Learning from War (Der Krieg als Erzieher)


We were told moving stories of the purifying effects of war, particularly in its early days. It was claimed that it stimulates everything noble and extinguishes everything base in the human spirit. Now, after more than four years of blows, thrusts and shots, we can begin to draw a fairly accurate moral balance of the war. It is a terrible deficit. It turns out that war punishes virtue and rewards vice, that it blesses the bad and curses the good, that under its auspices the good do badly and the bad do well, that it reduces the finest instincts of the human heart to absurdity, and leads its basest to success. It turns out that war is God’s enemy. For example:

Those who were worn down by vice and debauchery and brought feeble children into the world, still have them. The healthy ones have long been fertilizing the fields of war. Those who spent their youth in debauchery and became prematurely old and weary through booze and sex, are today in chambers. Those who respected their body and spirit, and husbanded their strength, are under fire. Whoever buried their gold at the beginning of the war when they were appealing for people not to bury their gold, is now about twice as rich as he was in peacetime. Whoever hoarded goods when they were appealing for people not to hoard, had food for himself and his family while others went hungry. Whoever was spendthrift in peacetime, and filled his wardrobe with an excess of clothes, shoes, and underwear, now has clothes, shoes, and underwear, and others are barefoot, dirty and dressed in rags.

Those who are raw, brutal and stupid can bear the horrors of war, those which happen to himself, and those which happen to others, relatively easily. The others stagger between madness and despair. Whoever hardened their heart in time and was not interested in the suffering of their fellow citizens, followed the war like an interesting, exciting, tense play. The others died all the deaths on the battlefield every day. Whoever has the belly of a pig, the nerves of an elephant and the taste of an ape, appreciates the physical and intellectual fare which the war offers us. Those who tried to make their physical and spiritual organism finer and more differentiated in peacetime, are destroyed, step by step, by this fare.

Absolute idiots can happily put up with the international oratory of war. Anybody with a half-way normally functioning brain, squirms in pain under it. Inveterate cowards comes to terms with the facts of war with equanimity. Whoever, at least sometimes, has a heart in their body, bursts with suppressed protest. Briefly, wherever the eye is cast in the panorama of war, it sees the bad, dumb and immoral doing better than the good, intelligent and virtuous. The earth is paying a high price. Hell is the greatest war profiteer. And heaven seems to be closed for business for the duration.

Published in: WeltbühneReader Weltbühne Reader


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