Above the battle/Preface
A great nation assailed by war has not only its frontiers to protect: it must also protect its good sense. It must protect itself from the hallucinations, injustices, and follies which the plague lets loose. To each his part: to the armies the protection of the soil of their native land. To the thinkers the defence of its thought. If they subordinate that thought to the passions of their people they may well be useful instruments of passion; but they are in danger of betraying the spirit, which is not the least part of a people's patrimony. One day History will pass judgment on each of the nations at war; she will weigh their measure of errors, lies, and heinous follies. Let us try and make ours light before her!
Children are taught the Gospel of Jesus and the Christian ideal. Everything in the education they receive at school is designed to stimulate in them intellectual understanding of the great human family. Classical education makes them see, beyond the differences of race, the roots and the common trunk of our civilisation. Art makes them love the profound sources of the genius of a people. Science makes them believe in the unity of reason. The great social movement which renews the world, reveals the organised effort of the working classes all round them to unite their forces in the hopes and struggles which break the barriers of nations. The brightest geniuses of the earth chant, like Walt Whitman and Tolstoi, universal brotherhood in joy and suffering, or else as our Latin spirits, pierce with their criticism the prejudices of hatred and ignorance which separate individuals and peoples.
Like all the men of my time I have been brought up on these thoughts; I have tried in my turn to share the bread of life with my younger or less fortunate brothers. When the war came I did not think it my duty to deny these thoughts because the hour had come to put them to the test.
I have been insulted. I knew that I should be and I went forward. But I did not know that I should be insulted without even a hearing.
For several months no one in France could know my writings except through scraps of phrases arbitrarily extracted and mutilated by my enemies, It is a shameful record. For nearly a year this has gone on. Certain socialist or syndicalist papers may have succeeded here and there in getting some fragments through, but it was only in the month of June 1915 that for the first time my chief article, the one which was the object of the most violent criticism, "Above the Battle," dating from September 1914, could be published in full (almost in full), thanks to the malevolent zeal of a maladroit pamphleteer, to whom I am indebted for bringing my words before the French public for the first time.
A Frenchman does not judge his adversary unheard. Whoever does so judges and condemns himself: for he shows that he fears the light. I place before the world the texts they have slandered. I shall not defend them. Let them defend themselves!
One single word will I add. For a year I have been rich in enemies. Let me say this to them : they can hate me, but they will not teach me to hate. I have no concern with them. My business is to say what I believe to be fair and humane. Whether this pleases or irritates is not my business. I know that words once uttered make their way of themselves. Hopefully I sow them in the bloody soil. The harvest will come.
- One article only, "The Idols," may, I think, have been published in its entirety in La Bataille syndicaliste.
- I leave my articles in their chronological order. I have changed nothing in them. The reader will notice, in the stress of events, certain contradictions and hasty judgments which I would modify to-day… In general, the sentiments expressed have arisen out of indignation and pity. In proportion as the immensity of the ruin extends one feels the poverty of protest, as before an earthquake. "There is more than one war," wrote the aged Rodin to me on the 1st of October, 1914. "What is happening is like a punishment which falls on the world."