quotations about war

War is a most uneconomical, foolish, poor arrangement, a bloody enrichment of that soil which bears the sweet flower of peace.

M. E. W. SHERWOOD, An Epistle to Posterity


Tags: M. E. W. Sherwood

War had become nothing more than slaughtering soldiers from a safe distance. When this failed to produce victory, civilians too became targeted for annihilation. It took more than a century, two world wars and the invention of the ultimate weapon, the atomic bomb, before the impact of this change started to become fully realized: war had become 'total war'. Warfare in the twentieth century is now an industry. It is bureaucratized, to the extent that its main decisions are being taken anonymously and committed to paper by people far removed from the actual killing zones.

HYLKE TROMP, "On the Nature of War and the Nature of Militarism"


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War never takes a wicked man by chance, the good man always.

SOPHOCLES, Philoctetes


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War is the great scavenger of thought. It is the sovereign disinfectant, and its red stream of blood is the Condy's Fluid that cleans out the stagnant pools and clotted channels of the intellect.... We have awakened from an opium-dream of comfort, of ease, of that miserable poltroonery of "the sheltered life." Our wish for indulgence of every sort, our laxity of manners, our wretched sensitiveness to personal inconvenience, these are suddenly lifted before us in their true guise as the spectres of national decay; and we have risen from the lethargy of our dilettantism to lay them, before it is too late, by the flashing of the unsheathed sword.

EDMUND GOSSE, "War and Literature", Inter Arma


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War is regarded as nothing but the continuation of state policy with other means.



War is a fevered god
who takes alike
maiden and king and clod.



Tags: Hilda Doolittle

War both needs and generates certain virtues; not the highest, but what may be called the preliminary virtues, as valour, veracity, the spirit of obedience, the habit of discipline. Any of these, and of others like them, when possessed by a nation, and no matter how generated, will give them a military advantage, and make them more likely to stay in the race of nations.

WALTER BAGEHOT, Physics and Politics


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The moral reality of war is divided into two parts. War is always judged twice, first with reference to the reasons states have for fighting, secondly with reference to the means they adopt.... The two sorts of judgment are logically independent. It is perfectly possible for a just war to be fought unjustly and for an unjust war to be fought in strict accordance with the rules. But this independence, though our views of particular wars often conform to its terms, is nevertheless puzzling. It is a crime to commit aggression, but aggressive war is a rule-governed activity. It is right to resist aggression, but the resistance is subject to moral (and legal) restraint. [This] dualism ... is at the heart of all that is most problematic in the moral reality of war.

MICHAEL WALZER, Just and Unjust Wars


It is not the willingness to kill on the part of our soldiers which most concerns me. That is an inherent part of war. It is our lack of respect for even the admirable characteristics of our enemy -- for courage, for suffering, for death, for his willingness to die for his beliefs, for his companies and squadrons which go forth, one after another, to annihilation against our superior training and equipment. What is courage for us is fanaticism for him. We hold his examples of atrocity screamingly to the heavens while we cover up our own and condone them as just retribution for his acts.

CHARLES LINDBERGH, journal entry, July 21, 1944


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As horrible as the death toll was in World War I, the millions who died were, by and large, killed on the battlefield--soldiers killed by soldiers, not civilians killed by lawless or random or planned savagery. The rough proportion of military to civilian casualties was ninety to ten. In World War II, the proportions were roughly even. Today, for every ten military casualties there are on the order of ninety civilian deaths. The reality of our era, as demonstrated in Angola, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Chechnya, is that torture is rampant, murdering civilians commonplace, and driving the survivors from their homes often the main goal of a particular military offensive.

RON GUTMAN & DAVID RIEFF, preface, Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know


War is more like a novel than it is like real life and that is its eternal fascination. It is a thing based on reality but invented, it is a dream made real, all the things that make a novel but not really life.



Tags: Gertrude Stein

War ... should only be declared by the authority of the people, whose toils and treasures are to support its burdens, instead of the government which is to reap its fruits.

JAMES MADISON, "Universal Peace"


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War is such an indefeasible and unescapable Real that the good realist must accept it rather comprehensively. To keep out of it is pure quietism, an acute moral failure to adjust. At the same time, there is an inexorability about war. It is a little unbridled for the realist's rather nice sense of purposive social control. And nothing is so disagreeable to the pragmatic mind as any kind of an absolute. The realist pragmatist could not recognize war as inexorable--though to the common mind it would seem as near an absolute, coercive social situation as it is possible to fall into. For the inexorable abolishes choices, and it is the essence of the realist's creed to have, in every situation, alternatives before him.

RANDOLPH SILLIMAN BOURNE, War and the Intellectuals


What mother, with long-watching eyes
And white lips cold and dumb,
Waits with appalling patience for
Her darling boy to come?
Her boy! whose mountain grave swells up
But one of many a scar
Cut on the face of our fair land
By gory-handed war.



Tags: Mary Ashley Townsend

A long war like this makes you realise the society you really prefer, the home, goats chickens and dogs and casual acquaintances. I find myself not caring at all for gardens flowers or vegetables cats cows and rabbits, one gets tired of trees vines and hills, but houses, goats chickens dogs and casual acquaintances never pall.



War alone brings up to their highest tension all human energies and imposes the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to make it.

BENITO MUSSOLINI, "The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism"


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We are now in the midst of our first television war ... the television environment [is] total and therefore invisible. Along with the computer, it has altered every phase of the American vision and identity. The television war has meant the end of the dichotomy between civilian and military. The public is now a participant in every phase of the war, and the main actions of the war are now being fought in the American home itself.

MARSHALL MCLUHAN, War and Peace in the Global Village


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War has been the most convenient pseudo-solution for the problems of twentieth-century capitalism. It provides the incentives to modernisation and technological revolution which the market and the pursuit of profit do only fitfully and by accident, it makes the unthinkable (such as votes for women and the abolition of unemployment) not merely thinkable but practicable.... What is equally important, it can re-create communities of men and give a temporary sense to their lives by uniting them against foreigners and outsiders. This is an achievement beyond the power of the private enterprise economy ... when left to itself.

ERIC J. HOBSBAWM, London Observer, May 26, 1968


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Against war one might say that it makes the victor stupid and the vanquished malicious. In its favor, that in producing these two effects it barbarizes, and so makes the combatants more natural. For culture it is a sleep or a wintertime, and man emerges from it stronger for good and for evil.



Tags: Friedrich Nietzsche

When conflicting rights arise between nations, one party must give way, or war must be the issue; a right, therefore, which is essential to the existence of the possessor, ought to prevail over one which is not of such vital importance.

JAMES STEPHEN, War in Disguise


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