Sunday, June 15, 2008

Excerpts on Pacifism

French writer Guy de Maupassant:
“When I think only of this word war, a kind of terror seizes upon me, as though I were listening to some tale of sorcery, of the Inquisition, some long past,remote abomination, monstrous, unnatural.

“When cannibalism is spoken of, we smile with, pride, proclaiming our superiority to these savages.Who are the savages, the real savages: those who fight toeat the conquered, or those who fight to kill –for nothing but to kill?

“The young recruits, moving about in lines yonder, are destined to death like the flocks of sheep driven by the butcher along the road. They will fall in some plain with a saber cut in the head, or a bullet through the breast. And these areyoung men who might work, be productive and useful. Their fathers are old and poor. Their mothers, who have loved them for twenty years, worshiped them as none but mothers can, will learn in six months’ time, or a year perhaps, that their son, their boy, the big boy reared with so much labor, so much expense, so much love, has been thrown in a hole like some dead dog, after being disemboweled by a bullet, and trampled, crushed, to a mass of pulp by the charges of cavalry. Why have they killed her boy, her handsome boy, her one hope, her pride, and her life? She does not know. Ah, why?

“War! Fighting! Slaughter! Massacres of men! And we have now, in our century, with our civilization, with the spread of science, and the degree of philosophy that the genius of man is supposed to have attained, schools for training to kill, to kill very far off, to perfection, great numbers at once, to kill poor devils of innocent men with families and without any kind of trial.

“And what is most bewildering is that the people do not rise against their governments. For what difference is there between monarchies and republics? The most bewildering thing is that the whole of society is not in revolt at the word war.”

“Ah! We shall always live under the burden of the ancient and odious customs, the criminal prejudices, the ferocious ideas of our barbarous ancestors, for we are beasts, and beasts we shall remain, dominated by instinct and changed by nothing. Wouldn’t any other man than Victor Hugo have been exiled for that mighty cry of deliverance and truth? Today force is called violence, and is being brought to judgment; war has been put on its trial. At the plea of the human race, civilization arraigns warfare, and draws up the great list of crimes laid at the charge of conquerors and generals. The nations are coming to understand that the magnitude of a crime cannot be its extenuation; that if killing is a crime, killing many can be no extenuating circumstance; that if robbery is disgraceful, invasion cannot be glorious. Ah! Let us proclaim these absolute truths; let us dishonor war!’

Edouard Rod:
“What is the good of doing anything? What is the good of undertaking any enterprise? And how are we to love men in these troubled times when every fresh day is a menace of danger?... All we have begun, the plans we are developing, our schemes of work, the little good we may have been able to do, will it not all be swept away by the tempest that is in preparation?... Everywhere the earth is shaking under our feet and storm-clouds are gathering on our horizon that will have no pity on us.

“Ah! If all we had to dread were the revolution that is held up as a specter to terrify us! Since I cannot imagine a society more detestable than ours, I feel more skeptical than alarmed in regard to that which will replace it. If I should have to suffer from the change, I should be consoled by thinking that the executioners of that day were the victims of the previous time, and the hope of something better would help us to endure the worst. But it is not that remote peril that frightens me. I see another danger, nearer and far more cruel – more cruel because there is no excuse for it, because it is absurd, because it can lead to no good. Every day one balances the chances of war on tomorrow, every day they become more merciless.

“The imagination revolts before the catastrophe that is coming at the end of our century as the goal of the progress of our era, and yet we must get used to facing it. For twenty years past every resource of science has been exhausted in the invention of engines of destruction, and soon a few charges of cannon will suffice to annihilate a whole army. No longer are a few thousand poor devils paid a price for their blood and kept under arms, but whole nations are under arms to cut each other’s throats. They are robbed of their time now (by compulsory service) that they may be robbed of their lives later. To prepare them for the work of massacre, their hatred is kindled by persuading them that they are hated. And peaceable men let themselves be played on thus and go and fall on one another with the ferocity of wild beasts; furious troops of peaceful citizens taking up arms at an empty word of command, for some ridiculous question of frontiers or colonial trade interests – Heaven only knows what... They will go like sheep to the slaughter, knowing all the while where they are going, knowing that they are leaving their wives, knowing that their children will want for food, full of misgivings, yet intoxicated by the finesounding lies that are dinned into their ears. They will march without revolt, passive, resigned – though the numbers and the strength are theirs, and they might, if they knew how to co-operate together, establish the reign of good sense and fraternity, instead of the barbarous trickery of diplomacy. They will march to battle so deluded, so duped, that they will believe slaughter to be a duty, and will ask the benediction of God on their lust for blood. They will march to battle trampling underfoot the harvests they have sown, burning the towns they have built – with songs of triumph, festive music, and cries of jubilation. And their sons will raise statues to those who have done most in their slaughter.

“The destiny of a whole generation depends on the hour in which some ill-fated politician may give the signal that will be followed. We know that the best of us will be cut down and our work will be destroyed in embryo. We know it and tremble with rage, but we can do nothing. We are held fast in the toils of officialdom and red tape, and too rude a shock would be needed to set us free. We are enslaved by the laws we set up for our protection, which have become our oppression. We are but the tools of that autocratic abstraction the state, which enslaves each individual in the name of the will of all, who would all, taken individually, desire exactly the opposite of what they will be made to do.

“And if it were only a generation that must be sacrificed! But there are graver interests at stake. The paid politicians, the ambitious statesmen, who exploit the evil passions of the populace, and the imbeciles who are deluded by fine-sounding phrases, have so embittered national feuds that the existence of a whole race will be at stake in the war of tomorrow. One of the elements that constitute the modern world is threatened, the conquered people will be wiped out of existence, and whichever it may be, we shall see a moral force annihilated, as if there were too many forces to work for good – we shall have a new Europe formed on foundations so unjust, so brutal, so sanguinary, stained with so monstrous a crime, that it must be worse than the Europe of today – more iniquitous, more barbarous, more violent.

“Thus one feels crushed under the weight of an immense discouragement. We are struggling in a cul de sac with muskets aimed at us from the housetops. Our labor is like that of sailors executing their last task as the ship begins to sink. Our pleasures are those of the condemned victim, who is offered his choice of dainties a quarter of an hour before his execution. Thought is paralyzed by anguish, and the most it is capable of is to calculate – interpreting the vague phrases of government ministers, spelling out the sense of the speeches of sovereigns, and ruminating on the words attributed to diplomatists reported on the uncertain authority of the newspapers – whether it is to be tomorrow or the day after, this year or the next, that we are to be murdered. Consequently, one might seek in vain in history for an epoch more insecure and more crushed under the weight of suffering.”

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