More than a century ago, an aging man, staring his own death in the face, spoke the truth of our times:
Again war. Again sufferings, necessary to nobody, utterly uncalled for. Again fraud, again the universal stupefaction and brutalization of men.
Men who are separated from each other by thousands of miles … are seeking out one another, in order to kill, torture, and mutilate each other in the cruelest way possible. What can this be? Is it a dream or a reality? Something is taking place which should not, cannot be; one longs to believe that it is a dream and to wake from it.
But no, it is not a dream, it is a dreadful reality!
…How can so-called enlightened men preach war, support it, participate in it, and worst of all, without suffering the dangers of war themselves, incite others to it, sending their unfortunate defrauded brothers to fight? These so-called enlightened men cannot possibly ignore … all that has and is being written about the cruelty, futility and senselessness of war. They are regarded as enlightened men precisely because they know all this. The majority of them have themselves written and spoken about it. … No enlightened man can help knowing that the universal competition in the armament of states must inevitably lead them to endless wars or to a general bankruptcy, or else to both the one and the other. …
Everyone knows and cannot help but knowing that, above all, war, calling forth the lowest animal passions, deprave and brutalize men. … All so-called enlightened men know this. Then suddenly war begins and all this is instantly forgotten, and the same men who but yesterday were proving the cruelty, futility, the senselessness of wars, now think, speak and write only about killing as many men as possible, about ruining and destroying the greatest possible amounts of human labor, and about exciting as much as possible the passion of hatred in those peaceful, harmless, industrious men who by their labour feed, clothe, maintain these same pseudo-enlightened men who compel them to commit those dreadful deeds contrary to their conscience, welfare or faith.
Something is taking place incomprehensible and impossible in its cruelty, falsehood and stupidity …. Stupefied by prayers, sermons, exhortations, by processions, pictures and newspapers, the cannon-fodder — hundreds of thousands of men, uniformly dressed, carrying divers deadly weapons, leaving their parents, wives, children, with hearts of agony but with artificial bravado — go where they, risking their own lives, will commit the most dreadful act of killing men whom they do not know and who have done them no harm. And they are followed by doctors and nurses who somehow imagine that at home they cannot serve simple peaceful suffering people but can only serve those who are engaged in slaughtering each other. Those who remain at home are gladdened by news of the murder of men, and when they learn that many [enemies] have been killed, they thank someone whom they call God.
All this is not only regarded as the manifestation of elevated feeling, but those who refrain from such manifestations, if they endeavour to disabuse men, are deemed traitors and betrayers, and are in danger of being abused and beaten by a brutalized crowd, which in defense of its insanity and cruelty can possess no other weapon than brute force.
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, 1904 (trans. by Evgeny Lampert, in Essays From Tula, Sheppard Press 1948)
Tonight Bradley Manning is being tortured and destroyed in a prison cell because he has been accused of trying to tell the truth about war that all so-called enlightened people know: it is brutalizing, senseless, futile and cruel. He is also being tortured in the hope that he can be used as an instrument to stop Julian Assange from telling the truth about war and the corruptions of power that all so-called enlightened people claim to know.
Meanwhile, the man who last year received the world’s most noted accolade the enlightened pursuit of peace is now expanding a senseless, brutal and futile war in one foreign land into another, where he has already killed hundreds of innocent people with cowardly bombs fired at defenseless villages from robot drones controlled by armchair warriors thousands of miles away. Another 54 people died from these assassinations just last night; it is claimed they were “militants,” but no names were given, no evidence at all to back up these assertions — and no real reason at all given as to why these assassinations and escalations must continue, on and on, for years, decades, perhaps generations, we are told. Again, Tolstoy:
Spontaneous feeling tells me that what they are doing should not be, but as the murderer who has begun to assassinate his victim cannot stop, so also … people now imagine that the fact of the deadly work having been commenced is an unanswerable argument in favour of war. War has been started and therefore it should go on. Thus it seems to simple, benighted, unlearned men acting under the influence of the petty passions and stupefactions to which they have been subjected. In exactly the same way the most educated men of our time argue to prove that man does not possess free will, and that therefore even were he to understand that the work he has commenced is evil he can no longer cease to do it.
So dazed, brutalized men continue their dreadful work.
Do not help them. Do not support them. Do not spend your energy and passion and intellect on earnest analyses of the twists and turns of their political fates. They are doing evil. Do not be part of it. Support instead those who try to speak the truth. Stand with them. It is their fate — not the fate of the petty, brutal power-seekers — which will determine the meaning of our times and the future of our species.