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Alfred Noyes: A shuddering lump of tattered wounds lifted up a mangled head and whined

August 31, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Alfred Noyes: Selections on war

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Alfred Noyes
From The Wine Press: A Tale of War (1913)

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The lightnings leapt among the lines
Like a mountain-stream in flood.
Scattering the red clay they ran
A river of fire around Johann,
And, thrice, a spatter of human flesh
Blinded him with blood.

Then all the hills grew quiet
And the sun slept on the field,
There was no cloud in the blue sky,
No sight, no sound of an enemy;
But, over them, like a scourge of brass
The scornful bugles pealed.

Forward! At the double,
Not questioning what it means!
The long rows of young men
Carried their quivering flesh again
Over those wide inhuman zones
Against the cold machines.

Flesh against things fleshless,
Never the soul’s desire,
Never the flash of steel on steel,
But the brain that is mangled under the wheel,
The nerves that shrivel, the limbs that reel
Against a sheet of fire.

***

A dead man makes good covering;
Or, if the man be breathing yet,
There is none to save him now.

Across a heap of flesh, Johann
Fired at the unseen mark.
He had not fired a dozen rounds
When the shuddering lump of tattered wounds
Lifted up a mangled head
And whined, like a child, in the dark.

Its eyes were out. The raw strings
Along its face lay red;
It caught the barrel in its hands
And set it to its head.

Its jaw dropped dumbly, but Johann
Saw and understood:
The rifle flashed, and the dead man
Lay quiet in his blood.

***

Then all along the reeking hills
And up the dark ravines,
The long rows of young men
Leapt in the glory of life again
To carry their warm and breathing breasts
Against the cold machines;

Against the Death that mowed them down
With a cold indifferent hand;
And every gap at once was fed
With more life from the fountain-head,
Filled up from endless ranks behind
In the name of the Fatherland,

Mown down! Mown down! Mown
down! Mown down!
They staggered in sheets of fire,
They reeled like ships in a sudden blast,
And shreds of flesh went spattering past,
And the hoarse bugles laughed on high,
Like fiends from hell Retire!

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Polybius: The bestialization of man by war

August 30, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Polybius
From Histories
Translated by W. R. Paton

Numerous speakers from each nationality now came forward all together, maintaining that the prisoners should be spared at least the infliction of torture in view of Gesco’s previous kindness to them. Nothing, however, they said was intelligible, as they were all speaking together and each stating his views in his own language. But the moment it was disclosed that they were begging for a remission of the sentence someone among the audience called out “Stone them,” and they instantly stoned all the speakers to death. These unfortunates, mangled as if by wild beasts, were carried off for burial by their friends. Spendius and his men then led out from the camp Gesco and the other prisoners, in all about seven hundred. Taking them a short distance away, they first of all cut off their hands, beginning with Gesco, that very Gesco whom a short time previously they had selected from all the Carthaginians, proclaiming him their benefactor and referring the points in dispute to him. After cutting off the hands they cut off the wretched men’s other extremities too, and after thus mutilating them and breaking their legs, threw them still alive into a trench.

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With regard to treatment of prisoners in the future, the mutineers passed a resolution and engaged each other to torture and kill every Carthaginian and send back to the capital with his hands cut off every ally of Carthage, and this practice they continued to observe carefully. No one looking at this would have any hesitation in saying that not only do men’s bodies and certain of the ulcers and tumours afflicting them become so to speak savage and brutalized and quite incurable, but that this is true in a much higher degree of their souls. In the case of ulcers, if we treat them, they are sometimes inflamed by the treatment itself and spread more rapidly, while again if we neglect them they continue, in virtue of their own nature, to eat into the flesh and never rest until they have utterly destroyed the tissues beneath. Similarly such malignant lividities and putrid ulcers often grow in the human soul, that no beast becomes at the end more wicked or cruel than man. In the case of men in such a state, if we treat the disease by pardon and kindness, they think we are scheming to betray them or deceive them, and become more mistrustful and hostile to their would‑be benefactors, but if, on the contrary, we attempt to cure the evil by retaliation they work up their passions to outrival ours, until there is nothing so abominable or so atrocious that they will not consent to do it, imagining all the while that they are displaying a fine courage. Thus at the end they are utterly brutalized and no longer can be called human beings. Of such a condition the origin and most potent cause lies in bad manners and customs and wrong training from childhood, but there are several contributory ones, the chief of which is habitual violence and unscrupulousness on the part of those in authority over them. All these conditions were present in this mercenary force as a whole and especially in their chiefs.

***

Hamilcar, like a good draught-player, by cutting off and surrounding large numbers of the enemy, destroyed them without their resisting, while in the more general battles he would sometimes inflict large loss by enticing them into unsuspected ambuscades and sometimes throw them into panic by appearing when they least expected it by day or by night. All those he captured were thrown to the elephants. Finally, taking them by surprise and encamping opposite to them in a position unfavourable for action on their part but favouring his own strong point – generalship – he brought them to such a pass, that not daring to risk a battle and unable to escape, as they were entirely surrounded by a trench and palisade, they were at last driven by famine to eat each other…

Hannibal encamped on the side of the town next Carthage and Hamilcar on the opposite side. Their next step was to take Spendius and the other prisoners up to the walls and crucify them there in the sight of all. Mathos noticed that Hannibal was guilty of negligence and over-confidence, and attacking his camp, put many Carthaginians to the sword and drove them all out of the camp. All the baggage fell into the rebels’ hands and they made Hannibal himself prisoner. Taking him at once to Spendius’ cross they tortured him cruelly there, and then, taking Spendius down from the cross, they crucified Hannibal alive on it and slew round the body of Spendius thirty Carthaginians of the highest rank.

Categories: Uncategorized

Alfred Neumann: The stench of burning flesh. That happens sometimes.

August 28, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Alfred Neumann: Selections on war

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Alfred Neumann
From The Mirror of Fools (1933)
Translated by Trevor and Phyllis Brewitt

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Towards evening they reached a burnt-out village. It looked melancholy and also accusatory. The blackened walls that were still standing had jagged, pointed, or toothed and at the same time sharpened edges, as though they wanted to turn themselves, even after the event, into weapons. The gaps, windows, and breaches in them, however, revealed the interiors with an air of resignation, laying bare not only the signs of destruction, but the signs and indications of the life that had been and was now laid waste: a room, a wall, the skeleton or ruin of a table, a cupboard, a bed, and the implements of peace. They were pitiable memorials, and the place smelt of disaster – not so much of the corrosives of fire and smoke grown cold as of strange, uncanny, and abhorrent exhalations. There was a stench of disaster.

When both the eyes and nose of a man with an empty stomach and an aching head are subjected to such an impression, then all the torments of the outer and inner world are heightened. Heinrich had a gigantic stomach and, therefore, a gigantic void in his body, and a devilishly magnified nightmare before his eyes. On his brow, his temples, and the back of his head there pressed an iron hoop, which grew ever tighter. “There has already been fighting here?” he weakly asked Captain Koller.

“Not at all, a little example, probably on account of some act of indisciplne.”

The Duke thought of the swinging peasant.

“You hang up whole villages on the gallows,” he said, soemwhat confused.

“Rather, on the spit,” laughed Koller.

“There is a stench of disaster here,” coughed the Duke.

“Only of burnt flesh or of some dead body,” said Koller. “That happens sometimes.”

****

“There has been fighting in this district, Captain?”

“No, Your Highness.”

“Then why does Kasimir burn every district to the ground? Devil take it!”

“In order that you may have the scent and be able to follow him,” laughed Koller.

A shudder passed through the Duke, for he took the words as seriously as the war.

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Diodorus Siculus: Alexander’s first encounter with military glory

August 27, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Diodorus Siculus
From The Library of History
Translated by C. Bradford Welles

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So while the city was being taken, many and varied were the scenes of destruction within the walls. Enraged by the arrogance of the Theban proclamation, the Macedonians pressed upon them more furiously than is usual in war, and shrieking curses flung themselves on the wretched people, slaying all whom they met without sparing any…In the capture of the city, no Theban was seen begging the Macedonians to spare his life, nor did they in ignoble fashion fall and cling to the knees of their conquerors. But neither did the agony of courage elicit pity from the foe nor did the day’s length suffice for the cruelty of their vengeance. All the city was pillaged. Everywhere boys and girls were dragged into captivity as they wailed piteously the names of their mothers.

In sum, households were seized with all their members, and the city’s enslavement was complete. Of the men who remained, some, wounded and dying, grappled with the foe and were slain themselves as they destroyed their enemy; others, supported only by a shattered spear, went to meet their assailants and, in their supreme struggle, held freedom dearer than life. As the slaughter mounted and every corner of the city was piled high with corpses, no one could have failed to pity the plight of the unfortunates. For even Greeks – Thespians, Plataeans and Orchomenians and some others hostile to the Thebans who had joined the king in the campaign – invaded the city along with him and now demonstrated their own hatred amid the calamities of the unfortunate victims.

So it was that many terrible things befell the city. Greeks were mercilessly slain by Greeks, relatives were butchered by their own relatives, and even a common dialect induced no pity. In the end, when night finally intervened, the houses had been plundered and children and women and aged persons who had fled into the temples were torn from sanctuary and subjected to outrage without limit.

Over six thousand Thebans perished, more than thirty thousand were captured, and the amount of property plundered was unbelievable.

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Thomas Love Peacock: We spilt blood enough to swim in, we orphaned many children and widowed many women

August 26, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Thomas Love Peacock
The War Song of Dinas Vawr (1829)

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The mountain sheep are sweeter,
But the valley sheep are fatter;
We therefore deemed it meeter
To carry off the latter.
We made an expedition;
We met a host and quelled it;
We forced a strong position,
And killed the men who held it.

On Dyfed’s richest valley,
Where herds of kine were browsing,
We made a mighty sally,
To furnish our carousing.
Fierce warriors rushed to meet us;
We met them, and o’erthrew them:
They struggled hard to beat us;
But we conquered them, and slew them.

As we drove our prize at leisure,
The king marched forth to catch us:
His rage surpassed all measure,
But his people could not match us.
He fled to his hall-pillars;
And, ere our force we led off,
Some sacked his house and cellars,
While others cut his head off.

We there, in strife bewildering,
Spilt blood enough to swim in:
We orphaned many children,
And widowed many women.
The eagles and the ravens
We glutted with our foemen:
The heroes and the cravens,
The spearmen and the bowmen.

We brought away from battle,
And much their land bemoaned them,
Two thousand head of cattle,
And the head of him who owned them:
Ednyfed, king of Dyfed,
His head was borne before us;
His wine and beasts supplied our feasts,
And his overthrow, our chorus.

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Isocrates: War zealots plunge state into manifold disasters

August 25, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Isocrates
From On the Peace
Translated by George Norlin

Indeed, you have caused the orators to practise and study, not what will be advantageous to the state, but how they may discourse in a manner pleasing to you. And it is to this kind of discourse that the majority of them have resorted also at the present time, since it has become plain to all that you will be better pleased with those who summon vou to war than with those who counsel peace; for the former put into our minds the expectation both of regaining our possessions in the several states and of recovering the power which we formerly enjoyed, while the latter hold forth no such hope, insisting rather that we must have peace and not crave great possessions contrary to justice, but be content with those we have and that for the great majority of mankind is of all things the most difficult. For we are so dependent on our hopes and so insatiate in seizing what seems to be our advantage that not even those who possess the greatest fortunes are willing to rest satisfied with them but are always grasping after more and so risking the loss of what they have. Wherefore we may well be anxious lest on the present occasion also we may be subject to this madness. For some of us appear to me to be over-zealously bent on war, as though having heard, not from haphazard counsellors, but from the gods, that we are destined to succeed in all our campaigns and to prevail easily over our foes.

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But I marvel that the older men no longer recall and that the younger have not been told by anyone that the orators who exhort us to cling fast to peace have never caused us to suffer any misfortune whatsoever, whereas those who lightly espouse war have already plunged us into many great disasters. However, we have no memory for these facts but are always ready, without in the least advancing our own welfare, to man triremes, to levy war-taxes, and to lend aid to the campaigns of others or wage war against them, as chance may determine, as if imperilling the interests, not of our own, but of a foreign state.

***

I maintain, then, that we should make peace, not only with the Chians, the Rhodians, the Byzantines and the Coans, but with all mankind…But first let us discuss the question of peace and consider what we should desire for ourselves at the present juncture. For if we define this clearly and intelligently, we shall take better counsel in the light of this principle regarding our other interests as well. Let me ask, then, whether we should be satisfied if we could dwell in our city secure from danger, if we could be provided more abundantly with the necessities of life, if we could be of one mind amongst ourselves, and if we could enjoy the high esteem of the Hellenes. I, for my part, hold that, with these blessings assured us, Athens would be completely happy. Now it is the war which has robbed us of all the good things which I have mentioned; for it has made us poorer; it has compelled many of us to endure perils; it has given us a bad name among the Hellenes; and it has in every way overwhelmed us with misfortune. But if we make peace and demean ourselves as our common covenants command us to do, then we shall dwell in our city in great security, delivered from wars and perils and the turmoil in which we are now involved amongst ourselves, and we shall advance day by day in prosperity, relieved of paying war-taxes, of fitting out triremes, and of discharging the other burdens which are imposed by war, without fear cultivating our lands and sailing the seas and engaging in those other occupations which now, because of the war, have entirely come to an end. Nay, we shall see our city enjoying twice the revenues which she now receives, and thronged with merchants and foreigners and resident aliens, by whom she is now deserted.

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Émile Zola: Yes, war is dead. The world has reached its last stage. Brothers may now give each other the fraternal kiss.

August 24, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Émile Zola: Selections on war

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Émile Zola
From Labor (1901)
Translator not identified

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“How many tears, how much bloodshed, what abominable wars there have been to conquer the fraternal peace desired equally by all! How many centuries of fratricide have there been when the main question was merely who should pass to the right and who to the left, in order to reach first the bourn of final happiness.”

Suzanne, who till then had sat silent, gazing like the rest into the horizon, spoke at last, but her vision had filled her heart with a great thrill of pity:

“Ah! the last war,” said she, “the world’s last battle! It will be so terrible that men forever will break their swords and spike their cannon. At first it was great social crises that were to reconstruct the world, and I have heard fearful accounts from men who came near losing their senses by reason of the fearful shock these things produced in the world. In the mad struggle, when nations were big with projects for a future social system, half Europe arrayed itself on land against the other half, and whole continents engaged in strife; whole squadrons put to sea to establish the authority of their people over the whole earth. No nation had been able to resist the impulse; they were drawn into it by others; they drew up in line, two great armies burning with race hatreds, resolved to annihilate each other, as if in their empty and uncultivated fields where there were two men at work there was one too many. And two great armies of brothers turned to foes met somewhere in the centre of Europe upon vast plains where millions of human beings conveniently could slay each other. The troops spread out over miles and miles, followed by their reserves, such a torrent of men that the fighting lasted for a month. Every day more human flesh was food for bullets and bombs. They even did not have time to carry off the dead. Heaps of bodies served as walls, behind which fresh regiments fought and were killed. Night did not stay the carnage; they killed each other in the darkness. The sun, as it rose each day, shone upon pools of blood, on a field of carnage covered with stacks of dead. There was a roar like thunder every where, and whole regiments seemed to disappear in a flash. The men who fought had no need to draw near each other, since cannon threw their shells for miles, and each of such shells swept bare an acre of the earth, poisoning and asphyxiating the very heavens. Balloons, too, sent down balls and bombs to set fire to the cities. Science had in vented fresh explosives, murderous engines able to carry death to enormous distances, or to swallow many people at once, like an earthquake. And what a monstrous massacre took place on the last night of that tremendous battle! Never had such a human sacrifice smoked under heaven. More than a million of men lay there in the great devastated fields, beside the rivers, and scattered over the meadows. A man could have walked for hours, seeing everywhere was a harvest of dead bodies, lying with staring eyes and open mouths, seeming to reproach men for their madness. This was the world’s last battle, so completely had its horrors impressed mankind. People woke up from their mad intoxication, and all felt the certainty that war was no longer possible, for science that was meant to make life prosperous was not to be employed in the work of death.”

Suzanne was once more silent, but was trembling, and her eyes were bright. She was dreaming of peace in the future. Luc spoke once more, though he could not raise his voice above a breath:

“Yes, war,” he said, “is dead. The world has reached its last stage. Brothers may now give each other the fraternal kiss; they are in port after their long, rough voyage. My day is done, and now I may go to sleep.”

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Aeschines: Peace does not feed laziness

August 23, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Aeschines
From On the Embassy
Translated by Charles Darwin Adams

What decree have I proposed, what law have I repealed, what law have I kept from being passed, what covenant have I made in the name of the city, what vote as to the peace have I annulled, what have I added to the terms of of peace that you did not vote? The peace failed to please some of our public men. Then ought they not to have opposed it at the time, instead of putting me on trial now? Certain men who were getting rich out of the war from your war-taxes and the revenues of the state, have now been stopped; for peace does not feed laziness. Shall those, then, who are not wronged but are themselves wronging the city, punish the man who was the sponsor for peace…?

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Herman Melville: War-pits and rattraps. Soldier sold to the army as Faust sold himself to the devil.

August 22, 2015 3 comments

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

American writers on peace and against war

Herman Melville: Trophies of Peace

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Herman Melville
From Redburn (1849)

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In the British armed marine, in time of peace, they do not ship men for the general service, as in the American navy; but for particular ships, going upon particular cruises. Thus, the frigate Thetis may be announced as about to sail under the command of that fine old sailor, and noble father to his crew, Lord George Flagstaff.

Similar announcements may be seen upon the walls concerning enlistments in the army. And never did auctioneer dilate with more rapture upon the charms of some country-seat put up for sale, than the authors of these placards do, upon the beauty and salubrity of the distant climes, for which the regiments wanting recruits are about to sail. Bright lawns, vine-clad hills, endless meadows of verdure, here make up the landscape; and adventurous young gentlemen, fond of travel, are informed, that here is a chance for them to see the world at their leisure, and be paid for enjoying themselves into the bargain. The regiments for India are promised plantations among valleys of palms; while to those destined for New Holland, a novel sphere of life and activity is opened; and the companies bound to Canada and Nova Scotia are lured by tales of summer suns, that ripen grapes in December. No word of war is breathed; hushed is the clang of arms in these announcements; and the sanguine recruit is almost tempted to expect that pruning-hooks, instead of swords, will be the weapons he will wield.

Alas! is not this the cruel stratagem of Bruce at Bannockburn, who decoyed to his war-pits by covering them over with green boughs? For instead of a farm at the blue base of the Himalayas, the Indian recruit encounters the keen saber of the Sikh; and instead of basking in sunny bowers, the Canadian soldier stands a shivering sentry upon the bleak ramparts of Quebec, a lofty mark for the bitter blasts from Baffin’s Bay and Labrador. There, as his eye sweeps down the St. Lawrence, whose every billow is bound for the main that laves the shore of Old England; as he thinks of his long term of enlistment, which sells him to the army as Doctor Faust sold himself to the devil; how the poor fellow must groan in his grief, and call to mind the church-yard stile, and his Mary.

These army announcements are well fitted to draw recruits in Liverpool. Among the vast number of emigrants, who daily arrive from all parts of Britain to embark for the United States or the colonies, there are many young men, who, upon arriving at Liverpool, find themselves next to penniless; or, at least, with only enough money to carry them over the sea, without providing for future contingencies. How easily and naturally, then, may such youths be induced to enter upon the military life, which promises them a free passage to the most distant and flourishing colonies, and certain pay for doing nothing; besides holding out hopes of vineyards and farms, to be verified in the fullness of time. For in a moneyless youth, the decision to leave home at all, and embark upon a long voyage to reside in a remote clime, is a piece of adventurousness only one removed from the spirit that prompts the army recruit to enlist.

I never passed these advertisements, surrounded by crowds of gaping emigrants, without thinking of rattraps.

***

And though Tiberius came in the succession of the Caesars, and though unmatchable Tacitus has embalmed his carrion, yet do I account this Yankee Jackson full as dignified a personage as he, and as well meriting his lofty gallows in history; even though he was a nameless vagabond without an epitaph, and none, but I, narrate what he was. For there is no dignity in wickedness, whether in purple or rags; and hell is a democracy of devils, where all are equals. There, Nero howls side by side with his own malefactors. If Napoleon were truly but a martial murderer, I pay him no more homage than I would a felon. Though Milton’s Satan dilutes our abhorrence with admiration, it is only because he is not a genuine being, but something altered from a genuine original. We gather not from the four gospels alone, any high-raised fancies concerning this Satan; we only know him from thence as the personification of the essence of evil, which, who but pickpockets and burglars will admire? But this takes not from the merit of our high-priest of poetry; it only enhances it, that with such unmitigated evil for his material, he should build up his most goodly structure. But in historically canonizing on earth the condemned below, and lifting up and lauding the illustrious damned, we do but make examples of wickedness; and call upon ambition to do some great iniquity, and be sure of fame.

***

We talk of the Turks, and abhor the cannibals; but may not some of them, go to heaven, before some of us? We may have civilized bodies and yet barbarous souls. We are blind to the real sights of this world; deaf to its voice; and dead to its death. And not till we know, that one grief outweighs ten thousand joys, will we become what Christianity is striving to make us.

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Aristotle: A man would be regarded as a bloodthirsty monster if he were to make war just to produce battles and slaughter

August 21, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Aristotle: Leader not praiseworthy in training citizens for conquest and dominion

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Aristotle
From Nicomachean Ethics
Translated by J.A.K. Thomson

Now the practical virtues find opportunity for their exercise in politics and in war, but these are occupations which are supposed to leave no room for leisure. Certainly it it is true of the trade of war, for no one deliberately chooses to make war for the sake of making it or tries to bring about a war. A man would be regarded as a bloodthirsty monster if he were to make war on a friendly state just to produce battles and slaughter.

***

Sailors combine for the purpose of making money from the profits of a voyage, soldiers join forces in order to exploit the profits of war, whether they are hoping for loot or conquest or the capture of a city.

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Thomas Macaulay: Drive for transatlantic dominion leads to endless wars, empty treasuries

August 20, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Thomas Macaulay
From The West Indies (1825)

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There are some who assert that, in a military and political point of view, the West Indies are of great importance to this country. This is a common, but a monstrous misrepresentation. We venture to say, that Colonial empire has been one of the greatest curses of modern Europe. What nation has it ever strengthened?  What nation has it ever enriched? What have been its fruits? War of frequent occurrence and immense cost, fettered trade, lavish expenditure, clashing jurisdiction, corruption in governments, and indigence among the people. What have Mexico and Peru done for Spain, the Brazils for Portugal, Batavia for Holland? Or, if the experience of others is lost upon us, shall we not profit by our own? What have we not sacrificed to our infatuated passion for transatlantic dominion? This it is that has so often led us to risk our own smiling gardens and dear firesides for some snowy desert or infectious morass on the other side of the globe: This inspired us with the project of conquering America in Germany: This induced us to resign all the advantages of our insular situation – to embroil ourselves in the intrigues and fight the battles of half the Continent – to form coalitions which were instantly broken – and to give subsidies which were never earned: This gave birth to the fratricidal war against American liberty, with all its disgraceful defeats, and all its barren victories, and all the massacres of the Indian hatchet, and all the bloody contracts of the Hessian slaughterhouse. This it was which, in the war against the French republic, induced us to send thousands and tens of thousands of our bravest troops to die in West Indian hospitals, while the armies of our enemies were pouring over the Rhine and the Alps. When a colonial acquisition has been in prospect, we have thought no expenditure extravagant, no interference perilous, gold has been to us as dust, and blood as water. Shall we never learn wisdom? Shall we never cease to prosecute a pursuit wilder than the wildest dreams of alchymy, with all the credulity and all the profusion of Sir Epicure Mammon?

***

All the ancient fabrics of colonial empire are falling to pieces. The old equilibrium of power has been disturbed by the introduction of a crowd of new States into the system. Our West-India possessions are not now surrounded, as they formerly were, by the oppressed and impoverished colonies of a superannuated monarchy, in the last stages of dotage and debility, but by young, and vigorous, and warlike republics. We have defended our colonies against Spain. Does it therefore follow that we shall be able to defend them against Mexico or Hayti?…[What] would be the effect produced in Jamaica by the appearance of three or four Black regiments, with thirty or forty stand of arms? The colony would be lost. Would it ever be recovered? Would England engage in a contest for that object, at so vast a distance, and in so deadly a climate? Would she not take warning by the fate of that mighty expedition which perished in St. Domingo? Let us suppose, however, that a force was sent, and that, in the field, it was successful. Have we forgotten how long a few Maroons defended the central mountains of the island against all the efforts of disciplined valour? A similar contest on a larger scale might be protracted for half a century, keeping our forces in continual employment, and depriving property of all its security. The country might spend fifty millions of pounds, and bury fifty thousand men, before the contest would be terminated…

***

In our own time many a man shoots partridges in such numbers that he is compelled to bury them, who would chastise his son for amusing himself with the equally interesting, and not more cruel diversion, of catching flies and tearing them to pieces. The drover goads oxen – the fishmonger crimps cod – the dragoon sabres a Frenchman – the Spanish Inquisition a Jew – the Irish gentleman torments Catholics. These persons are not necessarily destitute of feeling. Each of them would shrink from any cruel employment, except that to which his situation has familiarized him.   

***

When a community does nothing to prevent guilt, it ought to bear the blame of it. Wickedness, when punished, is disgraceful only to the offender. Unpunished, it is disgraceful to the whole society.

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Cicero: Military commands, phantom of glory and the ruin of one’s own country and personal downfall

August 19, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Cicero
From Tusculan Disputations
Translated by J.E. King

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The seeds of virtue are inborn in our dispositions and, if they were allowed to ripen, nature’s own hand would lead us on to happiness of life; as things are now, however, as soon as we come into the light of day and have been acknowledged, we at once find ourselves in a world of iniquity amid a medley of wrong beliefs…[T]hen obviously we are tainted by vicious beliefs, and our revolt from nature is so complete that we come to think that the clearest insight into the meaning of nature has been gained by the men who have made up their minds that there is no higher ambition for a human being, nothing more desirable, nothing more excellent than civil office, military command and popular glory; it is to this that all are attracted, and in their quest for the honour which alone is the object of nature’s eager search, they find themselves where all is vanity, and strain to win no lofty image of virtue, but a shadowy phantom of glory. For true glory is a thing of real substance and clearly wrought, no shadowy phantom: it is the agreed approval of good men, the unbiassed verdict of judges deciding honestly the question of pre-eminent merit; it gives back to virtue the echo of her voice; and as it generally attends upon duties rightly performed it is not to be disdained by good men. The other kind of glory, however, which claims to be a copy of the true, is headstrong and thoughtless and generally lends its support to faults and errors; it is public reputation, and by a counterfeit mars the fair beauty of true honour. By this illusion human beings, in spite of some noble ambitions, are blinded and, as they do not know where to look or what to find, some of them bring about the utter ruin of their country and others their own downfall…

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[T]his combative irascibility of yours, when it has got back home, what is it like with wife, with children, with household? Or do you think it useful there as in battle?

***

O philosophy, thou guide of life, o thou explorer of virtue and expeller of vice! without thee what would have become not only of me but of the life of man altogether? Thou hast given birth to cities, thou hast called scattered human beings into the bond of social life, thou has united them first of all in joint habitations, next in wedlock, then in the ties of common literature and speech, thou hast discovered law, thou hast been the teacher of morality and order: to thee I fly for refuge, from thee I look for aid, to thee I entrust myself, at once in ample measure, so now wholly and entirely. Moreover one day well spent with and in accordance with thy lessons is to be preferred to an eternity of error. Whose help then are we to use rather than thine? thou that hast freely granted us peacefulness of life and destroyed the dread of death.

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Richard Aldington: Why so sentimental? Why all this fuss over a few million men killed and maimed?

August 18, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Richard Aldington: Selections on war

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Richard Aldington
From Death of a Hero (1929)

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He…suffered abominably as month after month of the war dragged on with its interminable holocausts and immeasurable degradation of mankind. The world of men seemed dropping to pieces, madly cast down by men in a delirium of homicide and destructiveness. The very apparatus of killing revolted him, took of a sort of sinister deadness. There was something in the very look of his rifle and equipment which filled him with depression. And then, in his imagination, he was already facing the existence for which this was but a preparation, already confronting the agony of his own death. Horrific tales – alas! only too true – were told of companies and battalions wiped out in a few instants…

***

Over the men of that generation hung doom which was admirably if somewhat ruthlessly expressed by a British Staff Officer in an address to subalterns in France: “You are the War generation. You were born to fight this War, and it’s got to be won – we’re determined you shall win it. So far as you are concerned as individuals, it doesn’t matter a tinker’s damn whether you are killed or not. Most probably you will be killed, most of you. So make up your minds to it.”

***

There can be no world peace because the man who has the most money gets the best woman, as the German Kaiser said at the gathering of nations. As if the nations were a set of Kiplingesque characters bidding against each other for an expensive tart! How despicable, how odious!

***

Yes, but why so sentimental? Why all this fuss over a few million men killed and maimed? Thousands of people die weekly and somebody’s run over in London every day. Does that argument take you in? Well, the answer is that they’re not murdered. And your “thousands die weekly” are the old and the diseased; here’s it’s the young and the strong and the healthy…Loud cheers we’re winning. Yes, but, going back to murder – people are murdered all the time; look at Chicago. Look at Chicago! We’re always patting ourselves on the back and looking smugly at wicked Chicago. When there’s a shoot-up between gangs, do you approve of it, do you give the winning side medals for their gallantry, do you tell ’em to go to it and you’ll kiss them when they come back, do you march ’em by with a brass band and tell ’em what fine fellows they are? Do you take the gunman as the high ideal of humanity?…Blood will have blood. All right, now we know. It doesn’t matter whether murder is individual or collective, whether committed on behalf of one man or a gang or a state. It’s murder. When you approve murder you violate the right instincts of every human being. And a million murders egged on, lauded, exulted over, will raise a legion of Eumenides about your ears. The survivors will pay bitterly for it all their lives. Never mind, you’ll go on? More babies, soon make the losses? Have another merry old war soon, sooner the better…

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Alexander Kuprin: Selections on war

August 17, 2015 1 comment
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Plato: The highest good is not war but peace

August 16, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Plato: No true statesman looks only, or first of all, to external warfare

Plato: The tyrant is always stirring up war, the oligarchy uses force of arms to gain power

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Plato
From Laws
Translated by R.G. Bury

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Athenian
Which of the two would be the better – a judge who destroyed all the wicked among them and charged the good to govern themselves, or one who made the good members govern and, while allowing the bad to live, made them submit willingly to be governed? And there is a third judge we must mention (third and best in point of merit), – if indeed such a judge can be found, – who in dealing with a single divided family will destroy none of them but reconcile them and succeed, by enacting laws for them, in securing amongst them thenceforward permanent friendliness.

Clinias
A judge and lawgiver of that kind would be by far the best.

Athenian
But mark this: his aim, in the laws he enacted for them, would be the opposite of war.

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Athenian
And would anyone prefer that the citizens should be obliged to devote their attention to external enemies after internal concord had been secured by the destruction of one section and the victory of their opponents rather than after the establishment of friendship and peace by terms of conciliation?

Clinias
Everyone would prefer the latter alternative for his own State rather than the former.

Athenian
And would not the lawgiver do the same?

Clinias
Of course.

Athenian
Would not every lawgiver in all his legislation aim at the highest good?

Clinias
Assuredly.

Athenian
The highest good, however, is neither war nor civil strife – which things we should pray rather to be saved from – but peace one with another and friendly feeling. Moreover, it would seem that the victory we mentioned of a State over itself is not one of the best things but one of those which are necessary. For imagine a man supposing that a human body was best off when it was sick and aged with physic, while never giving a thought to the case of the body that needs no physic at all! Similarly, with regard to the well-being of a State or an individual, that man will never make genuine statesman who pays attention primarily solely to the needs of foreign warfare, nor will he make a finished lawgiver unless he designs his legislation for peace rather than his peace legislation for war.

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[V]ictory or defeat in battle could never be called a decisive, but rather a questionable, test of the goodness or badness of an institution.

***

While education brings also victory, victory sometimes brings lack of education for men have often grown more insolent because of victory in war, and through their insolence they have become filled with countless other vices; and whereas education has never yet proved to be Cadmeian, the victories which men win in war often have been, and will be, Cadmeian.

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David Garnett: War is the worst of the epidemic diseases which afflict mankind

August 15, 2015 Leave a comment

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

David Garnett
From The Flowers of the Forest (1955)

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War is the worst of the epidemic diseases which afflict mankind and the great genetrix of many of the others. While it lasts it impairs the power of rational judgement; millions are crippled and die and the accumulated riches of empires are destroyed by fanaticism and fear; cruelty and callousness are infectious and these toxins of the spirit make the unconscionable claim that all personal life, happiness, art and human expression must be subordinated to war, or serve it.

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“I suppose you think that the war is over and that we shall go back to the kind of world you lived in before it. But the war isn’t over. The hate and evil is greater now than ever. Very soon war will break out again and overwhelm you. It makes me sick to see you rejoicing like a butterfly in the last rays of sun before the winter. The crowd outside thinks that Germany is crushed for ever. But the Germans will soon rise again. Europe is done for; England most of all the countries. This war isn’t over. Even if the fighting should stop, the evil will be worse because the hate will be dammed up in men’s hearts and will show itself in all sorts of ways which will be worse than war. Whatever happens there can be no Peace on Earth.”

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Dio Chystostom: Greed leads to internal strife and foreign wars

August 14, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Dio Chrystostom
From The Seventeenth Discourse: On Covetousness
Translated by J.W. Cohoon

In this passage [from Euripides], then, are enumerated all the consequences of greed: that it is of advantage neither to the individual nor to the state; but that, on the contrary, it overthrows and destroys the prosperity of families and of states as well; and, in the second place, that the law of men requires us to honour equality, and that this establishes a common bond of friendship and peace for all toward one another, whereas quarrels, internal strife, and foreign wars are due to nothing else than the desire for more, with the result that each side is deprived even of a sufficiency. For what is more necessary than life, or what do all men hold as of more importance than this? But nevertheless men will destroy even that for money, and some too have caused even their own fatherlands to be laid waste. The same poet then goes on to say that there is no greed among the divine beings, wherefore they remain indestructible and ageless, each single one keeping its own proper position night and day and through all the seasons. For, the poet adds, if they were not so ordered, none of them would be able to survive. When, therefore, greed would bring destruction even to the divine beings, what disastrous effect must we believe this malady causes to human kind? And he aptly mentions measures and weights as having been invented to secure justice and to prevent any man from over-reaching another.

And Hesiod says that the half is even more than the whole, having in mind, I presume, the injuries and losses resulting from greed. For what king or potentate or people has ever attempted to transgress the principle of justice and grasp at the greater share but he has lost all his former felicity and has suffered great and overpowering disasters, bequeathing to all men thereafter unmistakable examples of folly and wickedness? Or of those who were willing to receive the lesser share and to endure cheerfully the seeming defeat, what man has not gained more than the others many times over, things that accrued to him automatically and without effort on his part, and has gained for the longest time fair prosperity and in the greatest security has enjoyed Fortune’s blessings?

Illustrations are at hand: Did not the sons of Iocasta, when they became at variance in their desire for more, the one wishing to be sole ruler, and the other seeking by fair means or foul to secure his portion of the kingdom – did they not, though brothers, slay each the other and bring the greatest evils, both of them, upon those who espoused their causes, since the invaders of the land straightway perished, while those who fought to defend it were worsted soon after because they would not allow the corpses to be buried? And again, on account of the greed of one man who carried off Helen and the possessions of Menelaus, the inhabitants of Asia’s greatest city perished along with their children and wives, for harbouring one woman and a little property they paid so huge a penalty. Then take the case of Xerxes, the master of the other continent. When he cast covetous eyes upon Greece too, and collected and brought against her so mighty a fleet and so many myriads, he shamefully lost all his armament and with difficulty saved his own person by taking to flight himself; and afterwards he was forced to endure the ravishing of his country and of his cities on the seacoast. As a further illustration take Polycrates: They say that so long as he was ruler of Samos alone he enjoyed the greatest felicity of any man in the whole world; but that when he wished to meddle somewhat in the affairs of the people of the opposite mainland and sailed across for the purpose of getting money from Orestes, he met with no easy death, but was impaled by that barbarian prince and thus perished.

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Ernest Poole: War cuts off the past from the future

August 13, 2015 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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Ernest Poole
From Blind (1920)

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I am blind – but no blinder than is the mind of the world, these days. The long thin splinter of German steel which struck in behind my eyes did no more to me than the war has done to the vision of humanity. In this year of deep confusion – clutching, grabbing, spending, wasting, and in Europe plague and famine, desperation and revolt — mankind is reeling in the dark. And in these long queer crowded nights, half waking and half sleeping, it has seemed to me at times as though the bedlam of it all were pounding, seething, into me. I was once a playwright – and vividly there comes to me a memory of the Broadway crowds on a big rush Saturday night. A sightless beggar stood by the curb, and in a harsh shrill piercing voice he kept repeating, “Help the blind!” The Soul of Man is like him now.

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How deeply shocked we would have been had we been told of the great winds which with the roar of a tempest world-wide were to beat upon all churches, homes and courts of law, banks and seats of government, and challenge each to show good reason why it should not be struck down, swept into the raging flood and left to founder in the past. “For richer, for poorer.” In those days there was such wealth on the one hand, such poverty on the other, that the hope of winning the one and of escaping the other crept up to the very altar like a god invisible. But with the children’s children of those unions how will it be? Life is simplified for a man who is blind. For me at least the war overseas, abruptly as a thunderbolt, has cut off the past from the future. I am between, and I am in the dark. I look ahead, and it seems to me that even now there begins to appear in mighty outlines, vague and dim, the world of these children and their sons. Great wealth and poverty are not there. What then? A perfect brotherhood? Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, all in mellow glow? Far from it. Rather the hard clear light of early dawn, and climbers up a mountain side – builders, workers, seekers, dreamers – meeting the old obstacles, Greed, Envy, Sloth and many more – rocks in the path to the perfect day….

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Plutarch: Lover of peace changed the first month of the year

August 12, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Plutarch: On war and its opponents

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Plutarch
From The Roman Questions
Translated by Frank Cole Babbitt

15 Why is it that they were wont to sacrifice no living creature to Terminus, in whose honour they held the Terminalia, although they regard him as a god?

Is it that Romulus placed no boundary-stones for his country, so that Romans might go forth, seize land, and regard all as theirs, as the Spartan said, which their spears could reach; whereas Numa Pompilius, a just man and a statesman, who had become versed in philosophy, marked out the boundaries between Rome and her neighbours, and, when on the boundary-stones he had formally installed Terminus as overseer and guardian of friendship and peace, he thought that Terminus should be kept pure and undefiled from blood and gore?

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19 The fact is that, in ancient days, March was counted before January, as is clear from many different proofs, and particularly from the fact that the fifth month from March is called Quintilis, the sixth Sextilis, and on to the last, which they call December, since it is the tenth in order from March. Wherefore it has also naturally occurred to some to believe and to maintain that the ancient Romans completed their year, not in twelve months, but in ten, by adding more days than thirty to some of the months. Others state that December is the tenth from March, January the eleventh, and February the twelfth; and in this month they perform rites of purification and make offerings to the dead, since it is the end of the year. But the order of these months was altered, so they say, and January was put first because in this month on the day of the new moon, which they call the Kalends of January, the first consuls entered office after the kings had been expelled.

But more worthy of credence are they who maintain that it was because Romulus was a warrior and a lover of battle, and was thought to be a son of Mars, that he placed first the month which bore Mars’ name. But Numa, in turn, who was a lover of peace, and whose ambition it was to turn the city towards husbandry and to divert it from war, gave the precedence to January and advanced the god Janus to great honours, since Janus was a statesman and a husbandman rather than a warrior…

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Octave Mirbeau: It was not enough that war should glut itself with human flesh, it was necessary that it should also devour beasts, the earth itself, everything that lived in the calm and peace of labor and love

August 11, 2015 Leave a comment

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

Octave Mirbeau
From Calvary (1886)
Translated by Louis Rich

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Our regiment was what is called a march regiment, that is, one formed while on the march. It had been made up at Mans, after much trouble, of all the remains of a corps of dissimilar fighting units which encumbered the city. Zuaves, mobilized soldiers, of franc-tireurs, forestry guards, dismounted cavalrymen, including gendarmes, Spaniards and Wallachians – there were troops of every kind and description, and they were all under the command of an old captain quickly promoted for the occasion to the rank of lieutenant colonel. At that time, such promotions were not infrequent. The gaps of human flesh wrought in the ranks of the French by the cannons of Wissembourg and Sedan had to be filled. Several companies lacked officers.

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For twelve days since we had been incorporated into a brigade of recent formation, we were tramping across the fields like madmen and to no purpose, as it were. Today marching to the right, tomorrow to the left, one day covering a stretch of forty kilometers, the next day going back an equal distance, we were moving in the same circle; like a scattered herd of cattle which has lost its shepherd. Our enthusiasm diminished appreciably. Three weeks of suffering were enough for that. Before we could ever hear the roar of cannon and the whiz of bullets, our forward march resembled a retreat of a conquered army, cut to pieces by cavalry charges and precipitated into wild confusion. It was like a panicky flight in which each one was allowed to shift for himself. How often did I see soldiers getting rid of their cartridges by scattering them along the roads?

“What good will they do me?” one of them said. “I don’t need them at all except one to crack the jaw of our captain, the first chance we get to fight.”

***

In the evening, in camp, squatted around the porridge pot or stretched out on the cold furze, with heads resting on their knapsacks, they were thinking of the homes from which they had been taken by force. All the young men, strong and healthy, had come from the villages. Many of them were already sleeping in the ground way yonder, disembowelled by shells; others with shattered backs, like shadows, were straggling in the fields and in the woods awaiting death. In the small country places, left to sorrow, there were only old men, more stooped than ever, and women who wept. The barn-floors where they thrashed corn were mute and closed, in the deserted fields where weeds sprouted, one no longer saw against the purple background of the sunset the silhouette of the laborer returning home, keeping step with his tired horses. And men with long sabres would come and in the name of the law take away the horses one day and empty the cowshed the next; for it was not enough that war should glut itself with human flesh, it was necessary that it should also devour beasts, the earth itself, everything that lived in the calm and peace of labor and love…And at the bottom of the hearts of all these miserable soldiers whose emaciated frames and flagged limbs were lit up by the sinister glare of camp fires—there was one hope, the hope of the coming battle, that is to say, the hope of flight, of butt turned upwards, and of the German fortress.

Nevertheless we were preparing for the defence of the country which we traversed and which was no longer threatened. To accomplish that we thought it would be best to fell trees and scatter them on the roads; we blew up bridges and desecrated cemeteries at the entrance to villages under the pretext of barricading them, and we compelled the inhabitants at the point of the bayonet to help us in the destruction of their property. Then we would depart, leaving behind us nothing but ruin and hatred. I remember one time we had to raze a very beautiful park to the last staddling, in order to build barracks which we never used at all. Our manner of doing things was not at all such as to reassure the people. And so at our approach the houses were shut, the peasants hid their provisions; everywhere we were met by hostile faces, surly mouths and empty hands. There were bloody scuffles over some potted pork discovered in a cupboard, and the general ordered an old and kindly man shot for hiding a few kilograms of salted pork under a heap of manure.

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Notice: Stop NATO discontinued

August 10, 2015 2 comments

This site will instead be dedicated to posting daily literary pieces with anti-war themes.
For subscribers, there is an unsubscribe option at the bottom of each posting.

RR

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John Dos Passos: What was the good of stopping the war if the armies continued?

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

American writers on peace and against war

John Dos Passos: Selections on war

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John Dos Passos
From Three Soldiers (1921)

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“Home…I won’t never go home,” said the undertaker when the noise had subsided a little. “D’you know what I wish? I wish the war’d gone on and on until everyone of them bastards had been killed in it.”

“Which bastards?”

“The men who got us fellers over here.”

***

He wondered if he would ever be free again to walk at random through city streets. He stretched his legs out across the floor in front of him; strange, stiff, tremulous legs they were, but it was not the wounds that gave them their leaden weight. It was the stagnation of the life about him that he felt sinking into every crevice of his spirit, so that he could never shake it off, the stagnation of dusty ruined automatons that had lost all life of their own, whose limbs had practised the drill manual so long that they had no movements of their own left, who sat limply, sunk in boredom, waiting for orders.

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His life would continue to be this slavery of unclean bodies packed together in places where the air had been breathed over and over, cogs in the great slow-moving Juggernaut of armies. What did it matter if the fighting had stopped? The armies would go on grinding out lives with lives, crushing flesh with flesh. Would he ever again stand free and solitary to live out joyous hours which would make up for all the boredom of the treadmill? He had no hope. His life would continue like this dingy, ill-smelling waiting room where men in uniform slept in the fetid air until they should be ordered-out to march or to stand in motionless rows, endlessly, futilely, like toy soldiers a child has forgotten in an attic.

***

Andrews was telling himself that the war was over, and that in a few months he would be free in any case. What did a few months more or less matter? But the same thoughts were swept recklessly away in the blind panic that was like a stampede of wild steers within him. There was no arguing. His spirit was contorted with revolt so that his flesh twitched and dark splotches danced before his eyes. He wondered vaguely whether he had gone mad. Enormous plans kept rising up out of the tumult of his mind and dissolving suddenly like smoke in a high wind. He would run away and if they caught him, kill himself. He would start a mutiny in his company, he would lash all these men to frenzy by his words, so that they too should refuse to form into Guns, so that they should laugh when the officers got red in the face shouting orders at them, so that the whole division should march off over the frosty hills, without arms, without flags, calling all the men of all the armies to join them, to march on singing, to laugh the nightmare out of their blood. Would not some lightning flash of vision sear people’s consciousness into life again? What was the good of stopping the war if the armies continued?

***

He thought of the swell undertaking establishment, of the black gloves and long faces and soft tactful voices. That man and his father before him lived by pretending things they didn’t feel, by swathing reality with all manner of crepe and trumpery. For those people, no one ever died, they passed away, they deceased. Still, there had to be undertakers. There was no more stain about that than about any other trade. And it was so as not to spoil his trade that the undertaker had enlisted, and to make the world safe for democracy, too. The phrase came to Andrews’s mind amid an avalanche of popular tunes; of visions of patriotic numbers on the vaudeville stage. He remembered the great flags waving triumphantly over Fifth Avenue, and the crowds dutifully cheering. But those were valid reasons for the undertaker; but for him, John Andrews, were they valid reasons? No. He had no trade, he had not been driven into the army by the force of public opinion, he had not been carried away by any wave of blind confidence in the phrases of bought propagandists. He had not had the strength to live. The thought came to him of all those who, down the long tragedy of history, had given themselves smilingly for the integrity of their thoughts. He had not had the courage to move a muscle for his freedom, but he had been fairly cheerful about risking his life as a soldier, in a cause he believed useless. What right had a man to exist who was too cowardly to stand up for what he thought and felt, for his whole makeup, for everything that made him an individual apart from his fellows, and not a slave to stand cap in hand waiting for someone of stronger will to tell him to act?

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H.G. Wells: No more talk of honour and annexations, hegemonies and trade routes, but only Europe lamenting for her dead

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

H.G. Wells: Selections on war

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H.G. Wells
From Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916)

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If you think that these two boys have both perished, not in some noble common cause but one against the other in a struggle of dynasties and boundaries and trade routes and tyrannous ascendancies, then it seems to me that you must feel as I feel that this war is the most tragic and dreadful thing that has ever happened to mankind.

He sat thinking for some minutes after he had written that, and when presently he resumed his writing, a fresh strain of thought was traceable even in his opening sentence.

If you count dead and wounds this is the most dreadful war in history; for you as for me, it has been almost the extremity of personal tragedy…Black sorrow…

***

He was no longer writing to the particular parents of one particular boy, but to all that mass of suffering, regret, bitterness and fatigue that lay behind the veil of the “front.” Slowly, steadily, the manhood of Germany was being wiped out. As he sat there in the stillness he could think that at least two million men of the Central Powers were dead, and an equal number maimed and disabled. Compared with that our British losses, immense and universal as they were by the standard of any previous experience, were still slight; our larger armies had still to suffer, and we had lost irrevocably not very much more than a quarter of a million. But the tragedy gathered against us. We knew enough already to know what must be the reality of the German homes to which those dead men would nevermore return…

If England had still the longer account to pay, the French had paid already nearly to the limits of endurance. They must have lost well over a million of their mankind, and still they bled and bled. Russia too in the East had paid far more than man for man in this vast swapping off of lives. In a little while no Censorship would hold the voice of the peoples. There would be no more talk of honour and annexations, hegemonies and trade routes, but only Europe lamenting for her dead…

The Germany to which he wrote would be a nation of widows and children, rather pinched boys and girls, crippled men, old men, deprived men, men who had lost brothers and cousins and friends and ambitions. No triumph now on land or sea could save Germany from becoming that. France too would be that, Russia, and lastly Britain, each in their degree…

***

Our boys, he wrote, have died, fighting one against the other. They have been fighting upon an issue so obscure that your German press is still busy discussing what it was. For us it was that Belgium was invaded and France in danger of destruction. Nothing else could have brought the English into the field against you. But why you invaded Belgium and France and whether that might have been averted we do not know to this day. And still this war goes on and still more boys die, and these men who do not fight, these men in the newspaper offices and in the ministries plan campaigns and strokes and counter-strokes that belong to no conceivable plan at all. Except that now for them there is something more terrible than war. And that is the day of reckoning with their own people.

What have we been fighting for? What are we fighting for? Do you know? Does any one know? Why am I spending what is left of my substance and you what is left of yours to keep on this war against each other? What have we to gain from hurting one another still further? Why should we be puppets any longer in the hands of crowned fools and witless diplomatists? Even if we were dumb and acquiescent before, does not the blood of our sons now cry out to us that this foolery should cease? We have let these people send our sons to death.

It is you and I who must stop these wars, these massacres of boys.

Massacres of boys! That indeed is the essence of modern war. The killing off of the young. It is the destruction of the human inheritance, it is the spending of all the life and material of the future upon present-day hate and greed. Fools and knaves, politicians, tricksters, and those who trade on the suspicions and thoughtless, generous angers of men, make wars; the indolence and modesty of the mass of men permit them. Are you and I to suffer such things until the whole fabric of our civilisation, that has been so slowly and so laboriously built up, is altogether destroyed?

When I sat down to write to you I had meant only to write to you of your son and mine. But I feel that what can be said in particular of our loss, need not be said; it can be understood without saying. What needs to be said and written about is this, that war must be put an end to and that nobody else but you and me and all of us can do it. We have to do that for the love of our sons and our race and all that is human. War is no longer human; the chemist and the metallurgist have changed all that. My boy was shot through the eye; his brain was blown to pieces by some man who never knew what he had done. Think what that means!… It is plain to me, surely it is plain to you and all the world, that war is now a mere putting of the torch to explosives that flare out to universal ruin. There is nothing for one sane man to write to another about in these days but the salvation of mankind from war.

Now I want you to be patient with me and hear me out. There was a time in the earlier part of this war when it was hard to be patient because there hung over us the dread of losses and disaster. Now we need dread no longer. The dreaded thing has happened. Sitting together as we do in spirit beside the mangled bodies of our dead, surely we can be as patient as the hills.

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Alfred Noyes: When they talked of war, they thought of sawdust, not of blood

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

Alfred Noyes: Selections on war

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Alfred Noyes
From The Wine Press: A Tale of War (1913)

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They were cleanly groomed. They were
not to be bought.
And their cigars were good.
But they had pulled so many strings
In the tinselled puppet-show of kings
That, when they talked of war, they thought
Of sawdust, not of blood;

Not of the crimson tempest
Where the shattered city falls:
They thought, behind their varnished doors,
Of diplomats, ambassadors,
Budgets, and loans and boundary-lines,
Coercions and re-calls;

Forces and Balances of Power;
Shadows and dreams and dust;
And how to set their bond aside
And prove they lied not when they lied,
And which was weak, and which was strong,
But – never which was just.

Yet they were honest, honest men.
Justice could take no wrong.
The blind arbitrament of steel,
The mailed hand, the armoured heel,
Could only prove that Justice reigned
And that her hands were strong.

For they were strong. So might is right,
And reason wins the day.
And, if at a touch on a silver bell
They plunged three nations into hell,
The blood of peasants is not red
A hundred miles away.

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Jean Ingelow: And the dove said, “Give us peace!”

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

Jean Ingelow
Give Us Love And Give Us Peace

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One morning, oh! so early, my beloved, my beloved,
All the birds were singing blithely, as if never they would cease;
‘Twas a thrush sang in my garden, “Hear the story, hear the story!”
And the lark sang, “Give us glory!”
And the dove said, “Give us peace!”

Then I listened, oh! so early, my beloved, my beloved,
To that murmur from the woodland of the dove, my dear, the dove;
When the nightingale came after, “Give us fame to sweeten duty!”
When the wren sang, “Give us beauty!”
She made answer, “Give us love!”

Sweet is spring, and sweet the morning, my beloved, my beloved;
Now for us doth spring, doth morning, wait upon the year’s increase,
And my prayer goes up, “Oh, give us, crowned in youth with marriage glory,
Give for all our life’s dear story,
Give us love, and give us peace!”

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William Black: Better small farms, thriving and prosperous, than splendid ruins that tell of the fierceness of war

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

William Black: When Caesar’s legions turn on him

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William Black
From Sunrise (1881)

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“Well, at all events, you don’t find it very picturesque as compared with other countries. Evelyn tells me you have travelled a great deal.”

“Perhaps I am not very fond of picturesqueness,” Natalie said, modestly. “When I am travelling through a country I would rather see plenty of small farms, thriving and prosperous, than splendid ruins that tell only of oppression and extravagance, and the fierceness of war.”

No one spoke; so she made bold to continue – but she addressed Lady Evelyn only.

“No doubt it is very picturesque, as you go up the Rhine, or across the See Kreis, or through the Lombard plains, to see every height crowned with its castle. Yes, one cannot help admiring. They are like beautiful flowers that have blossomed up from the valleys and the plains below. But who tilled the land, that these should grow there on every height? Are you not forced to think of the toiling wretches who labored and labored to carry stone by stone up the crest of the hill? They did not get much enjoyment out of the grandeur and picturesqueness of the castles.”

“But they gave that labor for their own protection,” Lady Evelyn said, with a smile. “The great lords and barons were their protectors.”

“The great lords and barons said so, at least,” said the girl, without any smile at all, “and I suppose the peasantry believed them; and were quite willing to leave their vineyards and go and shed their blood whenever the great lords and barons quarrelled among themselves.”

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Charles Dickens: Waging war to perpetuate slavery

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

Charles Dickens
From American Notes (1842)

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The upholders of slavery in America – of the atrocities of which system, I shall not write one word for which I have not had ample proof and warrant – may be divided into three great classes…

The second, consists of all those owners, breeders, users, buyers and sellers of slaves, who will, until the bloody chapter has a bloody end, own, breed, use, buy, and sell them at all hazards: who doggedly deny the horrors of the system in the teeth of such a mass of evidence as never was brought to bear on any other subject, and to which the experience of every day contributes its immense amount; who would at this or any other moment, gladly involve America in a war, civil or foreign, provided that it had for its sole end and object the assertion of their right to perpetuate slavery, and to whip and work and torture slaves, unquestioned by any human authority, and unassailed by any human power; who, when they speak of Freedom, mean the Freedom to oppress their kind, and to be savage, merciless, and cruel; and of whom every man on his own ground, in republican America, is a more exacting, and a sterner, and a less responsible despot than the Caliph Haroun Alraschid in his angry robe of scarlet.

***

When we were seated in the little ferry-boat, and were crossing the swollen river immediately before both cataracts, I began to feel what it was: but I was in a manner stunned, and unable to comprehend the vastness of the scene. It was not until I came on Table Rock, and looked – Great Heaven, on what a fall of bright-green water! – that it came upon me in its full might and majesty.

Then, when I felt how near to my Creator I was standing, the first effect, and the enduring one – instant and lasting – of the tremendous spectacle, was Peace. Peace of Mind, tranquillity, calm recollections of the Dead, great thoughts of Eternal Rest and Happiness: nothing of gloom or terror. Niagara was at once stamped upon my heart, an Image of Beauty; to remain there, changeless and indelible, until its pulses cease to beat, for ever.

Oh, how the strife and trouble of daily life receded from my view, and lessened in the distance, during the ten memorable days we passed on that Enchanted Ground! What voices spoke from out the thundering water; what faces, faded from the earth, looked out upon me from its gleaming depths; what Heavenly promise glistened in those angels’ tears, the drops of many hues, that showered around, and twined themselves about the gorgeous arches which the changing rainbows made!

***

Shall we cry shame on the brutality of those who hamstring cattle: and spare the lights of Freedom upon earth who notch the ears of men and women, cut pleasant posies in the shrinking flesh, learn to write with pens of red-hot iron on the human face, rack their poetic fancies for liveries of mutilation which their slaves shall wear for life and carry to the grave, breaking living limbs as did the soldiery who mocked and slew the Saviour of the world, and set defenceless creatures up for targets! Shall we whimper over legends of the tortures practised on each other by the Pagan Indians, and smile upon the cruelties of Christian men! Shall we, so long as these things last, exult above the scattered remnants of that race, and triumph in the white enjoyment of their possessions? Rather, for me, restore the forest and the Indian village; in lieu of stars and stripes, let some poor feather flutter in the breeze; replace the streets and squares by wigwams; and though the death-song of a hundred haughty warriors fill the air, it will be music to the shriek of one unhappy slave.

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Émile Zola: Bloody pages of history, the wars, the conquests, the names of the captains who had butchered their fellow-beings.

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

Émile Zola: Selections on war

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Émile Zola
From Truth (1902)
Translated by Ernest A. Vizetelly

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From the very outset Marc combated the system by which violence, terror, and folly were inculcated in so many children. The right of the stronger, massacre, carnage, the devastation and razing of cities – all those things were set before the young, glorified in books, pictures, and constant, almost hourly, lessons. Great was the display of the bloody pages of history, the wars, the conquests, the names of the captains who had butchered their fellow-beings. The minds of children were enfevered by the crash of arms, by nightmares of slaughter steeping the plains in blood. In the prize books given to them, in the little papers published for their perusal, on the very covers of their copy-books, their eyes encountered the savagery of armies, the burning of fleets, the everlasting calamity of man sinking to the level of a wolf…In that manner one fashioned only slaves, flesh flt to serve the master’s capricious purposes. And indeed that education of blind faith and perpetual extermination was based on the necessity of ever having soldiers ready to defend the established and iniquitous order of things.

Yet what an antiquated idea it was to cultivate human energy by lessons of warfare! It corresponded with the times when the sword alone decided questions between nation and nation, and between kings and their subjects. But nowadays, if nations still guard themselves – as they do, in formidable fashion, full of anxious dread lest everything should collapse – who will dare to say that victory will rest with the warlike nations? Who, on the contrary, cannot see that the triumphant nation of to-morrow will be that which defeats the others on the economic fleld, by reorganising the conditions of human toil, and by bringing more justice and happiness to mankind?

***

The narrow doctrine that one’s sole purpose should be to make soldiers of Frenchmen filled him with grief and anger. On the morrow of the disasters of 1870 such a programme may have had its excuse; and yet all the unrest of years and years, the whole abominable crisis of the present times has proceeded from that programme, from having placed one’s supreme hope in the army, from having abandoned the democracy to military leaders. If it be still necessary to guard oneself, surrounded as one is by neighbours in arms, it is yet more necessary to become workers, free and just citizens, such as those to whom to-morrow will belong. On the day when France knows it and wills it, on the day when she becomes a nation freed from error, the armour-plated empires around her will crumble beneath the breath of truth and justice emanating from her lips – a breath which will achieve that which can never be accomplished by all her armies and her guns. Nations awaken nations, and on the day when, one by one, the nations rise, enlightened, instructed by example, the world will witness the victory of peace, the end of war. Marc could imagine for his country no more splendid role than that of hastening the day when all countries would mingle in one. Thus he kept a strict watch over his pupils’ books, replacing as far as possible all pictures and descriptions of spurious miracles and bloody battles by others which dealt with the truths of science and the fruitful labours of mankind.

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Stephen Spender: Automata controlled by the mechanism of war, meaningless struggle between potential ashes to gain a world of ashes

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

Stephen Spender: Lecture on Hell: battle against totalitarian war

Stephen Spender: Ultima Ratio Regum

Stephen Spender: The Woolfs in the 1930s: War the inevitable result of an arms race.

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Stephen Spender
From World Within World (1948)

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Although the air raids stopped, or happened only at rare intervals, this picture of the aeroplane over the huge plain with the people concealed in crevices, can be enlarged to a vision of the new phase of the domination and threat by machine-power politics, which the world had now entered and which did not end with the peace. The aeroplane filled ever widening circles in the minds of people beneath it; but the pilot and even the officers who commanded him at bases, their masters in governments and the vanquished and victors of the war, were diminished, until it seemed that they no longer had wills of their own, but were automata controlled by the mechanism of war.

***

From now on, the fate of individuals was more and more controlled by a public fate which itself seemed beyond control. For control implies not only merely putting a machine into motion, but also being able to make it stop: modern war is a machine easy to make start, but it can only be stopped at the moment when it has destroyed or been destroyed by another war machine. Control means being able to relate a program of action to the results of that action. Now we had arrived at a stage when a large part of the resources of great nations were poured into programs of which no one could foresee the results. All this was only leading to subsequent plans for making atomic and hydrogen bombs to defend East against West or West against East in a meaningless struggle between potential ashes to gain a world of ashes…

***

Lying awake during air raids I would think of the young pilots trained by both sides to believe that the destruction of a city was an abstract task or “precision bombing” without consideration of the people whose homes were being destroyed; of the young men being trained to the brutal enterprises of Commandos and Paratroopers; and of the children, either at the mercy of the bombers in the cities, or torn away and evacuated into the houses of strangers in the country. It seemed clear that – whatever the plans of governments – the peace would be a period of struggling to impose a pattern of reasonable behavior on a population that had been systematically demoralized…

How could the war result in anything but more bitterness and hatred, and a general acceptance of further wars, which would destroy all plans?

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Joseph Conrad: With earth soaked in blood, all men seek some formula of peace

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

Joseph Conrad: Firing into a continent, a touch of insanity in the proceeding

Joseph Conrad: In modern war mankind cannot resist the temptation to use any stealthy, murderous contrivance

Joseph Conrad: Men go mad in protest against “peculiar sanity” of war

Joseph Conrad: Moral cannibals feeding on each other’s misfortunes: ‘It’s a damned bad war, but it’s better than no war at all.’

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Joseph Conrad
From Under Western Eyes (1911)

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There must be a wonderful soothing power in mere words since so many men have used them for self-communion. Being myself a quiet individual I take it that what all men are really after is some form or perhaps only some formula of peace. Certainly they are crying loud enough for it at the present day.

***

“I must own to you that I shall never give up looking forward to the day when all discord shall be silenced. Try to imagine its dawn! The tempest of blows and of execrations is over; all is still; the new sun is rising, and the weary men united at last, taking count in their conscience of the ended contest, feel saddened by their victory, because so many ideas have perished for the triumph of one, so many beliefs have abandoned them without support. They feel alone on the earth and gather close together. Yes, there must be many bitter hours! But at last the anguish of hearts shall be extinguished in love.”

And on this last word of her wisdom, a word so sweet, so bitter, so cruel sometimes, I said good-bye to Natalia Haldin. It is hard to think I shall never look any more into the trustful eyes of that girl – wedded to an invincible belief in the advent of loving concord springing like a heavenly flower from the soil of men’s earth, soaked in blood, torn by struggles, watered with tears.

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Alexander Kuprin: The human race has had its childhood – a time of incessant and bloody war

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

Russian writers on war

Alexander Kuprin: Selections on war

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Alexander Kuprin
From The Duel (1905)
Translator unknown

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“Yes, they are all alike, even the best and most tender-hearted among them. At home they are splendid fathers of families and excellent husbands; but as soon as they approach the barracks they become low-minded, cowardly, and idiotic barbarians. You ask me why this is, and I answer: Because nobody can find a grain of sense in what is called military service. You know how all children like to play at war. Well, the human race has had its childhood – a time of incessant and bloody war; but war was not then one of the scourges of mankind, but a continued, savage, exultant national feast to which daring bands of youths marched forth, meeting victory or death with joy and pleasure. The bravest, strongest, and most cunning was chosen as leader, and so long as success attended his banner, he was almost accorded divine worship, until at last he was killed by his subjects, in order to make room for a luckier and more powerful rival. Mankind, however, grew in age and wisdom; people got weary of the former rowdy, bloody games, and became more serious, thoughtful, and cautious. The old Vikings of song and saga were designated and treated as pirates. The soldier no longer regarded war as a bloody but enjoyable occupation, and he had often to be dragged to the enemy with a noose round his neck.

***

“But other times are coming, indeed have come. Yes, tremendous surprises and changes are about to take place. You remember my saying on one occasion that for a thousand years there has existed a genius of humanity that seldom reveals itself, but whose laws are as inexorable as they are ruthless; but the wiser men become, so much more deeply do they penetrate the spirit of those laws. And I am convinced that, sooner or later, everything in this world must be brought into equilibrium in accordance with these immutable laws. Justice will then be dispensed. The longer and more cruel the slavery has been, so much more terrible will be the day of reckoning for tyrants. The greater the violence, injustice, and brutality, so much more bloody will be the retribution. Oh, I am firmly convinced that the day will dawn when we ‘superior officers,’ we ‘almighty swells,’ darlings of the women, drones and brainless swaggerers, will have our ears boxed with impunity in streets and lanes, in vestibules and corridors, when women will turn their backs on us in contempt, and when our own affectionate soldiers will cease to obey us. And all this will happen, not because we have brutally ill-treated men deprived of every possibility of self-defence; not because we have, for the ‘honour’ of the uniform, insulted women; not because we have committed, when in a state of intoxication, scandalous acts in public-houses and public places; and not even because we, the privileged lick-spittles of the State, have, in innumerable battlefields and in pretty nearly every country, covered our standards with shame, and been driven by our own soldiers out of the maize-fields in which we had taken shelter…”

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Alfred Noyes: Slaughter! Slaughter! Slaughter!

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

Alfred Noyes: Selections on war

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Alfred Noyes
From The Wine Press: A Tale of War (1913)

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They had broken their hearts on the cold machines;
And – they had not seen their foe;
And the reason of this butcher’s work
It was not theirs to know;
For these tall young men were children
Five short years ago.

Headlong, headlong, down the hill,
They leapt across their dead.
Like madmen, wrapt in sheets of flame,
Yelling out of their hell they came,
And, in among their plunging hordes,
The shrapnel burst and spread.

The shrapnel severed the leaping limbs
And shrieked above their flight.
They rolled and plunged and writhed like snakes
In the red hill-brooks and the black thorn brakes.
Their mangled bodies tumbled like elves
In a wild Walpurgis night.

Slaughter! Slaughter! Slaughter!
The cold machines whirred on.
And strange things crawled amongst the wheat
With entrails dragging round their feet,
And over the foul red shambles
A fearful sunlight shone.

***

Down, into the valley of wheat,
And the warm dead that lay at their feet,
The men they had slaughtered, slaughtered, slaughtered,
Grinned up at their flight.

***

The black earth yawned like a crimson mouth,
And slaughter, slaughter, slaughter, slaughter,
The trenches belched their flame.
The maxims cracked like cattle-whips
Above the struggling hordes.
They rolled and plunged and writhed like snakes
In the trampled wheat and the black thorn brakes,
And the lightnings leapt among them
Like clashing crimson swords.

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John Dos Passos: Selections on war

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Sidney Lanier: Selections on war

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Émile Zola: The military, necessary apprenticeship for devastation and massacre

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

Émile Zola: Selections on war

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Émile Zola
From Truth (1902)
Translated by Ernest A. Vizetelly

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The army became merely the emblem of brute force upholding the thefts of ages, an impregnable wall of bayonets within whose shelter property and capital, duly gorged, might digest in security. The nation, the country, was the ensemble of abuses and iniquities which it was criminal to touch, the monstrous social edifice, not one beam of which must be changed for dread lest all should fall…

***

“The eight years I spent in the university penitentiary, where a man who believes in truth is allowed neither freedom of speech nor freedom of action, were not enough for them! They insist on robbing me of two more years, on shutting me up in their gaol of blood and iron, and reducing me to that life of passive obedience which is the necessary apprenticeship for devastation and massacre, the mere thought of which exasperates me!”

***

As a first step, he again got rid of all…books in which the supernatural was shown triumphant, and in which war, massacre, and rapine appeared as ideals of power and beauty. He considered that it was a crime to poison a lad’s brain with a belief in miracles, and to set brute force, assassination, and theft in the front rank as manly and patriotic duties. Such teaching could only produce imbecile inertia, sudden criminal frenzy, iniquity, and wretchedness. Marc’s dream, on the contrary, was to set pictures of work and peace before his pupils, to show sovereign reason ruling the world, justice establishing brotherliness among men, the ancient violence of warlike ages being condemned, and giving place to agreement among all nations, in order that they might arrive at the greatest possible happiness. And having rid his class of the poisonous ferments of the past, Marc particularly instructed his pupils in civic morality, striving to make each a citizen well informed about his country, and able to serve and love it, without setting it apart from the rest of mankind. Marc held that France ought no longer to dream of conquering the world by arms, but rather by the irresistible force of ideas, and by setting an example of so much freedom, truth, and equity, that she would deliver all other countries and enjoy the glory of founding with them the great confederation of free and brotherly nations.

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Women writers on peace and war

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

Women writers on peace and war

Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Exalt the name of Peace and leave those rusty wars that eat the soul

Emily Dickinson: I many times thought Peace had come

Marguerite Duras: The civilizing mission

Eleanor Farjeon: Peace Poem

Margaret Fuller: America, with no prouder emblem than the Dove

Ellen Glasgow: Selections on war

Ellen Glasgow: The Altar of the War God

Ellen Glasgow: His vision of the future only an endless warfare and a wasted land

Ellen Glasgow: The Reign of the Brute

Ellen Glasgow: “That killed how many? how many?”

Ellen Glasgow: Then the rows of dead men stared at him through the falling rain in the deserted field

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: Do Not Cheer, Men Are Dying

Julia Ward Howe: Mother’s Day Proclamation 1870

Jean Ingelow: And the dove said, “Give us peace!”

Ellen Key: Overcoming the madness of a world at war

Selma Lagerlöf: The Fifth Commandment. The Great Beast is War.

Selma Lagerlöf: The mark of death was on them all

Marie Lenéru: War is not human fate

Amy Lowell: A pattern called a war. Christ! What are patterns for?

Marianne Moore: I must fight till I have conquered in myself what causes war

Lilika Nakos: Selections on war

Lilika Nakos: The dead man, the living, the house; all were smashed to bits

Lilika Nakos: Do I know what makes men kill each other?

Lilika Nakos: Do you think the war will ever end?

Lilika Nakos: The grandmother’s sin

Lilika Nakos: “Surely God didn’t intend this butchery”

Lilika Nakos: “What’s the war got to do with God?”

Zoé Oldenbourg: War provides a feast for the vultures

Gabrielle Roy: This was the hope that was uplifting mankind once again: to do away with war

George Sand: Trader in uniformed flesh and the religion of self

Gustave Flaubert and George Sand: Monstrous conflicts of which we have no idea; warfare suppressed or civilization perishes

Olive Schreiner: Give me back my dead!

Olive Schreiner: The bestiality and insanity of war

Anna Seghers: War enthusiasm, brewed from equal parts of age-old memories and total oblivion

Mary Shelley: The fate of the world bound up with the death of a single man

Edith Sitwell: Dirge for the New Sunrise

Lesya Ukrainka: Do you understand that word called war?

Rebecca West: The dreams of Englishwomen during war

Ella Wheeler Wilcox: A Plea To Peace

Marguerite Yourcenar: Fruits of war are food for new wars

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Alfred Neumann: Debunking the glory of twenty murderous years, the greatest mass-murderer in history

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

Alfred Neumann: Selections on war

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Alfred Neumann
From Empire (1936)
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul

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Critical historiographers of a new school are appearing on the scene, thrusting aside eagles, battles, Grand’ Armée and gloire, limning the portrait of the political dictator. Since this portraiture is effected in the name of political liberty, it is a most disagreeable picture, surrounded by all the victims the hungry idol demanded, by the hecatombs of twenty murderous years – for the Consulate and the First Empire, taken together, last well-nigh twenty years. In the wake of this illuminating new science came popular pamphlets, not talking this time of murderous years, but of the greatest mass-murderer in history. Since, however, the web of which legend is woven is at once as tough as bunting and as tenuous as a fairy-tale, and so abundant that it waves wide and high above the realm of history, extending into the realm of fable and unreason, into the land of dreams – it is appropriate that poets of the new liberty should now appear upon the stage. They do not elucidate, do not criticise, do not revile, but paint a new picture of the legend, showing the reverse of the shield. No longer do they describe the War God and his archangels, but speak of the sacrificed masses, of the sorrows and the greatness of the common man, of the spurious enthusiasm and the real despair of the conscripts, of bivouacs, the horrors of the battlefield, burning sunshine, dist-storms, and ice cold. Closely associated with these, caressing them, come idylls, tales of the sweetness of life; of husband, wife, and children in their homes; of wheat waving in the wind before the little cottage – the joys of a quiet, untroubled, free and inconspicuous life, the joys of peace. –

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George Sand: Trader in uniformed flesh and the religion of self

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

Gustave Flaubert and George Sand: Monstrous conflicts of which we have no idea; warfare suppressed or civilization perishes

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George Sand
From Monsieur Sylvestre (1866)
Translated by Francis George Shaw

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“Sir,” said I, indignant, “did you buy these blacks on the coast of Guinea? ”

“You think, perhaps,” he replied, “that I have been in the trade? Well, why not? I have done everything, as I told you; and there is nothing wrong in it when you buy of people who sell their children, their servants, and their wives. If you pay, they are well satisfied; and I always did pay. There were some shabby fellows who traded with the blacks, and killed the sellers while they carried off the merchandize. But that was in old times; in my time the trade was fair…”

I reminded my uncle that he had not blamed me much for refusing as father-in-law a man who had traded in blacks, and that, consistently, he must excuse me for declining as mother-in-law a woman who had made such an extended traffic with whites. In reply to this judicious observation, my uncle wanted to kill me…

But this is quite another part of speech! My uncle, also, had traded in human flesh! Did you know it? I never knew anything about it, and I believe that, as he put nothing but his money into that kind of business, he may never have spoken of it to any one. How do you suppose I found it out here, after living with him twenty years, and never imagining anything of the kind? I brought with me some boxes, into which I had thrown my papers and letters when I left the house. In overhauling them I found an open letter which I suppose must have been lost by my uncle, picked up by a servant, and put among mine, on my table; I don’t know how else it could have got there. I looked it over without remarking the address, and was quite astonished at reading that there was a balance to my credit with the house of M. & Co. I was asking myself how this good luck could have befallen me, when I saw that the letter had reference to conscripts and substitutes, and that my uncle’s profits from the partnership had been so large as to constitute a great portion of the fortune he intended to leave to me…The source of my uncle’s fortune is, therefore, in some degree, subject to the same odium as M. Aubry’s and Mlle Irene’s…

Yes, my dear boy, I did know it, and thought that you knew it too; therefore I never mentioned it. Your uncle gained some hundreds of thousands of francs by becoming bondsman for a dealer in men. He did it without scruple, because he does not reflect, and is therefore liable unwittingly to commit a social crime, while intrenching himself behind his individual uprightness. He has been educated in the religion of self, and, provided he does honor to his signature and his word, he cares little whether his money goes to injure or to help humanity. This was why I was sorry when you deserted the wholesome ways of spiritual philosophy, which we were so pleasantly following together, to enter upon those of materialism, which is so closely allied nowadays, in many young minds, with absolute individualism. I was rather afraid, I confess, lest, even while protesting against the gross application which M. Pierinont openly makes of the principle of each for himself, you might allow yourself to become accustomed to look upon general evils with indifference. Assuredly, I am happy at finding my fears groundless, and, if my anxiety be not wholly dissipated, it is because I would like to see in you, in every respect, that intellectual antithesis which your protest ought to represent. You need to be this complete contrast to your uncle, in order not only to preserve your self-respect, but to produce something young and living. What can proceed from the negation of collective life? An apology for self? This does not interest others, and yet you must invite the public to become interested in your thought.

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Walter Pater: What are they all now, and the dust of their battles? Deity of Slaughter.

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

Walter Pater
From Marius the Epicurean (1881-1884)
(Translation of Marcus Aurelius by Pater)

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“…Ah! from this higher place, look we down upon the ship-wrecks and the calm! Consider, for example, how the world went, under the emperor Vespasian. They are married and given in marriage, they breed children; love hath its way with them; they heap up riches for others or for themselves; they are murmuring at things as then they are; they are seeking for great place; crafty, flattering, suspicious, waiting upon the death of others: – festivals, business, war, sickness, dissolution: and now their whole life is no longer anywhere at all. Pass on to the reign of Trajan: all things continue the same: and that life also is no longer anywhere at all. Ah! but look again, and consider, one after another, as it were the sepulchral inscriptions of all peoples and times, according to one pattern. – What multitudes, after their utmost striving – a little afterwards! were dissolved again into their dust.”

***

“Bethink thee often, in all contentions public and private, of those whom men have remembered by reason of their anger and vehement spirit – those famous rages, and the occasions of them – the great fortunes, and misfortunes, of men’s strife of old. What are they all now, and the dust of their battles? Dust and ashes indeed; a fable, a mythus, or not so much as that. Yes! keep those before thine eyes who took this or that, the like of which happeneth to thee, so hardly; were so querulous, so agitated. And where again are they? Wouldst thou have it not otherwise with thee?

“Consider how quickly all things vanish away – their bodily structure into the general substance; the very memory of them into that great gulf and abysm of past thoughts…”

***

“When thou lookest upon a wise man, a lawyer, a captain of war, think upon another gone. When thou seest thine own face in the glass, call up there before thee one of thine ancestors – one of those old Caesars. Lo! everywhere, thy double before thee! Thereon, let the thought occur to thee: And where are they? anywhere at all, for ever?…

“As words once in use are antiquated to us, so is it with the names that were once on all men’s lips: Camillus, Volesus, Leonnatus: then, in a little while, Scipio and Cato, and then Augustus, and then Hadrian, and then Antoninus Pius…”

***

The arena, decked and in order for the first scene, looked delightfully fresh, re-inforcing on the spirits of the audience the actual freshness of the morning, which at this season still brought the dew. Along the subterranean ways that led up to it, the sound of an advancing chorus was heard at last, chanting the words of a sacred song, or hymn to Diana; for the spectacle of the amphitheatre was, after all, a religious occasion. To its grim acts of blood-shedding a kind of sacrificial character still belonged in the view of certain religious casuists, tending conveniently to soothe the humane sensibilities of so pious an emperor as Aurelius, who, in his fraternal complacency, had consented to preside over the shows.

Artemis or Diana, as she may be understood in the actual development of her worship, was, indeed, the symbolical expression of two allied yet contrasted elements of human temper and experience – man’s amity, and also his enmity, towards the wild creatures, when they were still, in a certain sense, his brothers. She is the complete, and therefore highly complex, representative of a state, in which man was still much occupied with animals, not as his flock, or as his servants after the pastoral relationship of our later, orderly world, but rather as his equals, on friendly terms or the reverse, – a state full of primeval sympathies and antipathies, of rivalries and common wants – while he watched, and could enter into, the humours of those “younger brothers,” with an intimacy, the “survivals” of which in a later age seem often to have had a kind of madness about them. Diana represents alike the bright and the dark side of such relationship. But the humanities of that relationship were all forgotten to-day in the excitement of a show, in which mere cruelty to animals, their useless suffering and death, formed the main point of interest. People watched their destruction, batch after batch, in a not particularly inventive fashion; though it was expected that the animals themselves, as living creatures are apt to do when hard put to it, would become inventive, and make up, by the fantastic accidents of their agony, for the deficiencies of an age fallen behind in this matter of manly amusement. It was as a Deity of Slaughter – the Taurian goddess who demands the sacrifice of the shipwrecked sailors thrown on her coasts – the cruel, moonstruck huntress, who brings not only sudden death, but rabies, among the wild creatures that Diana was to be presented, in the person of a famous courtesan. The aim at an actual theatrical illusion, after the first introductory scene, was frankly surrendered to the display of the animals, artificially stimulated and maddened to attack each other. And as Diana was also a special protectress of new-born creatures, there would be a certain curious interest in the dexterously contrived escape of the young from their mother’s torn bosoms; as many pregnant animals as possible being carefully selected for the purpose.

The time had been, and was to come again, when the pleasures of the amphitheatre centered in a similar practical joking upon human beings. What more ingenious diversion had stage manager ever contrived than that incident, itself a practical epigram never to be forgottten, when a criminal, who, like slaves and animals, had no rights, was compelled to present the part of Icarus; and, the wings failing him in due course, had fallen into a pack of hungry bears? For the long shows of the amphitheatre were, so to speak, the novel-reading of that age – a current help provided for sluggish imaginations, in regard, for instance, to grisly accidents, such as might happen to one’s self; but with every facility for comfortable inspection. Scaevola might watch his own hand, consuming, crackling, in the fire, in the person of a culprit, willing to redeem his life by an act so delightful to the eyes, the very ears, of a curious public. If the part of Marsyas was called for, there was a criminal condemned to lose his skin. It might be almost edifying to study minutely the expression of his face, while the assistants corded and pegged him to the bench, cunningly; the servant of the law waiting by, who, after one short cut with his knife, would slip the man’s leg from his skin, as neatly as if it were a stocking – a finesse in providing the due amount of suffering for wrong-doers only brought to its height in Nero’s living bonfires. But then, by making his suffering ridiculous, you enlist against the sufferer, some real, and all would-be manliness, and do much to stifle any false sentiment of compassion. The philosophic emperor, having no great taste for sport, and asserting here a personal scruple, had greatly changed all that; had provided that nets should be spread under the dancers on the tight-rope, and buttons for the swords of the gladiators. But the gladiators were still there. Their bloody contests had, under the form of a popular amusement, the efficacy of a human sacrifice; as, indeed, the whole system of the public shows was understood to possess a religious import. Just at this point, certainly, the judgment of Lucretius on pagan religion is without reproach –

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.

And Marius, weary and indignant, feeling isolated in the great slaughter-house, could not but observe that, in his habitual complaisance to Lucius Verus, who, with loud shouts of applause from time to time, lounged beside him, Aurelius had sat impassibly through all the hours Marius himself had remained there. For the most part indeed, the emperor had actually averted his eyes from the show, reading, or writing on matters of public business, but had seemed, after all, indifferent. He was revolving, perhaps, that old Stoic paradox of the Imperceptibility of pain; which might serve as an excuse, should those savage popular humours ever again turn against men and women. Marius remembered well his very attitude and expression on this day, when, a few years later, certain things came to pass in Gaul, under his full authority; and that attitude and expression defined already, even thus early in their so friendly intercourse, and though he was still full of gratitude for his interest, a permanent point of difference between the emperor and himself – between himself, with all the convictions of his life taking centre to-day in his merciful, angry heart, and Aurelius, as representing all the light, all the apprehensive power there might be in pagan intellect. There was something in a tolerance such as this, in the bare fact that he could sit patiently through a scene like this, which seemed to Marius to mark Aurelius as his inferior now and for ever on the question of righteousness; to set them on opposite sides, in some great conflict, of which that difference was but a single presentment. Due, in whatever proportions, to the abstract principles he had formulated for himself, or in spite of them, there was the loyal conscience within him, deciding, judging himself and every one else, with a wonderful sort of authority: – You ought, methinks, to be something quite different from what you are; here! and here! Surely Aurelius must be lacking in that decisive conscience at first sight, of the intimations of which Marius could entertain no doubt – which he looked for in others. He at least, the humble follower of the bodily eye, was aware of a crisis in life, in this brief, obscure existence, a fierce opposition of real good and real evil around him, the issues of which he must by no means compromise or confuse; of the antagonisms of which the “wise” Marcus Aurelius was unaware.

That long chapter of the cruelty of the Roman public shows may, perhaps, leave with the children of the modern world a feeling of self-complacency. Yet it might seem well to ask ourselves – it is always well to do so, when we read of the slave-trade, for instance, or of great religious persecutions on this side or on that, or of anything else which raises in us the question, “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?” – not merely, what germs of feeling we may entertain which, under fitting circumstances, would induce us to the like; but, even more practically, what thoughts, what sort of considerations, may be actually present to our minds such as might have furnished us, living in another age, and in the midst of those legal crimes, with plausible excuses for them: each age in turn, perhaps, having its own peculiar point of blindness, with its consequent peculiar sin – the touch-stone of an unfailing conscience in the select few.

Those cruel amusements were, certainly, the sin of blindness, of deadness and stupidity, in the age of Marius; and his light had not failed him regarding it. Yes! what was needed was the heart that would make it impossible to witness all this; and the future would be with the forces that could beget a heart like that. His chosen philosophy had said, – Trust the eye: Strive to be right always in regard to the concrete experience: Beware of falsifying your impressions. And its sanction had at least been effective here, in protesting -“This, and this, is what you may not look upon!” Surely evil was a real thing, and the wise man wanting in the sense of it, where, not to have been, by instinctive election, on the right side, was to have failed in life.

***

Peace! Pax! Pax tecum! – the word, the thought – was put forth everywhere, with images of hope, snatched sometimes from that jaded pagan world which had really afforded men so little of it from first to last; the various consoling images it had thrown off, of succour, of regeneration, of escape from the grave…

***

“At all events, the actual conditions of our life being as they are, and the capacity for suffering so large a principle in things – since the only principle, perhaps, to which we may always safely trust is a ready sympathy with the pain one actually sees – it follows that the practical and effective difference between men will lie in their power of insight into those conditions, their power of sympathy. The future will be with those who have most of it; while for the present, as I persuade myself, those who have much of it, have something to hold by, even in the dissolution of a world, or in that dissolution of self, which is, for every one, no less than the dissolution of the world it represents for him. Nearly all of us, I suppose, have had our moments, in which any effective sympathy for us on the part of others has seemed impossible; in which our pain has seemed a stupid outrage upon us, like some overwhelming physical violence, from which we could take refuge, at best, only in some mere general sense of goodwill – somewhere in the world perhaps. And then, to one’s surprise, the discovery of that goodwill, if it were only in a not unfriendly animal, may seem to have explained, to have actually justified to us, the fact of our pain. There have been occasions, certainly, when I have felt that if others cared for me as I cared for them, it would be, not so much a consolation, as an equivalent, for what one has lost or suffered: a realised profit on the summing up of one’s accounts: a touching of that absolute ground amid all the changes of phenomena, such as our philosophers have of late confessed themselves quite unable to discover. In the mere clinging of human creatures to each other, nay! in one’s own solitary self-pity, amid the effects even of what might appear irredeemable loss, I seem to touch the eternal. Something in that pitiful contact, something new and true, fact or apprehension of fact, is educed, which, on a review of all the perplexities of life, satisfies our moral sense, and removes that appearance of unkindness in the soul of things themselves, and assures us that not everything has been in vain.

***

He saw its legitimate place in the world given at last to the bare capacity for suffering in any creature, however feeble or apparently useless. In this chivalry, seeming to leave the world’s heroism a mere property of the stage, in this so scrupulous fidelity to what could not help itself, could scarcely claim not to be forgotten, what a contrast to the hard contempt of one’s own or other’s pain, of death, of glory even, in those discourses of Aurelius!

***

Not many months after the date of that epistle, Marius, then expecting to leave Rome for a long time, and in fact about to leave it for ever, stood to witness the triumphal entry of Marcus Aurelius…His triumph was now a “full” one – Justus Triumphus justified…Among the captives, amid the laughter of the crowds at his blowsy upper garment, his trousered legs and conical wolf-skin cap, walked our own ancestor, representative of subject Germany…

The world, certainly, had been holding on its old way, and was all its old self, as it thus passed by dramatically, accentuating, in this favourite spectacle, its mode of viewing things. And even apart from the contrast of a very different scene, he would have found it, just now, a somewhat vulgar spectacle. The temples, wide open, with their ropes of roses flapping in the wind against the rich, reflecting marble, their startling draperies and heavy cloud of incense, were but the centres of a great banquet spread through all the gaudily coloured streets of Rome, for which the carnivorous appetite of those who thronged them in the glare of the mid-day sun was frankly enough asserted. At best, they were but calling their gods to share with them the cooked, sacrificial, and other meats, reeking to the sky. The child, who was concerned for the sorrows of one of [200] those Northern captives as he passed by, and explained to his comrade—”There’s feeling in that hand, you know!” benumbed and lifeless as it looked in the chain, seemed, in a moment, to transform the entire show into its own proper tinsel. Yes! these Romans were a coarse, a vulgar people; and their vulgarities of soul in full evidence here…

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Ellen Glasgow: Selections on war

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John Dos Passos: Not wake up till the war was over and you could be a human being again

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

American writers on peace and against war

John Dos Passos: Selection on war

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John Dos Passos
From Three Soldiers (1921)

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Andrews was brushing the soft silk of a poppy petal against his face.

“I wonder if it’ld have any effect if I ate some of these,” he said.

“Why?”

“They say you go to sleep if you lie down in a poppy-field. Wouldn’t you like to do that, Chris, an’ not wake up till the war was over and you could be a human being again.”

***

There were tiny green frogs in one of the putty-colored puddles by the roadside. John Andrews fell out of the slowly advancing column a moment to look at them. The frogs’ triangular heads stuck out of the water in the middle of the puddle. He leaned over, his hands on his knees, easing the weight of the equipment on his back. That way he could see their tiny jewelled eyes, topaz-colored. His eyes felt as if tears were coming to them with tenderness towards the minute lithe bodies of the frogs. Something was telling him that he must run forward and fall into line again, that he must shamble on through the mud, but he remained staring at the puddle, watching the frogs. Then he noticed his reflection in the puddle. He looked at it curiously. He could barely see the outlines of a stained grimacing mask, and the silhouette of the gun barrel slanting behind it. So this was what they had made of him. He fixed his eyes again on the frogs that swam with elastic, leisurely leg strokes in the putty-colored water.

Absently, as if he had no connection with all that went on about him, he heard the twang of bursting shrapnel down the road. He had straightened himself wearily and taken a step forward, when he found himself sinking into the puddle. A feeling of relief came over him. His legs sunk in the puddle; he lay without moving against the muddy bank. The frogs had gone, but from somewhere a little stream of red was creeping out slowly into the putty-colored water. He watched the irregular files of men in olive-drab shambling by. Their footsteps drummed in his ears. He felt triumphantly separated from them, as if he were in a window somewhere watching soldiers pass, or in a box of a theater watching some dreary monotonous play. He drew farther and farther away from them until they had become very small, like toy soldiers forgotten among the dust in a garret. The light was so dim he couldn’t see, he could only hear their feet tramping interminably through the mud.

***

Andrews lay, comfortable in his cot, looking into the ward out of another world. He felt no connection with the talk about him, with the men who lay silent or tossed about groaning in the rows of narrow cots that filled the Renaissance hall. In the yellow glow of the electric lights, looking beyond the orderly’s twisted face and narrow head, he could see very faintly, where the beams of the ceiling sprung from the wall, a row of half-obliterated shields supported by figures carved out of the grey stone of the wall, handed satyrs with horns and goats’ beards and deep-set eyes, little squat figures of warriors and townsmen in square hats with swords between their bent knees, naked limbs twined in scrolls of spiked acanthus leaves, all seen very faintly, so that when the electric lights swung back and forth in the wind made by the orderly’s hurried passing, they all seemed to wink and wriggle in shadowy mockery of the rows of prostrate bodies in the room beneath them. Yet they were familiar, friendly to Andrews. He kept feeling a half-formulated desire to be up there too, crowded under a beam, grimacing through heavy wreaths of pomegranates and acanthus leaves, the incarnation of old rich lusts, of clear fires that had sunk to dust ages since. He felt at home in that spacious hall, built for wide gestures and stately steps, in which all the little routine of the army seemed unreal, and the wounded men discarded automatons, broken toys laid away in rows.

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Alexander Kuprin: What is war after all? Perhaps it is nothing more than a mistake made by all, a universal error, a madness.

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

Russian writers on war

Alexander Kuprin: Selections on war

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Alexander Kuprin
From The Duel (1905)
Translator not identified

aleksandr-kuprin_4-t

“What is war after all?” said Romashov sadly, “and why – ? Perhaps it is nothing more than a mistake made by all, a universal error, a madness. Do you mean to tell me that it is natural to kill?”

***

And all the arts of war – the skilful evolutions, the cleverness of the rifle exercise, and all those tactics and fortifications on which he had wasted nine of the best years of his life, which would fill the rest of his life, and which not so very long ago had seemed to him important and so full of wisdom – all had suddenly become deadly dull, unnatural, inventions without value, a universal self-deceit resembling an absurd dream.

***

Everything outside the company, service, and drill-book, and which he was accustomed to call “rot” or “rubbish,” had no existence so far as he was concerned. After having borne for nearly all his life the heavy burden of military service, he had arrived at such a state of savagery that he never opened a book, and, as far as newspapers were concerned, he only looked at the official and military notices in the Invalid. He despised with all his innate cynicism the meetings and amusements of society, and there were no oaths, no insulting terms too gross and crude for him to incorporate in his “Soldier’s Lexicon.”

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Ellen Glasgow: “That killed how many? how many?”

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

American writers on peace and against war

Ellen Glasgow: Selections on war

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Ellen Glasgow
From The Battle Ground (1902)

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In the adjoining room she saw her mother sitting in a square of sunlight with her open Bible on her knees.

“Oh, speak, mamma!” she called half angrily. “Move, do anything but sit so still. I can’t bear it!” She caught her breath sharply, for with her words a low sound like distant thunder filled the room and the little street outside. As she clung with both hands to the window it seemed to her that a gray haze had fallen over the sunny valley. “Some one is dead,” she said almost calmly, “that killed how many?”

The room stifled her and she ran hurriedly down into the street, where a few startled women and old men had rushed at the first roll of the cannon. As she stood among them, straining her eyes from end to end of the little village, her heart beat in her throat and she could only quaver out an appeal for news.

“Where is it? Doesn’t any one know anything? What does it mean?”

“It means a battle, Miss, that’s one thing,” remarked an obliging by-stander who leaned heavily upon a wooden leg…

He rambled on excitedly, but Betty, frowning with impatience, turned from him and walked rapidly up and down the single street, where the voices of the guns growled through the muffling distance. “That killed how many? how many?” she would say at each long roll, and again, “How many died that moment, and was one Dan?”

***

As he tossed a last armful on the fire, his eyes roamed over the long mounds of snow that filled the clearing, and he caught his breath as a man might who had waked suddenly among the dead. In the beginning of dawn, with the glimmer of smouldering fires reddening the snow, there was something almost ghastly in the sloping field filled with white graves and surrounded by white mountains. Even the wintry sky borrowed, for an hour, the spectral aspect of the earth, and the familiar shapes of cloud, as of hill, stood out with all the majesty of uncovered laws – stripped of the mere frivolous effect of light or shade. It was like the first day – or the last.

***

“I thought you were my husband,” said the woman, blushing at her mistake. “If you want food you are welcome to the little that I have – it is very little.” She led the way into the house, and motioned, with a pitiable gesture, to a table that was spread in the centre of the sitting room.

“Will you sit down?” she asked, and at the words, a child in the corner of the room set up a frightened cry.

“It’s my supper – I want my supper,” wailed the child.

“Hush, dear,” said the woman, “they are our soldiers.”

“Our soldiers,” repeated the child, staring, with its thumb in its mouth and the tear-drops on its cheeks.

For an instant Dan looked at them as they stood there, the woman holding the child in her arms, and biting her thin lips from which hunger had drained all the red. There was scant food on the table, and as his gaze went back to it, it seemed to him that, for the first time, he grasped the full meaning of a war for the people of the soil. This was the real thing – not the waving banners, not the bayonets, not the fighting in the ranks.

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William Black: When Caesar’s legions turn on him

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

William Black: Better small farms, thriving and prosperous, than splendid ruins that tell of the fierceness of war

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William Black
From Sunrise (1881)

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“…What would you think, now, if it were possible to construct a common platform, where certain aims at least could be accepted by all, and become bonds to unite those who are hoping for better things all over the earth? That did not occur to you as a possible thing, perhaps? You have only studied the ways of kings and governments – each one for itself. ‘Come over my boundary, and I will cleave your head; or, rather, I will send my common people to do it, for a little blood-letting from time to time is good for that vile and ignorant body.’ But the vile and ignorant body may begin to tire of that recurrent blood-letting, and might perhaps even say, ‘Brother across the boundary, I have no quarrel with you. You are poor and ignorant like myself; the travail of the earth lies hard on you; I would rather give you my hand. If I have any quarrel, surely it is with the tyrants of the earth, who have kept both you and me enslaved; who have taken away our children from us; who have left us scarcely bread. How long, O Lord, how long? We are tired of the reign of Caesar; we are beaten down with it; who will help us now to establish the reign of Christ?”

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Émile Zola: The forge of peace and the pit of war

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

Émile Zola: Selections on war

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Émile Zola
From Labor (1901)
Translator not identified

ZOLA_1902B

He liked to be in this hall among the rolling-mills; to watch the making of the rails and of the structural steel always pleased him. “Ours is the good forge of peace,” he used to say; and he contrasted it with the forge of war – the evil forge – at the Pit, where with so much care and at such great expense men were busy making shells and guns. Works of wonderful perfection, metal delicately manipulated, what for? – to produce monstrous engines of destruction, which cost nations millions of dollars, and ruin them that they may be prepared for war, even when war is not coming to exterminate them! Ah! let structural steel be multiplied, let useful edifices and happy cities be built, and bridges span the streams and valleys, and let rails drop ceaselessly from rolling-mills and elongate railroads endlessly, abolish frontiers, draw nations together, and conquer the whole earth, for the fraternal civilization of to-morrow!

***

“…I have heard he did not care a rap for your works and your competition. He says, as to that, that he will always have shells and guns to make, because men are such fools that they will always be killing one another.”

***

“Hermeline then burst out laughing. Well, and do you know what you are doing? You are preparing revolts by doing away with class distinctions. There is only one means of giving citizens to the State, and that is to manufacture them expressly for her, such as she needs them, so that they may be strong and glorious. Hence arises the necessity of instruction, systematized, disciplined, and calculated to serve the country, carried on according to the best recognized methods, in order to furnish the working-men, the professional men, and the public functionaries of whom she has need. In the absence of authority, there is no security for all this. I have proved it; I am a republican of the old school, a free thinker, and an atheist. No one, I hope, could imagine that he detected in me a retrograde mind, but, nevertheless, what I have heard of your instruction, your elective system of education, drives me beside myself, because, under its action, before half a century is gone, there will be no more citizens, no more soldiers, no more national defenders. Yes, I defy you to produce any soldiers under your system of free choice; and, in case of war, how will the country be defended?”

“No doubt, in case of war, defence would be necessary,” said Luc, without any emotion. “But what will be the use of soldiers on the day when there is no more war?…”

***

Then again, there was a great democratic impetus, which multiplied ways of communication, an endless extension of railroads, and a tenfold increase in the construction of bridges, buildings, and entire cities, in which iron and steel were employed in large and constantly increasing quantities. From the time that Vulcan’s descendants first melted iron in a hole in order to forge weapons therefrom to defend themselves and to conquer both the animate and inanimate world, the uses of iron have steadily increased in extent; and in the future, when science shall have provided means for its production at a nominal cost, and for its adaptation to all purposes, iron will prove to be the source of justice and of peace.

***

The most immediate effect of the success of La Crecherie was to show the small manufactories in the vicinity the advantage that they would receive from following its example, and associating themselves with their larger neighbor. The Chodorge establishment, a nail manufactory, which bought all of its raw material from its powerful sister, set the example by allowing itself to be definitely absorbed in a community of interest. The Hausser establishment, which had formerly forged sabres and was now making a specialty of pruning-knives and scythes, next entered the association, and became, as it were, a natural extension of the great neighboring forge.

***

He could no longer compete with the iron and steel of commerce, and he even found himself affected in his manufacture of guns and shells. Orders for these had been diminishing ever since the money of France had been directed especially towards constructions of a peaceful character and of interest to the community at large, such as railroads, bridges, and buildings of all kinds in which iron and steel were triumphing.

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Dmitry Merezhkovsky: His God is not at all the God of the Christians, but the ancient, pagan Mars

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

Russian writers on war

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Dmitry Merezhkovsky
From Peter and Alexis (1904)
Translated by Bernard Guilbert Guerney

RDSM

He, of course, believes in God, – as he puts it himself, he “places his trust in Him Who is strong in battles. – the Lord.” But at times it seems that his God is not at all the God of the Christians, but the ancient, pagan Mars, – or Fate itself: Nemesis. If ever there has been a man who least of all resembled a Christian, that man is Peter. What concern has he with Christ? What connection is there between the iron of Mars and the lilies of the Evangel?

***

Never have I beheld such even-glows as here. To-day’s sunset was especially peculiar. The whole sky was in blood. The incarnadined clouds were scattered about, like tatters of bloodied garments, just as though a murder had been comsummated in heaven, or some sort of fearful sacrifice. And blood was dripping from heaven upon the earth. Among the sharp bristles, as black as embers, of the fir-forest, the blotches of red clay seemed like blotches of blood.

***

“Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he that cometh!”

Abandoned of all, Alësha is alone with Christ in the midst of the maddened rabble. And the wild procession is moving directly upon them, with shouting and yelling, with darkness and stench, which tarnish the gold of the regal vestments and the very sun of Christ’s Visage. Lo, they will rush upon him, crush him, trample him, sweeping everything along, – and there will spring up in the holy place the abomination that maketh desolate.

Suddenly everything vanished. He is standing upon the shore of a broad, desolate river, – apparently on the high road from Poland to Ukraine. It is late evening in late autumn. Wet snow, – black mire. The wind is tearing off the last leaves from the trembling aspens. A beggar in tatters, chilled and grown blue from the cold, is piteously begging alms: “Give, if but a kopeck, for Christ’s sake!” – “See, he is a branded man,” reflects Alësha, looking upon the beggar’s arms and legs, with their bloody sores, “probably a runaway recruit.” And he feels so sorry for the “frozen lad” that he wants to give him not merely a kopeck but seven gulden. He recalls in his dream the entry he made in his travel diary, among other expenses: “22nd of November, for ferrying across the river, three gulden: for lodgings in a Jew’s inn, five gulden; – for the frozen lad, seven gulden.” He is just about to extend his hand to the beggar, when suddenly somebody’s rough hand is placed upon upon Alësha’s shoulder, and a rough voice, – probably that of the soldier on sentry duty near the barrier, – says to him:

“For giving alms, there’s a fine of five rubles; while beggars, after being beaten with cudgels and having their nostrils torn out, shall be exiled to Rogerwick.”

“Have pity,” implored Alësha. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man have not where to lay his head…’

And, looking more closely at the frozen lad, he sees that his face is like to the sun, – that this is Christ Himself.

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Alfred Noyes: The men he must kill for a little pay. And once he had sickened to watch them slaughter an ox.

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

Alfred Noyes: Selections on war

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Alfred Noyes
From The Wine Press: A Tale of War (1913)

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The rifles flogged their wallowing herds,
Flogged them down to die.
Down on their slain the slayers lay,
And the shrapnel thrashed them into the clay,
And tossed their limbs like tattered birds
Thro’ a red volcanic sky.

Then, hard behind the thunder, swept
Long ranks of arrowy gleams;
Out of the trenches, down the hill
The level bayonets charged to kill,
And the massed terror that took the shock
Screamed as a woman screams.

***

Before Johann a young face rose
Like a remembered prayer:
He could not halt or swerve aside
In the onrush of that murderous tide,
He jerked his bayonet out of the body
And swung his butt in the air.

He yelled like a wolf to drown the cry
Of his own soul in pain.
To stifle the God in his own breast,
He yelled and cursed and struck with the rest,
And the blood bubbled over his boots
And greased his hands again.

Faces like drowned things underfoot
Slipped as he swung round:
A red mouth crackled beneath his boot
Like thorns in spongy ground.

Slaughter? Slaughter? So easy it seemed
This work that, he thought so hard!
His eyes lit with a flicker of hell,
He licked his lips, and it tasted well;
And – once – he had sickened to watch them slaughter
An ox in the cattle-yard.
For lust of blood, for lust of blood,
His greasy bludgeon swung:
His rifle-butt sang in the air,
And the things that crashed beneath it there
Were a cluster of grapes in the wine press,
A savour of wine on his tongue.

***

The men he must kill for a little pay
Had marched beside him, yesterday!
Brothers in blood! By what foul lips
Was this war-trumpet blown?

Back from the heights they had stormed together,
The gulfs that had gorged their dead,
Back, by the rotting, shot-ripped plain,
Where the black wings fluttered and perched again,

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John Dos Passos: Meat for guns. Shot for saying the war was wrong.

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

American writers on peace and against war

John Dos Passos: Selection on war

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John Dos Passos
From Three Soldiers (1921)

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Fuselli looked about him. He was sitting in one of the lowest of three tiers of bunks roughly built of new pine boards. Electric lights placed here and there gave a faint reddish tone to the gloom, except at the ladders, where high-power lamps made a white glare. The place was full of tramping of feet and the sound of packs being thrown on bunks as endless files of soldiers poured in down every ladder. Somewhere down the alley an officer with a shrill voice was shouting to his men: “Speed it up there; speed it up there.” Fuselli sat on his bunk looking at the terrifying confusion all about, feeling bewildered and humiliated. For how many days would they be in that dark pit? He suddenly felt angry. They had no right to treat a feller like that. He was a man, not a bale of hay to be bundled about as anybody liked.

“An’ if we’re torpedoed a fat chance we’ll have down here,” he said aloud.

“They got sentries posted to keep us from goin up on deck,” said someone.

“God damn them. They treat you like you was a steer being taken over for meat.”

“Well, you’re not a damn sight more. Meat for the guns.”

***

“He always did talk queer.”

“I always thought,” said Fuselli, “he’d get into trouble talking the way he did.”

“How’d he talk?” asked Daniels.

“Oh, he said that war was wrong and all that goddamed pro-German stuff.”

“D’ye know what they did out at the front?” said Daniels. “In the second division they made two fellers dig their own graves and then shot ’em for sayin’ the war was wrong.”

“Hell, they did?”

“You’re goddam right, they did. I tell you, fellers, it don’t do to monkey with the buzz-saw in this army.”

***

Fuselli noticed, at the other end of the row of bunks, a group of men who all seemed to be looking at the same thing. Rolling down his sleeves, with his tunic hitched over one arm, he walked down to see what was the matter. Through the patter of the rain, he heard a thin voice say:

“It ain’t no use, sergeant, I’m sick. I ain’t a’ goin’ to get up.”

“The kid’s crazy,” someone beside Fuselli said, turning away.

“You get up this minute,” roared the sergeant. He was a big man with black hair who looked like a lumberman. He stood over the bunk. In the bunk at the end of a bundle of blankets was the chalk-white face of Stockton. The boy’s teeth were clenched, and his eyes were round and protruding, it seemed from terror.

“You get out o’ bed this minute,” roared the sergeant again.

The boy; was silent; his white cheeks quivered.

“What the hell’s the matter with him?”

“Why don’t you yank him out yourself, Sarge?”

“You get out of bed this minute,” shouted the sergeant again, paying no attention.

The men gathered about walked away. Fuselli watched fascinated from a little distance.

“All right, then, I’ll get the lieutenant. This is a court-martial offence. Here, Morton and Morrison, you’re guards over this man.”

The boy lay still in his blankets. He closed his eyes. By the way the blanket rose and fell over his chest, they could see that he was breathing heavily.

“Say, Stockton, why don’t you get up, you fool?”‘ said Fuselli. “You can’t buck the whole army.”

The boy didn’t answer.

Fuselli walked away.

“He’s crazy,” he muttered.

The lieutenant was a stoutish red-faced man who came in puffing followed by the tall sergeant. He stopped and shook the water off his Campaign hat. The rain kept up its deafening patter on the roof.

“Look here, are you sick? If you are, report sick call at once,” said the lieutenant in an elaborately kind voice.

The boy looked at him dully and did not answer.

“You should get up and stand at attention when an officer speaks to you.

“I ain’t goin’ to get up,” came the thin voice.

The officer’s red face became crimson.

“Sergeant, what’s the matter with the man?” he asked in a furious tone.

“I can’t do anything with him, lieutenant. I think he’s gone crazy.”

“Rubbish…Mere insubordination…You’re under arrest, d’ye hear?” he shouted towards the bed.

There was no answer. The rain pattered hard on the roof.

“Have him brought down to the guardhouse, by force if necessary,” snapped the lieutenant. He strode towards the door. “And sergeant, start drawing up court-martial papers at once.” The door slammed behind him.

“Now you’ve got to get him up,” said the sergeant to the two guards.

Fuselli walked away.

“Ain’t some people damn fools?” he said to a man at the other end of the barracks. He stood looking out of the window at the bright sheets of the rain.

“Well, get him up,” shouted the sergeant.

The boy lay with his eyes closed, his chalk-white face half-hidden by the blankets; he was very still.

“Well, will you get up and go to the guardhouse, or have we to carry you there?” shouted the sergeant.

The guards laid hold of him gingerly and pulled him up to a sitting posture.

“All right, yank him out of bed.”

The frail form in khaki shirt and whitish drawers was held up for a moment between the two men. Then it fell a limp heap on the floor.

“Say, Sarge, he’s fainted.”

“The hell he has…Say, Morrison, ask one of the orderlies to come up from the Infirmary.”

“He ain’t fainted…The kid’s dead,” said the other man.

“Give me a hand.”

The sergeant helped lift the body on the bed again. “Well, I’ll be goddamned,” said the sergeant.

The eyes had opened. They covered the head with a blanket.

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Sidney Lanier: The wind blew all the vanes in the country in one way – toward war

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

American writers on peace and against war

Sidney Lanier: Selections on war

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Sidney Lanier
From Tiger-Lilies (1867)

Portrait of Sidney Lanier

An afflatus of war was breathed upon us. Like a great wind, it drew on and blew upon men, women, and children. Its sound mingled with the solemnity of the church-organs and arose with the earnest words of preachers praying for guidance in the matter. It sighed in the half-breathed words of sweethearts conditioning impatient lovers with war-services. It thundered splendidly in the impassioned appeals of orators to the people. It whistled through the streets, it stole in to the firesides, it clinked glasses in bar-rooms, it lifted the gray hairs of our wise men in conventions, it thrilled through the lectures in college halls, it rustled the thumbed book-leaves of the school-rooms.

This wind blew upon all the vanes of all the churches of the country, and turned them one way – toward war. It blew, and shook out, as if by magic, a flag whose device was unknown to soldier or sailor before, but whose every flap and flutter made the blood bound in our veins.

Who could have resisted the fair anticipations which the new war-idea brought? It arrayed the sanctity of a righteous cause in the brilliant trappings of military display; pleasing, so, the devout and the flippant which in various proportions are mixed elements in all men. It challenged the patriotism of the sober citizen, while it inflamed the dream of the statesman, ambitious for his country or for himself. It offered test to all allegiances and loyalties; of church, of state; of private loves, of public devotion; of personal consanguinity; of social ties. To obscurity it held out eminence; to poverty, wealth; to greed, a gorged maw; to speculation, legalized gambling; to patriotism, a country; to statesmanship, a government; to virtue, purity; and to love, what all love most desires – a field wherein to assert itself by action.

***

In a battle, as far as concerns the individual combatants, the laws and observances of civilization are abandoned, and primitive barbarism is king pro tem. To kill as many as possible; – this, at the actual shock of arms, is the whole duty of man. If indeed there be generals of genius managing the thing behind the lines, it is not less barbarism, but only more powerful barbarism; it is genius manœuvring the interests of brute strength; it is Apollo tending swine.

When the battle is over, to emerge from this temporary barbarism is difficult and requires a little time. Kind Heaven! To see a beautiful woman, to hear her soft tones of voice, to say pleasant things to her, seems so strange, just after you have uttered those strange, hoarse cries that men do utter, not knowing why, in battle; – just after you have killed a man, and perhaps felt the sickening warmth of his blood, and turned away from the terrible odor that rises like a curse from the wound…

***

He fell asleep, and dreamed that he saw big wars standing up in ranks, like men, and fighting with thunders and wild-fires. On the flanks hovered airy pestilences skirmishing, and anon loud worldcalamities exploded, jarring all space. Which dissolved; and he was walking upon an immeasurable plain where lay old dead universes, like skulls whitening on a deserted battle-field…

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Richard Aldington: It was a war of missiles, murderous and soul-shaking explosives, like living in the graveyard of the world

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

Richard Aldington: Selections on war

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Richard Aldington
From Death of a Hero (1929)

NPG x10306; (Edward Godfree) Richard Aldington by Howard Coster

He found that the real soldiers, the front-line troops, had had no more delusions about the War than he had. They hadn’t his feelings of protest and agony over it all, they hadn’t tried to think it out. They went on with the business, hating it, because they had been told it had to be done and believed what they had been told. They wanted the War to end, they wanted to get away from it, and they had no feeling of hatred for their enemies on the other side of No Man’s Land. In fact, they were almost sympathetic to them. They also were soldiers, men segregated from the world in this immense barbaric tumult. The fighting was so impersonal as a rule that it seemed rather a conflict with dreadful hostile forces of Nature than with other men. You did not see the men who fired the ceaseless hail of shells on you, nor the machine-gunners who swept away twenty men to death in one zip of their murderous bullets, nor the hands which projected trench-mortars that shook the earth with awful detonations, nor even the invisible sniper who picked you off mysteriously with the sudden impersonal “ping!” of his bullet. Even in the perpetual trench raids, you only caught a glimpse of a few differently-shaped helmets a couple of traverses away; and either their bombs got you, or yours got them. Actual hand-to-hand fighting occurred, but it was comparatively rare. It was a war of missiles, murderous and soul-shaking explosives, not a war of hand-weapons.

***

But what were they really against? who were their real enemies? He saw the answer with a flood of bitterness and clarity. Their enemies – the enemies of German and English alike – were the fools who sent them to kill each other instead of help each other. Their enemies were the sneaks and the unscrupulous; the false ideals, the unintelligent ideas imposed on them, the humbug, the hypocrisy, the stupidity…Maybe he was all wrong, maybe it was “right” for men to be begotten only to murder each other in huge, senseless combats. He wondered if he were not getting a little insane through this persistent brooding over the murders, by striving so desperately and earnestly to find out why it had happened, by agonising over it all, by trying to think how it could be prevented from occurring again. After all, did it matter so much? Yes, did it matter? What were a few million human animals more or less? Why agonise about it? The most he could do was die. Well, die, then. But O God! O God! is that all? To be born against your will, to feel that life might in its passing be so lovely and so divine, and yet to have nothing but opposition and betrayal and hatred and death forced on you! To be born for the slaughter like a calf or a pig! To be violently cast back into nothing – for what? My God! for what? Is there nothing but despair and death? Is life vain, beauty vain, love vain, hope vain? “The war to end all wars!” Is anyone so asinine as to believe that? A war to breed wars, rather…

***

The company were billeted in the ruins of a village behind the reserve trenches, over a mile from the front line. The landscape was flat, almost treeless except for a few shell-blasted stumps, and covered with snow frozen hard. Every building in sight had been smashed, in many cases almost level with the ground. It was a mining country with great queer hills of slag and strange pit-head machinery in steel, reduced by shell-fire to huge masses of twisting rusting metal. They were in a salient, with the half-destroyed, evacuated town of M- in the elbow-crook on the extreme right. The village churchyard was filled with graves of French soldiers; there were graves inside any of the houses which had no cellars, and graves flourished over the bare landscape. In all directions were crosses, little wooden crosses, in ones and twos and threes, emerging blackly from the frozen snow. Some were already askew; one just outside the ruined village had been snapped short by a shell-burst. The dead men’s caps, mouldering and falling to pieces, were hooked on to the tops of the crosses – the German grey round cap, the French blue-and-red kepi, the English khaki. There were also two large British cemeteries in sight – rectangular plantations of wooden crosses. It was like living in the graveyard of the world – dead trees, dead houses, dead mines, dead villages, dead men…

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