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Isabella Valancy Crawford: War

November 13, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Women writers on peace and war

Isabella Valancy Crawford: The Forging of the Sword

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Isabella Valancy Crawford
War

Shake, shake the earth with giant tread,
Thou red-maned Titan bold;
For every step a man lies dead,
A cottage hearth is cold.
Take up the babes with mailèd hands,
Transfix them with thy spears,
Spare not the chaste young virgin-bands,
Tho’ blood may be their tears.

Beat down the corn, tear up the vine,
The waters turn to blood;
And if the wretch for bread doth whine,
Give him his kin for food.
Ay, strew the dead to saddle-girth,
They make so rich a mold,
Thou wilt enrich the wasted earth –
They’ll turn to yellow gold.

On with thy thunders! Shot and shell
Send screaming, featly hurled –
Science has made them in her cell
To civilize the world.
Not, not alone where Christian men
Pant in the well-armed strife,
But seek the jungle-throttled glen –
The savage has a life!

He has a soul – so priests will say –
Go, save it with thy sword!
Thro’ his rank forests force thy way,
Thy war cry, “For the Lord!”
Rip up his mines, and from his strands
Wash out the gold with blood –
Religion raises blessing hands,
“War’s evil worketh good!”

When striding o’er the conquered land
Silence thy rolling drum,
And, led by white-robed choiring band,
With loud, “Te Deum” come.
Seek the grim chancel, on its wall
Thy blood-stiff banner hang;
They lie who say thy blood is gall,
Thy tooth the serpent’s fang.

See, the white Christ is lifted high,
Thy conquering sword to bless!
Smiles the pure Monarch of the sky –
Thy king can do no less.
Drink deep with him the festal wine,
Drink with him drop for drop;
If like the sun his throne doth shine,
Of it thou art the prop.

If spectres wait upon the bowl,
Thou needst not be afraid;
Grin hell-hounds for thy bold, black soul,
His purple be thy shade.
Go, feast with Commerce, be her spouse!
She loves thee, thou art hers;
For thee she decks her board and house,
Then how may others curse

If she, mild-seeming matron, leans
Upon thine iron neck,
And leaves with thee her household scenes
To follow at thy beck?
Bastard in brotherhood of kings,
Their blood runs in thy veins;
For them the crowns; the sword that swings
For thee, to hew their chains.

For thee the rending of the prey;
They, jackals to the lion,
Tread after in the gory way
Trod by the mightier scion.
O slave, that slayest other slaves,
O’er vassals crowned a king,
O War, build high thy throne with graves,
High as the vulture’s wing!

Categories: Uncategorized

Giambattista Basile: “To war, to war”: Tavern warriors

November 12, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Italian writers on war and militarism

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Giambattista Basile
From Il Pentamerone
Translated by Sir Richard Burton

And now hearken to this, and gape with wonder;
Some folk praise war,
And lift it to a high pinnacle,
And when the time cometh
That from afar they sight the standard flying,
And listen to the tramping and neighing of steeds,
They sign their names to the roll,
Feeling themselves drawn to the fight
By sighting a few medals laid on a bench:
They take a few new coppers,
And dress in Jewish garb,
And don a rusty sword,
And look as mules of burden,
With drooping plume, and foot in stirrup.
If a friend asketh, ‘Where do we go?’
They answer cheerfully,
With foot aloft,
‘To war, to war,’
And go from tavern to tavern,
Bespeaking triumphs in advance,
Run to their lodgings
Bid farewell to all,
Kick up a shindy, overthrow all things,
And would not stand aside even for a Gradasso.

Thou speakest sooth, and cuttest out the rotten –
Naught can be said:
‘Tis truth, and more than truth,
As a poor soldier’s fate
Is to return a beggar, and crushed down.

****
And now for the man of valour,
The first of Spartan braves,
The chief of all swashbucklers,
The prompter of all disputes,
Fourth in the art of neck-breaking,
Bravest of the brave,
Commander-in-chief of the valiant:
He pointedly presumeth
To frighten all the folk,
To make thee tremble
With a side-glance of his eyes ;
He walketh with a swagger,
He weareth a slashed coat,
His hat drawn over his eyes,
His hair disorderly,
His mustachios twisted on end,
His eyes fiercely rolling,
One hand on side,
Swearing, and stamping with his feet;
Even a straw causeth him to be wroth,
And he squabbleth with the flies;
He companieth with soldiers and brigands;
If thou hearken to his speech,
He speaketh of naught, but of cutting,
Of slashing, and piercing, and hanging,
Of killing, and running through the body;
Of one he draweth out the heart,
Of another the liver,
Of one he draweth out the entrails,
Of another the kidneys,
He trampleth on one,
Another he heweth in quarters.
If thou listen to his boasting,
The earth is too small to hold them :
This one, he writeth his name in the book,
That other, he sendeth out of the world,
This one, he sendeth unto his friends,
That other, he emptieth his pockets of gold,
This one, he salteth,
That other, he striketh to earth,
Of this one, he maketh mince-meat:
An hundred he turneth, and an hundred he gathereth,
And always passing truth, and with havoc,
Splitting heads, and breaking limbs.
But the sword hung by his side,
No matter how strong and sharp its edge,
Is virgin of blood, and widowed of honour:
And this crucible will to thee make clear,
That the big words carried so high
Hide the heart’s trembling;
The rolling of the eyes,
Retreat of feet;
The eastern thunderclaps,
Looseness of ice;
The visionary boastings
Indicate the wakeful hours of night;
And the swearing and stamping
Is but an excuse to keep sword in sheath,
Which, like an honoured woman,
Feeleth ashamed to show itself naked.
Seemeth he bitter as gall,
He hath but a chicken’s heart;
Seemeth he an eater of lions,
He is but a catcher of rabbits;
Challengeth he, he gaineth a thrashing;
Threateneth he, he receiveth annoyance double weight;
Gambleth he with his boasting dice,
He always meeteth his equal;
In words he is brave,
But in actions brief;
Layeth hand on hilt,
But draweth not sword;
Seeketh quarrel, and withdraweth from it;
And he lifteth heel easier than show valour,
If he lighteth upon one who bendeth him down,
Or one who sets his coat to rights,
And dealeth him a rain of blows with change,
Who settleth his accounts,
Who cardeth out his wool,
‘Who beateth well his sides,
Who whistleth in his ears,
Who knocketh down his teeth,
Who pusheth him down a pit,
Who bravely throttleth him,
Who passeth his blood through a sieve,
Who breaketh his lantern to pieces,
Who giveth him a good dressing,
Who prepareth him for a feast,
Or casteth him with the box,
Or boxeth well his ears,
Or giveth him back-handed cuffs,
Kicks, pushes, knocks, and cuts,
Or thrusteth a knife in his side.
Enough for him to cut and thrust,
And speak in manly voice:
He steppeth deal faster than a deer;
He soweth spittle, and gathereth marrows;
And when thou thinkest
That he is about to lay waste an army,
Then it is that the scene changeth;
Goodby, farewell, and good-day,
He disappeareth, weigheth anchor, is gone,
And shooting the parting shaft,
Lifteth his heels, and runneth a way;
Taketh with him his saddle-bags well-filled,
‘And help me, 0 my feet, because I cover ye,’
His heel toucheth shoulder,
And rivalleth hare in speed;
And well he playeth with his two-legged sword,
And like a great poltroon
In haste he flieth: is caught, and taken in gaol!

Categories: Uncategorized

Remembrance/Armistice/Veterans Day: Alfred Noyes’s The Victory Ball

November 10, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Alfred Noyes: Selections on war

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Alfred Noyes
The Victory Ball

The cymbals crash,
And the dancers walk,
With long white stockings
And arms of chalk,
Butterfly skirts,
And white breasts bare,
And shadows of dead men
Watching ’em there.

Shadows of dead men
Stand by the wall,
Watching the fun
Of the Victory Ball.
They do not reproach,
Because they know,
If they’re forgotten
It’s better so.

Under the dancing
Feet are the graves.
Dazzle and motley,
In long white waves,
Brushed by the palm-fronds
Grapple and whirl
Ox-eyed matron,
And slim white girl.

Fat wet bodies
Go waddling by,
Girdled with satin,
Though God knows why:
Gripped by satyrs
In white and black,
With a fat wet hand
On the fat wet back.

See, there’s one child
Fresh from school,
Learning the ropes
As the old hands rule.
God! how the dead men
Chuckle again,
As she begs for a dose
Of the best cocaine.

[Alternate lines:
God, how that dead boy
Gapes and grins
As the tom-toms bang
And the shimmy begins.]

“What do you think
We should find”, said the shade,
“When the last shot echoed
And peace was made?”
“Christ,” laughed the fleshless
Jaws of his friend,
“I thought they’d be praying
For worlds to mend,

“And making earth better
Or something silly
Like white-washing hell
Or Picca-damn-dilly.
They’ve a sense of humour,
These women of ours,
These exquisite lilies,
These fresh young flowers!”

“Pish”, said a statesman
Standing near,
“I’m glad they keep busy
Their thoughts elsewhere!
We mustn’t reproach ‘em,
They’re young you see.”
“Ah”, said the dead men,
“So were we!”

Victory! Victory!
On with the dance!
Back to the jungle
The new beasts prance!
God, how the dead men
Grin by the wall,
Watching the fun
Of the Victory Ball.

Categories: Uncategorized

Roger Martin du Gard: Warnings from World War I

November 10, 2019 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

British writers on peace and war

French writers on war and peace

German writers on peace and war

Russian writers on war

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Roger Martin du Gard
From speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm
December 10, 1937

I should like to conclude with a more sombre hypothesis, although I am embarrassed to disturb this festive mood by arousing those painful thoughts that haunt all of us. However, perhaps the Swedish Academy did not hesitate to express a special purpose by drawing the attention of the intellectual world to the author of L’Été 1914 [Summer 1914].

That is the title of my last book. It is not for me to judge its value. But at least I know what I set out to do: in the course of these three volumes I tried to revivify the anguished atmosphere of Europe on the eve of the mobilizations of 1914. I tried to show the weakness of the governments of that day, their hesitations, indiscretions, and unavowed desires; I tried above all to give an impression of the stupefaction of the peaceful masses before the approach of that cataclysm whose victims they were going to be, that cataclysm which was to leave nine million men dead and ten million men crippled.

When I see that one of the highest literary juries in the world supports these books with the prestige of its incontestable authority, I ask myself whether the reason may not be that these books through their wide circulation have appeared to defend certain values that are again being threatened and to fight against the evil contagion of the forces of war.

For I am a son of the West, where the noise of arms does not let our minds rest. Since we have come together today on the tenth of December, the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel (that man of action, “no mere shadow,” who in the last years of his life seems indeed to have put his supreme hope in the brotherhood of nations), permit me to confess how good it would be to think that my work – the work that has just been honoured in his name – might serve not only the cause of letters, but even the cause of peace.

In these months of anxiety in which we are living, when blood is already being shed in two extreme parts of the globe, when practically everywhere in an atmosphere polluted by misery and fanaticism passions are seething around pointed guns, when too many signs are again heralding the return of that languid defeatism, that general consent which alone makes wars possible: at this exceptionally grave moment through which humanity is passing, I wish, without vanity, but with a gnawing disquietude in my heart, that my books about Summer 1914 may be read and discussed, and that they may remind all – the old who have forgotten as well as the young who either do not know or do not care – of the sad lesson of the past.

Categories: Uncategorized

Charles Eliot Norton: Fighting the devil with his own arms: Declaration of war does not change the moral law

November 10, 2019 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Charles Eliot Norton
Speech delivered in 1898

 

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A generation has grown up that has known nothing of war. The blessings of peace have been poured out upon us. We have congratulated ourselves that we were free from the misery and the burdens that war and standing armies have brought upon the nations of the Old World. “Their fires” – I cite a fine phrase of Sir Philip Sidney in a letter to Queen Elizabeth – “Their fires have given us light to see our own quietness.”

And now of a sudden, without cool deliberation, without prudent preparation, the nation is hurried into war, and America, she who more than any other land was pledged to peace and good-will on earth, unsheathes her sword, compels a weak and unwilling nation [Spain] to a fight, rejecting without due consideration her earnest and repeated offers to meet every legitimate demand of the United States. It is a bitter disappointment to the lover of his country; it is a turning-back from the path of civilization to that of barbarism.

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There are moments in every man’s life, in the life of every nation, when, under the excitement of passion, the simple truths which in common times are the foundation upon which the right order and conduct of life depend are apt to be forgotten and disregarded. I shall venture tonight to recall to you some of these commonplace truths, which in these days of war need more than ever to be kept in mind.

There never was a land that better deserved the love of her people than America, for there never was a mother-country kinder to her children. She has given to them all that she could give. Her boundless resources have lain open to them, to use at their will. And the consequence has been that never in the history of man has there been so splendid a spectacle of widely diffused and steadily increasing material welfare as America has displayed during the last hundred years.

Millions upon millions of men have lived here with more comfort, with less fear, than any such numbers elsewhere in any age have lived. Countless multitudes, whose forefathers from the beginning of human life on earth have spent weary lives in unrewarded toil, in anxiety, in helplessness, in ignorance, have risen here, in the course of even a single generation, to the full and secure enjoyment of the fruits of their labor, to confident hope, to intelligent possession of their own faculties. Is not the land to be dearly loved in which this has been possible, in which this has been achieved?

But there is a deeper source of love of country than the material advantages and benefits it may afford. It is in the character of its people, in their moral life, in the type of civilization which they exhibit. The elements of human nature are indeed so fixed that favorable or unfavorable circumstances have little effect upon its essential constitution, but prosperity or the reverse brings different traits into prominence. The conditions which have prevailed in America have, if broadly considered, tended steadily and strongly to certain good results in the national character; not, indeed, to unmixed good, but to a preponderance of good.

The institutions established for self-government have been founded with intent to secure justice and independence for all. The social relations among the whole body of the people, are humane and simple. The general spirit of the people is liberal, is kindly, is considerate. The ideals for the realization of which in private and public conduct there is more or less steady and consistent effort, are as high and as worthy as any which men have pursued. Every genuine American holds to the ideal of justice for all men, of independence, including free speech and free action within the limits of law, of obedience to law, of universal education, of material well-being for all the well-behaving and industrious, of peace and good-will among men. These, however far short the nation may fall in expressing them in its actual life, are, no one will deny it, the ideals of our American democracy.

And it is because America represents these ideals that the deepest love for his country glows in the heart of the American, and inspires him with that patriotism which counts no cost, which esteems no sacrifice too great to maintain and to increase the influence of these principles which embody themselves in the fair shape of his native land, and have their expressive symbol in her flag. The spirit of his patriotism is not an intermittent impulse; it is an abiding principle; it is the strongest motive of his life; it is his religion.

And because it is so, and just in proportion to his love of the ideals for which his country stands, is his hatred of whatever is opposed to them in private conduct or public policy. Against injustice, against dishonesty, against lawlessness, against whatever may make for war instead of peace, the good citizen is always in arms.

No thoughtful American can have watched the course of affairs among us during the last thirty years without grave anxiety from the apparent decline in power to control the direction of public and private conduct, of the principles upon regard for which the permanent and progressive welfare of America depends; and especially the course of events during the last few months and the actual condition of the country today, should bring home to every man the question whether or not the nation is true to one of the chief of the ideals to which it has professed allegiance.

A generation has grown up that has known nothing of war. The blessings of peace have been poured out upon us. We have congratulated ourselves that we were free from the misery and the burdens that war and standing armies have brought upon the nations of the Old World. “Their fires” – I cite a fine phrase of Sir Philip Sidney in a letter to Queen Elizabeth – “Their fires have given us light to see our own quietness.”

And now of a sudden, without cool deliberation, without prudent preparation, the nation is hurried into war, and America, she who more than any other land was pledged to peace and good-will on earth, unsheathes her sword, compels a weak and unwilling nation [Spain] to a fight, rejecting without due consideration her earnest and repeated offers to meet every legitimate demand of the United States. It is a bitter disappointment to the lover of his country; it is a turning-back from the path of civilization to that of barbarism.

“There never was a good war,” said Franklin. There have indeed been many wars in which a good man must take part, and take part with grave gladness to defend the cause of justice, to die for it if need be, a willing sacrifice, thankful to give life for what is dearer than life, and happy that even by death in war he is serving the cause of peace. But if a war be undertaken for the most righteous end, before the resources of peace have been tried and proved vain to secure it, that war has no defense; it is a national crime. And however right, however unavoidable a war may be, and those of us who are old enough to remember the war for the Union know that war may be right and unavoidable, yet, I repeat the words of Franklin, “There never was a good war.”

It is evil in itself, it is evil in its never-ending train of consequences. No man has known the nature of war better than General Sherman, and in his immortal phrase he has condensed its description — “War is hell.” “From the earliest dawnings of policy to this day,” said Edmund Burke, more than a hundred years ago, “the invention of men has been sharpening and improving the mystery of murder, from the first rude essays of clubs and stones to the present perfection of gunnery, cannoneering, bombarding, mining, and all these species of artificial, learned and refined cruelty in which we are now so expert, and which make a principal part of what politicians have taught us to believe is our principal glory.”

And it is now, at the end of this century, the century in which beyond any other in history knowledge has increased and the arts of peace have advanced, that America has been brought by politicians and writers for the press, faithless to her noble ideals, against the will of every right-minded citizen, to resort to these cruel arts, these arts of violence, these arts which rouse the passions of the beast in man, before the resources of peace had been fairly tested and proved insufficient to secure the professed ends, which, however humane and desirable, afford no sufficient justification for resorting to the dread arbitrament of arms.

There are, indeed, many among us who find justification of the present war in the plea that its motive is to give independence to the people of Cuba, long burdened by the oppressive and corrupt rule of Spain, and especially to relieve the suffering of multitudes deprived of their homes and of means of subsistence by the cruel policy of the general who exercised for a time a practical dictatorship over the island. The plea so far as it is genuine deserves the respect due to every humane sentiment. But independence secured for Cuba by forcible overthrow of the Spanish rule means either practical anarchy or the substitution of the authority of the United States for that of Spain. Either alternative might well give us pause. And as for the relief of suffering, surely it is a strange procedure to begin by inflicting worse suffering still. It is fighting the devil with his own arms. That the end justifies the means is a dangerous doctrine, and no wise man will advise doing evil for the sake of an uncertain good. But the plea that the better government of Cuba and the relief of the reconcentrados could only be secured by war is the plea either of ignorance or of hypocrisy.

But the war is declared; and on all hands we hear the cry that he is no patriot who fails to shout for it, and to urge the youth of the country to enlist, and to rejoice that they are called to the service of their native land. The sober counsels that were appropriate before the war was entered upon must give way to blind enthusiasm, and the voice of condemnation must be silenced by the thunders of the guns and the hurrahs of the crowd.

Stop! A declaration of war does not change the moral law. “The ten commandments will not budge” at a joint resolve of Congress. Was James Russell Lowell aught but a good patriot when during the Mexican war he sent the stinging shafts of his matchless satire at the heart of the monstrous iniquity, or when, years afterward, he declared, that he thought at the time and that he still thought the Mexican war was a national crime? Did John Bright ever render greater service to his country than when, during the Crimean war, he denounced the Administration which had plunged England into it, and employed his magnificent power of earnest and incisive speech in the endeavor to repress the evil spirit which it evoked in the heart of the nation?

No! the voice of protest, of warning, of appeal is never more needed than when the clamor of fife and drum, echoed by the press and too often by the pulpit, is bidding all men fall in and keep step and obey in silence the tyrannous word of command. Then, more than ever, it is the duty of the good citizen not to be silent, and spite of obloquy, misrepresentation and abuse, to insist on being heard, and with sober counsel to maintain the everlasting validity of the principles of the moral law.

So confused are men by false teaching in regard to national honor and the duty of the citizen that it is easy to fall into the error of holding a declaration of war, however brought about, as a sacred decision of the national will, and to fancy that a call to arms from the Administration has the force of a call from the lips of the country, of the America to whom all her sons are ready to pay the full measure of devotion. This is indeed a natural and for many a youth not a discreditable error. But if the nominal, though authorized, representatives of the country have brought us into a war that might and should have been avoided, and which consequently is an unrighteous war, then, so long as the safety of the State is not at risk, the duty of the good citizen is plain. He is to help to provide the Administration responsible for the conduct of the war with every means that may serve to bring it to the speediest end. He is to do this alike that the immediate evils of the war may be as brief and as few as possible, and also that its miserable train of after evils may be diminished and the vicious passions excited by it be the sooner allayed. Men, money, must be abundantly supplied. But must he himself enlist or quicken the ardent youth to enter service in such a cause? The need is not yet. The country is in no peril.

There is always in a vast population like ours an immense, a sufficient supply of material of a fighting order, often of a heroic courage, ready and eager for the excitement of battle, filled with the old notion that patriotism is best expressed in readiness to fight for our country, be she right or wrong. Better the paying of bounties to such men to fill the ranks than that they should be filled by those whose higher duty is to fit themselves for the service of their country in the patriotic labors of peace. We mourn the deaths of our noble youth fallen in the cause of their country when she stands for the right; but we may mourn with a deeper sadness for those who have fallen in a cause which their generous hearts mistook for one worthy of the last sacrifice.

My friends, America has been compelled against the will of all her wisest and best to enter into a path of darkness and peril. Against their will she has been forced to turn back from the way of civilization to the way of barbarism, to renounce for the time her own ideals. With grief, with anxiety must the lover of his country regard the present aspect and the future prospect of the nation’s life. With serious purpose, with utter self-devotion he should prepare himself for the untried and difficult service to which it is plain he is to be called in the quick-coming years.

Two months ago America stood at the parting of the ways. Her first step is irretrievable. It depends on the virtue, on the enlightened patriotism of her children whether her future steps shall be upward to the light or downward to the darkness.

Categories: Uncategorized

Adelaide George Bennett: The Peace-Pipe Quarry

November 9, 2019 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

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Adelaide George Bennett
The Peace-Pipe Quarry

Outward swell the rolling prairies like the waves of ocean deep;
Higher rise the crested billows rolling upward as they sweep
From horizon to horizon, and the air grows pure and free,
“On the mountains of the prairie,” on the wind-swept emerald sea.

As in olden time the zealots who would build unto their God,
Sacred temples for his worship, chose a “high place,” and the sod
Of the consecrated mountain was made holy by the rites
Of footsore and weary pilgrims who had sought the sacred heights,
So instinctively the red-men, roaming o’er the boundless main,
Looked for their Manitou above the low level of the plain;
Sought and found him on the summit of the green wave’s swelling crest
Rising upward like a mountain, in the valley of the West.

Not to him they founded temples, gilded fanes and altars fair;
Looking up, they saw already Manitou enthronèd there
In the fastness of the mountain, with his sphynx-like, stony face
Watching like a guardian spirit, o’er the dusky lawless race
Who regarded not each other, and their deadly hatred slaked
In the blood of friends and foemen, when their slumbering ire was waked.

“Gitche Manitou, the Mighty,” the Great Spirit throned above,
Was a God of truth and wisdom, was a God of peace and love;
And as God upon Mount Sinai, stooping from his heavenly throne,
Gave the law unto his people, deeply graven into stone,
“Gitche Manitou, the Mighty,” in compassion for the race
Of unlettered, untaught heathen who knew not his god-like face
Save they saw it in the tempest or the lightning’s livid glare,
Or in some familiar emblem they could see, or feel, or wear,
Taught them peace and love to kindred, through an emblem formed of stone,
Fashioned in the well-known outlines of a thing they called their own.
In the caverns of his store-house, deeply sunken in the ground,
Lay the mystical red pipe-stone, never yet by sachem found.
With his strong right hand almighty, rent he now the ground in twain,
Broke the red stone of the quarry, and, resounding o’er the plain,
Came this message to the warriors: – “Let this be to you a sign:
Make you calumets of pipe-stone, pledge you peace and love divine,
By the smoking of this signet. Let it pass from hand to hand.
Cease you from your wars and wrangling, and be brothers in the land.”

The Great Spirit’s words were heeded, and the calumet, the pipe
Which they often smoked together in their councils, was the type
Of good-will and peace thereafter, and upon the quarry’s site,
Hostile tribes and tongues and races meeting, never meet to fight.

Many legends and traditions cluster round this sacred spot;
Many histories and records deep with hidden meaning fraught,
Have been chiseled on the ledges at the ancient bowlders’ base,
Who, like strangers in the valley, drifted to a resting place.

Here, ere Manitou had given to the tribes the pipe of peace,
Saw he mighty war and bloodshed, saw the tribes of men decrease,
Until fleeing from destruction, come three maidens to the rocks –
The last remnant of all women, hiding from the fearful shocks
Of the deadly fight and carnage which was raging through the air,
Driven to these three large bowlders, as a refuge in despair.
Now in memory of the conflict and the part the bowlders bore,
They are named in weird tradition, “The Three Maidens,” evermore.

Here the thunder-bird portentous, Wakan, terrible in might,
Made his home in awful grandeur on the cliff’s mysterious height.
Here the flapping of his pinions brought the fierce, hot lightning’s glare,
Glazing all the fissured surface like enamel smooth and fair;
Melting all the red rock’s substance till a foot-print of the bird,
Plastic then, took form and hardened for a witness of the word.

Northward, just beyond the quarry, stands the famous “Leaping Rock,”
With its proud head reared to heaven, with an air that seems to mock
And to set at stern defiance, boastful braves who seek for fame,
And from agile feats to gather for themselves an envied name.
Hither came to try his daring, with brave heart to valor nerved,
Hopefully a young Sioux chieftain, never from his purpose swerved,
Came in all his youthful vigor, with his band of stalwart braves,
From the land of the Dakotas; zealously his spirit craves
To lead them all in bravery as he oft before has led,
And the plumes of the war eagle proudly waving on his head,
To wear in boastful triumph on the far-famed treacherous height,
And in his tribe’s traditions, thus his envied name to write.

Fearlessly he stands a moment on the overhanging edge
Of the nearest cliff’s high summit, eyes the small and slippery ledge
Just beyond the yawning chasm which his daring feet must leap;
Stands there bold and free and fearless, taking inward at a sweep
All the fearful odds and chances, the deep chasm he must cross –
Calculates with hope of winning, never with a fear of loss.
High above him arch the heavens; deep below him yawns the gulf;
In his ears the cataract thunders, and before him stands the rough,
Towering rock with air defiant, standing mocking, beckoning there.
With a fixed resolve and purpose, he leaps upward in the air –
Leaps, but not as he had counted, for his feet touch not the goal,
But his body plunges downward, and the young Sioux warrior’s soul,
Rising upward through the ether, seeks the happy hunting ground
Just as anxious friends and kindred gather hastily around,
Dropping tears unto his memory and with slow and measured tread,
Bear away the bold young chieftain, to the mansions of the dead.
Fear the falls of Winnewissa sweetly wooing to repose
With its murmurous plash of waters perfume-laden of the rose,
‘Neath the soil which once his kindred claimed and lived in until we
Rising eastward like a storm-cloud, swept the land from sea to sea.

Sleepeth well the brave young warrior in this legend-hallowed ground,
The long sleep that knows no waking till the common trump shall sound.
Still the Indian camp-fires glimmer round the sacred quarry’s edge,
And the calumet, the peace-pipe, is to them a friendly pledge:
And the doubting pale-face dwelling near the blood-red mystic stone,
Feels around him peace and safety like Elijah’s mantle thrown.

Long may Manitou, the mighty, the Great Spirit throned above,
Smile upon his helpless children, fill their lives with peace and love;
And at last, in the great council, at the bidding of his voice,
May they meet to smoke the peace-pipe with the people of his choice.

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Benvenuto Cellini: War kept behind closed doors

November 8, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Italian writers on war and militarism

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Benvenuto Cellini
From Autobiography
Translated by John Addington Symonds

I went home and set myself to finishing the medal which I had begun, with the head of Pope Clement and a figure of Peace on the reverse. The figure was a slender woman, dressed in very thin drapery, gathered at the waist, with a little torch in her hand, which was burning a heap of arms bound together like a trophy. In the background I had shown part of a temple, where was Discord chained with a load of fetters. Round about it ran a legend in these words: ‘Clauduntur belli portae.’

***

The Duke took so much pleasure in my work and conversation, that he not unfrequently posed through four or five hours at a stretch for his own portrait, and sometimes invited me to supper. It took me eight days to complete his likeness; then he ordered me to design the reverse. On it I modelled Peace, giving her the form of a woman with a torch in her hand, setting fire to a trophy of arms; I portrayed her in an attitude of gladness, with very thin drapery, and below her feet lay Fury in despair, downcast and sad, and loaded with chains.

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Peter Handke: The horror unleashed by NATO’s first war

November 7, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Nobel prize in literature recipients on peace and war

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Peter Handke
From a 2008 interview
Translated by Tim Fenton

I was in Kosovo in April and I have been there four other times recently. I remained truly struck by what I saw in the enclaves of Velika Hoca, a village with a large Orthodox church, and then in Orahovac. They are two enclaves near each other and there one understands how the Serbs are living, how they spend their time, robbed of every possession, forced to go out only at four in the morning, terrorised all the time. The Suddeutsche Zeitung, speaking of a Serbian enclave, has unbelievably written: “The Serbs pretend to be afraid”. You see, it’s ideology, their minds already made up. No, the Serbs are not “pretending to be afraid”, they are simply living in terror and they have suffered so many murders in this period. There are no longer Serbian cemeteries outside the villages as elsewhere in Serbia. In Orahovac the cemeteries have been transferred to the centre of villages, within the enclaves, and the buses which come every so often from Mitrovica have to wait so as not to disturb the new graves. So even the ordinary tending of graves is impossible when those who do it may end up murdered and the gravestones themselves are often destroyed. I have seen only hate in Kosovo. It is NATO that has created this tragic and unsustainable situation, NATO that bombed the whole of ex-Yugoslavia. And now NATO and the European Union insist that it is necessary to grant independence because, otherwise, they know that the Kosovar Albanians will kill again and threaten a new war. But how does one come to deserve independence not by right but because one threatens violence and another war? What democratic logic is this which has been brought to bear by Europe and the US? Even worse they have never let up in eight years from murdering and terrorising. It’s enough even to see a Serbian symbol, a bus or a coach as it approaches the most beautiful monasteries in Europe like Decani or Gracanica, then even the children, in an automatic reaction, throw rocks. The Serbs are reduced to a flock of sheep, lost and impoverished. They have spoken of the violence of the Serbs against the Albanians but they have remained silent in all these years about the hundreds and hundreds of murders and the destruction of the monasteries. They have told us that the Serbs wanted to expel two million Albanians, and for that reason the campaign of aerial bombardment was justified. They have made a great theatre along the border, great for the world’s television crews and for NATO’s propaganda. Those refugees, for the most part were in flight because they were afraid of the aerial bombardment, they were accommodated as soon as they reached the Macedonian border and they have all returned home two months later. Thus they have contrived a new wretched war from photographs and TV broadcasts. In 1996 I was in Decani to deliver a lecture and there were no Italian troops in front of the monastery then as there are now protecting it, near there there was a lone Serbian restaurant and they did not want to leave. Inside there were traces of an attack by the KLA where an Albanian woman had been murdered: five minutes before on the street the Albanian houses had all of a sudden turned off their lights. The Serbs have also committed crimes and it has been a disgrace to that nation and who governs it. But no-one was describing it as an interethnic war, no-one was mentioning these armed attacks against the Serbs and the moderate Albanians themselves on behalf of the “freedom fighters.” A few days into NATO’s war Le Monde and also newspapers on the Left had headlines “All out terror in Europe. 50,000 victims.” There were a lot of victims but from both sides and many moderate Albanians killed by the KLA. In the end the Hague Tribunal found the graves of two thousand bodies for the most part fallen in combat. But not the fifty thousand or the “five hundred thousand” with which the New York Times headlined.

****

They have waged a campaign against me that resulted in the Comedie Francaise withdrawing my work from their programme, and then they have kept quiet about the fact that what they had said was not true. I deeply love the France of George Bernanos, of Francois Mauriac, and above all of Albert Camus, but the culture of today’s France is truly shameful. Nowadays the men of letters and philosophers are caricatures like André Glucksmann, Bernard-Henri Lévy and those jokers of international humanitarian rights like Bernard Kouchner, who in the meantime has become Foreign Minister.

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Nobel prize in literature recipients on peace and war

November 6, 2019 1 comment

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

Nobel prize in literature recipients on peace and war

Henri Barbusse: Selections on war

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson: All labor’s dread of war’s mad waste and murder

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson: I saw a dove fear-daunted

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.

Albert Camus: Where war lives. The reign of beasts has begun.

William Faulkner: There is only the question: When will I be blown up?

Anatole France: Selections on war

John Galsworthy: Selections on war

Gabriel García Márquez: Five wars and seventeen military coups

André Gide: Transformation of a war supporter

Peter Handke: The horror unleashed by NATO’s first war

Gerhart Hauptmann: American politics and warships

Ernest Hemingway: Selections on war

Pär Lagerkvist: If such a thing as war can end

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

Selma Lagerlöf: The mark of death was on them all

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

Sinclair Lewis: Selections on war

Maurice Maeterlinck: Bloodshed, battle-cry and sword-thrust are the joys of barbarians

Thomas Mann: Selections on war

Roger Martin du Gard: Selections on war

Eugenio Montale: Poetry in an era of nuclear weapons and Doomsday atmosphere

Pablo Neruda: Bandits with planes, jackals that the jackals would despise

Kenzaburō Ōe: Categorical imperative to renounce war forever

Kenzaburo Ōe: Nuclear war and its lemmings

Eugene O’Neill: The hell that follows war

Harold Pinter: Art, Truth and Politics

Salvatore Quasimodo: In every country a cultural tradition opposes war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

Jean-Paul Sartre: When the rich fight the rich, it is the poor who die

George Bernard Shaw: Selections on war

Mikhail Sholokhov: Selections on war

Wole Soyinka: Civilian and Soldier

Rabindranath Tagore: Secure disarmament, transform it into strength

Mario Vargas Llosa: More than enough atomic and conventional weapons to wipe out several planets

William Butler Yeats: The Rose of Peace

Categories: Uncategorized

Katherine Lee Bates: Children of the War

November 5, 2019 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

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Katherine Lee Bates
Children of the War

Shrunken little bodies, pallid baby faces,
Eyes of staring terror, innocence defiled,
Tiny bones that strew the sand of silent places,
– This upon our own star where Jesus was a child.

Broken buds of April, is there any garden
Where they yet may blossom, comforted of sun,
While their sad Creator bows to ask their pardon
For the life He gave them, life and death in one?

Spared by steel and hunger, still shall horror blazon
Those white and tender spirits with anguish unforgot;
Half a century hence the haggard look shall gaze on
The outrage of a mother, shall see a grandsire shot.

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Edgar Guest: The Peaceful Warriors

November 4, 2019 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Edgar Guest
The Peaceful Warriors

Let others sing their songs of war
And chant their hymns of splendid death,
Let others praise the soldiers’ ways
And hail the cannon’s flaming breath.
Let others sing of Glory’s fields
Where blood for Victory is paid,
I choose to sing some simple thing
To those who wield not gun or blade –
The peaceful warriors of trade.

Let others choose the deeds of war
For symbols of our nation’s skill,
The blood-red coat, the rattling throat,
The regiment that charged the hill,
The boy who died to serve the flag,
Who heard the order and obeyed,
But leave to me the gallantry
Of those who labor unafraid –
The peaceful warriors of trade.

Aye, let me sing the splendid deeds
Of those who toil to serve mankind,
The men who break old ways and make
New paths for those who come behind.
The young who war with customs old
And face their problems, unafraid,
Who think and plan to lift for man
The burden that on him is laid –
The splendid warriors of trade.

I sing of battles with disease
And victories o’er death and pain,
Of ships that fly the summer sky,
And glorious deeds of strength and brain.
The call for help that rings through space
By which a vessel’s course is stayed,
Thrills me far more than fields of gore,
Or heroes decked in golden braid –
I sing the warriors of trade.

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Charles Mackay: Awake the song of peace!

November 1, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Charles Mackay: Hung the sword in the hall, the spear on the wall

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Charles Mackay
From The Festival of Labour
Opening of the Great Exhibition of 1851

The world is growing wiser,
New thoughts and hopes are born;
Too long we’ve dwelt in darkness,
And tarried for the morn.
Too long in foolish warfare
We’ve dipp’d our bleeding hands;
But wisdom, taught by suffering keen,
Comes beaming o’er the lands.
Our princes and our peoples
The grateful truth have learn’d,
And strive for glory purer far
Than Caesar ever earn’d.
Gather, ye nations, gather!
Let ancient discords cease,
And earth, with myriad voices
Awake the song of peace!

Categories: Uncategorized

Ludovico Ariosto: Cast new weapons into the hell from which they came

October 22, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Italian writers on war and militarism

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Ludovico Ariosto
From Orlando Furioso
Translated by William Stewart Rose

“Lo! Lionel! lo! Borse great and kind!
First duke of thy fair race, his realm’s delight;
Who reigns secure, and shall more triumphs find
In peace, than warlike princes win in fight.
Who struggling Fury’s hands shall tie behind
Her back, and prison Mars, removed from sight.
His fair endeavours bent to bless and stay
The people, that his sovereign rule obey.”

***

From street to street, before the count he made;
And vanished clean; but after little stay,
Came with new arms, with tube and fire purveyed;
Which, at his hest, this while his men convey.
And posted at a corner, he waylaid:
His foe, as hunter watches for his prey,
In forest, with armed dogs and spear, attending
The boar in fury from the hill descending…
He seized the tube, and said: “That cavalier
May never vail through thee his knightly pride,
Nor base be rated with a better foe,
Down with thee to the darkest deep below!

“O loathed, O cursed piece of enginery,
Cast in Tartarean bottom, by the hand
Of Beelzebub, whose foul malignity
The ruin of this world through thee has planned!
To hell, from whence thou came, I render thee.”
So said, he cast away the weapon…”

***

More than a hundred fathom buried so,
Where hidden it had lain a mighty space,
The infernal tool by magic from below
Was fished and born amid the German race;
Who, by one proof and the other, taught to know
Its powers, and he who plots for our disgrace,
The demon, working on their weaker wit,
As last upon its fatal purpose hit.

To Italy and France, on every hand
The cruel art among all people past:
And these the bronze in hollow mould expand,
First in the furnace melted by the blast:
Others the iron bore, and small or grand,
Fashion the various tube they pierce or cast.
And bombard, gun, according to its frame,
Or single cannon this, or double, name.

This saker, culverine, or falcon hight,
I hear (all names the inventor has bestowed);
Which splits or shivers steel and stone outright,
And, where the bullet passes, makes a road.
– Down to the sword, restore thy weapons bright,
Sad soldier, to the forge, a useless load;
And gun or carbine on thy shoulder lay,
Who without these, I wot, shalt touch no pay.

How, foul and pestilent discovery,
Didst thou find place within the human heart?

Categories: Uncategorized

Pietro Aretino: Overjoyed at statue of Peace and her flames burning up arms of war

October 18, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Italian writers on war and militarism

Pietro Aretino: Proper task, the giving of a beginning to peace and an end to wars

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Pietro Aretino
From his letters
Translated by Samuel Putnam

I, you big madman, was forced the other day to put out of your head, with threats of excommunication, the fancy of taking a wife; and now, I have to set to work to disabuse you of the whim of going to camp. It is gospel truth that bread and soldiers are not worth much in the end; although you might reply, “What are you going to do in time of famine or time of war?” It seems to me you are mad even to think of going, and madder still to adhere to the purpose; for the art of war is like the art of the courtezan – indeed, they might be called sisters, since both are the slaves of desperation and the step-daughters of that swinish fortune which never tires of crucifying us at every turn. Certainly, the court and the field may be embraced together, since in the one you will find want, envy, old age and the hospital, while in the other you have only to gain wounds, prison and fame.

***

To Messer Ambrogio Eusebia
In Which He Advises Him Against the Army

I like such crazy dreaming, because a man in such thoughts appears to himself a very Trojan; but I very much disapprove of putting those thoughts into action, for if you do, in two months you will be eating your own clothes, your servant and your pony, having made an enemy of your patron and of paradise, in case you go there. That martial and fulminating manner you should regard as a bizarre and bestial gesture, that bragging of what you did and said to the French, as, giving yourself a thousand followers and two hundred helmets, you proceed to take castles, burn villages, plunder peoples and seize treasures; and if you merely wish to cut a couple of capers on your charger in front of your lady love, with your head all decked out in feathers, stay at home; you can do is just as well here! For a gaudeamus in front of a hen-roost, you go without bread for supper for a week, and for a bundle of rags, which is your booty, and a prison, which is yours whenever God wills it, you have as recompense the right to come home with a staff in your hand and to sell everything you have, even to your vineyard, in order to keep put of the domo Petri.

***

I am overjoyed at the statue of Peace and her flames burning up the arms of war which was placed on the Medici palace, and it is right that this most admirable work should be set up in the worthiest spot in the city. [Translated by Thomas Caldecot Chubb]

Categories: Uncategorized

Pietro Aretino: Proper task, the giving of a beginning to peace and an end to wars

October 17, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Italian writers on war and militarism

Pietro Aretino: Overjoyed at statue of Peace and her flames burning up arms of war

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Pietro Aretino
From his letters
Translated by Samuel Putnam

Pen versus the sword

I am a captain myself, and my malice does not steal soldiers’ pay, cause peoples to revolt or betray forts; but with my inky cohorts, and with the truth painted on my banners, I acquire more glory for a prince I serve than armed men do.

***

I, who have made kings tremble and who have assured them of prosperity, give myself to you, the fathers of your people, the brothers of your servants, the little sons of truth, the friends of virtue, the companions of strangers, the supports of religion, the observers of the faith, the executors of justice, the heirs of charity and the subjects of clemency. For the same reason, illustrious prince, receive my affection into a hem of your piety, so that I may go on praising the nurse of cities [Venice] and the mother elect of God. Make her the most famous of any in the world, by moderating her customs, by giving humanity to me, by humiliating the proud and by pardoning the erring. Such an exercise is, indeed, your proper task, as is the giving of a beginning to peace and an end to wars…

***

In Which He Dissuades His Friend from Going to War

I counseled you not to be stubborn in the matter, endeavoring to make you feel that killing or crippling others would not be to your credit, since you are not armorum; follow my advice, and you will not have to give an account to the mourners; for if Your Lordship is killed, every one will say: “Served him right!”

But alas! madness and the devil tempt you and drag you away; go, then, but take it easy behind the baggage trains, for in a “Salvum me fac” lies the safety of nos otros, and not in getting into the rout, receiving half a dozen wounds and, in addition, being looked upon as a beast.

If worst comes to worst, lose no time in getting out, take to your legs, fly away, for it is better for your hide that they should say: “What coward is fleeing there?” than “What corpse is lying here?” Glory is good enough in its place; but when we are dead, old lady Fame can sound the bagpipes and play the Pavan all she chooses, but we will not be there to hear them; we shall be crowned with laurel and mingling with the dust of Cyprus. And if you do not take my word for it, take the assurance of Messer Lionardo Bartolino, that war is something more than talk…

Categories: Uncategorized

Torquato Tasso: Pastoral refuge from war

October 12, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Italian writers on war and militarism

Torquato Tasso: War’s devouring minister, the sword

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Torquato Tasso
From Jerusalem Delivered
Translated by J. H. Wiffen

“But, Father, say, whilst the destructive fire
Of war lays waste the country wide and far,
How live you free from military ire,
Beneath the charm of what benignant star?”
“My son,” said he, ” from the rude wrongs of war
My family and flocks in this lone nook
Were ever safe; no fears my quiet mar;
These groves to the hoarse trumpet never shook;
Calm rolls yon stately stream, calm flows each woodland brook.

“Whether it be that Heaven protects in love
The chaste humility of shepherd swains,
Or, as its lightnings strike the crag’s tall grove,
But leave untouched the roses of the plains, –
That so the wrath of foreign swords diadains
To harm the meek heads of the lowly poor,
Aiming alone at lofty kings, – our gains
Tempt not the greedy soldier to our door;
Safe stands our simple shed, despised our little store.

“Despised by others, but so dear to me,
That gems and crowns I hold in less esteem;
From pride, from avarice is my spirit free,
And mad ambition’s visionary dream.
My thirst I quench in the pellucid stream,
Nor fear lest poison the pure wave pollutes;
With flocks my fields, my fields with herbage teem;
My garden-plot supplies nutritious roots;
And my brown orchard bends with Autumn’s wealthiest fruits.

”Few are our wishes, few our wants; Man needs
But little to preserve the vital spark:
These are my sons; they keep the flock that feeds,
And rise in the grey morning with the lark.
Thus in my hermitage I live; now mark
The goats disport amid the budding brooms;
Now the slim stags bound through the forest dark;
The fish glide by; the bees hum round the blooms;
And the birds spread to heaven the splendour of their plumes.

“Time was (these grey hairs then were golden locks),
When other wishes wantoned in my veins;
I scorned the simple charge of tending flocks,
And fled disgusted from my native plains.
Awhile in Memphis I abode, where reigns
The mighty Caliph; he admired my port,
And made me keeper of his flower-domains;
And though to town I rarely made resort,
Much have I seen and known of the intrigues of court.

“Long by presumptuous hopes was I beguiled,
And many, many a disappointment bore;
But when with youth false hope no longer smiled,
And the scene palled that charmed so much before, –
I sighed for my lost peace, and brooded o’er
The’ abandoned quiet of this humble shed;
Then, farewell State’s proud palaces! once more
To these delightful solitudes I fled;
And in their peaceful shades harmonious days have led.”

Categories: Uncategorized

Defend Peter Handke

October 11, 2019 3 comments

Distinguished Austrian novelist, playwright, poet and essayist Peter Handke has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature along with Polish author Olga Tokarczuk.

Western news sources are uniformly reporting on this by attacking and highlighting others’ attacks on the recipient in reference to his opposition to U.S. and NATO policies in the Balkans over the past 28 years.

Handke’s alleged “outrages” and “crimes” consist of his speaking out against the forcible break-up of former Yugoslavia, NATO’s military campaigns against the Bosnian Serb Republic and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, NATO expansion through the Balkans and Eastern Europe as a whole and, perhaps especially, to the one-sided demonization of ethnic Serbs in the former Yugoslavia.

No sooner was his award announced than the full force of the American and European opinion-making juggernaut was activated against him: not as a writer but as a person.

It seems only a matter of days, if not hours, before his award is revoked. Please do what you can to defend Handke the writer and the principle of a person of letters’ right, indeed responsibility, to speak the truth as he discovers it.

Interview with Peter Handke:
A freedom as though I were innocent
As a writer you are born as a guilty person

Handke’s Ray Davies reference

Stefan Zweig: Origin of the Nobel Peace Prize

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Baldassare Castiglione: Leaders must prepare their people for peace, not war

October 10, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Italian writers on war and militarism

Baldassare Castiglione: Sabine peace

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Baldassare Castiglione
From The Book of the Courtier
Translated by Leonard Eckstein Opdyke

“Therefore it is also the good prince’s office so to establish his people, and under such laws and ordinances, that they may live at ease and peace, without danger and with dignity, and may worthily enjoy this end of their actions, which ought to be tranquillity. For many republics and princes are often found that have been very prosperous and great in war, and as soon as they have had peace they have gone to ruin and lost their greatness and splendour, like iron laid aside. And this has come about from nothing else but from their not having been well established for living at peace, and from their not knowing how to enjoy the blessing of ease. And to be always at war, without seeking to arrive at the end of peace, is not permitted: albeit some princes think that their chief aim ought to be to lord it over their neighbours; and therefore they train their people to a warlike ferocity for spoil, killing and the like, and give rewards to excite it, and call it virtue.

“Thus it was once a custom among the Scythians that whoever had not slain an enemy might not drink from the bowl which was handed about to the company at solemn feasts. In other places they used to set up, around a tomb, as many obelisks as he who was buried there had slain enemies; and all these things were done to make men warlike, solely in order to lord it over others: which was almost impossible, because the undertaking was endless (until the whole world should be subjugated) and far from reasonable according to the law of nature, which will not have us pleased with that in others which is displeasing to us in ourselves.

“Therefore princes ought not to make their people warlike for lust of rule, but for the sake of being able to defend themselves and their people against him who would reduce them to bondage or do them wrong in any wise; or to drive out tyrants and govern those people well who were ill used, or to reduce to bondage those who are by nature such as to deserve being made slaves, with the object of governing them well and giving them ease and rest and peace. To this end also the laws and all the ordinances of justice ought to be directed, by punishing the wicked, not from hatred, but in order that they may not be wicked and to the end that they may not disturb the tranquillity of the good. For in truth it is a monstrous thing and worthy of blame for men to show themselves valiant and wise in war (which is bad in itself) and in peace and quiet (which are good) to show themselves ignorant and of so little worth that they know not how to enjoy their happiness.

“Hence, just as in war men ought to apply themselves to the qualities that are useful and necessary to attain its end, which is peace, – so in peace, to attain its end also, which is tranquillity, they ought to apply themselves to the righteous qualities that are the end of the useful. And thus subjects will be good, and the prince will have much more to praise and reward than to punish; and dominion will be very happy for the subjects and for the prince -not imperious, like that of master over slave, but sweet and gentle, like that of a good father over a good son.”

Categories: Uncategorized

Baldassare Castiglione: Sabine peace

October 9, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Italian writers on war and militarism

Baldassare Castiglione: Leaders must prepare their people for peace, not war

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Baldassare Castiglione
From The Book of the Courtier
Translated by Leonard Eckstein Opdyke

“Nor did the Sabine women contribute less to its [Rome’s] increase than the Trojan women did to its beginning. For Romulus, having excited general enmity among all his neighbours by the seizure of their women, was harassed by wars on every side; which (he being a man of ability) were soon brought to a successful issue, except that with the Sabines, which was very great because Titus Tatius, king of the Sabines, was very powerful and wise. Wherefore, a severe conflict having taken place between Romans and Sabines, with very heavy loss on both sides, and a new and cruel battle making ready, the Sabine women, – clad in black, with hair loose and torn, weeping, sorrowful, fearless of the weapons that were already drawn to strike, – rushed in between the fathers and husbands, imploring them to refrain from defiling their hands with the blood of fathers-in-law and sons-in-law. And if the men were still displeased with the alliance, let the weapons be turned against the women, for it were better for them to die than to live widowed or fatherless and brotherless, and to remember that their children were begotten of those who had slain their fathers, or that they themselves were born of those who had slain their husbands. Lamenting thus and weeping, many of them carried their little babes in their arms, some of whom were already beginning to loose the tongue and seemed to try to call and to make merry with their grandsires; to whom the women showed the little ones, and said, weeping: ‘Behold your blood, which with such heat and fury you are seeking to shed with your own hands.’

“The women’s dutifulness and wisdom wrought such great effect at this pass, that not only were lasting friendship and union established between the two hostile kings, but what was stranger, the Sabines came to live at Rome, and of the two peoples a single one was made. And thus this union greatly increased the power of Rome, thanks to those wise and lofty-minded women, who were rewarded by Romulus in such fashion that in dividing the people into thirty wards he gave thereto the names of the Sabine women.”

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Torquato Tasso: War’s devouring minister, the sword

October 4, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Italian writers on war and militarism

Torquato Tasso: Pastoral refuge from war

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Torquato Tasso
From Jerusalem Delivered
Translated by J. H. Wiffen

“Now is thy noon of honour, but the night
Succeeds to noon; and wise it surely were
To shun the dubious accidents of fight, –
If conqueror, conquest proves a fruitless care;
But – once beguiled in fate’s malignant snare,
Empire, past spoils, and victories, all are crossed!”

***

“But if thine eye no keen resentment veils,
If it strikes not the light of reason blind,
With fear, not hope, must thou regard the scales
Of war, and tremble as the beam’s inclined;
For Fortune’s favour is a varying wind.
Wafting now ill, now good, – now joy, now woe!
She least rewards us when she seems most kind:
Oft serpents lurk where freshest roses blow.
And for the loftiest flight a gulf yawns deep below.”

***

“But granting Heaven’s almightiness decree
That War’s devouring minister, the sword,
Which fatal proves to others, harm not thee,
Famine will bow thee still! when, unrestored,
Life’s rosy currents from the heart are poured,
Where wilt thou turn? what refuge will remain?
Quails in the desert will thy God afford?
Wave thy bright sword, thy javelin shake! – ‘t is vain!
Victory will nothing be but mockery of thy pain.”

***

“Lovelier is Mercy’s smile than Valour’s frown,
A suppliant cherished than a foe undone:
And ’twere less glorious to thy just renown,
Whatever hazards in the task were run,
To lay whole realms in dust than thus relumine one.”

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Alessandro Manzoni: The havoc of war devastated the state

September 27, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Italian writers on war and militarism

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Alessandro Manzoni
From The Betrothed (I promessi sposi)

This was the second year of the scarcity; in the preceding one, the provisions, remaining from past years, had supplied in some measure the deficiency, and we find the population neither altogether satisfied, nor yet starved; but certainly unprovided for in the year 1628, the period of our story. Now this harvest, so anxiously desired, was still more deficient than that of the past year, partly from the character of the season itself (and that not only in the Milanese but also in the surrounding country), and partly from the instrumentality of men. The havoc of the war, of which we have before made mention, had so devastated the state, that a greater number of farms than ordinary remained uncultivated and deserted by the peasants, who, instead of providing, by their labour, bread for their families, were obliged to beg it from door to door. We say a greater number of farms than ordinary, because the insupportable taxes, levied with a cupidity and folly unequalled; the habitual conduct, even in time of peace, of the standing troops (conduct which the mournful documents of the age compare to that of an invading army), and other causes which we cannot enumerate, had for some time slowly operated to produce these sad effects in all the Milanese, – the particular circumstances of which we now speak were, therefore, like the unexpected exasperation of a chronic disease. Hardly had this harvest been gathered, when the supplies for the army, and the waste which always accompanies them, caused an excessive scarcity, and with it its painful but profitable concomitant, a high price upon provisions…

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Giovanni Boccaccio: Avarice armed mankind in violence

September 3, 2019 Leave a comment

Giovanni Boccaccio
From The Fates of Illustrious Men
Translated by Louis Brewer Hall

(With gratitude to the translator and for fair use only.)

What does great power bring with it except a covering of gold and purple, mantles and gems, the certain envy of many, the greatest misfortune, and very often a lamentable and ignominious end. Among all these things is mixed deceptive love, which brings the greatest danger to those who receive it. This delight, by the delicacies which sets it free, infects the spirit with its poison. If Troy was not enough to demonstrate this fact, how many conflagrations, how many ruins, how many killings are necessary? And in addition, slaughtered Agamemnon bears witness to it.

***

People should not be threatened with force, trampled underfoot, nor tortured. Rulers should always remember that people are not slaves but fellow servants of God. Because it is the sweat of the people that makes the royal eminence shine, the king should be diligent to guard peace and the welfare of the people. How many rulers perform this today, God knows. Rule has been transferred into tyranny. Rulers despise the feelings of their subjects. They want to glitter with gems and gold; they want to be surrounded by great bands of servants, to build palaces into the sky, to spend their time with groups of parasites, prostitutes and fools. They feast their eyes on obscenities. They spend their nights in endless debauchery, drunkenness and scandal. Their days they spent in deepest sleep while the people guard their well-being.

***

Nature has hidden gold in the most secret depths of the earth, as it is dangerous to the human species. But Avarice, the prospector, searches voraciously and brings it to light. Avarice taught us to dig out the mountains, tunnel the bowels of the earth, and even to invade the depths of the sea with fish hooks. First, Avarice leveled the height of the mountains and cut down the woods to make roads. Then he showed us how to occupy foreign shores, to sign false contracts, to deceive wild beasts, to put serpents to sleep, to spread discord, to lie. He armed mankind in violence, invented poisons and treacheries. By all these methods and others as well, he gathered this glittering peril for some men in vast quantities.

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Dante: The fate of those who deal in bloodshed and in pillaging

August 31, 2019 Leave a comment

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

Italian writers on war and militarism

James Russell Lowell: Dante and universal peace

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Dante Alighieri
From The Divine Comedy
Inferno Canto XII
Translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“But fix thine eyes below; for draweth near
The river of blood, within which boiling is
Whoe’er by violence doth injure others.

O blind cupidity, O wrath insane,
That spurs us onward so in our short life,
And in the eternal then so badly steeps us!”

***

We with our faithful escort onward moved
Along the brink of the vermilion boiling,
Wherein the boiled were uttering loud laments.

People I saw within up to the eyebrows,
And the great Centaur said: “Tyrants are these,
Who dealt in bloodshed and in pillaging.

Here they lament their pitiless mischiefs; here
Is Alexander, and fierce Dionysius
Who upon Sicily brought dolorous years.

That forehead there which has the hair so black
Is Azzolin; and the other who is blond,
Obizzo is of Esti, who, in truth,

Up in the world was by his stepson slain.”
Then turned I to the Poet; and he said,
“Now he be first to thee, and second I.”

A little farther on the Centaur stopped
Above a folk, who far down as the throat
Seemed from that boiling stream to issue forth.

A shade he showed us on one side alone,
Saying: “He cleft asunder in God’s bosom
The heart that still upon the Thames is honoured.”

Then people saw I, who from out the river
Lifted their heads and also all the chest;
And many among these I recognised.

Thus ever more and more grew shallower
That blood, so that the feet alone it covered;
And there across the moat our passage was.

“Even as thou here upon this side beholdest
The boiling stream, that aye diminishes,”
The Centaur said, “I wish thee to believe

That on this other more and more declines
Its bed, until it reunites itself
Where it behoveth tyranny to groan.

Justice divine, upon this side, is goading
That Attila, who was a scourge on earth,
And Pyrrhus, and Sextus; and for ever milks

The tears which with the boiling it unseals
In Rinier da Corneto and Rinier Pazzo,
Who made upon the highways so much war.”

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Henry James: War, the waste of life and time and money

August 26, 2019 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Henry James: Beguiled into thinking war, worst horror that attends the life of nations, could not recur

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Henry James
From The American

Newman had come out of the war with a brevet of brigadier-general, an honor which in this case – without invidious comparisons – had lighted upon shoulders amply competent to bear it. But though he could manage a fight, when need was, Newman heartily disliked the business; his four years in the army had left him with an angry, bitter sense of the waste of precious things – life and time and money and “smartness” and the early freshness of purpose; and he had addressed himself to the pursuits of peace with passionate zest and energy.

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Tobias Smollett: The war glories of a demagogue

August 17, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Tobias Smollett: War contractors fattened on the blood of the nation

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Tobias Smollett
From The History and Adventures of an Atom

Success of any kind is apt to perturb the weak brain of a Japonese [Englishman]; but the acquisition of any military trophy, produces an actual delirium. – The streets of Meaco [London] were filled with the multitudes who shouted, whooped and hollowed. They made processions with flags and banners; they illuminated their houses; they extolled lan-on-i [Major-General Sir William Johnson], a provincial captain of Fatsisio [North America], who had by accident repulsed a body of the enemy and reduced an old barn which they had fortified. They magnified Brut-an-tiffi [Frederick the Great]; they deified orator Taycho [William Pitt the Elder]; they drank, they damned, they squabbled, and acted a thousand extravagancies which I shall not pretend to enumerate or particularize. Taycho, who knew their trim, seized this opportunity to strike while the iron was hot. – He forthwith mounted an old tub, which was his public rostrum, and waving his hand in an oratorial attitude, was immediately surrounded with the thronging populace. – I have already given you a specimen of his manner, and therefore shall not repeat the tropes and figures of his harangue: but only sketch out the plan of his address, and specify the chain of his argument alone. He assailed them in the way of paradox, which never fails to produce a wonderful effect upon a heated imagination and a shallow understanding. Having, in his exordium, artfully fascinated their faculties, like a juggler in Bartholomew-fair, by means of an assemblage of words without meaning or import; he proceeded to demonstrate, that a wife and good man ought to discard his maxims the moment he finds they are certainly established on the foundation of eternal truth. That the people of Japan ought to preserve the farm of Yesso [Hanover], as the apple of their eye, because nature had disjoined it from their empire; and the maintenance of it would involve them in all the quarrels of Tartary [the German states]: that it was to be preserved at all hazards, because it was not worth preserving: that all the power and opulence of Japan ought to be exerted and employed in its defence, because, by the nature of its situation, it could not possibly be defended: that Brut-an-tiffi was the great protector of the religion of the Bonzas [Anglican clergymen], because he had never shewn the least regard to any religion at all: that he was the fast friend of Japan, because he had more than once acted as a rancorous enemy to this empire, and never let slip the least opportunity of expressing his contempt for the subjects of Niphon [Great Britain]: that he was an invincible hero, because he had been thrice beaten, and once compelled to raise a siege in the course of two campaigns: that he was a prince of consummate honour, because he had in the time of profound peace, usurped the dominions and ravaged the countries of his neighbours, in defiance of common honesty; in violation of the most solemn treaties: that he was the most honourable and important ally that the empire of Japan could choose, because his alliance was to be purchased with an enormous annual tribute, for which he was bound to perform no earthly office of friendship or assistance; because connexion with him effectually deprived Japan of the friendship of all the other princes and states of Tartary; and the utmost exertion of his power could never conduce, in the smallest degree, to the interest or advantage of the Japonese empire.

***

The Dairo [the English monarch] rejoiced in his success, the first-fruits of which consisted in their agreeing to maintain an army of twenty thousand Tartar mercenaries, who were reinforced by the flower of the national troops of Japan, sent over to defend the farm of Yesso; and in their consenting to prolong the annual tribute granted to Brut-an-tiffi, who, in return for this condescension, accommodated the Dairo with one of his free-booting captains to command the Yessite army.

***

As the war of Yesso, therefore, engrossed all the specie of Niphon, and some currency was absolutely necessary to the subsistence of the Japonese, the orator contrived a method to fave the expence of solid food. He composed a meal that should fill their bellies, and, at the same time, protract the intoxication of their brains, which it was so much his interest to maintain.

***

The people had been so well prepared for infatuation, by the speeches of Taycho, and the tidings of success from Tartary, that every passenger greedily swallowed the drench, and in a little time the whole nation was converted; that is, they were totally freed from those troublesome and impertinent faculties of reason and reflection, which could have served no other purpose but to make them miserable under the burthens to which, their backs were now subjected. They offered up all their gold and silver, their jewels, their furniture and apparel, at the shrine of Fakkubasi [House of Hanover], singing psalms and hymns in praise of the White Horse [of Hanover]. They put arms into the hands of their children, and drove them into Tartary.

***

The Chinese [French] were successful in other parts of Fatsisio. They demolished some forts, they defeated some parties, and massacred some people, belonging to the colonies of Japan. Perhaps the tidings of these disasters would have roused the people of Niphon from the lethargy of intoxication in which they were overwhelmed, had not their delirium been kept up by some fascinating amulets from Tartary: these were no other than the bubbles which Brut-an-tiffi swelled into mighty victories over the Chinese and Ostrog [Austria]; though, in fact, he had been severely cudgelled, and more than once in very great danger of crucifixion. Taycho presented the monster with a bowl of blood, which he told it this invincible ally had drawn from its enemies the Chinese, and, at the fame time, blowed the gay bubbles athwart its numerous eyes. The hydra lapped the gore with signs of infinite relish; groaned and grunted to fee the bubbles dance; exclaimed, “O rare Taycho!” and relapsed into the arms of slumber. Thus passed the first campaign of Taycho’s administration.

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George Gissing: Peace, no word more beautiful

August 10, 2019 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

George Gissing: Selections on war

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George Gissing
From The Crown of Life

He had tired himself; his mind slipped from the beautiful things around him, and fell into the old reverie. He murmured the haunting name – Irene. As well as for her who bore it, he loved the name for its meaning. Peace! As a child he had been taught that no word was more beautiful, more solemn; at this moment, he could hear it in his father’s voice, sounding as a note of music, with a tremor of deep feeling. Peace! Every year that passed gave him a fuller understanding of his father’s devotion to that word in all its significance; he himself knew something of the same fervour, and was glad to foster it in his heart. Peace! What better could a man pursue? From of old the desire of wisdom, the prayer of the aspiring soul.

****

“And after all, there’s no harm in a little fighting. It’s better to fight and have done with it than keeping on plotting between compliments. Nations arc just like schoolboys, you know; there has to be a round now and then; it settles things, and is good for the blood.”

Otway was biting a blade of grass; he smiled and said nothing. Mrs. Borisoff glanced from him to Irene, who also was smiling, but looked half vexed.

“How can it be good, for health or anything else?” Miss Derwent asked suddenly, turning to the speaker.

“Oh, we couldn’t do without fighting. It’s in human nature.”

“In uncivilised human nature, yes.”

“But really, you know,” urged March, with good-natured deference, “it wouldn’t do to civilise away pluck – courage – heroism – whatever one likes to call it.”

“Of course it wouldn’t. But what has pluck or heroism to do with bloodshed? How can anyone imagine that courage is only shown in fighting? I don’t happen to have been in a battle, but one knows very well how easy it must be for any coward or brute, excited to madness, to become what’s called a hero. Heroism is noble courage in ordinary life. Are you serious in thinking that life offers no opportunities for it?”

“Well – it’s not quite the same thing -”

“Happily, not! It’s a vastly better thing. Every day some braver deed is done by plain men and women – yes, women, if you please – than was ever known on the battle-field. One only hears of them now and then. On the railway – on the sea – in the hospital – in burning houses – in accidents of road and street – are there no opportunities for courage? In the commonest everyday home life, doesn’t any man or woman have endless chances of being brave or a coward? And this is civilised courage, not the fury of a bull at a red rag.”

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George Gissing: Next stage in civilization: peace made a religion

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

British writers on peace and war

George Gissing: Selections on war

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George Gissing
From The Crown of Life

With a boldness natural to the hour, he drew nearer, nearer, watching his opportunity. The chair by Irene’s side became vacant; he stepped forward, and was met with a frank countenance, which invited him to take the coveted place. Miss Derwent spoke at once of her interest in the Russian sectaries with whom – she had heard – Otway was well acquainted, the people called Dukhobortsi, who held the carrying of arms a sin, and suffered persecution because of their conscientious refusal to perform military service. Piers spoke with enthusiasm of these people.

“They uphold the ideal above all necessary to our time. We ought to be rapidly outgrowing warfare; isn’t that the obvious next step in civilisation? It seems a commonplace that everyone should look to that end, and strive for it. Yet we’re going back – there’s a military reaction – fighting is glorified by everyone who has a loud voice, and in no country more than in England. I wish you could hear a Russian friend of mine speak about it, a rich man who has just given up everything to join the Dukhobortsi. I never knew before what religious passion meant. And it seems to me that this is the world’s only hope – peace made a religion. The forms don’t matter; only let the supreme end be peace. It is what people have talked so much about – the religion of the future.”

His tones moved the listener, as appeared in her look and attitude.

“Surely all the best in every country lean to it,” she said.

“Of course! That’s our hope – but at the same time the pitiful thing; for the best hold back, keep silence, as if their quiet contempt could prevail against this activity of the reckless and the foolish.”

“One can’t make a religion,” said Irene sadly. “It is just this religious spirit which has decayed throughout our world. Christianity turns to ritualism. And science – we were told you know, that science would be religion enough.”

“There’s the pity – the failure of science as a civilising force. I know,” added Piers quickly, “that there are men whose spirit, whose work, doesn’t share in that failure; they are the men – the very few – who are above self-interest. But science on the whole, has come to mean money-making and weapon-making. It leads the international struggle; it is judged by its value to the capitalist and the soldier.”

“Isn’t this perhaps a stage of evolution that the world must live through – to its extreme results?”

“Very likely. The signs are bad enough.”

“You haven’t yourself that enthusiastic hope?”

“I try to hope,” said Piers, in a low, unsteady voice, his eyes falling timidly before her glance. “But what you said is so true – one can’t create the spirit of religion. If one hasn’t it- -” He broke off, and added with a smile, “I think I have a certain amount of enthusiasm. But when one has seen a good deal of the world, it’s so very easy to feel discouraged. Think how much sheer barbarism there is around us, from the brutal savage of the gutter to the cunning savage of the Stock Exchange!”

Irene had a gleam in her eyes; she nodded appreciation.

“If,” he went on vigorously, “if one could make the multitude really understand – understand to the point of action – how enormously its interest is peace!”

“More hope that way, I’m afraid,” said Irene, “than through idealisms.”

“Yes, yes. If it comes at all, it’ll be by the way of self-interest. And really it looks as if the military tyrants might overreach themselves here and there. Italy, for instance. Think of Italy, crushed and cursed by a blood-tax that the people themselves see to be futile. One enters into the spirit of the men who freed Italy from foreigners – it was glorious; but how much more glorious to excite a rebellion there against her own rulers! Shouldn’t you enjoy doing that?”

At times, there is no subtler compliment to a woman than to address her as if she were a man. It must be done involuntarily, as was the case with this utterance of Otway’s. Irene rewarded him with a look such as he had never had from her, the look of rejoicing comradeship.

“Indeed I should! Italy is becoming a misery to those who love her. Is no plot going on? Couldn’t one start a conspiracy against that infamous misgovernment?”

“There’s an arch-plotter at work. His name is Hunger. Let us be glad that Italy can’t enrich herself by manufactures. Who knows? The revolution against militarism may begin there, as that against feudalism did in France. Talk of enthusiasm! How should we feel if we read in the paper some morning that the Italian people had formed into an army of peace – refusing to pay another centesimo for warfare?

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George Gissing: A parable on war, industry and the press

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

British writers on peace and war

George Gissing: Selections on war

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George Gissing
From The Crown of Life

“There’s an amusing thing – called ‘Historical Fragment.’ I remember, oh I remember very well, how it pleased me when I first read it.”

He read it aloud now, with many a chuckle, many a pause of sly emphasis.

“‘The Story of the last war between the Asiatic kingdoms of Duroba and Kalaya, though it has reached us in a narrative far too concise, is one of the most interesting chapters in the history of ancient civilisation.

“‘They were bordering states, peopled by races closely akin, whose languages, it appears, were mutually intelligible; each had developed its own polity, and had advanced to a high degree of refinement in public and private life. Wars between them had been frequent, but at the time with which we are concerned the spirit of hostility was all but forgotten in a happy peace of long duration. Each country was ruled by an aged monarch, beloved of the people, but, under the burden of years, grown of late somewhat less vigilant than was consistent with popular welfare. Thus it came to pass that power fell into the hands of unscrupulous statesmen, who, aided by singular circumstances, succeeded in reviving for a moment the old sanguinary jealousies.

“‘We are told that a General in the army of Duroba, having a turn for experimental chemistry, had discovered a substance of terrible explosive power, which, by the exercise of further ingenuity, he had adapted for use in warfare. About the same time, a public official in Kalaya, whose duty it was to convey news to the community by means of a primitive system of manuscript placarding, hit upon a mechanical method whereby news-sheets could be multiplied very rapidly and be sold to readers all over the kingdom. Now the Duroban General felt eager to test his discovery in a campaign, and, happening to have a quarrel with a politician in the neighbouring state, did his utmost to excite hostile feeling against Kalaya. On the other hand, the Kalayan official, his cupidity excited by the profits already arising from his invention, desired nothing better than some stirring event which would lead to still greater demand for the news-sheets he distributed, and so he also was led to the idea of stirring up international strife. To be brief, these intrigues succeeded only too well; war was actually declared, the armies were mustered, and marched to the encounter.

“‘They met at a point of the common frontier where only a little brook flowed between the two kingdoms. It was nightfall; each host encamped, to await the great engagement which on the morrow would decide between them.

“‘It must be understood that the Durobans and the Kalayans differed markedly in national characteristics. The former people was distinguished by joyous vitality and a keen sense of humour; the latter, by a somewhat meditative disposition inclining to timidity; and doubtless these qualities had become more pronounced during the long peace which would naturally favour them. Now, when night had fallen on the camps, the common soldiers on each side began to discuss, over their evening meal, the position in which they found themselves. The men of Duroba, having drunk well, as their habit was, fell into an odd state of mind. “What!” they exclaimed to one another. “After all these years of tranquillity, are we really going to fight with the Kalayans, and to slaughter them and be ourselves slaughtered! Pray, what is it all about? Who can tell us?” Not a man could answer, save with the vaguest generalities. And so, the debate continuing, the wonder growing from moment to moment, at length, and all of a sudden, the Duroban camp echoed with huge peals of laughter. “Why, if we soldiers have no cause of quarrel, what are we doing here? Shall we be mangled and killed to please our General with the turn for chemistry? That were a joke, indeed!” And, as soon as mirth permitted, the army rose as one man, threw together their belongings, and with jovial songs trooped off to sleep comfortably in a town a couple of miles away.

“‘The Kalayans, meanwhile, had been occupied with the very same question. They were anything but martial of mood, and the soldiery, ill at ease in their camp, grumbled and protested. “After all, why are we here?” cried one to the other. “Who wants to injure the Durobans? And what man among us desires to be blown to pieces by their new instruments of war? Pray, why should we fight? If the great officials are angry, as the news-sheets tell us, e’en let them do the fighting themselves.” At this moment there sounded from the enemy’s camp a stupendous roar; it was much like laughter; no doubt the Durobans were jubilant in anticipation of their victory. Fear seized the Kalayans; they rose like one man, and incontinently fled far into the sheltering night!

“‘Thus ended the war – the last between these happy nations, who, not very long after, united to form a noble state under one ruler. It is interesting to note that the original instigators of hostility did not go without their deserts. The Duroban General, having been duly tried for a crime against his country, was imprisoned in a spacious building, the rooms of which were hung with great pictures representing every horror of battle with the ghastliest fidelity; here he was supplied with materials for chemical experiment, to occupy his leisure, and very shortly, by accident, blew himself to pieces. The Kalayan publicist was also convicted of treason against the state; they banished him to a desert island, where for many hours daily he had to multiply copies of his news-sheet – that issue which contained the declaration of war – and at evening to burn them all. He presently became imbecile, and so passed away.'”

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George Gissing: The morbid love of war

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

British writers on peace and war

George Gissing: Selections on war

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George Gissing
From The Crown of Life

Arnold was interested. He had only the slightest acquaintance with Hannaford, and would like to hear more of him.

“Not long ago,” Piers responded, “he was a teacher of chemistry at Geneva – I got to know him there. He seems to speak half a dozen languages in perfection; I believe he was born in Switzerland. His house down in Surrey is a museum of modern weapons – a regular armoury. He has invented some new gun.”

“So I gathered. And a new explosive, I’m told.”

“I hope he doesn’t store it in his house?” said Mr. Jacks, looking with concern at Piers.

“I’ve had a moment’s uneasiness about that, now and then,” Otway replied, laughing, “especially after hearing him talk.”

“A tremendous fellow!” Arnold exclaimed admiringly. “He showed me, by sketch diagrams, how many men he could kill within a given space.”

“If this gentleman were not your friend, Mr. Otway,” began the host, “I should say -”

“Oh, pray say whatever you like! He isn’t my friend at all, and I detest his inventions.”

“Shocking!” fell sweetly from the lady at the head of the table.

****

Mr. Hannaford’s sanctum alone had character; it was hung about with lethal weapons of many kinds and many epochs, including a memento of every important war waged in Europe since the date of Waterloo. A smoke-grimed rifle from some battlefield was in Hannaford’s view a thing greatly precious; still more, a bayonet with stain of blood; these relics appealed to his emotions. Under glass were ranged minutiae such as bullets, fragments of shells, bits of gore-drenched cloth or linen, a splinter of human bone – all ticketed with neat inscription. A bookcase contained volumes of military history, works on firearms, treatises on (chiefly explosive) chemistry; several great portfolios were packed with maps and diagrams of warfare. Upstairs, a long garret served as laboratory, and here were ranged less valuable possessions; weapons to which some doubt attached, unbloody scraps of accoutrements, also a few models of cannon and the like.

****

Mrs. Hannaford was something of an artist; her husband spoke of all art with contempt – except the great art of human slaughter. She liked the society of foreigners; he, though a remarkable linguist, at heart distrusted and despised all but English-speaking folk. As a girl in her teens, she had been charmed by the man’s virile accomplishments, his soldierly bearing and gay talk of martial things, though Hannaford was only a teacher of science. Nowadays she thought with dreary wonder of that fascination, and had come to loathe every trapping and habiliment of war. She knew him profoundly selfish, and recognised the other faults which had hindered so clever a man from success in life; indolent habits, moral untrustworthiness, and a conceit which at times menaced insanity. He hated her, she was well aware, because of her cold criticism; she returned his hate with interest.

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Fyodor Dostoevsky: Decide for yourself, has civilization made mankind more bloodthirsty?

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

Russian writers on war

Fyodor Dostoevsky: Selections on war

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Fyodor Dostoevsky
From Notes from Underground (1964)
Translated by Constance Garnett

Only look about you: blood is being spilt in streams, and in the merriest way, as though it were champagne. Take the whole of the nineteenth century in which Buckle lived. Take Napoleon – the Great and also the present one. Take North America – the eternal union. Take the farce of Schleswig-Holstein…And what is it that civilisation softens in us? The only gain of civilisation for mankind is the greater capacity for variety of sensations–and absolutely nothing more. And through the development of this many-sidedness man may come to finding enjoyment in bloodshed. In fact, this has already happened to him. Have you noticed that it is the most civilised gentlemen who have been the subtlest slaughterers, to whom the Attilas and Stenka Razins could not hold a candle, and if they are not so conspicuous as the Attilas and Stenka Razins it is simply because they are so often met with, are so ordinary and have become so familiar to us. In any case civilisation has made mankind if not more bloodthirsty, at least more vilely, more loathsomely bloodthirsty. In old days he saw justice in bloodshed and with his conscience at peace exterminated those he thought proper. Now we do think bloodshed abominable and yet we engage in this abomination, and with more energy than ever. Which is worse? Decide that for yourselves.

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Hugh Walpole: Selections on war

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Hugh Walpole: War both protracts and strangles youth

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

British writers on peace and war

Hugh Walpole: Selections on war

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Hugh Walpole
From The Young Enchanted

It has been asserted again and again that the Great War of 1914 turned many thousands of boys into old men long before their time. The exact contrary may also be proved to be true – namely that the War caught many boys in their teens, held them in a sort of vise for five years, keeping them from life as it is usually lived, teaching them nothing but war and then suddenly flinging them out into a Peace about which they were as ignorant as blind puppies. Boys of eighteen chronologically supposed to be twenty-four and superficially disguised as men of forty and disillusioned cynical men at that, those were to be found in their thousands in that curious tangled year of 1920. Henry thought he was a man; he was much less a man than he would have been had no war broken out at all.

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Voltaire: Annals with no mention of any war undertaken at any time

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

French writers on war and peace

Voltaire: Selections on war

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Voltaire
Philosophical Dictionary
From Brahmins

Their annals make no mention of any war undertaken by them at any time. The words “arms,” “killing,” “maiming,” are to be found neither in the fragments of the Shastah that have reached us, nor in the Yajurvedah, nor in the Kormovedah. At least, I can affirm that I have not seen them in either of these two latter collections; and it is most singular that the Shastah, which speaks of a conspiracy in heaven, makes no mention of any war in the great peninsula between the Indus and Ganges.

The Hebrews, who were unknown until so late a period, never name the Brahmins; they knew nothing of India till after Alexander’s conquests and their own settling in that Egypt of which they had spoken so ill. The name of India is to be found only in the book of Esther, and in that of Job, who was not a Hebrew. We find a singular contrast between the sacred books of the Hebrews and those of the Indians. The Indian books announce only peace and mildness; they forbid the killing of animals: but the Hebrew books speak of nothing but the slaughter and massacre of men and beasts; all are butchered in the name of the Lord; it is quite another order of things.

****

General Reflection on Man

It needs twenty years to lead man from the plant state in which he is within his mother ‘s womb, and the pure animal state which is the lot of his early childhood, to the state when the maturity of the reason begins to appear. It has needed thirty centuries to learn a little about his structure. It would need eternity to learn something about his soul. It takes an instant to kill him.

****

From Marriage

“Let your soldiers marry, and they will no longer desert. Bound to their families, they will be bound to their country. An unmarried soldier is frequently nothing but a vagabond, to whom it matters not whether he serves the king of Naples or the king of Morocco.”

The Roman warriors were married: they fought for their wives and their children; and they made slaves of the wives and the children of other nations.

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Samuel Johnson: Selections on war

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Samuel Johnson: The violence of war admits no distinction

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

British writers on peace and war

Samuel Johnson: Selections on war

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Samuel Johnson
From Rasselas

‘The violence of war admits no distinction: the lance that is lifted at guilt and power will sometimes fall on innocence and gentleness.’

****

From Idler (Number 30)

“Among the calamities of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.”

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The Vulture (Idler, Number 22)

Many naturalists are of opinion, that the animals which we commonly consider as mute, have the power of imparting their thoughts to one another. That they can express general sensations is very certain; every being that can utter sounds, has a different voice for pleasure and for pain. The hound informs his fellows when he scents his game; the hen calls her chickens to their food by her cluck, and drives them from danger by her scream.

Birds have the greatest variety of notes; they have indeed a variety, which seems almost sufficient to make a speech adequate to the purposes of a life which is regulated by instinct, and can admit little change or improvement. To the cries of birds, curiosity or superstition has always been attentive; many have studied the language of the feathered tribes, and some have boasted that they understood it.

The most skilful or most confident interpreters of the sylvan dialogues have been commonly found among the philosophers of the east, in a country where the calmness of the air, and the mildness of the seasons, allow the student to pass a great part of the year in groves and bowers. But what may be done in one place by peculiar opportunities, may be performed in another by peculiar diligence. A shepherd of Bohemia has, by long abode in the forests, enabled himself to understand the voice of birds; at least he relates with great confidence a story, of which the credibility is left to be considered by the learned.

“As I was sitting,” said he, “within a hollow rock, and watching my sheep that fed in the valley, I heard two vultures interchangeably crying on the summit of the cliff. Both voices were earnest and deliberate. My curiosity prevailed over my care of the flock; I climbed slowly and silently from crag to crag, concealed among the shrubs, till I found a cavity where I might sit and listen without suffering or giving disturbance.

“I soon perceived that my labour would be well repaid; for an old vulture was sitting on a naked prominence, with her young about her, whom she was instructing in the arts of a vulture’s life, and preparing, by the last lecture, for their final dismission to the mountains and the skies.

“‘My children,’ said the old vulture, ‘you will the less want my instructions, because you have had my practice before your eyes; you have seen me snatch from the farm the household fowl, you have seen me seize the leveret in the bush, and the kid in the pasture; you know to fix your talons, and how to balance your flight when you are laden with your prey. But you remember the taste of more delicious food; I have often regaled you with the taste of man.’ ‘Tell us,’ said the young vultures, ‘where man may be found, and how he may be known; his flesh is surely the natural food of the vulture. Why have you never brought a man in your talons to the nest?’ ‘He is too bulky,’ said the mother: ‘when we find a man we can only tear away his flesh, and leave his bones upon the ground.’ ‘Since man is so big,’ said the young ones, ‘how do you kill him? You are afraid of the wolf and of the bear, by what power are vultures superior to man? is man more defenceless than a sheep?’ ‘We have not the strength of a man,’ returned the mother, ‘and I am sometimes in doubt whether we have the subtilty; and the vultures would seldom feed upon his flesh, had not nature, that devoted him to our uses, infused into him a strange ferocity, which I have never observed in any other being that feeds upon the earth. Two herds of men will often meet and shake the earth with noise, and fill the air with fire. When you hear noise and see fire, with flashes along the ground, hasten to the place with your swiftest wing, for men are surely destroying one another; you will then find the ground smoking with blood and covered with carcasses; of which many are dismembered and mangled for the convenience of the vulture.’ ‘But when men have killed their prey,’ said the pupil, ‘why do they not eat it? When the wolf has killed a sheep, he suffers not the vulture to touch it till he is satisfied himself. Is not man another kind of wolf?’ ‘Man,’ said the mother, ‘is the only beast who kills that which he does not devour, and this quality makes him so much a benefactor to our species.’ ‘If men kill our prey and lay it in our way,’ said the young one, ‘what need shall we have of labouring for ourselves?’ ‘Because man will, sometimes,’ replied the mother, ‘remain for a long time quiet in his den. The old vultures will tell you when you are to watch his motions. When you see men in great numbers moving close together, like a flock of storks, you may conclude that they are hunting, and that you will soon revel in human blood.’ ‘But still,’ said the young one, ‘I would gladly know the reason of this mutual slaughter. I could never kill what I could not eat.’ ‘My child,’ said the mother, ‘this is a question which I cannot answer, though I am reckoned the most subtle bird of the mountain. When I was young, I used frequently to visit the aerie of an old vulture, who dwelt upon the Carpathian rocks; he had made many observations; he knew the places that afforded prey round his habitation, as far in every direction as the strongest wing can fly between the rising and setting of the summer sun; he had fed year after year on the entrails of men. His opinion was, that men had only the appearance of animal life, being really vegetables with a power of motion; and that as the boughs of an oak are dashed together by the storm, that swine may fatten upon the falling acorns, so men are, by some unaccountable power, driven one against another, till they lose their motion, that vultures may be fed. Others think they have observed something of contrivance and policy among these mischievous beings; and those that hover more closely round them, pretend, that there is, in every herd, one that gives directions to the rest, and seems to be more eminently delighted with a wide carnage. What it is that entitles him to such preeminence we know not; he is seldom the biggest or the swiftest, but he shows by his eagerness and diligence that he is, more than any of the others, a friend to the vultures.’ “

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James Boswell: Samuel Johnson – war is worst type of all violence

June 21, 2019 1 comment

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

British writers on peace and war

James Boswell: On War

James Boswell: Who profits by war?

Samuel Johnson: Selections on war

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James Boswell
From Life of Samuel Johnson

In 1771 he published another political pamphlet, entitled ‘Thoughts on the Late Transactions respecting Falkland’s Islands,‘ in which, upon materials furnished to him by ministry, and upon general topicks expanded in his richest style, he successfully endeavoured to persuade the nation that it was wise and laudable to suffer the question of right to remain undecided, rather than involve our country in another war. It has been accepted by some, with what truth I shall not take upon me to decide, that he rated the consequence of those islands to Great-Britain too low. But however this may be, every humane mind must surely applaud the earnestness with which he averted the calamity of war; a calamity so dreadful, that it is astonishing how civilised, nay, Christian nations, can deliberately continue to renew it. His description of its miseries in this pamphlet, is one of the finest pieces of eloquence in the English language. Upon this occasion, too, we find Johnson lashing the party in opposition, with unbounded severity, and making the fullest use of what he ever reckoned a most effectual argumentative instrument, – contempt. His character of their able mysterious champion, Junius, is executed with all the force of his genius, and finished with the highest care. He seems to have exulted in sallying forth to single combat against the boasted and formidable hero, who bade defiance to ‘principalities and powers, and the rulers of this world.’

****

He this day again defended duelling, and put his augument upon what I have ever thought the most solid basis; that if publick war be allowed to be consistent with morality, private war must be equally so. Indeed we may observe what strained arguments are used, to reconcile war with the Christian religion. But, in my opinion, it is exceedingly clear that duelling, having better reasons for its barbarous violence, is more justifiable than war, in which thousands go forth without any cause of personal quarrel, and massacre each other.

****

Johnson. [to Oliver Goldsmith] ‘Sir, as to voluntary suicide, as you call it, there are twenty thousand men in an army who will go without scruple to be shot at, and mount a breach for five-pence a day.’

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David Graham Phillips: Hate war and fightin’ and money grabbin’

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

American writers on peace and against war

David Graham Phillips: Captains of industry, industrial warfare, marauders and renegade generals

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David Graham Phillips
From Susan Lenox

“…Listen to me. There was a man named Jesus once”- gasp – gasp – “You’ve heard about him, but you don’t know about him” – gasp – gasp – “I’ll tell you – listen. He was a low fellow – a workin’ man – same trade as mine – born without a father – born in a horse trough – in a stable” – gasp – gasp-

Susan leaned forward. “Born without a father,” she murmured, her eyes suddenly bright.

“That’s him. Listen” – gasp – gasp – gasp – “He was a big feller – big brain – big heart – the biggest man that ever lived”- gasp – gasp – gasp – gasp -“And he looked at this here hell of a world from the outside, he being an outcast and a low-down common workingman. And he saw – he did –

“Yes, he saw!” – gasp – gasp – gasp – “And he said all men were brothers – and that they’d find it out some day. He saw that this world was put together for the strong and the cruel – that they could win out – and make the rest of us work for ’em for what they chose to give – like they work a poor ignorant horse for his feed and stall in a dirty stable – “gasp – gasp – gasp –

“For the strong and the cruel,” said Susan.

“And this feller Jesus–he set round the saloons and such places – publicans, they called ’em” – gasp – gasp – gasp – “And he says to all the poor ignorant slaves and such cattle, he says, ‘You’re all brothers. Love one another'” – gasp – gasp – gasp – “‘Love one another,’ he says, ‘and learn to help each other and stand up for each other,’ he says, ‘and hate war and fightin’ and money grabbin’ – ‘”gasp – gasp – gasp -“‘Peace on earth,’ he says, ‘Know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’ – and he saw there’d be a time” – the old man raised himself on one elbow – “Yes, by God – there will be! – a time when men’ll learn not to be beasts and’ll be men – men, little gal!”

“Men,” echoed Susan, her eyes shining, her bosom heaving.

“It ain’t sense and it ain’t right that everything should be for the few – for them with brains – and that the rest – the millions – should be tramped down just because they ain’t so cruel or so ‘cute’ – they and their children tramped down in the dirt. And that feller Jesus saw it.”

“Yes – yes,” cried Susan. “He saw it.”

“I’ll tell you what he was,” said old Tom in a hoarse whisper. “He wasn’t no god. He was bigger’n that – bigger’n that, little gal! He was the first man that ever lived. He said, ‘Give the weak a chance so as they kin git strong.’ He says – ”

The dying man fell back exhausted. His eyes rolled wildly, closed; his mouth twitched, fell wide open; there came from his throat a sound Susan had never heard before, but she knew what it was, what it meant.

****

What do they come here for! To do good! Yes – to themselves. To make themselves feel how generous and sweet they was. Well, they’d better go home and read their Russia-leather covered Bibles. They’d find out that when God wanted to really do something for man, he didn’t have himself created a king, or a plutocrat, or a fat, slimy church deacon in a fashionable church. No, he had himself born a bastard in a manger.”

****

“Yes,” said the girl, “you are right. I see it now. But, Mr. Brashear, they meant well.”

“The hell they did,” retorted the old man. “If they’d, a’ had love in their hearts, they’d have seen the truth. Love’s one of the greatest teachers in the world. If they’d, a’ meant well, they’d, a’ been goin’ round teachin’ and preachin’ and prayin’ at their friends and fathers and brothers, the plutocrats. They’d never ‘a’ come down here, pretendin’ they was doin’ good, killin’ one bedbug out of ten million and offerin’ one pair of good pants where a hundred thousand pairs is needed. They’d better go read about themselves in their Bible – what Jesus says. He knew ’em. He belonged to us – and they crucified him.”

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James Huneker: Remy de Gourmont and philosophic abhorrence of war

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

American writers on peace and against war

Remy de Gourmont: Getting drunk at the dirty cask of militarism

Remy de Gourmont: If they wage war, in what state must the world be?

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James Huneker
From Remy de Gourmont
His Ideas. The Color of His Mind

As a philosopher he deprecated war; as a man, though too old to fight, he urged his countrymen to victory, as may be noted in his last book, Pendant l’Orage (1916). But the philosopher persists in such a sorrowful sentence as: “In the tragedy of man peace is but an entr’acte.” To show his mental balance at a time when literary men, artists, and even philosophers, indulged in unseemly abuse, we read in Jugements his calm admission that the war has not destroyed for him the intellectual values of Goethe, Schopenhauer, or Nietzsche. He owes much to their thought as they owed much to French thought; Goethe has said as much; and of Voltaire and Chamfort, Schopenhauer was a disciple. Without being a practical musician, De Gourmont was a lover of Beethoven and Wagner. He paid his compliments to Romain Rolland

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Henry Fielding: War creates the professors of human blood-shedding

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

British writers on peace and war

Henry Fielding: An alternative to heaps of mangled and murdered human bodies

Henry Fielding: On the condign fate of Great Men and conquerors

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Henry Fielding
From Tom Jones

Indeed, nothing is more unjust than to carry our prejudices against a profession into private life, and to borrow our idea of a man from our opinion of his calling. Habit, it is true, lessens the horror of those actions which the profession makes necessary, and consequently habitual; but in all other instances, Nature works in men of all professions alike; nay, perhaps, even more strongly with those who give her, as it were, a holiday, when they are following their ordinary business. A butcher, I make no doubt, would feel compunction at the slaughter of a fine horse; and though a surgeon can feel no pain in cutting off a limb, I have known him compassionate a man in a fit of the gout. The common hangman, who hath stretched the necks of hundreds, is known to have trembled at his first operation on a head: and the very professors of human blood-shedding, who, in their trade of war, butcher thousands, not only of their fellow-professors, but often of women and children, without remorse; even these, I say, in times of peace, when drums and trumpets are laid aside, often lay aside all their ferocity, and become very gentle members of civil society.

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Henry Fielding: An alternative to heaps of mangled and murdered human bodies

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

British writers on peace and war

Henry Fielding: On the condign fate of Great Men and conquerors

Henry Fielding: War creates the professors of human blood-shedding

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Henry Fielding
From Tom Jones

Here we cannot suppress a pious wish, that all quarrels were to be decided by those weapons only with which Nature, knowing what is proper for us, hath supplied us; and that cold iron was to be used in digging no bowels but those of the earth. Then would war, the pastime of monarchs, be almost inoffensive, and battles between great armies might be fought at the particular desire of several ladies of quality; who, together with the kings themselves, might be actual spectators of the conflict. Then might the field be this moment well strewed with human carcasses, and the next, the dead men, or infinitely the greatest part of them, might get up, like Mr Bayes’s troops, and march off either at the sound of a drum or fiddle, as should be previously agreed on.

I would avoid, if possible, treating this matter ludicrously, lest grave men and politicians, whom I know to be offended at a jest, may cry pish at it; but, in reality, might not a battle be as well decided by the greater number of broken heads, bloody noses, and black eyes, as by the greater heaps of mangled and murdered human bodies? Might not towns be contended for in the same manner?

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Hugh Walpole: It would indeed be a disheartening sight….

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

British writers on peace and war

Hugh Walpole: Selections on war

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Hugh Walpole
From Jeremy

“How old are you, Jeremy dear?” she asked him.

“Eight,” he answered, wriggling.

“What a nice age! And one day you’ll go to school?”

“In September.”

“And what will you be when you’re a man?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I’ll be a soldier, perhaps.”

“Oh, I’m sure you wouldn’t like to be a soldier and kill people.”

“Yes, I would. There’s lots of people I’d like to kill.”

Mrs. Le Page drew her skirts back a little.

“How horrible! I’m sure your mother wouldn’t like to hear that.”

But Mr. Cole had caught the last words of the dialogue and interrupted with:

“But what could be finer, Mrs. Le Page, than the defence of one’s country? Would you have our young lads grow up faint-hearted and fail their Motherland when she calls? What can be finer, I say, than to die for Queen and country? Would not every mother have her son shed his blood for liberty and freedom?… No, Jeremy, not another. You’ve had quite enough. It would indeed be a disheartening sight if we elders were to watch our sons and grandchildren turning their swords into ploughshares -”

He was interrupted by a shrill cry from Mrs. Le Page:

“Charlotte, darling, do hold your sunshade up. All the left side of your face is exposed. That’s better, dear. I beg your pardon, Mr. Cole.”

But Mr. Cole was offended.

“I hope no son of mine will ever show himself a faint heart,” he concluded severely.

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Étienne Pivert de Senancour: War, state-sanctioned suicide

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

French writers on war and peace

Senancour: Lottery of war amid heaps of the dead

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Étienne Pivert de Senancour
From Obermann
Translated by J. Anthony Barnes

If I cannot put an end to my life, no more can I expose myself to imminent death. Is that the kind of prudence you expect of your subjects? Then on the battlefield they ought to estimate the probabilities before charging the enemy, and your heroes are all of them criminals. The command you give them does not justify them; you have no right to send them to death if they had no right to agree to be sent. An identical unreason sanctions your martial fury and dictates your maxims, and by glaring inconsistency you justify injustice equally glaring.

If I have not this right of death over myself, who has given it to society? Have I surrendered what was not mine to give? What social principle have you devised which will explain to me how a society can acquire an internal and mutual authority which was not possessed by its members, and how I have conferred a right which may be used to oppress me, when I did not possess it even to escape from oppression?

***

How can my wishes be ill-regulated? I see nothing in them but the need, nay, the sense of harmony and the proprieties of life. How can my affections be distasteful to other men? I only like what the best among them have liked, I seek nothing at the expense of any one of them; I seek only what everyone can have, what the needs of all require, what would end their woes, what draws men together, unites, and consoles them; I only want the life of the good, my peace in the peace of all.

***

We give reins to fancy, and see a world of peace, order, unity, and justice, in which all men feel, desire, and enjoy with the restraint that makes pleasure and with the simplicity that enhances it. When one has had a glimpse of delights that cannot be tarnished or destroyed, when one has imagined unstinted ecstasy, how vain and pitiful seem many of the cares, the longings, and the pleasures of the visible world. Everything feels cold and hollow; we languish in a place of exile, and from the core of our loathings we set our outweary heart on its imagined homeland.

***

Without money one cannot even get what money cannot buy, or avoid what money procures.

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In the very act of recording one’s thought for future reference there is somethings that savours of bondage and the cares of a life of dependence.

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If a man had to choose a friend by mere chance he would do better to take one from the canine than the human race. The lowest of his fellows would be a less fruitful source of peace and comfort than the lowest of dogs.

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The history of ever so many religious and political sects proves that expeditious methods only produce ephemeral results.

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You who call yourselves Christians are still men, and yet in spite of the laws you cannot repudiate, and in spite of those you adore, you foster and perpetuate the most glaring disparities in the culture and interests of your fellow-men. The inequality exists in Nature, but you have exaggerated it beyond measure, though you ought rather to have striven to reduce it. The prodigies created by your efforts may well be a drug in the market, for you have neither time nor skill to do so many things that need doing. The mass of mankind is brutal, stupid, and left to its own devices; all our miseries spring from that. Either do not bring them into being, or give them a chance of living like men. What then do all these long arguments of mine lead up to? That as man is insignificant in Nature, and everything to himself, he ought to concern himself somewhat less with the laws of the world and somewhat more with his own; dispensing perhaps with abstract sciences that have never dried a single tear in hamlet or attic; dispensing too with certain fine but useless arts, and with heroic but destructive passions, he ought to aim, if he can, at having institutions that will keep man human instead of brutalizing him, at having less science but also less ignorance, and to admit that if man is not a blind force which must be left at the mercy of fatalism, if his activities have any spontaneity, then morality is the only science for man whose fate is in the hands of his fellows.

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Richard Le Gallienne: A nation is merely a big fool with an army

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

British writers on peace and war

Richard Le Gallienne: The Illusion of War

Richard Le Gallienne: Is this to be strong, ye nations, your vulgar battles to fight?

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Richard Le Gallienne
From The Fallacy of a Nation

As a matter of fact, so-called national interests are merely certain private interests on a large scale, the private interests of financiers, ambitious politicians, soldiers, and great merchants. Broadly speaking, there are no rival nations – there are rival markets; and it is its Board of Trade and its Stock Exchange rather than its Houses of Parliament that virtually govern a country. Thus one seaport goes down and another comes up, industries forsake one country to bless another, the military and naval strengths of nations fluctuate this way and that; and to those whom these changes affect they are undoubtedly important matters – the great capitalist, the soldier, and the politician; but to the quiet man at home with his wife, his children, his books, and his flowers, to the artist busied with brave translunary matters, to the saint with his eyes filled with ‘the white radiance of eternity,’ to the shepherd on the hillside, the milkmaid in love, or the angler at his sport – what are these pompous commotions, these busy, bustling mimicries of reality? England will be just as good to live in though men some day call her France. Let the big busybodies divide her amongst them as they like, so that they leave one alone with one’s fair share of the sky and the grass, and an occasional, not too vociferous, nightingale.

The reader will perhaps forgive the hackneyed references to Sir Thomas Browne peacefully writing his Religio Medici amid all the commotions of the Civil War, and to Gautier calmly correcting the proofs of his new poems during the siege of Paris. The milkman goes his rounds amid the crash of empires. It is not his business to fight. His business is to distribute his milk – as much after half-past seven as may be inconvenient. Similarly, the business of the thinker is with his thought, the poet with his poetry. It is the business of politicians to make national quarrels, and the business of the soldier to fight them. But as for the poet – let him correct his proofs, or beware the printer.

The idea, then, of a nation is a grandiloquent fallacy in the interests of commerce and ambition, political and military. All the great and good, clever and charming people belong to one secret nation, for which there is no name unless it be the Chosen People. These are the lost tribes of love, art, and religion, lost and swamped amid alien peoples, but ever dreaming of a time when they shall meet once more in Jerusalem.

***

For what is ‘national greatness’ but the glory reflected from the memories of a few great individuals? and what is ‘public opinion’ but the blustering echoes of the opinion of a few clever young men on the morning papers?

For how can people in themselves little become great by merely congregating into a crowd, however large? And surely fools do not become wise, or worth listening to, merely by the fact of their banding together.

A ‘public opinion’ on any matter except football, prize-fighting, and perhaps cricket, is merely ridiculous – by whatever brutal physical powers it may be enforced – ridiculous as a town council’s opinion upon art; and a nation is merely a big fool with an army.

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William J. Locke: I’m good at killing things, I ought to have been a soldier

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

British writers on peace and war

William J. Locke: Following war

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William J. Locke
From Viviette

Once Katherine, escaping from Mrs. Ware’s platitudinous ripple, took pity on him, and asked him when he was going to redeem his promise and show her his collection of armour and weapons. Dick brightened. This was the only keen interest he had in life outside things of earth and air and stream. He had inherited a good family collection, and had added to it occasionally, as far as his slender means allowed. He had read deeply, and understood his subject.

“Whenever you like, Katherine,” he said.

“This afternoon?”

“I’m afraid they want polishing up and arranging. I’ve got some new things which I’ve not placed. I’ve rather neglected them lately. Let us say to-morrow afternoon. Then they’ll all be spick and span for you.”

Katherine assented. “I’ve been down here so often and never seen them,” she said. “It seems odd, considering the years we’ve known each other.”

“I only took it up after father’s death,” said Dick. “And since then, you know, you haven’t been here so very often.”

“It was only the last time that I discovered you took an interest an the collection. You hid your light under a bushel. Then I went to London and heard that you were a great authority on the subject.”

Dick’s tanned face reddened with pleasure.

“I do know something about it. You see, guns and swords and pistols are in my line. I’m good at killing things. I ought to have been a soldier, only I couldn’t pass examinations, so I sort of interest myself in the old weapons and do my killing in imagination.”

***

“Now, Dick, we’re all here. Put on your most learned and antiquarian manner. Ladies and gentlemen, I call on Mr. Richard Ware to deliver his interesting lecture on the ingenious instruments men have devised for butchering each other.”

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George Gissing: “Civilisation rests upon a military basis”

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

British writers on peace and war

George Gissing: Selections on war

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George Gissing
From Isabel Clarendon

There they found the gentleman in question conversing with Mrs. Stratton, a man of smooth appearance and fluent speech. His forte seemed to be politics, on which subject he discoursed continuously during luncheon. There happened to be diplomatic difficulties with Russia, and Mr. Lyster – much concerned, by-the-bye, with Indian commerce – was emphatic in denunciation of Slavonic craft and treachery, himself taking the stand-point of disinterested honesty, of principle in politics.

“We shall have to give those fellows a licking yet,” remarked Colonel Stratton, with confidence inspired by professional feeling.

“What I want to know,” exclaimed Mr. Lyster, “is whether England is a civilising power or not. If so, it is our duty to go to war; if not, of course we may prepare to go to the – ”

“Don’t hesitate, Mr. Lyster,” said Mrs. Stratton good-naturedly, “I’m sure we all agree with you.”

“Civilisation!” proceeded the politician, when the laugh had subsided; “that is what England represents, and civilisation rests upon a military basis, if it has any basis at all. It’s all very well to talk about the humanity of arbitration and fudge of that kind; it only postpones the evil day. Our position is the result of good, hard fighting, and mere talking won’t keep it up; we must fight again. Too long a peace means loss of prestige, and loss of prestige means the encroachment of barbarians, who are only to be kept in order by repeated thrashings. They forget that we are a civilising power; unfortunately we are too much disposed to forget it ourselves.”

“The mistake is,” remarked Frank Stratton, “to treat with those fellows at all. Why don’t we take a map of Asia and draw a line just where it seems good to us, and bid the dogs keep on their own side of it? Of course they wouldn’t do so – and then we lick’em!”

His mother looked at him with pride.

“I respect our constitution,” pursued Mr. Lyster, who was too much absorbed in his own rhetoric to pay much attention to the frivolous remarks of others; “but I’ve often thought it wouldn’t be amiss if we could have a British Bizmarck” – so he pronounced the name. “A Bizmarck would make short work with Radical humbug. He would keep up patriotism; he would remind us of our duties as a civilising power.”

“And he’d establish conscription,” remarked Frank. “That’s what we want.”

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George Gissing: Large-scale murder as fair sport

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

British writers on peace and war

George Gissing: Selections on war

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George Gissing
From Isabel Clarendon

Not many days later Mrs. Stratton arrived at Knights well, bringing her youngest boy, a ten-year-old, whose absence from school was explained by recent measles. This lady was the wife of an officer at present with his regiment in Africa; her regret at the colonel’s remoteness, and her anxiety on his behalf in a time of savage warfare, were tempered by that spirit of pride in things military which so strongly infuses a certain type of the British matron, destined to bring forth barbarians and heroes…

Young Stratton caught a glimpse of her at it in the park one day, and rushed to join the sport.

“After a rabbit, eh?” he shouted, coming up with them.

Ada at once dropped to a walk, and spoke to the dog, instead of answering the boy’s question.

“I say, you look here!” Edgar suddenly exclaimed in a whisper.

She turned, and saw him aiming with a catapult at a bird perched on a bush hard by. Before the aim was perfect, Ada had snatched the tool from his hands.

“Well, I call that!” cried the youngster, at a loss for words. “What do you want to spoil my shot for?”

“Can’t you amuse yourself without murdering!” returned the girl, hot in anger. “Shoot at that tree-trunk if you must shoot.”

“Murdering!” echoed the youth, in blank astonishment. “Come now, Miss Warren! Murdering a bird – I call that good!”

“What else is it? What right have you to rob the bird of its life? What is it that drives you to kill every creature that you safely may?”

“It’s fair sport!” urged the young Briton, in amaze at this outlandish mode of regarding things.

“Sport?”

She stood regarding him, the catapult still in her hand.

“What are you going to be when you grow up?”

“What am I going to be? A soldier, of course.”

“I thought so; then you can murder on a large scale.”

“You call killing the enemy in battle, murder?”

“What do you call it? Fair sport?”

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Hugh Walpole: Continual screaming, men without faces

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

British writers on peace and war

Hugh Walpole: Selections on war

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Hugh Walpole
From The Dark Forest

The wagons waited there, the horses stamping now and then, and the wounded men on the only wagon that was filled, moaned and cried. Shrapnel whizzed overhead – sometimes crying, like an echo, in the far distance, sometimes screaming with the rage of a hurt animal close at hand. Groups of soldiers ran swiftly past me, quite silent, their heads bent. Somewhere on the high road I could hear motor-cars spluttering and humming. At irregular intervals Red Cross men would arrive with wounded, would ask in a whisper that was inhuman and isolating whether there were room on my carts. Then the body would be lifted up; there would be muttered directions, the wounded man would cry, then the other wounded would also cry – after that, there would be the dismal silence again, silence broken only by the shrapnel and the heavy plopping smothers of the rain…At the threat of every shrapnel I bent my head and shrugged my shoulders, at every cry of the wounded men – one man was delirious and sang a little song – a shudder trembled all down my body. I thought of the bridge between myself and the Otriad – how easily it might be blown up! and then, if the Division were beaten back what massacre there would be! I wanted to go home, to sleep, to be safe and warm – above all, to be safe! I saw before me some of the wounded whom I had bandaged to-day – men without faces or with hanging jaws that must be held up with the hand whilst the bandage was tied. One man blind, one man mad (he thought he was drowning in hot water), one man holding his stomach together with his hands. I saw all these figures crowding round me in the lane – I also saw the dead men in the forest, the skull, the flies, the strong blue-grey trousers…I shook so that my teeth chattered – a very pitiful figure.

***

Near the town-hall we found a company of fantastic creatures awaiting us. They were pressed together in a dense crowd as though they were afraid of some one attacking them. There were many old men, like the clowns in Shakespeare, dirty beyond belief in tattered garments, wide-brimmed hats, broad skirts and baggy trousers; old men with long tangled hair, bare bony breasts and slobbering chins. Many of the women seemed strong and young; their faces were on the whole cheerful – a brazen indifference to anything and everything was their attitude. There were many children. Two gendarmes guarded them with rough friendly discipline. I thought that I had seen nothing more terrible at the war than the eager pitiful docility with which they moved to and fro in obedience to the gendarmes’ orders. A dreadful, broken, creeping submission….

But it was their fantasy, their coloured incredible unreality that overwhelmed me. The building, black and twisted against the hard blue sky, raised its head behind us like a malicious monster. Before us this crowd, all tattered faded pieces of scarlet and yellow and blue, men with huge noses, sunken eyes, sharp chins, long skinny hands, women with hard, bright, dead faces, little children with eyes that were afraid and indifferent, hungry and mad, all this crowd swaying before us, with the cannon muttering beyond the walls, and the thin miserable thread of the funeral hymn trickling like water under our feet…

***

That! This!…there’s the Forest road hot like red-hot iron under the sun; it winds away into the Forest, but so far as the eye can see it is covered with things that have been left by flying men – such articles! Swords, daggers, rifles, cartridge-cases, of course, but also books, letters, a hair-brush, underclothes, newspapers, these tilings in thick, tangled profusion, rifles in heaps, cartridge-cases by the hundred! Under the sun up and down the road there are dead and dying, Russians and Austrians together. The Forest is both above and below the road and from out of it there comes a continual screaming. There is every note in this babel of voices, mad notes, plaintive notes, angry notes, whimpering notes. One wounded man is very slowly trying to drag himself across the road, and his foot which is nearly severed from his leg waggles behind him. One path that leads from the road to the Forest is piled with bodies and is a stream of blood. Some of the dead are lying very quietly in the ditch, their heads pillowed on their arms – every now and then something that you had thought dead stirs…And the screaming from the Forest is incessant so that you simply don’t hear the shell (now very close indeed)…

***

It seemed that we were the first Red Cross people to arrive. Oh! what rewards would I have offered for another ten wagons! How lamentably insufficient our three carts appeared standing there in the road with this screaming Forest on every side of one! As I waited there, overwhelmed by the blind indifference of the place, listening still to the incredible birds, seeing in the businesslike attentions of my sanitars only a further incredible indifference, a great stream of soldiers came up the road, passing into the first line of trenches, only a little deeper in the Forest. They were very hot, the perspiration dripping down their faces, but they went through to the position without a glance at the dead and wounded. No concern of theirs – that. Life had changed; they had changed with it…Meanwhile they did as they were told…

We worked there, filling our wagons. The selection was a horrible difficulty. All the wounded were Austrians and how they begged not to be left! It would be many hours, perhaps, before the next Red Cross Division would appear. An awful business! One man dying in the wood tore at his stomach with an unceasing gesture and the air came through his mouth like gas screaming through an “escape” hole. One Austrian, quite an old man, died in my arms in the middle of the road. He was not conscious, but he fumbled for his prayer-book, which he gave me, muttering something. His name “Schneidher Gyorgy Pelmonoster” was written on the first page.

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Hugh Walpole: Dream of horror: the false reality of war

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

British writers on peace and war

Hugh Walpole: Selections on war

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Hugh Walpole
From The Dark Forest

In the early morning, when the light was so cold and inhuman, when the candles stuck in bottles on the window-sills shivered and quavered in the little breeze, when the big basin on the floor seemed to swell ever larger and larger, with its burden of bloody rags and soiled bandages and filthy fragments of dirty clothes, when the air was weighted down with the smell of blood and human flesh, when the sighs and groans and cries kept up a perpetual undercurrent that one did not notice and yet faltered before, when again and again bodies, torn almost in half, faces mangled for life, hands battered into pulp, legs hanging almost by a thread, rose before one, passed and rose again in endless procession, then, in those early hours, some fantastic world was about one. The poplar trees beyond the window, the little beechwood on the hill, the pond across the road, a round grey sheet of ruffled water, these things in the half-light seemed to wait for our defeat. One instant on our part and it seemed that all the pain and torture would rise in a flood and overwhelm one…in those early morning hours the enemy crept very close indeed. We could almost hear his hot breath behind the bars of our fastened doors.

***

On the day following we did not know of what had happened. Trenchard was not with us, as he was sent about midday with some sanitars to bury the dead in a wood five miles from M – -. That must have been, in many ways, the most terrible day of his life and during it, for the first time, he was to know that unreality that comes to every one, sooner or later, at the war. It is an unreality that is the more terrible because it selects from reality details that cannot be denied, selects them without transformation, saying to his victim: “These things are as you have always seen them, therefore this world is as you have always seen it. It is real, I tell you.” Let that false reality be admitted and there is no more peace.

***

“It was there,” he told me, “when I scarcely knew what was real and what was not, that I saw that for which I was searching. I noticed first the dark grey-blue of the trousers, then the white skull. There was a horrible stench in the air. I called and the sanitars answered me. Then I looked at it. I had never seen a dead man before. This man had been dead for about a fortnight, I suppose. Its grey-blue trousers and thick boots were in excellent condition and a tin spoon and some papers were showing out of the top of one boot. Its face was a grinning skull and little black animals like ants were climbing in and out of the mouth and the eye-sockets. Its jacket was in good condition, its arms were flung out beyond its head. I felt sick and the whole place was so damp and smelt so badly that it must have been horribly unhealthy. The sanitars began to dig a grave. Those who were not working smoked cigarettes, and they all stood in a group watching the body with a solemn and serious interest. One of them made a little wooden cross out of some twigs. There was a letter just beside the body which they brought me. It began: ‘Darling Heinrich, – Your last letter was so cheerful that I have quite recovered from my depression. It may not be so long now before…’ and so on, like the other letters that I had read. It grinned at us there with a devilish sarcasm, but its trousers and boots were pitiful and human. The men finished the grave and then, with their feet, turned it over. As it rolled a flood of bright yellow insects swarmed out of its jacket, and a grey liquid trickled out of the skull. The last I saw of it was the gleam of the tin spoon above its boot…”

“We searched after that,” he told me, “for several hours and found three more bodies. They were Austrians, in the condition of the first. I walked in a dream of horror. It was, I suppose, a bad day for me to have come with my other unhappiness weighing upon me, but I was, in some stupid way, altogether unprepared for what I had seen. I had, as I have told you, thought of death very often in my life but I had never thought of it like this. I did not now think of death very clearly but only of the uselessness of trying to bear up against anything when that was all one came to in the end. I felt my very bones crumble and my flesh decay on my body, as I stood there. I felt as though I had really been caught at last after a silly aimless flight and that even if I had the strength or cleverness to escape I had not the desire to try…”

***

They came to the trench and to their surprise found it absolutely deserted. Then, plunging on, they arrived at the two wagons, climbed on to one of them, leaving Trenchard alone with the driver on the other. “I tell you,” he remarked to me afterwards, “I sank into that wagon as though into my grave. I don’t know that ever before or since in my life have I felt such exhaustion. It was reaction, I suppose – a miserable, wretched exhaustion that left me well enough aware that I was the most unhappy of men and simply forced me, without a protest, to accept that condition. Moreover, I had always before me the vision of the dead body. Wherever I turned there it was, grinning at me, the black flies crawling in and out of its jaws, and behind it something that said to me: ‘There! now I have shown you what I can do…To that you’re coming’…”

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Arnold Bennett: The miraculous lunacy of war

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

British writers on peace and war

Arnold Bennett: The Slaughterer

Arnold Bennett: War casualties and war profiteers

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Arnold Bennett
From The Pretty Lady

The story of the evacuation of Gallipoli had grown old and tedious…The Germans were discussing their war aims; and on the Verdun front they had reached Mort Homme in the usual way, that was, according to the London Press, by sacrificing more men than any place could possibly be worth; still, they had reached Mort Homme. And though our losses and the French losses were everywhere – one might assert, so to speak – negligible, nevertheless the steadfast band of thinkers and fact-facers who held a monopoly of true patriotism were extremely anxious to extend the Military Service Act, so as to rope into the Army every fit male in the island except themselves.

***

The group vanished, crestfallen, round another corner. G.J. laughed to Christine. Then the noise of guns was multiplied. That he was with Christine in the midst of an authentic air-raid could no longer be doubted. He was conscious of the wine he had drunk at the club. He had the sensation of human beings, men like himself, who ate and drank and laced their boots, being actually at that moment up there in the sky with intent to kill him and Christine. It was a marvellous sensation, terrible but exquisite. And he had the sensation of other human beings beyond the sea, giving deliberate orders in German for murder, murdering for their lives; and they, too, were like himself, and ate and drank and either laced their boots or had them laced daily. And the staggering apprehension of the miraculous lunacy of war swept through his soul.

***

He and Christine were in the air-raid, and in it they should remain. He had just the senseless, monkeyish curiosity of the staring crowd so lyrically praised by the London Press. He was afraid, but his curiosity and inertia were stronger than his fear. Then came a most tremendous explosion – the loudest sound, the most formidable physical phenomenon that G.J. had ever experienced in his life. The earth under their feet trembled. Christine gave a squeal and seemed to subside to the ground, but he pulled her up again, not in calm self-possession, but by the sheer automatism of instinct. A spasm of horrible fright shot through him. He thought, in awe and stupefaction:

“A bomb!”

He thought about death and maiming and blood. The relations between him and those everyday males aloft in the sky seemed to be appallingly close. After the explosion perfect silence – no screams, no noise of crumbling – perfect silence, and yet the explosion seemed still to dominate the air! Ears ached and sang. Something must be done. All theories of safety had been smashed to atoms in the explosion. G.J. dragged Christine along the street, he knew not why. The street was unharmed. Not the slightest trace in it, so far as G.J. could tell in the gloom, of destruction! But where the explosion had been, whether east, west, south or north, he could not guess. Except for the disturbance in his ears the explosion might have been a hallucination.

Suddenly he saw at the end of the street a wide thoroughfare, and he could not be sure what thoroughfare it was. Two motor-buses passed the end of the street at mad speed; then two taxis; then a number of people, men and women, running hard. Useless and silly to risk the perils of that wide thoroughfare! He turned back with Christine. He got her to run. In the thick gloom he looked for an open door or a porch, but there was none. The houses were like the houses of the dead. He made more than one right angle turn. Christine gave a sign that she could go no farther. He ceased trying to drag her. He was recovering himself. Once more he heard the guns – childishly feeble after the explosion of the bomb. After all, one spot was as safe as another.

The outline of a building seemed familiar. It was an abandoned chapel; he knew he was in St. Martin’s Street. He was about to pull Christine into the shelter of the front of the chapel, when something happened for which he could not find a name. True, it was an explosion. But the previous event had been an explosion, and this one was a thousandfold more intimidating. The earth swayed up and down. The sound alone of the immeasurable cataclysm annihilated the universe. The sound and the concussion transcended what had been conceivable. Both the sound and the concussion seemed to last for a long time. Then, like an afterthought, succeeded the awful noise of falling masses and the innumerable crystal tinkling of shattered glass. This noise ceased and began again…

G.J. was now in a strange condition of mild wonder. There was silence in the dark solitude of St. Martin’s Street. Then the sound of guns supervened once more, but they were distant guns. G.J. discovered that he was not holding Christine, and also that, instead of being in the middle of the street, he was leaning against the door of a house. He called faintly, “Christine!” No reply. “In a moment,” he said to himself, “I must go out and look for her. But I am not quite ready yet.” He had a slight pain in his side; it was naught; it was naught, especially in comparison with the strange conviction of weakness and confusion.

He thought:

“We’ve not won this war yet,” and he had qualms.

One poor lamp burned in the street. He started to walk slowly and uncertainly towards it. Near by he saw a hat on the ground. It was his own. He put it on. Suddenly the street lamp went out. He walked on, and stepped ankle-deep into broken glass. Then the road was clear again. He halted. Not a sign of Christine! He decided that she must have run away, and that she would run blindly and, finding herself either in Leicester Square or Lower Regent Street, would by instinct run home. At any rate, she could not be blown to atoms, for they were together at the instant of the explosion. She must exist, and she must have had the power of motion. He remembered that he had had a stick; he had it no longer. He turned back and, taking from his pocket the electric torch which had lately come into fashion, he examined the road for his stick. The sole object of interest which the torch revealed was a child’s severed arm, with a fragment of brown frock on it and a tinsel ring on one of the fingers of the dirty little hand. The blood from the other end had stained the ground. G.J. abruptly switched off the torch. Nausea overcame him, and then a feeling of the most intense pity and anger overcame the nausea. (A month elapsed before he could mention his discovery of the child’s arm to anyone at all.) The arm lay there as if it had been thrown there. Whence had it come? No doubt it had come from over the housetops…

He smelt gas, and then he felt cold water in his boots. Water was advancing in a flood along the street. “Broken mains, of course,” he said to himself, and was rather pleased with the promptness of his explanation. At the elbow of St. Martin’s Street, where a new dim vista opened up, he saw policemen, then firemen; then he heard the beat of a fire-engine, upon whose brass glinted the reflection of flames that were flickering in a gap between two buildings. A huge pile of debris encumbered the middle of the road. The vista was closed by a barricade, beyond which was a pressing crowd. “Stand clear there!” said a policeman to him roughly. “There’s a wall going to fall there any minute.” He walked off, hurrying with relief from the half-lit scene of busy, dim silhouettes. He could scarcely understand it; and he was incapable of replying to the policeman. He wanted to be alone and to ponder himself back into perfect composure. At the elbow again he halted afresh. And as he stood figures in couples, bearing stretchers, strode past him. The stretchers were covered with cloths that hung down. Not the faintest sound came from beneath the cloths.

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W.H. Davies: The blind hatred engendered by war

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

British writers on peace and war

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W.H. Davies
From The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp

This was at the time of the Boer War and Flanagan’s long dark beard and slouched hat gave him the exact appearance of one of those despised people. Therefore we seldom took a walk together but what we were stoned by boys in the street, and even grown up people passed insulting remarks. In fact everywhere we went we were regarded with suspicion. Our clothes not being of the best, drew the attention of attendants at museums and art galleries, and we, being swarthy and alien in appearance, never paused near a palace but what sentry and police watched our every movement. One morning we  were passing through Whitehall, what time a regiment of soldiers were being drilled and inspected by a gentleman in a silk hat. Now Flanagan was a man of great courage and never thought it necessary to whisper. Therefore a vein of savage satire broke in Flanagan’s heart when he beheld a man in a silk hat inspecting a troop of soldiers. “See!” he cried, “there’s a sight for the Boers.” A number of bystanders resented this remark, and there were loud murmurs of disapproval. On which Flanagan asked the following question: “Will the best man in the crowd step forward?” But no man seemed inclined to attempt Flanagan’s chastisement, without being assisted. Although I did not entirely approve of him on this occasion, still, seeing that the words could not be recalled, I was quite prepared to be carried with him half dead on a stretcher to the nearest hospital; for I liked the man, and he certainly seemed to like me, since he always took his walks alone when I did not accompany him.

***

[My] artificial leg would certainly not stand the strain of this enforced march from town to town on the country roads, that were so often rough and uneven. For even now it was creaking, and threatened at every step to break down. On mentioning these difficulties to a fellow lodger, he at once advised me to go to the Surgical Aid Society for a wooden leg, of the common peg sort; which, he was pleased to mention, would not only be more useful for such a knockabout life, but would not deceive people as to my true condition…I again consulted my fellow lodger, who had at first referred me to the Surgical Aid Society, and his explanation was, undoubtedly, reasonable and true. He explained that not only was the time of the year unfavourable, it being summer, and most of the subscribers were away from home on their holidays – but, unfortunately, the South African war was still in progress, and numbers of soldiers were daily returning from the front in need of artificial assistance one way or another.

***

In less than two hours we were at the gentleman’s lodge. Passing boldly through the gates we followed the drive until we saw before us a fine large mansion. Reaching the front door we rang the bell, which was soon answered by a servant. To our enquiries as to whether the master was in the servant replied in the negative, but intimated that the mistress was. Of course, this made not the least difference, as many a tramp knew, except that had we been old soldiers the lady not being able to test us by drill, would therefore not have given more than the civilian’s shilling. Now, almost unfortunately for us, the downrighter, knowing that the lady would not drill us, and thinking that there might be a possibility of getting the master’s double pay to old soldiers, without danger of drill or cross examination – suddenly made up his mind to say that we were two old soldiers. For, thought he, if it does no good, it cannot do any harm. Therefore, when the lady appeared smiling at the door Long John, being spokesman, told a straightforward tale of hardship, and added that we had both served our country on the battlefield as soldiers. He had scarcely mentioned the word soldiers when a loud authoritative voice behind us cried – “Shoulder Arms!” I was leaning heavily on a thick stick when this command was given, but lost my balance and almost fell to the ground. We both turned our faces towards the speaker and saw a tall military looking gentleman scrutinising us with two very sharp eyes. Giving us but very little time to compose ourselves he shouted again – “Present Arms!” This second command was no more obeyed than the first. Long John blew his nose, and I stood at ease on my staff, as though I did not care whether the dogs were set upon us or we were to be lodged in jail. After another uncomfortable pause the retired officer said, looking at us severely – “Two old soldiers, indeed! You are two imposters and scoundrels! Perhaps you understand this command” – and in a voice fiercer and louder than ever he cried, “Quick March!” Long John and I, although not old soldiers, certainly understood this command, for we started down the drive at a good pace, with the military looking gentleman following. When we reached the public road, he gave another command – “Halt!” But this was another of those commands which we did not understand. However, on its being repeated less sternly we obeyed. “Here,” said he, “you are not two old soldiers, but you may not be altogether scoundrels; and I never turn men away without giving them some assistance.” Saying which he gave us a shilling each. But what a narrow escape we had of being turned penniless away, all through Long John’s greed and folly!

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