My Ideas on the Army.
(l‘Insurgé, September 16, 1893)
Since some have criticized my disobedience of the law on recruitment, I will explain my conduct here. If I refused to bear arms, it is because according to my principles I do not recognize border. For me, there is no foreigner. All the nations are sisters and I reckon that their children should love one another a bit more than they have thus far, thanks to the universal propaganda spread to prevent them from it. Whether we are born under the beautiful skies of Italy, in the cold lands of Germany, in the frozen regions of Russia, under the thick fogs of England or on the soil of the French Republic, it seems to me that we are all brothers, whatever laws are imposed on us, even whatever our rank is in society. As men, we all only have one truly homeland: the universe. The divisions in humanity, that is war!
To tolerate one is to sanction the other, and all of you who lean, at every opportunity, in your individual interest, on the words of the Jewish socialist, you should remind yourself more often and when it is appropriate what that Jew said to men and not to beasts: “love one another.” Don’t speak to me of national interests, nor of the fear inspired in you by Germany or some other such power. First, I must say to you that in Germany, in Italy in England, in Russia, as in France, everywhere, the people hate war. Despite the urgings of the press, instrument of all hatreds, of people against people, it is always only with regret that soldiers of different nationalities march against one another, and slaughter each other like implacable enemies, and don’t invoke that false spirit of patriotism which makes some intelligent men, some men with heart venerate flags of different colors. That spirit of patriotism is only artificial, it is not the work of the masses who die in the terrible games of war, but the work of governments. If the peoples could understand each other, hear one another, discuss their interests, if they only had the liberty to act freely, if they were not all at the mercy of a tyrannical will, that spirit of patriotism would not exist, and wars would be no more.
It is at school, under the influence of a governmental education, that one contracts this unfortunate jingoism, which in all ages, the press then awakens in heart to arouse them one against each other, all against themselves, against humanity. In Germany, in England, everywhere finally, it is the sheets friendly to power who in the parceled out homeland (I speak here of the universal homeland, divided by borders), light the firebrand of discord, and wave the flag of war. The press does not represent public opinion as we generally believe, but it shapes and organizes it. in general, the workers only desire peace and bread; and speaking of political ideas, it is difficult to say it, they ordinarily adopt those of the newspaper they read. If the French press insults England or Italy, they immediately say, either in Berlin, or on the other side of the Alps: France, there is the enemy!
France has always had some peaceful ideas, but it is enough that the government, or the press which is devoted to it, nourish some bellicose ideasfor France to beresponsible for doddering journalists or arrogant ambassadors. There follows a controversy between the press of the nations, in conflict from then on. A polemic which has no other aim but to arouse the national pride of the workers who wish for peace. On both sides, thanks to the press, we are right and the foreigner is wrong. One fine day, there is a declaration of war; thanks to the press, again, it is conceded that it was inevitable. Inevitable, the nations would have avoided it, under governmental auspices, the newspapers have prepared it; after which the rulers have declared it when they wished. And sovereigns and generals, governments of all sorts, who though they could, in the struggle, satisfy an ambition or an interest, close their eyes to the victims, recruited en masse from the working class, closing their eyes to the blood of their brothers, throw themselves into the fray. At the end of the carnage — do we count the mother, the fathers, the widows, the orphans in tears? No, but we have seen schemers weigh their purses, madmen savor that smoke, which in their delirium, they call glory. Who will pay? – the laurels of the victors, the ransom of the vanquished, the burnt powder, the cannons, the rifles, the murderous salvos?
The countryside has been ravaged, the villages burned, the cities themselves have been delivered to flames anddevastation, who will pay for all these damages? Old folks without shoes, fathers and mothers from whom the field of battles has taken a son, the widows, the children of the martyrs. Those who have already paid the price in blood, perhaps by the sacrifice of their dearest affections, bleeding themselves to pay the tax.
I know there are some who find admirable this devotion, this self-sacrifice of the working class, but doubtless they have not seen, even in thought, a battlefield where one finds only arms and legs cut by shrapnel, chests pierced by bullets, young men stretched on the ground, inert and bloody, will perhaps be crushed by the cavalry, ground under the feet of the horses, perhaps they will not cry for a son who rests on the border of an eternal sleep.
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]