On war or insanity

In Above Battle, Romain Rolland writes a very insightful passage that, in my view still explains partly why men and women go to war.

You Christians will say that war exalts the virtue of sacrifice. And it is true that war has the privilege of bringing out the genius of the race in the most commonplace of hearts. It purges away, in its bath of blood, all dross and impurity; it tempers the metal of the soul of a niggardly peasant, of a timorous citizen; it can make a hero of Valmy.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

26 thoughts on “On war or insanity

  1. Swarn Gill says:

    This is well said. It is the easy path to glory and heroism. Also death.

    On a somewhat related note I am currently addicted to a rather crappy show where one of the main characters is conscripted to fight in war and he thinks at first that it’s his chance to rise out of his meagre circumstances and be a hero. While in camp waiting for battle an oracle tells him that his wife is with child and that fighting in the war will leave his child fatherless. So he self-inflicts a wound to be sent back but the rumors that he hurt himself spread and he is called a coward. He was abandoned himself by his father and he didn’t want to abandon his own child. Yet his reputation as a coward is what follows him everywhere and ends up being his ruin. In reality he is just a timid person who wants to be there for his children and not really a soldier. Of course there are times when perhaps one must fight, but I can also see that dying and leaving children without adequate support is also not helpful to society either. To me there is as much glory and purity in raising good children as is claimed about war, but the latter is heralded much more frequently.

    Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      Take two people to the village; an engineer and a soldier and observe the one most revered, it will be the soldier who deals in the business of killing. But we have been told he makes us safe. So, in a way, one feels pity for the soldier who deserts knowing fully well he cannot get any honors from his peers. And I think it is the peers, who their training have turned into cowards. They can’t quit even if they don’t believe their bosses any more.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Swarn Gill says:

        Agreed with your thoughts here. I think words like courage, heroism, success have been hijacked to mean very specific things, just as the opposite of those words has also come to mean very specific things, and I am not so certain that they are a right things. Even if we were to say that soldier was a hero, how is someone who dedicates their life to giving aid to the poor, or heck just a single parent working hard to take care of their children any less? The acquisition of money and acts of violence are far more revered than they should be.


      • basenjibrian says:

        This reminds me of a story in (yes, actually) the New York Times Magazine about attitudes of cynicism of the soldiers sadly stuck in Afghanistan.


  2. Like the late Burt Reynolds once said to his then girlfriend, Sally Field, “Sally, War?! What is it good for?! Absolutely nothin’.”


  3. renudepride says:

    Each in their own way, all faith communities glorify the virtues of war. That is how they build their faithful. A possible exception are the Buddhists – but even they have been known to justify war. Naked hugs!


  4. basenjibrian says:

    I have to admit that I am a fan of a Swedish industrial-folk musical project with…questionable…politics sometimes.

    Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio.

    One of their constant themes is how INNATE war is in the human animal. They are more sympathetic to the idea that wars stir things up, lead to glory, break up calcified states. I am horrified by all this, yet I also sneakingly think they are maybe, sadly, right.

    Man without war, there’s no life in your breath
    You say you are free, but your spirit is dead
    Brother of fools, all your comrades are gone
    Through the passing of life, you don’t need anyone
    Imbecile sister, your judgment is dead
    Your soul is escaping, through a hole in your head
    Man with no soul, your substance is gone
    You no longer search, and look for the sun

    Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      Why, I think they must have borrowed this from the Germans. War, I think, is innate. There will be some reason or other to go to war. Maybe it is really the case that men are irrational but have capacity for rational action every once in a while.


  5. Barry says:

    “There has never been a just [war], never an honorable one–on the part of the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and this rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The loud little handful–as usual–will shout for the war. The pulpit will–warily and cautiously–object–at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, ‘It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.’ Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers–as earlier–but do not dare say so. And now the whole nation–pulpit and all–will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.”
    Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories

    Liked by 2 people

  6. maryplumbago says:

    Mr. Twain was quite smart!


  7. basenjibrian says:

    I certainly prefer Twain to Paul of Tarsus!


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