Goya_The Third of May 1808

War is everywhere – it is what we see in the news, what we are warned about by the government, what chatter is in offices, podcasts and in the street. It is unavoidable. Omnipresent. Omni-depressing.

There really never are any solutions, because clearly no one wants them. We talk, we shake our heads, but we make no demands to those in power, not really, because we actually don’t care. Or, rather, we care, but only in some abstract, noncommittal way that manifests in flag emojis online and on lawn sighs IRL.

The real cost of war – in human lives – is something we are removed from. Have always been removed from. Something most never experience in any real way besides sloganeering once in a while, after which we order in, curl up on the couch and watch another reality star embarrass humanity on some screen.

Our empathy is mostly recreational. A face for the public. An indulgence in brownie points. An internal round of applause. But those whose flags we so doggedly parade around are dying, engulfed in horror and compounding misery.

In 1896 Russian sometime philosopher and full-time anarchist, Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin, observed just that, because he knew, as we know, that there is nothing new under the sun. His angle is on those who often pay the price for war-mongering – those who are sent to fight and those who fund wars off the labor of their backs – but the sentiment is eternal and the grievance reaches down to the depth of the human state in war.


But who are those who want war? Whose war-cries resound every day in our ears? Who will be conspicuous by their absence at the international peace gathering of the workers?—the ruling classes!

Always they have been the instigators of wars in times past, and so they are up to the present time.

In times past it was the kings who waged wars in order to re-fill their cash boxes, to distribute new provinces amongst their “war companions,” to give “occupation” to the gang of robbers, drunkards, and gamblers of whom their following was composed. It was the wizards, the witches, and the high priests who, pretending to be in direct intercourse with supernatural forces, promised the support of the gods for war as soon as they saw that war would increase their powers upon men or accrue to their wealth: It was the noble lords of the land—smaller kings themselves—who made of war their profession, in order to always get new slaves or serfs, and to better enslave those whom they possessed of old. And so they went on–the Triple Alliance of those times—sacking and burning, killing and plundering the peasants and the artisans within and without the borders of their own countries.

The peasants and the artisans, on the other hand, did always all in their powers to escape from the war obligations, and to stay at home while they were ordered to join the armed bands.

They cursed war when it was successful for their rulers, and they cursed it when it was unsuccessful and brought the enemy upon their fields and in their houses.

They started immense secret unions to resist war and to prevent it, and as soon as they felt in force the peasants besieged the nests of war–the castles—and destroyed them when they could; while the artisans erected walls around their towns and prohibited their access to any armed man—robber, lord, or king. They joined immense conjurations maintaining “God’s peace,” and later on, at the beginning of the Reform, they started widely spread religious movements to oppose war. And when those movements had been defeated and the peasants had been massacred, the survivors started in Moravia and elsewhere their communities, in which scores of thousands of peasants and artisans joined, taking the oath of never unsheathing the sword; and they prospered in those communities until these Communal houses were pillaged and destroyed by the triple alliance of King, Church, and Lord.

War always came from above—from those who did not live on the work of their hands, but lived upon the blood and the sweat of the manual workers. And so it is up to the present date, with the only difference that the kings, having now lost their importance, the real instigators of wars are the lords of the land, of the factory, of the mine, and of the Stock Exchange…

That was then. But now, is it not the same again? How many middle-class papers can the worker read without finding in them the same incitements to national hatred and war, in whatever language the paper may be written?

In this country all has been done lately by a part of the ruling classes to awaken the lust of war…
…Ironclads were sunk, in print and on engravings, populous cities were bombarded, war was waged between balloons in the air, between miners under ground, and between boats under the water—not, for describing the horrors of war, but to delude peaceful clerks and workers who know nothing of war, and to make them believe in the grandeur and the splendour of war, to breed emotional hatred, to raise the Jingo spirit…

…The worst is that the whole of the press submits to that same influence. In one column we find lamentations about the warlike spirit of man or the cruelty of the ladies who wear heron feathers on hats; and in the next column we read: “Our artillery made splendid work,” “the rebels were mowed down by our shots,” and so on…

And what is done in this country is done all over the world, in the press, in the school, in the speeches, and in private conversation, by all those who have made up their minds to make money out of the sweat of the masses and the blood of the war-conflicts.

To this crusade of war the workers are bound to oppose their united action. They must loudly denounce that wicked propaganda which is preparing the shedding of streams of blood in a near future; they must put a stop to it.

They must raise their mighty voice and loudly affirm that they will not allow the mercantile writer to breed cruelty amongst our children, and to accustom them to utterly despise human life, to attach no value whatever to it; and to believe that in the interests of the State, or of separate classes, human lives may be destroyed to any amount.

The lessons of cruelty and despising of human life with which modern middle-class literature is permeated already bear their fruit, and they menace, if they continue, to throw the next generation a century aback by wiping out of our civilization the humanitarian progress that had lately been achieved.

Full text of Kropotkin essay here.