In his wonderful short story “Boule de Suif“, Guy de Maupassant tells a story of ten travelers who’re evacuating from the oncoming Prussians in the Franco-Prussian War. While his criticism is leveled at French society, this selection says all that needs to be said of war:
“Yes, madame, these Germans do nothing but eat potatoes and pork, and then pork and potatoes. And don’t imagine for a moment that they are clean! No, indeed! And if only you saw them drilling for hours, indeed for days, together; they all collect in a field, then they do nothing but march backward and forward, and wheel this way and that. If only they would cultivate the land, or remain at home and work on their high roads! Really, madame, these soldiers are of no earthly use! Poor people have to feed and keep them, only in order that they may learn how to kill! True, I am only an old woman with no education, but when I see them wearing themselves out marching about from morning till night, I say to myself: When there are people who make discoveries that are of use to people, why should others take so much trouble to do harm? Really, now, isn’t it a terrible thing to kill people, whether they are Prussians, or English, or Poles, or French? If we revenge ourselves on any one who injures us we do wrong, and are punished for it; but when our sons are shot down like partridges, that is all right, and decorations are given to the man who kills the most. No, indeed, I shall never be able to understand it.”
Cornudet raised his voice:
“War is a barbarous proceeding when we attack a peaceful neighbor, but it is a sacred duty when undertaken in defence of one’s country.”
The old woman looked down:
“Yes; it’s another matter when one acts in self-defence; but would it not be better to kill all the kings, seeing that they make war just to amuse themselves?”
Cornudet’s eyes kindled.
“Bravo, citizens!” he said.
Monsieur Carre-Lamadon was reflecting profoundly. Although an ardent admirer of great generals, the peasant woman’s sturdy common sense made him reflect on the wealth which might accrue to a country by the employment of so many idle hands now maintained at a great expense, of so much unproductive force, if they were employed in those great industrial enterprises which it will take centuries to complete.
I will have to investigate further whether de Muapassant was inlfuenced by Bastiat. But no doubt, war is destruction, and let’s kill all the kings. Sounds like a great start!!