –
As I lie
Snug and dry,
And hear the birds complain.

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Sholom Aleichem: War, I tell you, is a worldwide massacre

October 10, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Sholom Aleichem
If I Were a Rothschild
Soliloquy of a Kasrilovka Melamed

Translated by Miriam Katz

The struggle for a livelihood leads to envy, envy breeds hatred, and this is the source of all the troubles in the world, of all the misfortunes, may they never happen to us, all the persecutions, all the killings, all the outrages and all the wars….

Oh, the wars, the wars! War, I tell you, is a worldwide massacre. If I were Rothschild I would put an end to wars, a complete end!

You may well ask: how? With money. Namely? Let me make it clear to you. For instance, two countries have a dispute over some foolishness, over a piece of land worth no more than a pinch of snuff. “Territory,” they call it. One country affirms that the territory is hers, the other country says: “No, it’s mine!” On the first day of Creation, that is, God created this piece of land especially in honor of that country! But along comes a third country and says: “Both of you are asses. This is everybody’s territory, a public domain, that is.” Territory here, territory there – and to make a long story short, they go on “territorying” each other until they start shooting with rifles and cannons, people slaughter each other like sheep are slaughtered, and blood, blood flows like water….

Well, so you understand already what I mean? I have both made myself a deal and human beings stop slaughtering each other like cattle for no reason, for nothing. Since war has been done away with what need is there for weapons, for all those arms and troops and all the seventy things, this whole hullabaloo? None at all! When there are no longer any weapons, any armies, since an end has come to the hullabaloo – there also comes an end to hatred and envy, there are no more Turks, Englishmen, Frenchmen, no more Gypsies, no more Jews, and the entire world takes on another appearance, as it is written in our sacred Books: “There will come a day and it will come to pass” – that means, the Messiah will arrive.

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Louise Driscoll: The Metal Checks

October 9, 2022 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

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Louise Driscoll
The Metal Checks

[The scene is a bare room, with two shaded windows at the back, and a fireplace between them with a fire burning low. The room contains a few plain chairs, and a rough wooden table on which are piled many small wooden trays. The Counter, who is Death, sits at the table. He wears a loose gray robe, and his face is partly concealed by a gray veil. The Bearer is the World, that bears the burden of War. He wears a soiled robe of brown and green and he carries on his back a gunny-bag filled with the little metal disks that have been used for the identification of the slain common soldiers.]

The Bearer
Here is a sack, a gunny sack,
A heavy sack I bring.
Here is toll of many a soul –
But not the soul of a king.

This is the toll of common men,
Who lived in the common way;
Lived upon bread and wine and love,
In the light of the common day.

This is the toll of working men,
Blood and brawn and brain.
Who shall render us again
The worth of all the slain?

The Counter
Pour them out on the table here.
Clickety – clickety -clack!
For every button a man went out,
And who shall call him back?
Clickety – clickety – clack!

One – two – three – four –
Every disk a soul!
Three score – four score –
So many boys went out to war.
Pick up that one that fell on the floor –
Didn’t you see it roll?
That was a man a month ago.
This was a man. Row upon row –
Pile them in tens and count them so.

The Bearer
I have an empty sack.
It is not large. Would you have said
That I could carry on my back
So great an army – and all dead?

[As The Counter speaks The Bearer lays the sack over his arm and helps count.]

The Counter
Put a hundred in each tray –
We can tally them best that way.
Careful -do you understand
You have ten men in your hand?
There’s another fallen – there –
Under that chair.

[The Bearer finds it and restores it.]

That was a man a month ago;
He could see and feel and know.
Then, into his throat there sped
A bit of lead.
Blood was salt in his mouth; he fell
And lay amid the battle wreck.
Nothing was left but this metal check –
And a wife and child, perhaps.

[The Bearer finds the bag on his arm troublesome. He holds it up, inspecting it.]

The Bearer
What can one do with a thing like this?
Neither of life nor death it is!
For the dead serve not, though it served the dead.
The wounds it carried were wide and red,
Yet they stained it not. Can a man put food,
Potatoes or wheat, or even wood
That is kind and burns with a flame to warm
Living men who are comforted –
In a thing that has served so many dead?
There is no thrift in a graveyard dress,
It’s been shroud for too many men.
I’ll burn it and let the dead bless.

[He crosses himself and throws it into the fire. He watches it burn. The Counter continues to pile up the metal checks, and drop them by hundreds into the trays which he piles one upon another. The Bearer turns from the fire and speaks more slowly than before. He indicates the metal checks.]

Would not the blood of these make a great sea
For men to sail their ships on? It may be
No fish would swim in it, and the foul smell
Would make the sailors sick. Perhaps in Hell
There’s some such lake for men who rush to war
Prating of glory, and upon the shore
Will stand the wives and children and old men
Bereft, to drive them back again
When they seek haven. Some such thing
I thought the while I bore it on my back
And heard the metal pieces clattering.

The Counter
Four score – five score –
These and as many more.
Forward – march! – into the tray!
No bugles blow today,
No captains lead the way;
But mothers and wives,
Fathers, sisters, little sons,
Count the cost
Of the lost;
And we count the unlived lives,
The forever unborn ones
Who might have been your sons.

The Bearer
Could not the hands of these rebuild
That which has been destroyed?
Oh, the poor hands! that once were strong and filled
With implements of labor whereby they
Served home and country through the peaceful day.
When those who made the war stand face to face
With these slain soldiers in that unknown place
Whither the dead go, what will be the word
By dead lips spoken and by dead ears heard?
Will souls say King or Kaiser? Will souls prate
Of earthly glory in that new estate?

The Counter
One hundred thousand –
One hundred and fifty thousand –
Two hundred –

The Bearer
Can this check plough?
Can it sow? can it reap?
Can we arouse it?
Is it asleep?

Can it hear when a child cries? –
Comfort a wife?
This little metal disk
Stands for a life.

Can this check build,
Laying stone upon stone?
Once it was warm flesh
Folded on bone.

Sinew and muscle firm,
Look at it – can
This little metal check
Stand for a man?

The Counter
One – two – three – four –

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Vachel Lindsay: Tolstoi, that angel of peace

October 7, 2022 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Vachel Lindsay: Speak Now for Peace

Vachel Lindsay: The Unpardonable Sin

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Vachel Lindsay
Tolstoi Is Plowing Yet

Tolstoi is plowing yet. When the smoke-clouds break,
High in the sky shines a field as wide as the world.
There he toils for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake.

Ah, he is taller than clouds of the little earth.
Only the congress of planets is over him,
And the arching path where new sweet stars have birth.

Wearing his peasant dress, his head bent low,
Tolstoi, that angel of Peace, is plowing yet;
Forward, across the field, his horses go.

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John Drinkwater: We Mothers Know

October 6, 2022 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

John Drinkwater: I sing of peace while nations market in death

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John Drinkwater
We Mothers Know

“Peace,” they have said,
Through the sad profit of our pain.
We grieve till time is gone,
We shall not learn to build again
The bricks of Babylon –
Our sons are dead.

Stilled are the guns,
Good will, they say, shall heal, shall bless
The lands now, year by year,
But though the merciful possess
The earth, they shall not hear
Our little sons.

They were our friends:
Our thought, our breath, our blood we gave
To make them so;
They brought us peace, and in the grave
Is all the peace they know,
To make amends.

Leaders and lords,
Who in your pride degree that thus
Or thus shall scores be paid,
An age is building when with us
Your reckoning shall be made
Who have no sword.

We mothers know;
By the world’s hearths we sit and dream;
Again we watch them die;
They willed the peace that you blaspheme,
And, though you still deny,
It shall be so.

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Edmond de Goncourt: Despite civilization, brute force asserts itself as in the time of Attila

September 24, 2022 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Edmond de Goncourt: Even more horrible than the wounds of battle

Edmond de Goncourt: Scenes of siege amid the horrors of war

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Edmond de Goncourt
Journal
Translated by George J. Becker

1871

This day makes me think that from the point of view of human history it is very interesting, very amusing, for one who is sceptical about progress to observe that in this year of 1871, in spite of so many years of civilization, so much preaching about the brotherhood of man, and so many treaties to establish a balance of power in Europe, brute force can still assert itself and prevail with as little hindrance as in the time of Attila.

***

Last night behind my curtains I wondered if there were a hurricane. I got up and opened my window. The hurricane was the unceasing and continuous whine of shells passing over my house.

***

I am worn and weary: I eat so badly and I sleep so little. The closest thing to an ordinary night since the bombardment began would be a night spent on board ship during a naval battle.

***

Constantly above our heads the fine noise of grape shot, at once resonant and flat, and at the same time in the sunny blue sky the bursting out, the formation, the slow enlargement of clouds like those fairy-tale clouds from which a genie or a fairy dressed in gilt paper emerges; only today they are spitting out pieces of lead.

Horror is mingled with this: a corpse being hoisted up into a baggage wagon, while one man uses his two hands to hold back the brains which are ready to spill out of the opened skull.

====

1870

In the Bois de Boulogne, where there never used to be anything but silk among the green trees, I see a large expanse of blue blouse: a shepherd’s back near a little column of bluish smoke; and around him sheep grazing, in default of grass, on the leaves of forgotten branches. In the carriage paths great haggard, confused steers wander along in drove.

Sheep everywhere. Here on the edge of a footpath, lying on his side, is a dead ram; his head with turned-back horns is flattened out and from it drips a bit of reddish fluid, which spreads in a reddish stain on the sand – poor head which every passing ewe sniffs, as in a kiss.

***

There a band of men, women, and children are breaking up the poor trees which, after they have passed, are left with white scars, branches hanging to the ground, and heaps of twisted wood – a revolting act of pillage which reveals the Parisian population’s love of destruction. An old man from the country passing by, who loves trees as he does all things old, raises his eyes to heaven in a sorrowing way.

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Edmond de Goncourt: Even more horrible than the wounds of battle

September 23, 2022 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Edmond de Goncourt: Despite civilization, brute force asserts itself as in the time of Attila

Edmond de Goncourt: Scenes of siege amid the horrors of war

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Edmond de Goncourt
Journal
Translated by George J. Becker

1870

Bit by bit we begin to feel the ugly side of the war. In the main street of Auteuil, preceded by a soldier leading a horse by its bridle, two infantrymen with grey faces go by on a packsaddle. Their poor backs flinch at each bump and it is an effort for their feet to span the stirrups. That hurts. Wounded men you expect from war. But people killed by cold, rain, lack of food, that is even more horrible than the wounds of battle.

At the entrance to the cemetery there is one child’s coffin after another. This makes the women say: “Still another little one!” It would appear that the siege is slaughtering the innocents.

We live under a permanent call to arms.

I go for a walk in the Bois de Boulogne, where autumnal sadness is today mingled with the sadness of war. Rain, which in its hurried fall hides and effaces the lines of the hills in the distance; a dull sky, where from time to time a cannon shot fired from a fort makes a little white cloud appear; a wailing wind, in which you hear the repercussions of rifle shots on the right side of the Seine. I have still in memory and before my eyes the paleness and exhaustion of numerous sick soldiers whom I have just seen going back on packsaddles.

At street corners you see horrible sights: ambulances from which they take our men whose heads are covered with bloody towels.

It is Christmas. I hear a soldier say: “By way of celebration we had five men frozen in our tent.”

I am strolling through this commotion, this animation, this gaiety of French soldiers ready to go off to their deaths when the cracked voice of a little old fellow, who is bandylegged and Hoffmanesque, shouts: “Pens, pencils, writing paper!” A shout sustained on a strange note, which you might say is a memento mori, a kind of discreetly phrased warning, as much as to say: “If you military gentlemen were to think a bit about making your wills?”

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Edmond de Goncourt: Scenes of siege amid the horrors of war

September 21, 2022 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Edmond de Goncourt: Despite civilization, brute force asserts itself as in the time of Attila

Edmond de Goncourt: Even more horrible than the wounds of battle

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Edmond de Goncourt
Journal
Translated by George J. Becker

1870

I am not ill, but my body wants neither to walk nor to act; it finds all movement repugnant and would like to achieve the immobility of a fakir. At the same time, in the pit of my stomach I constantly have that nervous feeling of emptiness brought on by great emotion, made more intense by my intense anxiety over the great war which is to break out.

***

I am sad, battered, crushed; yet I eat, I am distracted by the war. Then I wonder if a mother’s grief would not be greater than mine, and such a thought hurts me.

***

A young man whom I met at a spa sits next to me at dinner. He hails a man going by: “How many rifles have you left?” “About 30,000. But I’m afraid the government will take them back.”

And my acquaintance tells me that the man with the rifles is a genius of sorts, a foresighted fellow who has made six million in deals that nobody else would ever think of. He bought 600,000 reject rifles out of hand at seven francs apiece and is reselling them in the Congo, to the King of Dahomey, at about 100 francs apiece. He is also making money from ivory and gold dust which he gets in payment. He is involved in a series of extraordinary deals, always on this scale; one day he sends 100,000 English water closets to China; another day he buys all the torn-down houses in Versailles.

***

At the Auteuil station a bourgeois tells me that his son, a stout fellow of twenty, has not been able to stop trembling and weeping since he helped carry some of the wounded.

***

Inside the shop a man is laying out bandages on a little table; at the foot of the bed women are making lint. The man, the women, the empty beds waiting for amputation and death, this stiff rehearsal of the dreadful things that are going to take place tomorrow, all this is more impressive than if there were wounded men in the beds.

***

Constant pushing open of café doors. An incessant din of laughing conversation. The carefree life of the capital still going on in the company with the horror of war on its doorstep.

***

In the streets you run onto old streetwalkers with red crosses on their left breasts, fat fancy women too old for their trade, who rejoice at the prospect of caressing the wounded with sensual hands and picking up a little love among the amputations.

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Jules Romains: Dawning of new century shot with sinister streaks of war

September 20, 2022 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Jules Romains: Selections on war

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Jules Romain
From Men of Good Will
The Sixth of October

Translated by Warre B. Wells

His earliest memory of politics was the condemnation of Captain Dreyfus. What Dreyfus was accused of was having given away to Germany the secret of certain weapons to be used in the next war. His second political memory was the Russian alliance, some journey or other of the President or the Tsar, and the joy, the sense of confidence, which had spread even into the provinces at the thought that, when the time came to fight again, France would no longer fight alone.

Then there was the Fashoda scare, with its sense of relief that this time it had nothing to do with Germany, and that the enemy had momentarily shifted position, as a headache does. Then came the truce of the Universal Exhibition, with its sounds of dancing and its rubbing of elbows by nations curious about one another, but not friendly, like holiday-makers meeting on a beach; the dawning of the twentieth century, too long awaited, jaded in advance, hectically brilliant, shot with false lights, charged from the earliest hours that followed it with sinister streaks of war.

Ten years back, indeed, not content with heralding its presence, war had started roaming around Europe, napping and snatching at loose ends here and there: the Spanish-American war, the Transvaal war, the Russo-Japanese war. Every time the lightning flashed more vividly; the thunder rolled more loudly; and even in the most peaceful cities of the West the warning wind raised dust and dead leaves.

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Anatole France: Even war depends on the arts of peace

September 19, 2022 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Anatole France: Selections on war

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Anatole France
Crainquebille

When the man who bears witness is armed with a sword, it is the sword’s evidence that must be listened to, not the man’s. The man is contemptible and may be wrong. The sword is not contemptible and is always right. President Bourriche has seen deeply into the spirit of laws. Society rests on force; force must be respected as the august foundation of society. Justice is the administration of force.

***

“To disarm the strong and to arm the weak would be to subvert that social order which it is my duty to preserve. Justice is the sanction of established injustice. Was justice ever seen to oppose conquerors and usurpers? When an unlawful power arises, justice has only to recognize it and it becomes lawful. Form is everything; and between crime and innocence there is but the thickness of a piece of stamped paper….”

***

Emile

“The last time I saw him he was talking of military tactics and strategy. They were his favourite topic of conversation. Although the campaign of ’70, in which he had served, was conducted with the greatest disorder and confusion, he was persuaded that the art of war is the finest of all arts. And I fear that I must have vexed him by saying that properly speaking there is no art of war, for the arts that are really employed in campaigns are those of peace; baking, farriery, the maintenance of order, chemistry, etc.”

“Why did you say such things, Lucien?” asked Mademoiselle Bergeret.

“Because I was convinced of their truth,” replied her brother. “What is called strategy is really the art practised by Cook’s agency. It consists in crossing rivers by way of bridges and getting the other side of mountains through passes. As for military tactics, the rules are childish. Great Captains pay no attention to them. Although they would never admit it, they leave much to chance. Their art is to create prejudices In their favour. Conquest becomes easy to them when they are believed to be unconquerable. It Is only on a plan that a battle assumes that aspect of order and regularity which reveals a dominant will.”

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Pierre Loti: Burying poor young soldiers all guiltless of the mad adventure

September 18, 2022 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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Pierre Loti
Un Pélerin d’Angkor
Translated by W. P. Baines

Little groups of soldiers in white linen uniforms are taking their monotonous evening stroll along the road I am following, and, as they pass, I can detect in their voices now the accent of Gascony, now the accent of my own native province. Poor fellows! the mothers that bore them are waiting anxiously at far distant firesides; while they, perforce, must squander here a year or two of the most precious of life….[T]hen they will return home, with blood for long impoverished by the sojourn in this climate; or, perhaps, they will not return, but lay their bones, like so many thousand others, in the red earth of the neighbouring cemeteries which are disquieting in that they are so vast, and so overgrown with rank weeds.

****

Formerly in place of this sea of verdure, silent at my feet, the town of Angkor-Thom (Angkor the Great) spread for some distance about the plain; and if we could now lop off the tufted branches we should see again, reappearing below, walls and terraces and temples; we should see, stretching away, long paved avenues bordered by how many divinities, seven-headed serpents, bell-turrets, balusters, all foundered now in the bush. But the deep forest has become again what it was from the beginning of the ages, for centuries beyond our power to calculate; there is now no outward sign of the work of those Hindoo adventurers, who, some three hundred years before our era, came and plied their axes here, clearing space for a town of nearly a million souls. No; it lasted for but fifteen hundred years, this episode of the Empire of the Khmers, for what might be called a mere negligible period, in comparison with the longevity of the reign of the vegetable world; and it is done with, the wound is healed, no trace of it remains. The fig-tree of ruins flaunts everywhere its dome of green leaves.

In our days, it is true, some new adventurers, come from a country nearer west (the country of France), are chafing in a small way the eternal forest, for they have founded not far from here a semblance of a little empire. But this latest episode will lack magnitude, and more especially it will lack duration. Soon, when these pale conquerors shall have left in turn, buried in this Indo-Chinese soil, many of their alas, many poor young soldiers all guiltless of the mad adventure they will pack their belongings and depart. Then there will be seen no more wandering in these regions, as I am wandering, men of the white race, who are so foolishly covetous of governing immemorial Asia, and of disturbing everything they find there.

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Jules Romains: Living under the curse of war since childhood

September 17, 2022 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Jules Romains: Selections on war

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Jules Romain
From Men of Good Will
The Sixth of October

Translated by Warre B. Wells

War. Since his childhood Jerphanion had lived under the curse of war. When he was six years old, what had they taught him in his village school? The metric system; but also about Alsace-Lorraine and Reichsoffen. Very soon after he knew who the Devil was, he had learned the name of Bismarck. Among his schoolfellows, Prusco was still a terrible insult. The covers of his school copy-book showed him MacMahon, Chanzy, Faidherbe. From the time when he was capable of thinking, he had smelt, emanating from those coloured pages, together with the odour of paper, the odour of bitterness, of defeat. Under the picture of a cavalryman in a two-horned hat, a note vaunted a little local victory: Coulmiers, Bapaume. Even a six-year-old child notices what is sour and lamentable in such consolations.

When he raised his nose from his desk, it was to gaze at the map of France, whose yellow or green would have looked so cheerful but for that wide violet-grey blot stuck up against the escarpment of the Vosges. It was as though you could see, flitting about the class-room like a couple of bats, the twofold black head-dress of the lost provinces.

The child of the Velay dare not enjoy the air of his own mountains. His reading-book told him stories of sharpshooters, of the siege of Paris, of bayonet charges. His recitation lesson made him learn Déroulède’s Clairon, pages from L’Année terrible.

Jerphanion could still see those conical caps, those long beards, all that crowd, at once military and suburban; all that Second Empire ending in dirtiness and disorder, which the pictures in his schoolbooks helped him to evoke and which he found even on the dessert plates at family dinner-parties. For, when they filled the glasses with liqueurs, when the grown-ups started talking all at once and in loud voices, the child, if he moved aside his little cake, might disclose the battle of Champigny, a bivouac of the Army of the East, Gambetta in the car of his balloon. And, when play-time came, there was always some old dotard, wearing an Imperial beard, to tap you on the cheek and say: “You, young man – you’ll belong to the generation of the revenge.”

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Jules Romains: Even the very word was new: war

September 15, 2022 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Jules Romains: Selections on war

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Jules Romain
From Men of Good Will
The Sixth of October

Translated by Warre B. Wells

“Children, I have something to say to you. I don’t know whether your parents will talk about it before you. The other day we were all looking together at the map of Europe – this one….”

He picked it up from a comer of the class-room and hung it on two nails near the black-board, facing the children.

You remember: here are the Balkans – Bulgaria, Serbia, Turkey, you know. Well, war is probably going to break out down there, between Bulgaria and Turkey. And all the governments in Europe are bound together in such a way, by treaties of alliance, by more or less secret agreements, by promises, that it may very well happen, if war does break out, that it will spread to the whole of Europe. That’s all. I’m not telling you this to frighten you. You’re big boys. But you ought to know. Now I’m going on with the arithmetic lesson.”

That was all Clanricard said. He had spoken in the simplest possible way, without any striving for effect. He had not intended to emphasise anything. These boys were not familiar with his ideas. He had not yet had occasion to let them sense what he thought about peace and war, about governments, about diplomacy, about the handling of human affairs.

But the emotion which had made him speak had been so intense, the little that he said struck a responsive chord in so many minds, that suddenly the boys saw war darkening the horizon like a terrible cloud, whirling and eddying in wider and wider circles like a stifling smoke. The brilliant battles about which they had been told in other classes, the pictures of victorious generals which they had seen on the covers of penny copy-books, the sounding of trumpets on the fortifications, the intoxication which they had felt when they played at war – all this phantasmagoria had disappeared. Even the very word was new: war. M. Clanricard was the first man who had ever spoken it to them. “The governments.” They saw them, too. They did not like them.

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Marcel Aymé: Novel way to end a war

September 12, 2022 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Marcel Aymé: A child’s view of war

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Marcel Aymé
From The Problem of Summertime
Translated by Sophie Lewis

Civilians of all nations were growing gloomy and ill-tempered….The war was long. They didn’t know when it would end. But would it one day end? All sides believed they would triumph, but feared that it might take a while. Their leaders harboured the same fears and were beginning to bite their knuckles. The weight of their responsibilities made them blench. Of course, there was no question of a truce. Honour would not allow it, and there were other considerations too. It was infuriating, though, to know time was under their control and yet not find a way of making it work for them.

In the end, by means of a Vatican intervention, an international agreement was reached that delivered the peoples from the nightmare of the war without in any way affecting the ordinary outcome of the hostilities. It was quite simple. It was decided that, throughout the world, time would be put forward by seventeen years. This figure would encompass the most extreme possibilities for duration of the conflict. Nevertheless, officialdom remained concerned, fearing the advance would be insufficient. Thank goodness that when, by virtue of a decree, the world suddenly aged by seventeen years, it turned out that the war was indeed over. It also turned out that another war had not yet begun. It was merely on the cards.

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Anatole France: They prefer war to work, they would rather kill each other than help each other

September 11, 2022 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Anatole France: Selections on war

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Anatole France
From Honey-Bee
Translated by John Lane

Humanity, King Loc, would be entirely deplorable and ridiculous if it were not that something of value is given to this proud and miserable race, inasmuch as the men are endowed with courage, the women with beauty, and the little children with innocence. Obliged by necessity, as are also the dwarfs, to toil, mankind has rebelled against this divine law, and instead of being, like ourselves, willing and cheerful toilers, they prefer war to work, and they would rather kill each other than help each other. But to be just one must admit that their shortness of life is the principal cause of their ignorance and cruelty. Their life is too short for them to learn how to live.

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William James: A sweet little place. One never sees a soldier.

September 10, 2022 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

William James: Selections on war

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William James
Correspondence

I see you take the war still very much to heart, and I myself think that the blundering way in which the Colonial Office drove the Dutchmen into it, with no conception whatever of the psychological situation, is only outdone by our still more anti-psychological blundering in the Philippines. (1901)

***

Nauheim is a sweet little place. One never sees a soldier and wouldn’t know that Militarismus existed.

***

I think that the manner in which the McKinley administration railroaded the country into its policy of conquest was abominable, and the way the country pucked up its ancient soul at the first touch of temptation, and followed, was sickening.

***

I am half through “Waffen nieder!” a first-rate anti-war novel by Baroness von Suttner. It has been translated, and I recommend it as in many ways instructive.

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William James: Selections on war

September 9, 2022 Leave a comment
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William James: At the least temptation all the old military passions rise and sweep everything before them

September 8, 2022 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

William James: Selections on war

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William James
From his correspondence

1898

The actual declaration of war by Congress, however, was a case of psychologie des foules, a genuine hysteric stampede at the last moment, which shows how unfortunate that provision of our written constitution is which takes the power of declaring war from the Executive and places it in Congress….The European nations of the Continent cannot believe that our pretense of humanity, and our disclaiming of all ideas of conquest, is sincere….And when, in its ultimatum to Spain, Congress denied any project of conquest in Cuba, it genuinely meant every word it said. But here comes in the psychologic factor: once the excitement of action gets loose, the taxes levied, the victories achieved, etc., the old human instincts will get into play with all their old strength, and the ambition and sense of mastery which our nation has will set up new demands. We shall never take Cuba; I imagine that to be very certain – unless indeed after years of unsuccessful police duty there, for that is what we have made ourselves responsible for. But Porto Rico, and even the Philippines, are not so sure. We had supposed ourselves (with all our crudity and barbarity in certain ways) a better nation morally than the rest, safe at home, and without the old savage ambition, destined to exert great international influence by throwing in our “moral weight,” etc. Dreams! Human Nature is everywhere the same; and at the least temptation all the old military passions rise, and sweep everything before them. It will be interesting to see how it will end.

…I am going to a great popular meeting in Boston today where a lot of my friends are to protest against the new “Imperialism.”

***

I should “admire” to see the Kiplings again, but it is no go. Now that by his song-making power he is the mightiest force in the formation of the “Anglo-Saxon” character, I wish he would hearken a bit more to his deeper human self and a bit less to his shallower jingo self. If the Anglo-Saxon race would drop its sniveling cant it would have a good deal less of a “burden” to carry. We’re the most loathsomely canting crew that God ever made. Kipling knows perfectly well that our camps in the tropics are not college settlements or our armies bands of philanthropists, slumming it; and I think it a shame that he should represent us to ourselves in that light. I wish he would try a bit interpreting the savage soul to us, as he could, instead of using such official and conventional phrases as “half-devil and half-child,” which leaves the whole insides out.

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Ernest Rhys: Enough of war, enough of death

September 7, 2022 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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Ernest Rhys
From Welsh Ballads
The Lady Elin

Sing, Speckle-breast, the spell of love!
The mountain Eagle woos the Dove:
‘Your truce be made!’ Llewelyn said:
‘To the marriage feast at Worcester ride
My mountain spears to meet my bride!’

‘Enough of war, enough of death.
The new-come spring with its wooing breath.
Stoops o’er the earth, and the birds bring mirth,
And the touch of a tender woman’s hand
Shall heal the trouble of the land.’

The squirrels in the birchwood play,
Where the trefoil bled but yesterday:
The rain has washed the red away:
And for the chiding bugle now,
The harps are achime at Aber-Fraw.

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Prosper Mérimée: Commemorating the heroes of war

September 6, 2022 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Prosper Mérimée: To the shame of humanity, horrors of war have their charm

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Prosper Mérimée
From Letters to an Unknown

It was a pleasure to visit once more the Sydenham Palace, although it has been entirely spoiled by a number of huge monuments erected in memory of the heroes of the Crimea. The heroes in question are to be seen on the street drunk every day.

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William James: Party of civilization must oppose increase of military might

September 5, 2022 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

William James: Selections on war

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William James
From his correspondence

1895

Since this country has absolutely nothing to fear, or any other country anything to gain from its invasion, it seems to me that the party of civilization ought immediately, at any cost of discredit, to begin to agitate against any increase of either army, navy, or coast defense….We live and learn: the labor of civilizing ourselves is for the next thirty years going to be complicated with this other abominable new issue of which the seed was sown last week. You saw the new kind of danger, as you always do, before anyone else; but it grew gigantic much more suddenly than even you conceived to be possible. Olney’s Jefferson Brick style makes of our Foreign Office a laughing-stock, of course. But why, oh why, couldn’t he and Cleveland and Congress between them have left out the infernal war-threat and simply asked for $100,000 for a judicial commission to enable us to see exactly to what effect we ought, in justice, to exert our influence….Distrust of each other must not be suffered to go too far, for that way lies destruction.

***

1896

But seriously, all true patriots here have had a hell of a time. It has been a most instructive thing for the dispassionate student of history to see how near the surface in all of us the old fighting instinct lies, and how slight an appeal will wake it up. Once really waked, there is no retreat. So the whole wisdom of governors should be to avoid the direct appeals. This your European governments know; but we in our bottomless innocence and ignorance over here know nothing, and Cleveland in my opinion, by his explicit allusion to war, has committed the biggest political crime I have ever seen here. The secession of the southern states had more excuse. There was absolutely no need of it. A commission solemnly appointed to pronounce justice in the Venezuela case would, if its decision were adverse to your country, have doubtless aroused the Liberal party in England to espouse the policy of arbitrating, and would have covered us with dignity, if no threat of war had been uttered. But as it is, who can see the way out?

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F. Marion Crawford: Find a priest for those I have killed

August 27, 2022 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

F. Marion Crawford: The real issue is between civilization and barbarism, between peace and war

F. Marion Crawford: When everyone understands war it will stop by universal consent

F. Marion Crawford: The world dreads the very name of war, lest it should become universal once it breaks out

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F. Marion Crawford
From Via Crucis
A Romance of the Second Crusade

In a moment the peace of nature was rent by the scream of war….

Yet when he was alone in the evening, a sadness and a horror of what he had done came over him; for he had taken life that day as a man mows down grass, in swaths, and he could not tell why he had slain, for he knew not the men who fought on the two sides, nor their difference. He had charged because he saw men charging, he had struck for the love of strife, and had killed because it was of his nature to kill. But now that the blood was shed, and the sun which had risen on life was going down on death, Gilbert Warde was sorry for what he had done, and his brave charge seemed but a senseless deed of slaughter, for which he should rather have done penance than received knighthood.

“I am no better than a wild beast,” he said, when he had told Dunstan what he felt. “Go and find out a priest to pray for those I have killed to-day.”

He covered his brow with his hand as he sat at the supper table.

“I go,” answered the young man. “Yet it is a pleasant sight to see the lion weeping for pity over the calf he has killed.”

“The lion kills that he may eat and himself live,” answered Gilbert. “And the men who fought to-day fought for a cause. But I smote for the wanton love of smiting that is in all our blood, and I am ashamed. Bid the priest pray for me also.”

***

He could understand well enough that the monastery might hold the only life for men who had fought through many failures, from light to darkness, from happiness to sorrow – men who loved nothing, hoped nothing, hated nothing any longer, in the great democracy of despair. They sought peace as the only earthly good they might enjoy, and there was peace in the cloister. Hope being dead in life, they tasted refreshment in the hope of a life to come. The convent was good enough for the bankrupt of love and war.

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Hugo Grotius: Provoking no wars, invading no countries, spoiling no neighbors to aggrandize themselves

August 24, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Hugo Grotius
From The Rights of War and Peace
Translated by A. C. Campbell

Though most powers, when engaging in war, are desirous to colour over their real motives with justifiable pretexts, yet some, totally disregarding such methods of vindication, seem able to give no better reason for their conduct, than what is told by the Roman lawyers of a robber, who being asked, what right he had to a thing, which he had seized, replied, it was his own, because he had taken it into his possession. Aristotle in the third book of his Rhetoric, speaking of the promoters of war, asks, if it is not unjust for a neighbouring people to be enslaved, and if those promoters have no regard to the rights of unoffending nations? Cicero, in the first book of his Offices, speaks in the same strain, and calls “the courage, which is conspicuous in danger and enterprise, if devoid of justice, absolutely undeserving of the name of valour. It should rather be considered as a brutal fierceness outraging every principle of humanity.”

***

Others make use of pretexts, which though plausible at first sight, will not bear the examination and test of moral rectitude, and, when stripped of their disguise, such pretexts will be found fraught with injustice. In such hostilities, says Livy, it is not a trial of right, but some object of secret and unruly ambition, which acts as the chief spring. Most powers, it is said by Plutarch, employ the relative situations of peace and war, as a current specie, for the purchase of whatever they deem expedient.

***

It was shown above that apprehensions from a neighbouring power are not a sufficient ground for war. For to authorize hostilities as a defensive measure, they must arise from the necessity which just apprehensions create; apprehensions not only of the power, but of the intentions of a formidable state, and such apprehensions as amount to a moral certainty. For which reason the opinion of those is by no means to be approved of, who lay down as just ground of war, the construction of fortifications in a neighbouring country, with whom there is no existing treaty to prohibit such constructions, or the securing of a strong hold, which may at some future period prove a means of annoyance. For as a guard against such apprehensions, every power may construct, in its own territory, strong works, and other military securities of the same kind, without having recourse to actual war. One cannot but admire the character, which Tacitus has drawn of the Chauci, a noble and high-spirited people of Germany, “who, he says, were desirous of maintaining their greatness by justice, rather than by acts of ungovernable rapacity and ambition – provoking no wars, invading no countries, spoiling no neighbours to aggrandize themselves, – yet, when necessity prompted, able to raise men with arms in their hands at a moment’s warning – a great population with a numerous breed of horses to form a well mounted cavalry – and, with all these advantages, upholding their reputation in the midst of peace.”

***

Nor can the advantage to be gained by a war be ever pleaded as a motive of equal weight and justice with necessity.

Neither can the desire of emigrating to a more favourable soil and climate justify an attack upon a neighbouring power. This, as we are informed by Tacitus, was a frequent cause of war among the ancient Germans.

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Jonathan Swift: Selections on war

August 23, 2022 Leave a comment
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Jonathan Swift: Few of this generation can remember anything but war and taxes

August 22, 2022 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Jonathan Swift: Selections on war

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Jonathan Swift
From The Journal to Stella

I won’t tell you now; but the Ministers reckon it will do abundance of good, and open the eyes of the nation, who are half bewitched against a peace. Few of this generation can remember anything but war and taxes, and they think it is as it should be; whereas ’tis certain we are the most undone people in Europe, as I am afraid I shall make appear beyond all contradiction.

***

The Whigs are still crying down our peace, but we will have it, I hope, in spite of them: the Emperor comes now with his two eggs a penny, and promises wonders to continue the war….

***

I often advised the dissolution of that Parliament, although I did not think the scoundrels had so much courage; but they have it only in the wrong, like a bully that will fight for a whore, and run away in an army.

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Peter Maurin: Disarmament of the heart

August 19, 2022 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Peter Maurin

Moral Disarmament (1936)

  1. Theodore Roosevelt used to say:
    “If you want peace
    prepare for war.”
  2. So everybody prepared for war
    but war preparations
    did not bring peace;
    they brought war.
  3. Since war preparations
    brought war
    why not quit preparing for war?
  4. If nations prepared for peace
    instead of preparing for war,
    they might have peace.
  5. Aristide Briand used to say:
    “The best kind of disarmament
    is the disarmament of the heart.”
  6. The disarmament of Germany
    by the Allies
    was not the product
    of a change of heart
    on the part of the Allies
    toward Germany.

***

Disarmament of the Heart

  1. The Pope Benedict XV
    and Aristide Briand spoke
    about the disarmament of the heart.
  2. France and England
    who refused to follow Wilson
    refused also to follow
    the Pope Benedict XV and Aristide Briand.
  3. They are increasing armaments
    in the fallacious hope
    that they will preserve peace
    by preparing for war.
  4. Before 1914 they prepared for war
    and got it.
  5. Nations have too long
    prepared for war;
    it is about time
    they prepared for peace.
  • ***

Room Could Be Found

  1. There is too much wheat
    in the United States.
    2. There is too much cattle
    in Argentina.
    3. There are too many sheep
    in Australia.
    4. There are too many Germans
    in Germany,
    too many Italians
    in Italy,
    too many Japanese in Japan.
    5. Room could be found
    in the United States
    for the Germans,
    in Argentina
    for the Italians,
    in Australia
    for the Japanese.
    6. To make room
    for the Germans, Italians, Japanese
    is a better way to establish peace
    than to build more battle ships,
    more submarines, and more aeroplanes.

***

From Soldiers and Scholars

  1. Soldiers rely
    on the power
    of the sword.
  2. Scholars rely
    on the power of the word.
  3. Soldiers think
    in terms of Empire,
  4. Scholars think
    in terms of culture.
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William Makepeace Thackeray: Selections on war

August 18, 2022 Leave a comment
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William Makepeace Thackeray: War’s slave dealers

August 17, 2022 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

William Makepeace Thackeray: Selections on war

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William Makepeace Thackeray
From Barry Lyndon

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

***

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

***

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

****

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

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William Makepeace Thackeray: What human crime, misery, slavery, go to form that sum-total of glory!

August 16, 2022 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

William Makepeace Thackeray: Selections on war

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William Makepeace Thackeray
From Barry Lyndon

Such knaves and ruffians do men in war become! It is well for gentlemen to talk of the age of chivalry; but remember the starving brutes whom they lead – men nursed in poverty, entirely ignorant, made to take a pride in deeds of blood – men who can have no amusement but in drunkenness, debauch, and plunder. It is with these shocking instruments that your great warriors and kings have been doing their murderous work in the world; and while, for instance, we are at the present moment admiring the ‘Great Frederick,’ as we call him, and his philosophy, and his liberality, and his military genius, I, who have served him, and been, as it were, behind the scenes of which that great spectacle is composed, can only look at it with horror. What a number of items of human crime, misery, slavery, go to form that sum-total of glory! I can recollect a certain day about three weeks after the battle of Minden, and a farmhouse in which some of us entered; and how the old woman and her daughters served us, trembling, to wine; and how we got drunk over the wine, and the house was in a flame, presently; and woe betide the wretched fellow afterwards who came home to look for his house and his children!

***

It is well, however, to dream of glorious war in a snug arm-chair at home; ay, or to make it as an officer, surrounded by gentlemen, gorgeously dressed, and cheered by chances of promotion. But those chances do not shine on poor fellows in worsted lace….

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F. V. Branford: Over the Dead

August 13, 2022 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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F. V. Branford
Over the Dead

Who in the splendour of a simple thought,
Whether for England or her enemies,
Went in the night, and in the morning died;
Each bleeding piece of human earth that lies
Stark to the carrion wind, and groaning cries
For burial – each Jesu crucified –
Hath surely won the thing he dearly bought,
For wrong is right, when wrong is greatly wrought.

Yet is the Nazarene no thigh of Thor,
To play on partial fields the puppet king
Bearing the battle down with bloody hand.
Serene he towers above the gods of war,
A naked man where shells go thundering –
The great unchallenged Lord of No-Man’s Land.

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Horace Walpole: Peace is the sole event of which I wish to hear

August 12, 2022 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Horace Walpole: Selections on war and peace

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Horace Walpole
From his correspondence

Peace is the sole event of which I wish to hear.

I believe summer-correspondences often turn on complaints of want of news. it is unlucky that that is generally the season of correspondence, as it is of separation. People assembled in a capital contrive to furnish matter, but then they have not occasion to write it. Summer, being the season of campaigns, ought to be more fertile: I am glad when that is not the case, for what is an account of battles but a list of burials?

The first and great piece of news is the pacification with Spain. The courier arrived on Thursday morning with a most acquiescent answer to our ultimatum: what that was I do not know, nor much care. Peace contents me, and for my part I shall not haggle about the terms.

As Providence showers so many blessings on us, I wish the peace may confirm them!

Methinks we western powers might as well make peace, since we make war so clumsily.

I am mighty glad that war has gone to sleep like a paroli at faro….

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Jonathan Swift: We must have peace, let it be a bad or a good one

August 11, 2022 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Jonathan Swift: Selections on war

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Jonathan Swift
From The Journal to Stella

In my opinion we have nothing to save us but a Peace; and I am sure we cannot have such a one as we hoped….

***

He is covetous as hell, and ambitious as the Prince of it: he would fain have been General for life, and has broken all endeavours for peace, to keep his greatness and get money.

***

This kingdom is certainly ruined as much as was ever any bankrupt merchant. We must have peace, let it be a bad or a good one, though nobody dares talk of it.

***

The Ministry hear me always with appearance of regard, and much kindness; but I doubt they let personal quarrels mingle too much with their proceedings. Meantime, they seem to value all this as nothing, and are as easy and merry as if they had nothing in their hearts or upon their shoulders; like physicians, who endeavour to cure, but feel no grief, whatever the patient suffers.

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Thomas McGrath: Senators mine our lives for another war

August 10, 2022 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Thomas McGrath: All the Dead Soldiers

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Thomas McGrath
Remembering That Island

Remembering that island lying in the rain
(Lost in the North Pacific, lost in time and the war)
With a terrible fatigue as of repeated dreams,
Of running, climbing, fighting in the dark,
I feel the wind rising and the pitiless cold surf
Shaking the headlands of the black north.

And the ships come in again out of the fog –
As real as nightmare I hear the rattle of blocks
When the first boat comes down, the ghostly whisper of feet
At the barge pier – and wild with strain I wait
For the flags of my first war, the remembered faces,
And mine not among them to make the nightmare safe.

Then without words, with a heavy shuffling of gear,
The figures plod in the rain, in the seashore mud,
Speechless and tired; their faces, lined and hard,
I search for my comrades, and suddenly – there – there –
Harry, Charlie, and Bob, but their faces are worn, old,
And mine is among them. In a dream as real as war

I see the vast stinking Pacific suddenly awash
Once more with bodies, landings on all beaches,
The bodies of dead and the living gone back to appointed places,

A ten year old resurrection,
And myself once more in the scourging wind, waiting, waiting
While the rich oratory and the lying famous corrupt
Senators mine our lives for another war.

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Maxime Du Camp: Gautier, war filled him with horror

August 8, 2022 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Théophile Gautier: One could imagine oneself in the Golden Age of Peace

Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve: Théophile Gautier, lover of peace

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Maxime du Camp
From Théophile Gautier
Translated by G. E. Gordon

Like most dreamers, he was rather prone to admire men of action, and yet all violence was repugnant to him; war filled him with horror, and revolutions made him despair. His ideal was not of this world, he wished for a state of civilisation where intelligence, beauty, and the arts were honoured, and where every effort would have been towards expansion of mind, a sort of abbey of Thelema, on the shores of some peaceful gulf, under the shelter of groves of lemon-trees, in view of the Parthenon. He was born like that, and could not help it, that is why he felt oppressed, and suffered; rebellion would have been useless, and a struggle absurd; he knew that, and resigned himself.

***

The dream was too beautiful that was to delude his old age. He was living in the fairyland of his dream when there came a rough change of scene, and the poor poet foundered in the disaster in which France nearly perished. The war, the fourth of September Revolution, the siege of Paris, and the Commune overwhelmed him. He took two years to die of it, but he did die of it, and he was not the only one who had no longer any wish to live, after so many misfortunes. If he did not despair of our country, he was made desperate by her heroic sufferings; he heard the little children crying for hunger, he saw Paris burning, he visited the ruins of our homes and monuments….How can this civilisation of which we are so proud conceal such barbarism? We should have thought that after so many centuries the wild beast in man would have been better tamed.

***

If his calm, and above all benevolent character had not made him pacific he would have been a formidable person, but no man was less quarrelsome than he, all violent discussion seemed to him an outrage to human dignity, for he philosophically looked upon composure as a virtue.

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