Julien Offray de La Mettrie: Wars are the plague of the human race

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

French writers on war and peace

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Julien Offray de La Mettrie
From L’homme machine
Anonymous translation

History offers us a famous example of a lion which would not devour a man abandoned to its fury, because it recognized him as his benefactor. How much might it be wished that man himself always showed the same gratitude for kindnesses, and the same respect for humanity! Then we should no longer fear either ungrateful wretches, or wars which are the plague of the human race and the real executioners of the natural law.

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Would its (animal’s) soul, which feels the same joys, the same mortification and the same discomfiture which we feel, remain utterly unmoved by disgust when it saw a fellow-creature torn to bits, or when it had itself pitilessly dismembered this fellow-creature?

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[A] gentle and peaceful animal which lives among other animals of the same disposition and of gentle nurture, will be an enemy of blood and carnage; it will blush internally at having shed blood…[But] our compatriots fight, Swiss against Swiss, brother against brother, recognize each other, and yet capture and kill each other without remorse, because a prince pays for the murder.

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[There] is so much pleasure in doing good, in recognizing and appreciating what one receives, so much satisfaction in practicing virtue, in being gentle, humane, kind, charitable, compassionate and generous (for this one word includes all the virtues), that I consider as sufficiently punished any one who is unfortunate enough not to have been born virtuous.