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Philip Freneau: Death smiles alike at battles lost or won

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

American writers on peace and against war

Philip Freneau: The Prospect of Peace

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Philip Freneau
A Picture of Our Times (1782)
With Occasional Reflections

Still round the world triumphant Discord flies,
Still angry kings to bloody contest rise;
Hosts bright with steel, in dreadful order plac’d,
And ships contending on the watery waste;
Distracting demons every breast engage,
Unwearied nations glow with mutual rage;
Still to the charge the routed Briton turns,
The war still rages and the battle burns;
See, man with man in deadly combat join,
See, the black navy form the flaming line;
Death smiles alike at battles lost or won –
Art does for him what Nature would have done.

Can scenes like these delight the human breast? –
Who sees with joy humanity distrest;
Such tragic scenes fierce passion might prolong,
But slighted Reason says, they must be wrong.
Curs’d be the day, how bright soe’er it shin’d,
That first made kings the masters of mankind;
And curs’d the wretch who first with regal pride
Their equal rights to equal men deny’d.
But curs’d o’er all, who first to slav’ry broke
Submissive bow’d and own’d a monarch’s yoke,
Their servile souls his arrogance ador’d
And basely own’d a brother for a lord;
Hence wrath and blood, and feuds and wars began,
And man turned monster to his fellow man.

Not so that age of innocence and ease
When men, yet social, knew no ills like these;
Then dormant yet, ambition (half unknown)
No rival murder’d to possess a throne;
No seas to guard, no empires to defend –
Of some small tribe the father and the friend.
The hoary sage beneath his sylvan shade
Impos’d no laws but those which reason made;
On peace not war, on good not ill intent,
He judg’d his brethren by their own consent;
Untaught to spurn those brethren to the dust;
In virtue firm, and obstinately just,
For him no navies rov’d from shore to shore.
No slaves were doom’d to dig the glitt’ring ore;
Remote from all the vain parade of state,
No slaves in diamonds saunter’d at his gate,
Nor did his breast the guilty passions tear,
He knew no murder and he felt no fear.

Was this the patriarch sage? – Then turn thine eyes
And view the contrast that our age supplies;
Touch’d from the life, I trace no ages fled,
I draw no curtain that conceals the dead;
To distant Britain let thy view be cast,
And say the present far exceeds the past;
Of all the plagues that e’er the world have curs’d,
Name George the tyrant, and you name the worst!
What demon, hostile to the human kind,
Planted these fierce disorders in the mind?
All urg’d alike, one phantom we pursue,
But what has war with happiness to do?
In death’s black shroud this gem can ne’er be found;
Who deals for that the life-destroying wound,
Or pines with grief to see a brother live,
That life dissolving which we cannot give?

‘Tis thine, Ambition! – Thee these horrors suit:
Lost to the human, she assumes the brute;
She proudly vain or insolently bold,
Her heart revenge, her eye intent on gold,
Sway’d by the madness of the present hour
Mistakes for happiness extent of power;
That shining bait which dropt in folly’s way
Tempts the weak mind, and leads the heart astray!
Thou happiness! still sought but never found,
We, in a circle, chase thy shadow round;
Meant all mankind in different forms to bless,
Which yet possessing, we no more possess: –
Thus far remov’d and painted on the eye
Smooth verdant fields seem blended with the sky,
But where they both in fancied contact join
In vain we trace the visionary line;
Still as we chase, the empty circle flies,
Emerge new mountains or new oceans rise.

Categories: Uncategorized

Stephen Vincent Benét: Toy soldiers

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

American writers on peace and against war

Stephen Vincent Benét: The dead march from the last to the next blind war

Stephen Vincent Benét: Nightmare For Future Reference: The second year of the Third World War

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Stephen Vincent Benét
From Spanish Bayonet

He opened the door. Three soldiers headed by a corporal marched into the room and grounded arms.

Andrew thought tiredly that they looked like disgruntled footmen in their draggled uniforms. The corporal’s face was still puffy with sleep. By some trick of mind he remembered his first tour of inspection when they had passed the tiny guardhouse near the wharves and Dr. Gentian had jested about his military forces. There were only eight men at the post – where were the other five’? It seemed inappropriate that they should not join in this nightmare joke of arresting him as a murderer and a rebel.

The corporal was a decent fellow – he had often given him tobacco. But tonight his face was as stiff and wooden as a face carved on the bowl of a pipe. It betrayed not the slightest sign that he had ever seen Andrew before. All soldiers were like that – they came out of a giant toy-box and turned into flat pieces of painted wood whenever someone spoke to them with a frog in his throat. He looked at the corporal’s feet accusingly – they should be glued into a little green stand. Also, it was thoughtless of Dr. Gentian to leave his soldiers out in the rain. They would have to be repainted, tomorrow, clumsily, with sticky stuff that came off on your tongue when you licked the brush. Presently he would get up and push the corporal in the chest – then the corporal would totter on his stand and fall in one piece against the nearest private, and all three of them would clatter to the floor with a woodeny sound, because they were only toys, and this was a dream.

***

“Once men have started to fight, they forget what set them on,” Sebastian said, “It is like a game of ball – the ball is nothing – the thing is to throw the ball so it counts for your side. Those who watch the game see better than the players. Only, in war, you cannot stand off and watch the game.”

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Henri Troyat: I prefer to die, so that I no longer have to see the others die

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

French writers on war and peace

Henri Troyat: Selections on war

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Henri Troyat
From The Red and the White

Since war had broken out, intelligence was of no avail. Decisions were made with flesh, blood, heart, belly, with everything in fact except with the brain.

***

As he reflected on the impressions he had received in Stavka, Malinov compared the G.H.Q. to an engineer’s office. There the war was still only an abstraction, a game of numbers, a calculation of probabilities. There were no burning villages, vast stretches of Russian territory falling into the enemy hands, but only tiny sections of a map shaded blue or red. No doubt this had to be so, for war would be impossible if its leaders were not so mentally detached that they could forget that they were commanding fellow humans and not ants.

***

“We’re both maniacs for sacrifice. And who will thank us for it?”

“The wounded.”

“Are you sure? Don’t you think they’ll curse us for saving their lives when they return home, amputated, weakened, incapable of working or thinking normally? I often say to myself that it’s not the dying we should pity, but the cripples who live, thanks to our care, and go on suffering. I often envy those who leave us, those who will not see the end of the show….”

He picked up a green leaf and rubbed it nervously between his fingers. Nina was struck by a delightful memory of her father in his sunbaked garden, the bees humming around the fruit trees. Were there still, somewhere, young girls in love picking flowers in the meadows, open pastry shops, children playing hide-and-seek?

“They say the dead number four million,” said Siferov, “and the butchery goes on. Why don’t they sign a peace? It would not be treachery. The Tsar must let the Allies know the state of extreme exhaustion of Russia. He must admit quite openly that we were unprepared, that we lack equipment and the political situation is dangerous. Has the Tsar greater responsibilities towards his Allies than to his own people? To whom did he swear allegiance when he was crowned? Russia, or France and England?”

He wiped his face with a dirty handkerchief. His hands were trembling.

“I know very well,” he continued, “what I’m saying sounds terrible. Only a few months ago I would never have dared to say such things. But in the face of this absurd mass-murder I can’t be silent any longer. They invoke the treaty of eighteen twelve, comparing the Grand Duke Nicholas to Kutuzov and prophesy that ‘the vast spaces of Russia will absorb the enemy and destroy him.’ Words! Words! And meanwhile Russia’s best sons are dying. A Cossack N.C.O. said to me today before the operation, ‘I prefer to die, so that I no longer have to see the others die.’ I too, I would rather die than see the others dying.”

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Francis Saltus Saltus: Selections on peace and war

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Jorge Guillén: Rest peacefully, free of our presences

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

Jorge Guillén: The monsters have passed over

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Jorge Guillén
Cemetery

Neither grieving nor imprisoned but lying alone
Quiet at last between earth and still more
Earth: the unsuffering skeleton, made bone.
Rest peacefully, free of our presences, under our war.

***

Camposanto

Yacente a solas, no está afligido, no está preso,
Pacificado al fin entre tierra y más tierra,
El esqueleto sin angustria, a sola hueso,
¡Descanse en paz, sin nosotros, bajo nuestra guerra!

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Francis Saltus Saltus: Deem you one ambitious whose subjects bleed and perish on a field?

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

American writers on peace and against war

Francis Saltus Saltus: Selections on peace and war

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Francis Saltus Saltus
From An Answer

Call’st thou ambitious one who greeds to rule
A horde of savage soldiers armed in steel,
Who straggle to the fray as would a mule
Kicked at and battered by his master’s heel?
Deem’st thou ambitious he whose subjects bleed
And perish by his orders on a field
Where belching cannon, deaf to race or creed,
Vomit their terrors till the foemen yield?
Deem’st thou ambitious one in pomp arrayed
With slaves and cohorts at his erst command,
One who is wealthy-pursed and strong of blade,
One whose omnipotence awes sea and land?
If so, he lacketh reason, less his life
Be one of leniency; for tyrants’ sleep
Is sad and fatal, and a rancorous knife
Can sound the infamy of hearts most deep.

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Francis Saltus Saltus: Thy theme was one of utter peace

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

American writers on peace and against war

Francis Saltus Saltus: Selections on peace and war

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Francis Saltus Saltus
Gérard de Nerval

Thy gentle life was one long spirit-dream!
Pale envy on thy white soul left no stain!
Maugre ingratitude, neglect, disdain,
Thou held’st all men in sovereign esteem!

Poor wanderer through the earth’s broad ways, thy theme
Was one of utter peace; thy charming strain
Lulled with delicious balm our mental pain,
Greek in its Art, and in its Faith supreme!

Poet, the muse that such soft accents gave
To this bad world, stronger than antique creeds
Lives in our hearts, where naught her beauty mars.
As thy calm life has been, so is thy grave,
Tranquil and sweet amid the flowers and reeds,
Serene beneath the splendor of sad stars!

***

From Moods of Madness
Song of a Fiend

Make the fetid cauldron flow,
Murder reigns and men are slaves,
There is place for more below,
Make fresh wine and dig new graves,
Hear the bellowing crowd that raves,
Here’s to War and Woe!

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Francis Saltus Saltus: Peace to see our Love and Law arrived to witness cruel War

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

American writers on peace and against war

Francis Saltus Saltus: Selections on peace and war

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Francis Saltus Saltus
Austerlitz

On to the goal the impatient legions come!
Ulm haloes with success an army’s might;
Far mid the mists and gloom of Austrian night,
Hear the advancing steeds, the ominous drum!

Europe cowers shuddering, and strong kings are dumb;
A Caesar leads a nation to the fight,
And o’er the allied camps the flaming light
Of his great star strikes the rude masses numb!

Five hundred thundering cannon boom and glow,
A sun of victory on the keen steel slants,
There on the gore-strewn plains of pine and snow
Russ clutches Gaul in labyrinths of lance,
While o’er the hurrying hell of war and woe
Floats the Imperial, bloodstained flag of France.

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Confession

Love came to Earth with faith and trust,
And found all nations steeped in lust.
Sweet Pity came in ways sublime,
Her eyes on every side saw crime.

Health, peerless, sprang from Heaven’s breath.
And came to Earth to find – but Death.
While Peace to see our Love and Law
Arrived to witness cruel War.

Then back to Heaven the angels flew,
Their golden pinions draped in dew.
Asking whose fault is this, oh God divine,
And God serenely answered – “It is mine.”

***

From Bah!

I see ten thousand men advance,
With musket, cannon, glave and lance;
They fight until the soil is red,
And half have gone to meet the dead.

While in a village-church, not far away,
I hear the austere, bearded preacher say,
“Poor mortals here below,
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

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Lawrence Schoonover: An entire nation praying for peace at one time

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

American writers on peace and against war

Lawrence Schoonover: Accursed powder

Lawrence Schoonover: An age of strict justice and peace, when nations shall live under law, without war

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Lawrence Schoonover
From The Spider King
A Biographical Novel of Louis XI of France

One of the diplomatic things in the letter to the pope made history. Louis had ordered mass prayers for peace at high noon every day. Henceforth every Frenchman, whoever he was, would stop whatever he was doing when he heard the midday bells, bow his head, and recite three Ave Marias.

Organized prayers for peace on a national scale had never been known before, far less commanded by royal edict. Louis was assaulting the gate of Heaven itself, clamoring to be heard. If one prayer was good, how much better and louder and more efficient sixteen million would be, all uttered simultaneously!

Not everyone prayed in a realm so divided, especially the great lords. But the little people, as always, wanted peace; the threat of another, longer, more terrible war, with hideously improved new weapons, was dark and heavy. In their thousands in the shops, in their millions in the fields, whenever church bells could be heard – and that was everywhere – the little people of France pulled off their caps and paused and prayed the first Angelus. The beautiful national custom was destined to survive long after the emergency that created it was forgotten, the generation that first uttered it dust, and the king who commanded it a legend.

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Edwin Markham: Semiramis, the conqueror

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

American writers on peace and against war

Edwin Markham: Peace

Edwin Markham: Peace Over Africa

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Edwin Markham
A Look into the Gulf

I looked one night, and there the Semiramis,
With all her mourning doves about her head,
Sat rocking on an ancient road of Hell,
Withered and eyeless, chanting to the moon
Snatches of song they sang to her of old
Upon the lighted roofs of Nineveh.
And then her voice rang out with rattling laugh:
“The bugles! they are crying back again –
Bugles that broke the nights of Babylon,
And then went crying on through Nineveh.

***

Stand back, ye trembling messengers of ill!
Women, let go my hair: I am the Queen,
A whirlwind and a blaze of swords to quell
Insurgent cities. Let the iron tread
Of armies shake the earth. Look, lofty towers:
Assyria goes by upon the wind!”
And so she babbles by the ancient road,
While cities turned to dust upon the Earth
Rise through her whirling brain to live again –
Babbles all night, and when her voice is dead
Her weary lips beat on without a sound.

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Francis Saltus Saltus: If we saw but a century of peace

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

American writers on peace and against war

Francis Saltus Saltus: Selections on peace and war

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Francis Saltus Saltus
From Life

If we lived through long epochs and ages,
If we saw but a century of peace,
Had we time to calm murmurs and rages,
Had we time to make wickedness cease;
We might barter our faith to the sages,
We might force evil thoughts to decrease.

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From To J.S. Thebaud, M.D.

See the red flashing of the sword and steel,
The tramp of glittering armies sent to kill!
Hear the wild music of the bugles’ peal,
The ranks mowed down, the chief advancing still!
What bloody roles these butcher-heroes fill,
Tell me, oh thou who wert ordained to heal!

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George Preedy: One gigantic symbol of war, a cloudy impersonal cohort of Mars

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

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George Preedy (Marjorie Bowen)
From Bagatelle and Some Other Diversions
A Tune for a Trumpet

Some months before, the Imperialist forces had passed through Karolsfeld and one wing of the Castle was now merely a wall, half-consumed by fire, and those rooms yet habitable in the other portion had been pillaged and defiled; here and there on a wall hung some decorations, some rent tapestries and splintered wood smashed by wanton blows from pike or musketoon, and in the room where the sick man lay was a scant arrangement of broken furniture, a torn tapestry across the unglazed window, and a poor lamp burning rank oil standing on a cracked and broken marble table.

The wounded man lay on an old mattress and some rank straw which had come from the stables; his cuirass and gorget, rusted with dried blood and flung beside the rude bed, dully reflected the coarse lamplight; his wound was festering and his tainted blood ran thickly….

***

The pastor and the woman looking round in silence, endeavoured to distinguish one man from another in the group that this red light disclosed, but all these warriors were hot, flushed and bitter, in armour, cloaked and plumed; all spoke and moved as if with one volition, so that it seemed to the pastor that he did not see many men but one gigantic symbol of war, a cloudy impersonal cohort of Mars.

***

“Ah, young Erlangen,” replied Wallenstein softly, “you have come to a fearful pass. I recall Karolsfeld when it held a hundred serving-men in the kitchen and fifty horses in the stables.”

Graf Sylvain did not answer, but the pastor said:

“And now there are but rats and owls, sire, and such is war.”

***

Wallenstein, like one in heavy thought, had ridden ahead of all, immediately before the standard of the black eagles of the Empire. At one time, as they passed through the beautiful woods of early autumn he had seen a bird in a wild cherry tree among the yet green fruit, and, taking his carbine from his saddle, had fired at it, watching to see it fall; he who was glutted with the slaughter of war had turned in his saddle to see the little bird lying in the sweet grass; he had seemed more like a man tormented than one who has satisfied his lust.

***

“It is a terrible thing, Prince, to have so much power. You spend your life among maimed and dying men, wounded limbs, ambulances, doctors, massacres…You march through towns in mourning, you tramp across the country bleeding to death….”

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Lawrence Schoonover: An age of strict justice and peace, when nations shall live under law, without war

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

American writers on peace and against war

Lawrence Schoonover: Accursed powder

Lawrence Schoonover: An entire nation praying for peace at one time

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Lawrence Schoonover
From The Spider King
A Biographical Novel of Louis XI of France

When the Estates learned that they were to be a permanent parliament and henceforth would have a voice in their own government, they cheerfully voted to conscript a standing army, and imposed a special tax to to pay the soldiers their wages; and from the solde, their pay, came the name of soldiers in every European language.

***

He ordered Henri LeClerq to destroy his grenades and prepare such few technicians as knew the secret of the fuses for instant flight with him. Their families would come later, he said, for modern as the age might be, the wives and children of soldiers never had been and never would be held hostage for their men or tortured to reveal secrets which they probably did not know anyhow. In this the dauphin acted in good faith with no thought that an age might degenerate to a point where everyone, regardless of sex or age, would be treated with equal barbarity in war.

***

“Charles,” said the duke, “let’s try not to have any wars. Look at England: don’t let it happen here. In the end you’re always right back where you started, a lot of good men get killed and, as I understand it, taxes become very burdensome to the poor people.”

***

“And the little prince?”

“He shall be named Joachim, from the great theologian who foretells in his writings the coming of an age of strict justice and peace, when nations shall live under law, without war. That is my hope for France, some day perhaps for all the world. When I come to reign I shall teach him all I know and all I learn, and he shall learn from me, and when I die he shall go on, and after him his son, and his son’s sons for generations, till the golden age is won and a resting season comes upon the world. the sabbath of weary humanity, in accordance with the great vision of Joachim of Floris.”

***

Louis did not care for tournaments, which only played at war and accomplished nothing.

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Thomas Campbell: That first spoke peace to man

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

British writers on peace and war

Thomas Campbell: Selections on peace and war

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Thomas Campbell
The Rainbow

Triumphal arch, that fill’st the sky
When storms prepare to part,
I ask not proud Philosophy
To teach me what thou art –

Still seem as to my childhood’s sight,
A midway station given
For happy spirits to alight
Betwixt the earth and heaven.

Can all that Optics teach, unfold
Thy form to please me so,
As when I dreamt of gems and gold
Hid in thy radiant bow?

When Science from Creation’s face
Enchantment’s veil withdraws,
What lovely visions yield their place
To cold material laws!

And yet, fair bow, no fabling dreams,
But words of the Most High,
Have told why first thy robe of beams
Was woven in the sky.

When o’er the green undeluged earth
Heaven’s covenant thou didst shine,
How came the world’s grey fathers forth
To watch thy sacred sign.

And when its yellow lustre smiled
O’er mountains yet untrod,
Each mother held aloft her child
To bless the bow of God.

Methinks, thy jubilee to keep,
The first made anthem rang
On earth delivered from the deep,
And the first poet sang.

Nor ever shall the Muse’s eye
Unraptured greet thy beam:
Theme of primeval prophecy,
Be still the poet’s theme!

The earth to thee her incense yields,
The lark thy welcome sings,
When glittering in the freshened fields
The snowy mushroom springs.

How glorious is thy girdle cast
O’er mountain, tower, and town,
Or mirrored in the ocean vast,
A thousand fathoms down!

As fresh in yon horizon dark,
As young thy beauties seem,
As when the eagle from the ark
First sported in thy beam

For, faithful to its sacred page,
Heaven still rebuilds thy span,
Nor lets the type grow pale with age
That first spoke peace to man.

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Lawrence Schoonover: Accursed powder

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

American writers on peace and against war

Lawrence Schoonover: An age of strict justice and peace, when nations shall live under law, without war

Lawrence Schoonover: An entire nation praying for peace at one time

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Lawrence Schoonover
From The Spider King
A Biographical Novel of Louis XI of France

The smell of death was gone, and in its place there was smoke and the smell of gunpowder; and through the smoke the ghostly wail of an Englishman, Roger Bacon, crying to the little prince (who as yet had not opened his eyes): “Would God I had never set down that diabolical formula, even in an anagram! How was I to know it would be deciphered or to what use it would be put? I thought it so pleasant to dabble in the natural sciences!”

***

No weapon more horrible than gunpowder had been or ever would be suggested by the Devil and invented by man. Surely gunpowder had exhausted both man’s ingenuity and the Devil’s imagination.

***

Where were the ideals of chivalry?

From time to time a member of their own class would supply the answer by dying miserably of a bullet no surgeon knew how to extract, some deep-seated fragment of iron aimed by a base-born engineer and shot from a blindly impersonal gun that the chevalier had not even seen, mortally wounded through Milanese armor that offered no more protection than if it had been an eggshell. Where had the rules of chivalry been since gunpowder was brought into war?

***

So many men, so many unsuspecting, unwarned, unshriven men, so soon to become bloody, mangled corpses, unrecognizable as humanity! In former wars with less violent weapons there had always been something left to bury.

***

A new generation of warriors, proud of their wonderful weapons, contemptuous of the old rules and…dedicated solely to winning, had changed the art of war. It was impersonal now, soulless, incredibly effective.

***

The truce with England had spewed into Paris twenty thousand brawling soldiers, brutal spawn of the weary war, with no skill but the skill of killing, no home but the camp, and no pay since for the moment there was no fighting.

***

Among the crowds were many maimed and crippled veterans of the perpetual war, brutalized by poverty, unemployable and forgotten, begging their lives away on the streets before old wounds killed them.

***

Customs, costumes, dialects, weights, measures, laws, everything changed with the crossing of each petty boundary. Such was the chaotic legacy of generations of war and the Black Death, and such was the misery of France. Men drew apart from their neighbors, trusting only the power of some local lord to protect them in times of danger, and danger was constant, behind the walls of some provincial capital.

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Walter Scott: The diffusion of knowledge, not the effusion of blood

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

British writers on peace and war

Walter Scott: Fighting

Walter Scott: War’s cannibal priest, druid red from his human sacrifice

Walter Scott: The worst sort of frenzy, military frenzy, hath possessed man, woman and child

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Walter Scott
From The Antiquary

“Each printer in those days, as I have already informed you, had his device, his impresa, as I may call it, in the same manner as the doughty chivalry of the age, who frequented tilt and tournament. My ancestor boasted as much in his, as if he had displayed it over a conquered field of battle, though it betokened the diffusion of knowledge, not the effusion of blood.”

***

“The eras by which the vulgar compute time have always reference to some period of fear and tribulation, and they date by a tempest, an earthquake, or burst of civil commotion. When such are the facts most alive in the memory of the common people, we cannot wonder,” he concluded, “that the ferocious warrior is remembered, and the peaceful abbots are abandoned to forgetfulness and oblivion.”

***

“What was your trade in your youth?” continued the Earl.

“A soldier, my lord; and mony a sair day’s kemping I’ve seen. I was to have been made a sergeant, but” –

“A soldier! then you have slain and burnt, and sacked and spoiled?”

“I winna say,” replied Edie, “that I have been better than my neighbours; – it’s a rough trade – war’s sweet to them that never tried it.”

“And you are now old and miserable, asking from precarious charity the food which in your youth you tore from the hand of the poor peasant?”

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Walter Scott: The worst sort of frenzy, military frenzy, hath possessed man, woman and child

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

British writers on peace and war

Walter Scott: Fighting

Walter Scott: War’s cannibal priest, druid red from his human sacrifice

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Walter Scott
From The Antiquary

“Why,” would he say, “did the boy, Tam Rintherout, whom, at my wise sister’s instigation, I, with equal wisdom, took upon trial – why did he pilfer apples, take birds’ nests, break glasses, and ultimately steal my spectacles, except that he felt that noble emulation which swells in the bosom of the masculine sex, which has conducted him to Flanders with a musket on his shoulder, and doubtless will promote him to a glorious halbert, or even to the gallows?”

***

“And what news do you bring us from Edinburgh, Monkbarns?” said Sir Arthur; “how wags the world in Auld Reekie?”

“Mad, Sir Arthur, mad – irretrievably frantic – far beyond dipping in the sea, shaving the crown, or drinking hellebore. The worst sort of frenzy, a military frenzy, hath possessed man, woman, and child.”

***

“And yet, with all my courage, Mr. Oldbuck, I am glad to hear our people are getting under arms.”

“Under arms, Lord love thee!…My own vision in Edinburgh has been something similar. I called to consult my lawyer; he was clothed in a dragoon’s dress, belted and casqued, and about to mount a charger, which his writing-clerk (habited as a sharp-shooter) walked to and fro before his door. I went to scold my agent for having sent me to advise with a madman; he had stuck into his head the plume, which in more sober days he wielded between his fingers, and figured as an artillery officer. My mercer had his spontoon in his hand, as if he measured his cloth by that implement, instead of a legitimate yard. The banker’s clerk, who was directed to sum my cash-account, blundered it three times, being disordered by the recollection of his military tellings-off at the morning-drill. I was ill, and sent for a surgeon –

He came – but valour so had fired his eye,
And such a falchion glittered on his thigh,
That, by the gods, with such a load of steel,
I thought he came to murder, – not to heal.

I had recourse to a physician, but he also was practising a more wholesale mode of slaughter than that which his profession had been supposed at all times to open to him. And now, since I have returned here, even our wise neighbours of Fairport have caught the same valiant humour. I hate a gun like a hurt wild duck – I detest a drum like a quaker; – and they thunder and rattle out yonder upon the town’s common, so that every volley and roll goes to my very heart.”


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Joanna Baillie: Making his simple audience to shrink with tales of war and blood

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

Joanna Baillie: And shall we think of war? 

Joanna Baillie: Do children return from rude jarring war?

Joanna Baillie: Thy native land, freed from the ills of war, a land of peace!

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Joanna Baillie
From A Winter Day

The children sit and listen with the rest;
And should the youngest raise its little voice,
The careful mother, ever on the watch,
And always pleas’d with what her husband says,
Gives it a gentle tap upon the fingers,
Or stops its ill tim’d prattle with a kiss.
The soldier next, but not unask’d, begins,
And tells in better speech what he has seen;
Making his simple audience to shrink
With tales of war and blood. They gaze upon him,
And almost weep to see the man so poor,
So bent and feeble, helpless and forlorn,
That oft’ has stood undaunted in the battle
Whilst thund’ring cannons shook the quaking earth,
And showering bullets hiss’d around his head.
With little care they pass away the night,
Till time draws on when they should go to bed;
Then all break up, and each retires to rest
With peaceful mind, nor torn with vexing cares,
Nor dancing with the unequal beat of pleasure.

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Anatole France: Moved by the spectacle of the miseries and crimes of war

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

Nobel prize in literature recipients on peace and war

French writers on war and peace

Anatole France: Selections on war

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Anatole France
From Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
Nicolas Foucquet

Translated by Winifred Stephens

She was one of those strong-minded women who, like Madame Legras and Madame de Miramion, were moved at once to a courageous pity and angelic melancholy by the spectacle of the miseries and crimes of war. The ordering of her life was in almost all respects comparable to that of a Sister of Mercy. Far from rejoicing at the promotion of her sons, it was with deep anxiety that she beheld them captive to the seductions of a world which she knew to be evil. Nicolas especially and his brother, the Abbé Basile, alarmed her by the extent of their ambition. The Comptroller’s fall, which disconcerted all France, left her untroubled. On hearing that her son had been cast down from the heights of pomp and power, she is said to have thrown herself upon her knees, exclaiming: “I thank Thee, O my God! I have always prayed to Thee for his salvation: now the path to it is open.”

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From an address of Nicolas Foucquet:

“…Sire, I have been commissioned to inform Your Majesty of the destitution to which the majority of your subjects have been reduced. There is no limit to the crimes and excesses committed by the military. Murders, violations, burnings and sacrileges are now regarded merely as ordinary actions; far from committing them in secret, the perpetrators boast of them openly. To-day, Sire, Your Majesty’s troops are living in such licence and such disorder that they are by no means ashamed to abandon their posts in order to despoil those of your subjects who have no means of resistance. In broad daylight, in the sight of their officers, without fear of recognition or apprehension of punishment, soldiers break into the houses of ecclesiastics, noblemen and your highest officials….”

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Jean-Paul Clébert: Concrete monsters. Had war devastated everything and there was no one left alive?

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

French writers on war and peace

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Jean-Paul Clébert
From The Blockhouse
Translated by Jonathan Griffin

To begin with, what was there, really, above that roof? Above, that was, that mass of concrete and earth? Rouquet found it difficult to reconstitute visually the countryside they had passed through during the bombardment. It was so far away. Above the cliffs the plateau was practically deserted for quite a distance. It was edged with thickets and the rooftops of farms. The ground was pitted, and covered with thick, though sunbaked grass. There were sudden hollows, invaded by brambles. Very long, tangled brambles several yards wide and high. Rouquet could feel between his teeth a memory of the tiny grains of blackberries. There was barbed wire mingled with the brambles. Up above an inaccessibly blue sky, and beyond the horizon, below, the sea, also blue with – certainly – the white triangle of a sail. That peaceful plateau invaded by sunshine was unfortunately riddled with dirty grey concrete molehills, inhuman constructions of a kind that could easily be imagined on some other planet. What was likely to be left of these concrete monsters now. The war had long passed on. The Germans must have retired all the way through Normandy, withdrawn towards the center of France, perhaps even to their own country. Who could tell? The war was perhaps over. Peace restored, the fields up there calm and fertile. In any case, the roofs of the smashed blockhouses must be disappearing under weeds, the entrance trenches used as rubbish heaps, the stairs leading in vanishing under thick masses of brambles.

Unless the war had devastated everything and there was no one left alive? With modern weapons that was possible. The earth cleared of men, restored to its primitive wildness. In that case they would be the only survivors of the catastrophe.

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Hans Habe: John Fitzgerald Kennedy was murdered

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

Hans Habe: Constituent battles of the Third World War. You can’t pick your battlefields once war is in progress.

Hans Habe: Hiroshima-born realization of man’s destructibility by man

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Hans Habe
From The Wounded Land
Journeys Through a Divided America
(1964)
Translated by Ewan Butler

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was murdered because he dared to say that the richest country on earth was partly inhabited by an army of invisible beggars….

He was murdered…because he could not…under a democratic system, prevent generals, enemies of the state, warmongers and armament profiteers from propagating hatred in the newspapers, at meetings, on the radio and on television and from using these mass media like giant hypodermic syringes with which to inoculate the masses of the people.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was murdered because he never assumed an obligation which he could not fulfill, never made a promise which he did not believe that he would be able to keep. He refused to undertake a “war of liberation” or commit himself to one because he was not prepared to deviate by a hairsbreadth from his pledged word. When he said “I am a Berliner” he meant it in the sense which the Romans, 2,000 years before, had meant civis Romanus sum – as a title of honor. He was murdered because this attitude provoked on the one hand the “what’s good is what’s good for America” brigade of isolationists and on the other the demagogues who favored a preventive war or “war of liberation.” They replied to his declaration of peace and freedom by declaring a war of hatred against him.

***

“You know, I can’t help thinking of the years just before the war – 1938 or 1939 – when we never dared to close our eyes because we were afraid that the war might creep up on us in our sleep. We argued all night long, tried to do something about it, tried to get close to other people, laughed, quarreled, danced, waited for the dawn. we were frightened.”

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Hans Hellmut Kirst: Selections on war and peace

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Ödön von Horváth: We must prepare them to be warriors. Just that.

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

Ödön von Horváth
From Youth Without God
Translated by R. Willis Thomas

You could have a son too, I thought to myself: but I can easily control any wish I have to bring a son into the world. To be shot down in some war….

***

“You’re forgetting the private memorandum that went round – number 5679, paragraph 33! We are supposed to keep youth at a distance from everything which doesn’t in some way or another prepare their minds for war – which means, morally, we must prepare them to be warriors. Just that.”

***

If these fellows merely rejected everything that’s still sacred to me – well, that wouldn’t be so bad. What hurts is that they put it aside without even having known it. Worse still, they haven’t the slightest desire to know it.

Thinking is a process they hate.

They turn up their noses at human beings. They want to be machines – screws, knobs, belts, wheels – or better still, munitions – bombs, shells, shrapnel. How readily they’d die on a battlefield! To have their name on some war memorial – that’s the dream of their puberty.

***

The priest showed me into his charming study.

“Sit down. I’ll get the wine.”

He left me while me made his way to the cellar.

A picture on the wall attracted my notice. I had seen it before. My parents have a copy of it – my parents are very pious. It was not until the war that I abandoned God. It was asking too much of a youngster to understand that God could allow a war like that. I looked at the picture. God hung nailed to a cross, dead. Mary cried, and John was comforting her. Lightning played across the dark sky. In the foreground stood a warrior in helmet and armor – the Roman Captain.

***

Why was that picture still before my mind? Was I haunted by the Crucified One? No. Or by the face of His mother? No. It was the warrior, the armed and helmeted warrior, the Roman Captain, whose face haunted me.

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Hans Hellmut Kirst: Each thinks it’s in the right, each wants peace and only wishes to defend itself

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

German writers on peace and war

Hans Hellmut Kirst: Selections on war and peace

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Hans Helmutt Kirst
From The Revolt of Gunner Asch (8/15 in der Kaserne)
Translated by Robert Kee

Foreman Freitag left the repair shop, climbed on his bicycle and rode off to the artillery barracks. He wasn’t particularly worried by the fact that this man who had upset Elizabeth turned out to be a soldier. He had a dislike of uniforms, admittedly, and he could never really understand how any normal healthy hard-working man could bring himself to waste his time in an activity of which the ultimate aim was to kill and destroy.

***

“And then came the war,” cried Asch Senior. “The local postman went for a tour of France and lived like a king. When he came back he could speak three words of French and he spoke them thirty times over when he got tight of an evening and started remembering the good old days. A man who worked in a coal merchant’s and who had never been able to save himself a Sunday suit in his whole life destroyed three houses, two guns, four trucks, and several dozen human beings….”

“It’s fundamentally the same today,” said Herbert Asch. “War represents a glorious escape from everyday life, from the dreary rut of the office, the dull monotony of the factory. A man suddenly gets lifted right out of all this. He’s given some ammunition and a license to kill. He’s got men under him – he’s allowed to bully them….”

“But perhaps,” said old Freitag thoughtfully, “men have some sort of primitive urge to be soldiers. I don’t mean just an urge to kill and exercise power, but an urge to protect life and limb, wife and child, the sick and weak. Against wild beasts first of all, against robbers, lunatics, against the enemy….”

“Yes, that may be,” said Asch Senior, “but a perfectly justifiable primitive instinct like that often gets perverted for the worst of ends. Someone wants something the other man’s got. So he simply declares him to be a wild beast, a lunatic, the enemy. It takes two sides to make a war, and each usually has the blessing of the Church. But each thinks it’s in the right, each thinks its honor is at stake, each wants peace and only wishes to defend itself. But one or the other must be in the wrong. Or are both in the wrong?”

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Sinclair Lewis: The democracy of death

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

American writers on peace and against war

Sinclair Lewis: Selections on war

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Sinclair Lewis
From Main Street

Cy was to be heard publishing it abroad that if he couldn’t get the Widow Bogart’s permission to enlist, he’d run away and enlist without it. He shouted that he “hated every dirty Hun; by gosh, if he could just poke a bayonet into one big fat Heinie and learn him some decency and democracy, he’d die happy.” Cy got much reputation by whipping a farm boy named Adolph Pochbauer for being a “damn hyphenated German.”…This was the younger Pochbauer, who was killed in the Argonne, while he was trying to bring the body of his Yankee captain back to the lines. At this time Cy Bogart was still dwelling in Gopher Prairie and planning to go to war.

***

Everywhere Carol heard that the war was going to bring a basic change in psychology, to purify and uplift everything from marital relations to national politics, and she tried to exult in it. Only she did not find it….

Carol did desire to see the Prussian autocracy defeated; she did persuade herself that there were no autocracies save that of Prussia; she did thrill to motion-pictures of troops embarking in New York; and she was uncomfortable when she met Miles Bjornstam on the street and he croaked:

“How’s tricks? Things going fine with me; got two new cows. Well, have you become a patriot? Eh? Sure, they’ll bring democracy – the democracy of death. Yes, sure, in every war since the Garden of Eden the workmen have gone out to fight each other for perfectly good reasons – handed to them by their bosses. Now me, I’m wise. I’m so wise that I know I don’t know anything about the war.”

***

She tried to be content, which was a contradiction in terms. She fanatically cleaned house all April. She knitted a sweater for Hugh. She was diligent at Red Cross work. She was silent when Vida raved that though America hated war as much as ever, we must invade Germany and wipe out every man, because it was now proven that there was no soldier in the German army who was not crucifying prisoners and cutting off babies’ hands.

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Willi Heinrich: If the women had their own way there would be the death penalty for making or bearing arms

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

German writers on peace and war

Willi Heinrich: “It’s quite enough that I know it”

Willi Heinrich: A people proud of its war dead has learned nothing from war

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Willi Heinrich
The Crumbling Fortress (Alte Häuser sterben nicht)
Translated by Michael Glenny

“We are not going to lose any men in this operation.”

Roger sighed. “”I wish we could have convinced their wives of that.”

“Leroy ought to do that,” said Pierre. “He wanted to be a priest once. As usual, though, it will be my job to tell the wives.”

“Rather you than me,” sighed Roger.

“The women of France,” said Raymond with pathos, know what they owe to the Republic.”

“Roger grimaced as though he has a mouth full of vinegar. “He ought to be War Minister,” he said to Pierre.

“Pierre grinned. “If the women of France had their own way there would be the death penalty for making or bearing arms.”

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Willi Heinrich: A people proud of its war dead has learned nothing from war

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

German writers on peace and war

Willi Heinrich: If the women had their own way there would be the death penalty for making or bearing arms

Willi Heinrich: “It’s quite enough that I know it”

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Willi Heinrich
The Crumbling Fortress (Alte Häuser sterben nicht)
Translated by Michael Glenny

“For the French Verdun is something like a national shrine, but in the wrong sense, it seems to me. Instead of pointing a warning the military achievement is glorified. But that is not the way to speak for those who paved the road to Verdun with their bones. When we sing the national anthem in a military cemetery it is, of course, a very moving event, but it distorts the true nature of the matter. We should rig up giant loudspeakers and relay recordings of the screams of the wounded and dying and then no one would ever forget that cemetery….”

“Monsieur Vieale,” said Knopf, “is afraid that you’re bored when we talk about the war.”

“No.” She shook her head. “No, I’m not bored. I was just wondering in what way soldiers nowadays differ from those who fought in the First World War.”

“In their armament,” said Vieale. “Today their equipment is better and more modern.”

“In what other way?” asked the girl.

“That is a difficult question,” said Vieale. “Look at me. I fought in both wars; only for a few days in this one, it’s true, but even that was enough.”

“I don’t think the question is so difficult to answer,” said Knopf. “Would you have volunteered in this war too?”

Vieale laughed. “No, Monsieur, certainly not. I remembered the first war only too well. But with young people it’s a bit different. Why should they be any more sensible than I was thirty years ago?”

“Somebody should have told them,” threw in Anna.

“Some tried to. But when you shout against the wind no one hears you.”

“It’s the tragedy of inevitability,” said Knopf. “If self-destruction is our destiny, the force of reason is powerless against it.”

“Is that your philosophy?” asked Vieale.

“”I said: if! I don’t know. But if it ever came to the point where we had nothing more to live for except for ideologies and the motherland, then it wouldn’t be too difficult to die.”

“Haven’t we reached that point already?”

“I don’t think so,” said Knopf. “Until now it was always a kind of intoxication: they stumbled into death like a drunkard falling under a car. Nobody really went to war to die. They all hoped to escape death and when they realized that it could run faster than they could, they cursed it. We ought not to play anthems over their graves or make solemn speeches in remembrance of them. A people which is proud of its war dead has learned nothing from the war. This is only my personal opinion, but as long as we have no stronger feelings than a bad conscience about our dead when we talk of them, then there will always be other wars. It all began with falsehood and it will one day finish with falsehood: that is what I mean by inevitability. Lies breed death, death breeds lies and so it goes. By distorting the meaning of our existence we have legitimized mass murder.”

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Hans Hellmut Kirst: “Just a dirty, rotten business from beginning to end”

May 16, 2022 2 comments

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

German writers on peace and war

Hans Hellmut Kirst: Selections on war and peace

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Hans Hellmut Kirst
From Forward Gunnar Asch! (08/15 im Krieg)
Translated by Rober Kee

“Well,” said Witterer, “we’ll all soon have a chance of proving what we’re really worth, eh?”

“To hell with that,” said the infantry major openly enough. “If I had things my own way I’d spend the rest of the war in bed.”

“And why not?” said Witterer, thinking himself the old soldier. “After all, you’ve already won your Knight’s Cross.”

“What, this piece of tin?” said the major cynically. “Do you know what that cost me? The lives of twenty-two soldiers, a bullet in the groin and a bad conscience for the rest of my life – that’s to say it’d take me more than a lifetime to get my conscience clean again.’

“Yes, war’s a damned hard business,” said Witterer, trying not to show his embarrassment.

“”It’s not only hard; it’s dirty and rotten as well. Just a dirty, rotten business from beginning to end.”

***

“Just write the ladies off until next year. You’ll have to get used to the fact that there are more men killed than conceived in war – however hard you try to adjust the balance.”

***

“According to Vierbein, things are dead quiet on much of the front. Nearly as quiet as here.”

“Well, why not? Or do you imagine they’re all mad to have a go at the Russians?”

“What the ordinary soldier thinks doesn’t come into it.”

“But the war couldn’t be carried on without them, all the same.”

“Did we want the First World War?” asked Freitag.

“Of course not.”

“Then it didn’t take place, I suppose?”

***

“What else is the whole war but trouble?” said the holder of the Knight’s Cross unconcernedly.

“But the people at the top know what they’re doing….”

“Do they hell?” said the major very emphatically, pouring the contents of an entire tumbler down his throat. “Waging war on a map is a very different thing from lying around in the mud yourself. There’s a difference too between blood and the mark you make on a map with a red pencil. Some men are killed – right, rub them out with an eraser! One man vomits his lungs up into the snow. But the other’s only vomiting because he’s drunk too much red wine!”

***

“But I may be needed,” said Vierbein naively.

The commandant looked up slowly from his desk. He stared at Vierbein in utter amazement.

“Needed?” he said slowly. “What for? The war can surely go on without you for a few hours.”

And the commandant thought: Needed! He really believes he might be needed. He doesn’t know that generals think in terms of divisions. He doesn’t realize that some nights several thousand Vierbeins go into the attack without a single commander sleeping any the worse for it. He’s really managed to persuade himself that he’s making history. But it takes a million liters of blood to write a single chapter of world history. What does one Vierbein count?

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Willi Heinrich: “It’s quite enough that I know it”

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

German writers on peace and war

Willi Heinrich: If the women had their own way there would be the death penalty for making or bearing arms

Willi Heinrich: A people proud of its war dead has learned nothing from war

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Willi Heinrich
The Crumbling Fortress (Alte Häuser sterben nicht)
Translated by Michael Glenny

The times are unsafe,” said Vieale. “I’ve been in two wars and I don’t want anymore to do with shooting….”

“Were you a soldier in 1914?” asked Knopf.

“I volunteered at eighteen. I persuaded myself then that I’d be missing something if I didn’t volunteer. Since then I’ve learned otherwise.”

“That happens to most people,” said Knopf, “but then they forget it again. I was in the first world war myself.”

“Were you?” asked Anna, in extreme surprise. “I never knew that.”

“It’s quite enough that I know it,” said Knopf bitterly….

***

“Apart from him I’ve no time for soldiers. My grandfather was a Republican and my father was killed in 1907 during the rising of the southern wine farmers. That revolt was smashed by Clemenceau. Since then soldiers haven’t been welcome in my family….”

***

“You Americans! What do you know about France? You come over to Europe in boats, play at war for a bit and then clear off again.”

“Now, listen,” said Bordon, “we didn’t come to France for the fun if it. As a Frenchman you should have a slightly better opinion of us.”

“Do you think so?…You didn’t come over to liberate France! You just want to finish off the Germans, now that the Russians have done most of the dirty work for you.” 

***

“You Americans will come over to Europe ten times again whenever your interests here are threatened.”

“Fournier, you’re wrong about America. Once we realize that what we have to lose in Europe is not worth the risk of a war, public opinion will turn and no government in Washington can do a damn thing about it.”

***

“Since Pétain has been in charge the government has been running an anti-alcohol campaign. Personally I’d rather see a man holding a bottle than a rifle.”

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Hans Hellmut Kirst: Nothing – absolutely nothing – can justify war

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

German writers on peace and war

Hans Hellmut Kirst: Selections on war and peace

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Hans Hellmut Kirst
From Forward Gunnar Asch! (08/15 im Krieg)
Translated by Rober Kee

He came here drawn by the magic of the old ruined church. There was something about it of the vastness and stillness of the landscape in which it stood, this landscape which now lay scarred and furrowed and trampled by death.

***

“Of course, once the wheels of war start turning again, then the difficulty is to try and get them to stop.”

***

“You’re both marching toward the millennium,” went on Asch unperturbed,” but each in the opposite direction. Each is convinced that he has discovered the perfect philosophy. And what’s even worse: each thinks that his philosophy is the only one there is.”

“I really think it’s time you were going, Asch. You don’t seem to feel at home here.”

“I’m listening to him,” said Natasha. “What he says interests me very much. He can’t shake my conviction.”

“Nor mine,” said Wedelmann passionately. “And that’s just why it’s quite unnecessary to listen to him.”

“I’m not trying to persuade you,” said Asch in a calm and friendly tone. “I’m not even trying to enlighten you. You’re both too far gone for that. This is the age of mass-produced minds: And there you are, the two of you, both expert performers for your parties – one red and the other brown – you’re in love with each other, I take it, but, for you, love between two human beings has to come second to other things. The Soviet Union, or the Reich, must come first, for both are striving to make the world a better place. The happiness which two human beings are capable of giving each other simply doesn’t count. One can’t help wondering what is the point of human beings producing children. To supply soldiers for the defense of the country? Or to continue to live through such children?”

“You have no sense of patriotism,” said Natasha proudly. “I am defending my country so that I can live in it in peace.”

Wedelmann said, no less proudly: “And presumably you’ll never grasp the fact that the race is all that matters. The individual human being is nothing apart from the race to which he belongs.”

“You’re hopeless,” said Asch. He stood up. “God is above all of us. We can be brought together by our love for each other. All men can be brothers. Nothing – absolutely nothing – can justify war.”

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Hans Hellmut Kirst: It was as if the whole world had become simply one vast graveyard

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

German writers on peace and war

Hans Hellmut Kirst: Selections on war and peace

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Hans Hellmut Kirst
From Forward Gunnar Asch! (08/15 im Krieg)
Translated by Rober Kee

The front was quiet, as it almost always was these days at this time. It was an ugly, sinister, unsettling sort of quiet.

On both sides men who had not yet received orders to attack one another were doing their best to make life, or rather what there was left of it, as tolerable for each other as possible. Although everyone knew how pointless it all was in the end. The silence of the front weighed on people oppressively. It was as if a pack of ravening wolves were quietly surrounding the two armies….

There was not even the sound of a truck on the move to break the silence. No aircraft had appeared in the sky for two weeks. The front lay only about three kilometers away, but over the whole length of it had fallen the silence of the grave.

***

Once again they found themselves caught for the moment in the ominous, treacherous silence which was the war.

“It’s cold,” said Asch. He wanted to break the silence. “Cold and damp.”

A pale moon forced its way through the clouds, wreathed in mysterious vapors. The snow covered the earth like a blanket over a corpse. It seemed to absorb the moonlight and radiate it back again. The darkness slowly dispersed.

***

It was as if the whole world stood still for a moment. There seemed to be no more front lines with frozen corpses lying stiffly in between them; no soldiers snoring beneath filthy banquets; no base camps where they knew neither war nor peace; no women left for a man to go for comfort to. It was as if the whole world had become simply one vast graveyard.

***

“Why does there have to be war?” she asked.

“But for the war we would never have met.”

“What a thing to say!” she answered and withdrew her hand. “That’s just an easy excuse, but it’s a rotten one. We might have met at some big sports gathering, or on holiday, or in a theater, or in a picture gallery, or anywhere like that. Why does there have to be a war to bring two human beings from different countries together?”

“But I’m not responsible for the war, Natasha!”

“No, but you help carry it on.”

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Hans Habe: Constituent battles of the Third World War. You can’t pick your battlefields once war is in progress.

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

Hans Habe: Hiroshima-born realization of man’s destructibility by man

Hans Habe: John Fitzgerald Kennedy was murdered

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Hans Habe
From The Poisoned Stream
Translated by J. Maxwell Brownjohn

Read the papers. Reports of fighting in Asia, Africa, the Near and Far East. Fears of a Third World War – they ought to call it the fourth, considering how long ago the third began. The two superpowers have been waging war for years, but on foreign soil. War by instalments – very appropriate in the age of hire-purchase. What is taking place in Vietnam or the Near East isn’t a war but a series of battles – constituent battles of the Third World War. You can’t pick your battlefields once war is in progress. Where will the next battlefield be? The most frightening aspect of war is the corruption it lures us into….

***

The word ruin has a dual significance which renders it applicable both to the miraculous relics of Greece and Rome and to the architectural skeletons left by war: we can, for instance, admire the Forum Romanum and the ruins of Egypt because no personal recollection is associated with them, because we never saw their columns rent asunder. Ancient churches, residences, and places of public assembly did not fall to dust before our eyes; dead they are, but not of our kin; young they once were, but we never knew them in their youth; ruined they stand, but we did not witness their decay.

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Hans Habe: Hiroshima-born realization of man’s destructibility by man

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

Hans Habe: Constituent battles of the Third World War. You can’t pick your battlefields once war is in progress.

Hans Habe: John Fitzgerald Kennedy was murdered

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Hans Habe
From The Poisoned Stream
Translated by J. Maxwell Brownjohn

I have a pronounced aversion to soldiers, past, present, and future. Sometimes it works the other way round: if I take a dislike to someone he usually turns out to be an ex-hero. Films show you villainous Fascists and Nazis, but honest-to-God soldiers abound on both sides. Unfortunately, it was honest-to-God soldiers who put Resistance fighters up against the wall in Rome, Venice, and Intra.

***

Is there really a resemblance between our own age and some epoch in the past? I can hardly believe it. There can’t be any resemblance because we have come to an entirely new realization, the Hiroshima-born realization of man’s destructibility by man. Space-travel means nothing beside the message of Hiroshima: we knew man’s capacity for achievement, but never even suspected his capability for destruction. Hiroshima was an attempt to wrest God’s last prerogative from Him, the right of the flood….

Doesn’t the malaise we complain about so sadly spring from the impotence of our omnipotence? Can the atom bomb cause still greater havoc than it has already? Can omnipotence be abused when omnipotence itself is an abuse? Incapable of living in the shadow of destruction, we live as if we had already been destroyed….People live on one side of the chasm as if the atom bomb didn’t exist; on the other as though it had already reduced everything to ashes.

The atom bomb, which fell in the present, destroyed the only place where the past and the future might have met. One can see across a chasm – even join hands across it – but no-man’s-land is a boundless wilderness. Nobody ever sees another soul.

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Heinrich Böll: I saw the fateful gleam in his eyes too late

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

Nobel prize in literature recipients on peace and war

German writers on peace and war

Heinrich Böll: Every death in war is a murder – a murder for which someone is responsible

Heinrich Böll: I’m going to die soon and before the war is over. I shall never know peace again.

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Heinrich Böll
From Billiards at Half-past Nine
Translator unidentified

“War bonds, Leonore? I didn’t buy them. They were left to me by my father-in-law. Throw them into the fire along with the banknotes. Two medals? Yes, of course, I built siege trenches, I bored tunnels, set up artillery emplacements, faced barrages, dragged the wounded out of the field of fire. Second-class, first-class, bring them here, Leonore, let’s have them. We’ll throw them into the roof gutter. Let the muck in the gutter bury them. Otto found them once when he was rummaging around in the cabinets while I was at my drawing board. I saw the fateful gleam in his eyes too late. He’d seen them, and the respect he felt for me took on added dimension. Too late. But at least let’s get rid of them now, so Joseph won’t find them some day among the things I’ll leave behind.”

Only a faint tinkle as he let the medals slide down the sloping roof. The medals tipped over as they fell from the roof into the gutter, and lay with their dull side uppermost.

“Why so shocked, child? They’re mine, and I can do what I want with them. Too late, and maybe not entirely. Let’s hope it’ll rain soon and the dirt will be washed down off the roof….”

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Eric Ambler: The Law did not think killing for money was insane

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

British writers on peace and war

Eric Ambler: It is not good for those who fight to know too much. Speeches, yes. The truth, no!

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Eric Ambler
From Journey into Fear

Watching the full self-conscious lips enunciating these absurdities, Graham wondered if an English jury, trying the man for murder, would find him insane. Probably not: he killed for money; and the Law did not think that a man who killed for money was insane. And yet he was insane. His was the insanity of the sub-conscious mind running naked, of the “throw back,” of the mind which could discover the majesty of God in thunder and lightning, the roar of bombing planes, or the firing of a five hundred pound shell; the awe-inspiring insanity of the primeval swamp.

***

“When a ruling class wishes a people to do something which that people does not want to do, it appeals to patriotism. And, of course, one of the things people most dislike is allowing themselves to be killed….”

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“The instinct for self-preservation is a wonderful thing. It is so easy for people to be heroic about laying down their lives for the sake of principles when they do not expect to be called upon to do so. When, however, the smell of danger is in their nostrils they are more practical. They see alternatives not in terms of honour or dishonour, but in terms of greater or lesser evils….:

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Villiers de L’Isle-Adam: Vox Populi

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

French writers on war and peace

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Villiers de L’Isle-Adam
Vox Populi

Grand review at the Champs-Elysees that day!

Twelve years have been suffered since that vision. A summer sun shattered its long arrows of gold against the roofs and domes of the ancient capital. Thousands of panes reflected its dazzling rays; the people, bathed in a powdery light, thronged the streets to gaze at the army.

Sitting upon a high wooden stool before the railing of the parvis of Notre Dame, his knees folded under black rags, his hands joined under the placard that legally sanctioned his blindness, the centenarian beggar, patriarch of the Misery of Paris – a mournful face of ashen tint, with skin fur rowed by wrinkles of the color of earth – lent his shadowy presence to the Te Deum of the surrounding festival.

All these people, were they not his brethren? The joyous passers-by, were they not his kin? Were they not human, like him? Besides, that guest of the sovereign portal was not entirely destitute: the State had recognized his right to be blind.

Clothed with the title and respectability implied in the official right to receive alms, enjoying, moreover, a voter’s privilege, he was our equal except in light.

And that man, forgotten, as it were, among the living, articulated from time to time a monotonous plaint – evident syllabification of the profound sighs of his whole life- time:

“Have pity on the blind, if you please!”

Around him, beneath the powerful vibrations fallen from the belfry – outside, yonder, beyond the wall of his eyes – the trampling of cavalry, the intermittent braying of trumpets, acclamations mingled with salvoes of artillery from the Invalides with the proud shouts of command, the rattle of steel, and the thunder of drums scanning the interminable march of the passing infantry, a rumor of glory reached him! His trained hearing caught even the rustle of the floating standards whose heavy fringes brushed against the cuirasses. In the mind of the old captive of obscurity a thousand flashes of sensation evoked visions foreknown yet indistinct. A sort of divination informed him of what fevered the hearts and thoughts of the city.

And the people, fascinated, as always, by the prestige that comes from strokes of boldness and fortune, clamored its prayer of the moment:

“Long live the Emperor!”

But during the lulls of the triumphal tempest a lost voice arose in the direction of the mystic railing. The old man, his neck thrown back against the pillory of bars, rolling his dead eyeballs towards the sky, forgotten by that people of which he seemed alone to express the genuine prayer, the prayer hidden under the hurrahs, the secret and personal prayer, droned, like an augural interceder, his now mysterious phrase:

“Have pity on the blind, if you please!”

Grand review at the Champs-Elysees that day!

Now ten years have flown since the sun of that festival – same sounds, same voices, same smoke. A sordine, however, tempered the tumult of the public rejoicings. A shad ow weighed on the eyes of all. The ceremonial salvoes from the platform of the Prytaneum were crossed this time by the distant growls of the batteries in our forts; and straining their ears, the people sought already to distinguish in the echoes the answer of the enemy’s approaching cannon.

The Governor, borne by the ambling trot of his thorough-bred, passed, smiling upon all. The people, reassured by the confidence which an irreproachable demeanor always inspires, alternated with patriotic songs the military applause with which they honored the presence of the soldier.

But the syllables of the furious cheer of yore had been modified; the distracted people preferred the prayer of the moment:

“Long live the Republic!”

And yonder, in the direction of the sublime threshold, could still be distinguished the solitary voice of Lazarus. The sayer of the hidden thought of the people did not modify the rigidity of his fixed plaint. Sincere soul of the festival, uplifting his extinguished eyes to the sky, he cried out, during the silences, with the accent of one making a statement:

“Have pity on the blind, if you please!”

Grand review at the Champs-Elysees that day!

Now nine months have been endured since that troubled sun. Oh ! same rumors, same clashing of arms, same neighing of horses, more muffled, however, than the pre vious year, but yet noisy.

“Long live the Commune!” shouted the people to the passing wind.

And the voice of the secular Elect of Misfortune still repeated, yonder upon the sacred threshold, his refrain that connected the unique thought of the people. Raising his trembling head to the sky, he moaned in the shadow:

“Have pity on the blind, if you please!”

And two moons later, when, to the last vibrations of the tocsin, the generalissimo of the regular forces of the State reviewed his two hundred thousand guns, still smoking, alas! from the sad civil war, the terrified people shouted, while gazing upon the edifices flaming afar:

“Long live the Marshal!”

Yonder, in the direction of the pure enclosure, the immutable voice of the veteran of human misery mechanically repeated his dolorous and piteous observation:

“Have pity on the blind, if you please!”

And since then, from year to year, from review to review, from vociferations to vociferations, whatever might be the name thrown to the hazards of space by the cheering people, those who listen attentively to the sounds of the earth have always distinguished, above the revolutionary clamors and the warlike festivals that followed, the far-away Voice, the true Voice, the intimate Voice of the terrible symbolical beggar, of the incorruptible sentinel of the citizens’ conscience, of him who restores integrally the occult prayer of the Crowd and expresses its sighs.

Inflexible Pontiff of fraternity, that authorized titulary of physical blindness, has never ceased, like an unconscious mediator, to invoke the divine charity upon his brethren in intelligence.

And when, intoxicated with fanfares, with peals of bells and with artillery, the people, dazed by the flattering uproar, endeavors vainly, under whatever syllables falsely enthusiastic, to hide from itself its veritable prayer, the beggar, groping through the sky, his arms uplifted, his face towards the heavy darkness, arises on the eternal threshold of the church, and in tones more and more lamentable, which seem, however, to carry beyond the stars, continues to cry his prophetic rectification:

“Have pity on the blind, if you please!”

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Eric Ambler: It is not good for those who fight to know too much. Speeches, yes. The truth, no!

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

British writers on peace and war

Eric Ambler: The Law did not think killing for money was insane

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Eric Ambler
From Journey into Fear

“Most armies commit what are called atrocities at some time or other. They usually call them reprisals.”

“Including the British army, perhaps?”

“You would have to ask an Indian or an Afrikaner about that. But every country has its madmen. And when you give a license to kill they are not always particular about the way they kill….”

***

“You are right. It is not for us to ask questions. And why? Because the only people who can give the answers are the bankers and the politicians at the top, the boys with the shares in the big factories who make war materials, They will not give us answers. Why? Because they know that if the soldiers of France and England knew those answers they would not fight.”

His wife reddened. “You are mad! Naturally the men of France would fight to defend us from the filthy Bosche.” She glanced at Graham. “It is bad to say France would not fight. We are not cowards.”

“No, but neither are we fools.” He turned quickly to Graham. “Have you heard of Briey, Monsieur? From the mines of the Briey district comes ninety per cent of France’s iron ore. In nineteen fourteen those mines were captured by the Germans, who worked them for the iron they needed. They worked them hard. They have admitted since that without the iron they mined at Briey they would have been finished in nineteen seventeen. Yes, they worked Briey hard. I, who was at Verdun, can tell you that. Night after night we watched the glare in the sky a few kilometres away; the blast furnaces that were feeding the German guns. Our artillery and our bombing aeroplanes could have blown those furnaces to pieces in a week. But our artillery remained silent; an airman who dropped one bomb on the Briey area was court-martialled. Why?” His voice rose. “I will tell you why, Monsieur. Because there were orders that Briey was not to be touched. Whose orders? Nobody knew. The orders came from someone at the top. The Ministry of War said that it was the generals. The generals said that it was the Ministry of War. We did not find out the facts until after the war. The orders had been issued by Monsieur de Wendel of the Comité des Forges who owned the Briey mines and blast furnaces. We were fighting for our lives, but our lives were less important than that the property of Monsieur de Wendel should be preserved to make fat profits. No, it is not good for those who fight to know too much. Speeches, yes. The truth, no!”

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Jun’ichirō Tanizaki: A day’s work, a night’s dream

April 30, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
From The Makioka Sisters
Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker

Meanwhile the world was shaken by new developments in Europe. In May came the German
invasion of the Low Countries and the tragedy of Dunkirk, and in June, upon the French surrender, an armistice was signed at Compiègne….And then one could never know when England, cut off from the continent, would be attacked from the air, and the possibility of air raids brought up the problem of Katharina, now living in a suburb of London. How unpredictable human destinies were!

***

Perhaps she was too tired, however, for there had been an air-raid drill that day and she had found herself in a bucket brigade. In any case, she would doze off and dream of the air-raid drill and wake up only to doze off and dream the same dream again. It seemed to be the Ashiya kitchen, and yet it was a far more up-to-date American-style kitchen, all white tiles and paint, and sparkling glass and chinaware. The air-raid siren would sound, and the glass and chinaware would begin snapping and cracking and breaking to bits. “Yukiko, Etsuko, O-haru, this is dangerous,” she would say, and flee into the dining room, away from the shiny particles in the air. Coffee cups and beer steins and wine glasses and wine and whisky bottles would be snapping and cracking in the dining room too. This is just as bad – she would lead them upstairs, where they would find all the light bulbs exploding. They would then run into a room with only wooden fixtures – and Sachiko would be awake. She had the same dream she did not know how many times.

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Alejo Carpentier: War’s long reach

April 26, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Alejo Carpentier
Explosion in a Cathedral (El siglo de las luces)
Translated by John Sturrock

At this moment the brisk trot of horses was heard. Remigio had appeared at the end of the avenue, sitting on the box of a mud-spattered carriage. But there was no one inside. Reining up abruptly when he saw Esteban, he told him that Jorge had been suddenly taken ill, and was in bed, struck down by a new epidemic that was afflicting the city, and was attributed to the great slaughter on the battlefields of Europe, whose mephitic infection had been brought over by some Russian ships recently arrived to barter goods they had never seen before for the tropical fruits that were very popular with the rich gentlemen of St. Petersburg.

***

She turned toward the harbour, and leaned her back against the gunwale. On the other shore gleamed the lights of districts she had never been to; beyond, mingling together, were lights of the vast baroque chandelier which was the city, with its red, green and orange glass shining among the arcades. To the left lay the dark channel that led to the blackness of the open sea, the sea of adventures, of hazardous voyages, of the endless wars and conflicts that had stained this many-islanded Mediterranean red with blood.

***

And he explained that the soldiers who had survived the plagues in Jaffa were suffering from a mysterious sickness, with which they had already contaminated half France, where the epidemic was wreaking havoc.

***

Although Toussaint Louverture was anxious to establish commercial relations with the United States, the North American traders distrusted the black chieftain’s solvency, and left this chancy market to the men who sold arms and ammunition – the only goods which were always paid for in cash, even when there was not enough flour to make dough for the daily bread.

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Francis Bebey: They all come into the world speaking the same language of peace and friendship

April 22, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Francis Bebey
From Agatha Moudio’s Son
Translated by Joyce A. Hutchinson

Children, whether they come from the sin of hell, or from the best molds of heaven, are all alike.They all descend from the same tree of life, the ones whose branches demonstrate the insignificance of race, and their leaves the thousand characters of man. Later, they will become men and women, who love or hate each other, often without reason, bringing the same zeal to distinguish skin defects and to making classes of pariahs, as they would to trying to bring down the moon, when they have not yet finished reaping the fruits of the earth; they come into the world, all of them, graceful and beautiful, speaking the same dumb language of peace and friendship. Later, alas, they will speak the so much more noisy and stupid language of unreasonable reason, which leads to war and racialism. But long live the shining present of the angels, black or white or red or yellow, who, all in the same way, smilingly approach the shifting sands of life, and sing with the same innocent thirst the mother’s milk of the first mornings of existence. Let them become later what they will become; so much the worse if they don’t become real men, they will at least have been children.

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Edgar Wallace: War

April 20, 2022 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Edgar Wallace: Or wars would be impossible

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Edgar Wallace
War

I.
A tent that is pitched at the base;
A wagon that comes from the night;
A stretcher – and on it a Case;
A surgeon, who’s holding a light,
The Infantry’s bearing the brunt –
O hark to the wind-carried cheer!
A mutter of guns at the front;
A whimper of sobs at the rear.
And it’s War! Orderly, hold the light.
You can lay him down on the table; so.
Easily – gently! Thanks – you may go,’
And it’s War! But the part that is not for show.

II.
A tent, with a table athwart,
A table that’s laid out for one;
A waterproof cover – and nought
But the limp, mangled work of a gun.
A bottle that’s stuck by the pole,
A guttering dip in the neck;
The flickering light of a soul
On the wondering eyes of The Wreck,
And it’s War! ‘Orderly, hold his hand.
I’m not going to hurt you, so don’t be afraid.
A ricochet! God! What a mess it has made!’
And it’s War! And a very unhealthy trade.

III.
The clink of a stopper and glass:
A sigh as the chloroform drips:
A trickle of – what? on the grass,
And bluer and bluer the lips.
The lashes have hidden the stare…
A rent, and the clothes fall away…
A touch, and the wound is laid bare…
A cut, and the face has turned grey…
And it’s War! ‘Orderly, take It out.
It’s hard for his child, and it’s rough on his wife.
There might have been – sooner – a chance for his life
But it’s War! And – Orderly, clean this knife!’

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Edgar Wallace: Or wars would be impossible

April 19, 2022 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Edgar Wallace: War

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Edgar Wallace
From The Angel of Terror

She gave a gesture of despair.

“You’re hopeless,” she said. “These things happened in the dark ages; men and women do not assassinate one another in the twentieth century.”

“Who told you that?” he demanded. “Human nature hasn’t changed for two thousand years. The instinct to kill is as strong as ever, or wars would be impossible. If any man or woman could commit one cold-blooded murder, there is no reason why he or she should not commit a hundred….”

***

“Killing is a matter of expediency. Permissible if you call it war, terrible if you call it murder. To me it is just killing.”

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John Buchan: That night I realized the crazy folly of war

April 5, 2022 2 comments

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

British writers on peace and war

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John Buchan
From Greenmantle

That night I realized the crazy folly of war. When I saw the splintered shell of Ypres and heard hideous tales of German doings, I used to want to see the whole land of the Boche given up to fire and sword. I thought we could never end the war properly without giving the Huns some of their own medicine. But that woodcutter’s cottage cured me of such nightmares. I was for punishing the guilty but letting the innocent go free….What good would it do Christian folk to burn poor little huts like this and leave children’s bodies by the wayside? To be able to laugh and to be merciful are the only things that make man better than the beasts.

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E. Philips Oppenheim: Black tragedy leaned over the land

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

British writers on peace and war

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E. Phillips Oppenheim
From The Great Impersonation

War, alternately the joke and bogey of the conversationalist, stretched her grey hands over the sunlit city. Even the lightest-hearted felt a thrill of apprehension at the thought of the horrors that were to come. In a day or two all this was to be changed. People went about then counting the Russian millions; the steamroller fetish was to be evolved. The most peaceful stockbroker or shopkeeper, who had never even been to a review in his life, could make calculations of man power with a stump of pencil on the back of an old envelope, which would convince the greatest pessimist that Germany and Austria were outnumbered by at least three to one. But on this particular morning, people were too stunned for calculations. The incredible had happened. The long-discussed war – the nightmare of the nervous, the derision of the optimist – had actually materialised. The happy-go-lucky years of peace and plenty had suddenly come to an end. Black tragedy leaned over the land.

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Leo Tolstoy: As if there were any rules for killing people

January 8, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From War and Peace
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

If the aim of the European wars at the beginning of the nineteenth century had been the aggrandizement of Russia, that aim might have been accomplished without all the preceding wars and without the invasion. If the aim was the aggrandizement of France, that might have been attained without the Revolution and without the Empire. If the aim was the dissemination of ideas, the printing press could have accomplished that much better than warfare. If the aim was the progress of civilization, it is easy to see that there are other ways of diffusing civilization more expedient than by the destruction of wealth and of human lives.

***

Napoleon felt this, and from the time he took up the correct fencing attitude in Moscow and instead of his opponent’s rapier saw a cudgel raised above his head, he did not cease to complain to Kutuzov and to the Emperor Alexander that the war was being carried on contrary to all the rules – as if there were any rules for killing people.

***

The troops were moving on, leaving about ten thousand wounded behind them. There were wounded in the yards, at the windows of the houses, and the streets were crowded with them. In the streets, around carts that were to take some of the wounded away, shouts, curses, and blows could be heard.

***

We need only confess that we do not know the purpose of the European convulsions and that we know only the facts – that is, the murders, first in France, then in Italy, in Africa, in Prussia, in Austria, in Spain, and in Russia – and that the movements from the west to the east and from the east to the west form the essence and purpose of these events, and not only shall we have no need to see exceptional ability and genius in Napoleon and Alexander, but we shall be unable to consider them to be anything but like other men….

***

“Yes – love,” he thought again quite clearly. “But not love which loves for something, for some quality, for some purpose, or for some reason, but the love which I – while dying – first experienced when I saw my enemy and yet loved him. I experienced that feeling of love which is the very essence of the soul and does not require an object. Now again I feel that bliss. To love one’s neighbors, to love one’s enemies, to love everything, to love God in all His manifestations. It is possible to love someone dear to you with human love, but an enemy can only be loved by divine love. That is why I experienced such joy when I felt that I loved that man. What has become of him? Is he alive?…”

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Leo Tolstoy: How is it that millions of men commit collective crimes – make war, commit murder, and so on?

January 7, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From War and Peace
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

In 1789 a ferment arises in Paris; it grows, spreads, and is expressed by a movement of peoples from west to east. Several times it moves eastward and collides with a countermovement from the east westward. In 1812 it reaches its extreme limit, Moscow, and then, with remarkable symmetry, a countermovement occurs from east to west, attracting to it, as the first movement had done, the nations of middle Europe. The counter movement reaches the starting point of the first movement in the west – Paris – and subsides.

During that twenty-year period an immense number of fields were left untilled, houses were burned, trade changed its direction, millions of men migrated, were impoverished, or were enriched, and millions of Christian men professing the law of love of their fellows slew one another.

What does all this mean? Why did it happen? What made those people burn houses and slay their fellow men? What were the causes of these events? What force made men act so? These are the instinctive, plain, and most legitimate questions humanity asks itself when it encounters the monuments and tradition of that period.

***

For reasons known or unknown to us the French began to drown and kill one another. And corresponding to the event its justification appears in people’s belief that this was necessary for the welfare of France, for liberty, and for equality. People ceased to kill one another, and this event was accompanied by its justification in the necessity for a centralization of power, resistance to Europe, and so on. Men went from the west to the east killing their fellow men, and the event was accompanied by phrases about the glory of France, the baseness of England, and so on. History shows us that these justifications of the events have no common sense and are all contradictory, as in the case of killing a man as the result of recognizing his rights, and the killing of millions in Russia for the humiliation of England. But these justifications have a very necessary significance in their own day.

These justifications release those who produce the events from moral responsibility. These temporary aims are like the broom fixed in front of a locomotive to clear the snow from the rails in front: they clear men’s moral responsibilities from their path.

Without such justification there would be no reply to the simplest question that presents itself when examining each historical event. How is it that millions of men commit collective crimes – make war, commit murder, and so on?

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Leo Tolstoy: “For what, for whom, must I kill and be killed?”

January 2, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From War and Peace
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

Several tens of thousands of the slain lay in diverse postures and various uniforms on the fields and meadows belonging to the Davydov family and to the crown serfs – those fields and meadows where for hundreds of years the peasants of Borodino, Gorki, Shevardino, and Semenovsk had reaped their harvests and pastured their cattle. At the dressing stations the grass and earth were soaked with blood for a space of some three acres around. Crowds of men of various arms, wounded and unwounded, with frightened faces, dragged themselves back to Mozhaysk from the one army and back to Valuevo from the other. Other crowds, exhausted and hungry, went forward led by their officers. Others held their ground and continued to fire.

Over the whole field, previously so gaily beautiful with the glitter of bayonets and cloudlets of smoke in the morning sun, there now spread a mist of damp and smoke and a strange acid smell of saltpeter and blood. Clouds gathered and drops of rain began to fall on the dead and wounded, on the frightened, exhausted, and hesitating men, as if to say: “Enough, men! Enough! Cease…bethink yourselves! What are you doing?”

To the men of both sides alike, worn out by want of food and rest, it began equally to appear doubtful whether they should continue to slaughter one another; all the faces expressed hesitation, and the question arose in every soul: “For what, for whom, must I kill and be killed?…You may go and kill whom you please, but I don’t want to do so any more!” By evening this thought had ripened in every soul. At any moment these men might have been seized with horror at what they were doing and might have thrown up everything and run away anywhere.

But though toward the end of the battle the men felt all the horror of what they were doing, though they would have been glad to leave off, some incomprehensible, mysterious power continued to control them, and they still brought up the charges, loaded, aimed, and applied the match, though only one artilleryman survived out of every three, and though they stumbled and panted with fatigue, perspiring and stained with blood and powder. The cannon balls flew just as swiftly and cruelly from both sides, crushing human bodies….

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Leo Tolstoy: He who kills most people receives the highest rewards

January 1, 2022 Leave a comment

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From War and Peace
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

“If there was none of this magnanimity in war, we should go to war only when it was worthwhile going to certain death, as now. Then there would not be war because Paul Ivanovich had offended Michael Ivanovich. And when there was a war, like this one, it would be war! And then the determination of the troops would be quite different. Then all these Westphalians and Hessians whom Napoleon is leading would not follow him into Russia, and we should not go to fight in Austria and Prussia without knowing why. War is not courtesy but the most horrible thing in life; and we ought to understand that and not play at war. We ought to accept this terrible necessity sternly and seriously. It all lies in that: get rid of falsehood and let war be war and not a game. As it is now, war is the favorite pastime of the idle and frivolous. The military calling is the most highly honored.

“But what is war? What is needed for success in warfare? What are the habits of the military? The aim of war is murder; the methods of war are spying, treachery, and their encouragement, the ruin of a country’s inhabitants, robbing them or stealing to provision the army, and fraud and falsehood termed military craft. The habits of the military class are the absence of freedom, that is, discipline, idleness, ignorance, cruelty, debauchery, and drunkenness. And in spite of all this it is the highest class, respected by everyone. All the kings, except the Chinese, wear military uniforms, and he who kills most people receives the highest rewards.

“They meet, as we shall meet tomorrow, to murder one another; they kill and maim tens of thousands, and then have thanksgiving services for having killed so many people (they even exaggerate the number), and they announce a victory, supposing that the more people they have killed the greater their achievement. How does God above look at them and hear them?” exclaimed Prince Andrei in a shrill, piercing voice. “Ah, my friend, it has of late become hard for me to live. I see that I have begun to understand too much. And it doesn’t do for man to taste of the tree of knowledge of good and evil….Ah, well, it’s not for long!” he added.

***

And why do they all speak of a ‘military genius’? Is a man a genius who can order bread to be brought up at the right time and say who is to go to the right and who to the left? It is only because military men are invested with pomp and power and crowds of sycophants flatter power, attributing to it qualities of genius it does not possess. The best generals I have known were, on the contrary, stupid or absent-minded men. Bagration was the best, Napoleon himself admitted that. And of Bonaparte himself! I remember his limited, self-satisfied face on the field of Austerlitz. Not only does a good army commander not need any special qualities, on the contrary he needs the absence of the highest and best human attributes – love, poetry, tenderness, and philosophic inquiring doubt….God forbid that he should be humane, should love, or pity, or think of what is just and unjust. It is understandable that a theory of their ‘genius’ was invented for them long ago because they have power! The success of a military action depends not on them, but on the man in the ranks who shouts, ‘We are lost!’ or who shouts, ‘Hurrah!’ And only in the ranks can one serve with assurance of being useful.”

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Leo Tolstoy: War began, that is, an event took place opposed to human reason and to human nature

December 29, 2021 Leave a comment

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From War and Peace
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

On the twelfth of June, 1812, the forces of Western Europe crossed the Russian frontier and war began, that is, an event took place opposed to human reason and to human nature. Millions of men perpetrated against one another such innumerable crimes, frauds, treacheries, thefts, forgeries, issues of false money, burglaries, incendiarisms, and murders as in whole centuries are not recorded in the annals of all the law courts of the world, but which those who committed them did not at the time regard as being crimes.

What produced this extraordinary occurrence? What were its causes? The historians tell us with naïve assurance that its causes were the wrongs inflicted on the Duke of Oldenburg, the nonobservance of the Continental System, the ambition of Napoleon, the firmness of Alexander, the mistakes of the diplomatists, and so on.

To us it is incomprehensible that millions of Christian men killed and tortured each other either because Napoleon was ambitious or Alexander was firm, or because England’s policy was astute or the Duke of Oldenburg wronged. We cannot grasp what connection such circumstances have with the actual fact of slaughter and violence: why because the Duke was wronged, thousands of men from the other side of Europe killed and ruined the people of Smolensk and Moscow and were killed by them.

To us, their descendants, who are not historians and are not carried away by the process of research and can therefore regard the event with unclouded common sense, an incalculable number of causes present themselves. The deeper we delve in search of these causes the more of them we find; and each separate cause or whole series of causes appears to us equally valid in itself and equally false by its insignificance compared to the magnitude of the events, and by its impotence – apart from the cooperation of all the other coincident causes – to occasion the event. To us, the wish or objection of this or that French corporal to serve a second term appears as much a cause as Napoleon’s refusal to withdraw his troops beyond the Vistula and to restore the duchy of Oldenburg; for had he not wished to serve, and had a second, a third, and a thousandth corporal and private also refused, there would have been so many less men in Napoleon’s army and the war could not have occurred.

Millions of men, renouncing their human feelings and reason, had to go from west to east to slay their fellows, just as some centuries previously hordes of men had come from the east to the west, slaying their fellows.

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Leo Tolstoy: Then why those severed arms and legs and those dead men?

December 27, 2021 1 comment

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From War and Peace
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

On the narrow Augesd Dam where for so many years the old miller had been accustomed to sit in his tasseled cap peacefully angling, while his grandson, with shirt sleeves rolled up, handled the floundering silvery fish in the watering can, on that dam over which for so many years Moravians in shaggy caps and blue jackets had peacefully driven their two-horse carts loaded with wheat and had returned dusty with flour whitening their carts – on that narrow dam amid the wagons and the cannon, under the horses’ hoofs and between the wagon wheels, men disfigured by fear of death now crowded together, crushing one another, dying, stepping over the dying and killing one another, only to move on a few steps and be killed themselves in the same way.

Every ten seconds a cannon ball flew compressing the air around, or a shell burst in the midst of that dense throng, killing some and splashing with blood those near them.

Dolokhov – now an officer – wounded in the arm, and on foot, with the regimental commander on horseback and some ten men of his company, represented all that was left of that whole regiment. Impelled by the crowd, they had got wedged in at the approach to the dam and, jammed in on all sides, had stopped because a horse in front had fallen under a cannon and the crowd were dragging it out. A cannonball killed someone behind them, another fell in front and splashed Dolokhov with blood. The crowd, pushing forward desperately, squeezed together, moved a few steps, and again stopped.

***

Now he remembered Denisov with his changed expression, his submission, and the whole hospital, with arms and legs torn off and its dirt and disease. So vividly did he recall that hospital stench of dead flesh that he looked round to see where the smell came from. Next he thought of that self-satisfied Bonaparte, with his small white hand, who was now an Emperor, liked and respected by Alexander. Then why those severed arms and legs and those dead men?…

***

“We civilians, as you know, have a very bad way of deciding whether a battle was won or lost. Those who retreat after a battle have lost it is what we say; and according to that it is we who lost the battle of Pultusk. In short, we retreat after the battle but send a courier to Petersburg with news of a victory….”

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