Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library
  PREVIOUSNEXT  

CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · QUICK INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHIES
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · PORTRAITS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
War
By Voltaire (1694–1778)
 
From the ‘Philosophical Dictionary’

ALL animals wage perpetual war; every species is born to devour another. Not one, not even sheep or doves, that does not swallow a prodigious number of invisible creatures. Males make war for the females, like Menelaus and Paris. Air, earth, water, are fields of carnage. God having given reason to men, this reason might teach them not to emulate the brutes, particularly when nature has provided them neither with arms to kill their fellows nor with a desire for their blood.  1
  Yet murderous war is so much the dreadful lot of man, that with two or three exceptions, all ancient histories represent them full-armed against one another. Among the Canadian Indians man and warrior are synonymous; and we have seen in our hemisphere, that thief and soldier are the same thing. Manichæans! behold your excuse! From the little that he may have seen in army hospitals, or in the few villages memorable for some glorious victory, its warmest apologist will admit that war always brings pestilence and famine in its train.  2
  Truly, that is a noble art which desolates countries, destroys habitations, and causes the death of from forty to a hundred thousand men a year! In historic times this invention was first cultivated by nations who convened assemblies for their common good. For instance, the Diet of the Greeks declared to the Diet of Phrygia and neighboring nations their intention to depart on a thousand fishers’ barks, for the extermination of these rivals. The assembled Roman people thought it to their interest to destroy the people of Veii or the Volscians. And afterwards, all the Romans, becoming exasperated against all the Carthaginians, fought them interminably on land and sea.  3
  It is a little different at present. A genealogist proves to a prince that he descends in a right line from a count whose parents three or four hundred years ago made a family compact with a house the recollection of which, even, is lost. This house had distant pretensions to a province whose last ruler died suddenly. Both the prince and his council at once perceive his legal right. In vain does this province, hundreds of leagues distant, protest that it knows him not, and has no desire to know him; that to govern it he must at least have its consent;—these objections reach only as far as the ears of this ruler by divine right. He assembles a host of needy adventurers, dresses them in coarse blue cloth, borders their hats with a broad white binding, instructs them how to wheel to the right and to the left, and marches them to glory. Other princes hearing of this adventure come to take part in it, each according to his power, and cover the country with more mercenary murderers than Zenghis Khan, Tamerlane, or Bajazet employed in their train. People at a distance hear that fighting is going on, and that by joining the ranks they may earn five or six sous a day. They divide themselves into bands, like reapers, and offer their services to whoever will hire them. These hordes fall upon one another, not only without having the least interest in the affray, but without knowing the reason of it. There appear, therefore, five or six belligerent powers, sometimes three against three, sometimes two against four, and sometimes one against five,—all equally detesting one another,—supporting and attacking by turns; all agreed in a single point only, that of doing as much harm as possible.  4
  The most amazing part of this infernal enterprise is that each murderous chief causes his colors to be blessed, and solemnly invokes God, before he goes to exterminate his neighbors! If it is his luck to kill only two or three thousand men, he does not return thanks for it; but when he has destroyed say ten thousand by fire and sword, and to make a good job leveled some town with the ground, then they sing a hosanna in four parts, composed in a language unknown to the fighters, and full of barbarity. The same pæan serves for marriages and births, as well as for murders; which is unpardonable, particularly in a nation famous for song-writing. Natural religion has a thousand times prevented men from committing crime. A well-trained mind is not inclined to brutality; a tender mind is appalled by it, remembering that God is just. But conventional religion encourages whatever cruelties are practiced in droves,—conspiracies, seditions, pillages, ambuscades, surprisals of towns, robberies, and murder. Men march gayly to crime, each under the banner of his saint.  5
  A certain number of dishonest apologists is everywhere paid to celebrate these murderous deeds: some are dressed in a long black close coat, with a short cloak; others have a shirt above a gown; some wear two variegated streamers over their shirts. All of them talk a long time, and quote what was done of old in Palestine, as applicable to a combat in Veteravia. The rest of the year these people declaim against vice. They prove in three arguments and by antitheses that ladies who lay a little carmine on their cheeks will be the eternal objects of eternal vengeance; that ‘Polyeucte’ and ‘Athalie’ are works of the evil one; that a man who for two hundred crowns a day furnishes his table with fresh sea-fish during Lent, works out his salvation; and that a poor man who eats two and a half sous’ worth of mutton will go to perdition. Miserable physicians of souls! You exclaim for five quarters of an hour on some prick of a pin, and say nothing on the malady which tears us into a thousand pieces! Philosophers, moralists! burn all your books, while the caprices of a few men force that part of mankind consecrated to heroism, to murder without question millions of our brethren! Can there be anything more horrible in all nature? What becomes of, what signifies to me, humanity, beneficence, modesty, temperance, mildness, wisdom, and piety, whilst half a pound of lead, sent from the distance of a hundred steps, pierces my body, and I die at twenty years of age in inexpressible torments, in the midst of five or six thousand dying men; whilst my eyes, opening for the last time, see the town in which I was born destroyed by fire and sword, and the last sounds which reach my ears are the cries of women and children dying beneath the ruins, all for the pretended interests of a man whom I never knew?  6
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.