[NB: Although I am primarily a pacifist, I do support the soldiers sent off to battle because of decisions made by their government. I wish all of our soldiers a speedy and safe return home!]

Afghanistan is my sucking chest wound, and always will be because—despite what we’ve seen these recent weeks—wars do not end with a withdrawal or retreat or retrograde or the signing of a peace treaty. Instead, they ebb and flow within the memories of those who were there and the ones who received an unfortunate knock on the door one day from people in uniforms. On those battlegrounds, there is a permanent shattering. It’s the real “forever war.” –James LaPorta, “A U.S. Marine, a curious Afghan boy, an unfathomable moment”

These have been horrific days. Why even try to describe them? Words are just words. They can’t express what it feels like when your whole soul attaches itself to a whizzing bullet. When your whole will, your whole mind, and all your senses hang from the flying missiles and beg: “Not this house!” You’re selfish and you forget that the missile that misses you is going to hit someone else. –Renia Spiegel, diary, 26 June 1941

The real war will never get in the books. –Walt Whitman, Specimen Days and Collect

… yet with a certain pride I would like to inform the world
that thanks to the war we have raised a new species of children
our children don’t like fairty tales they play at killing
awake and asleep they dream of soup and bread and bones
just like dogs and cats …
–Zbigniew Herbert, “Report from the Besieged City”

God, I can smell it, he thought—like the aid station after the last battle, but here it was in the open air, shit and blood. Like any slaughterhouse. God, I may become a vegetarian after this. –SM Stirling, Island in the Sea of Time

He couldn’t swallow. In the mouthful of warm saliva a pearl formed; an irritant hardened into white gleaming fury at the possibility that the war would end his life as indifferently as it had a hundred thousand others, that he was no more privileged. –Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

The butchery of the innocent
Never stops. That’s about all
We can ever be sure of, love ...
–Charles Simic, “Sunday Papers”

The beauty of Paris or London is only an alibi for the criminals who have allowed Warsaw, Dresden, Vukovar, and Sarajevo to disappear. –Miljenko Jergovic, “The Library”

War took our world and what we once thought was normal. And now we’re all like ... Alice through the looking glass, in some sort of crazy upside-down world where truth is a lie and lies are truth. –Susan Elia MacNeal, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy

The Tutsis were not asking for anything in those fatal moments because they no longer believed in words. They had no more faith in crying out, like frightened animals, for example, howling to be heard above the mortal blows. An overpowering sorrow was carrying those people away. They felt so abandoned they did not even open their mouths. –Léopord Tagirayezu, one of the Rwandan genocide perpetrators, discussing why so many Tutsis were silent while being murdered, in Jean Hatzfeld’s Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak

There was a time at the beginning of the war when my curiosity had often been tempered with sorrow, shock, or horror at the sight of the state of bodies. Brutal mutilation would stick in my eyes like a thorn for days, or else the expression or posture of a corpse would evoke sadness and anger within me. But as you lose count of the number of dead you have seen, a hidden threshold of sensitivity is raised, neutralizing most of your reactions. Only the curiosity remains. Some of it is borne out of my inability to connect the thought of a living, breathing person with the discarded husk death leaves, even when I have seen the whole transition from life to death. –Anthony Loyd, My War Gone By, I Miss It So

War terror always brings out the religious slut in me: on a bad day one bang and I am anybody’s. Born-again Christians have got nothing on me. I find some sort of god or another in every firefight. –ditto

Emotions are so contorted in war. There are labels which brand sentiments according to shade rather than detail, words like “afraid,” “revolted,” “shocked.” Most of the time you do not know how you feel in situations, there is no single word to describe the swirling kaleidoscope, so you come out of it and try to cast whatever feelings you had in the right bin—in this case the one marked “horrible”—where they stay chattering and jibbering like lunatics in secure units, imprisoned until the night’s darkness paroles them into your dreams. –ditto

He was dying, he knew. The fast-dividing cells of his body—the lining of his throat and stomach, his hair, the gums that held his teeth—were being killed off first, because wasn’t that what radiation did? And now it had found the force of him, reaching into him like a great, lethal hand, black and bird-boned. He felt himself dissolving, like a pill in water, the process irrevocable. –Justin Cronin, The Passage [the character died of radiation poisoning after a nuclear blast during a war]

Anyone who has experienced a war firsthand knows that it completely overturns every conventional idea of what makes up day-to-day reality. It’s like walking away from a plane crash; the world changes for you forever. –JG Ballard, in an interview in the back of his novel High-Rise

I suppose one of the things I took from my wartime experiences was that reality was a stage set. The reality that you took for granted—the comfortable day-to-day life, school, the home where one lives, the familiar street and all the rest of it, the trips to the swimming pool and the cinema—was just a stage set. They could be dismantled overnight ... –ditto

Only the dead have seen the end of war. –Lydia Millet, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart [Note: I should add that this quote actually pre-dates Millet's book. It was originally attributed to Plato from the 1930s on, especially following a speech by General Douglas MacArthur at West Point in 1962 in which he credited Plato; however, it is not found in Plato’s works. George Santayana is the earliest known source, in his book Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies.]

... she drags behind her, like a string of noisy cans, the obscenities of a war that most Americans would be happy to forget. –Alice Truax, in a review of Valerie Martin’s Trespass, in the September 2007 issue of Vogue

You can be patriotic and still believe that some things cost more than what they’re worth. –Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

Those who have been immersed in the tragedy of massive death during wartime, and who have faced it squarely, never allowing their senses and feelings to become numbed and indifferent, have emerged from their experiences with growth and humanness greater than that achieved through almost any other means. –Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Death: The Final Stage of Growth

These brutes think we shall win the war that way. But we have lost the war with this appalling mass murder of the Jews. We have brought shame upon ourselves that cannot be wiped out; it’s a curse that can’t be lifted. We deserve no mercy; we are all guilty. –Wilm Hosenfeld, journal, June 16, 1943

I am glad Saddam’s gone, but I’d be just as glad if most of the equally repellent regimes in the Middle East and Africa were gone, frankly. Britain still has 300 trading arrangements with Zimbabwe, so please don’t tell me we did all this just to unseat a bad guy. We did it primarily to show the world how powerful America is, and how they will deal with the new world order of terrorism and any states who sponsor it. But I personally won’t be sleeping any easier tonight just because Saddam Hussein’s gone. He was never going to bomb me here in London. But the number of those that will want to has just risen rather dramatically. –Piers Morgan, on the Iraq war, The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron. –Dwight D. Eisenhower in a speech given to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 16, 1953

What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world. –Robert E. Lee, in a letter to his wife

Nations have recently been led to borrow billions for war; no nation has ever borrowed largely for education. Probably, no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both. –Abraham Flexner, Universities: American, English, German

War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today. –John F. Kennedy, letter to a Navy friend, quoted in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.’s A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House

Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime. Ask the infantry and ask the dead. –Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

A whole night through
thrown down beside
a butchered comrade
with his clenched teeth
turned to the full moon
and the clutching
of his hands
into my silence
I have written
letters full of love
Never have I
so fast to life
–Giuseppe Ungaretti, “Watch, Cima Quattro, 23 December 1915”


In Pilsen,
Twenty-six Station Road,
she climbed to the Third Floor
up stairs which were all that was left
of the whole house,
she opened her door
full on to the sky,
stood gaping over the edge.

For this was the place
the world ended.

she locked up carefully
lest someone steal
or Aldebaran
from her kitchen,
went back downstairs
and settled herself
to wait
for the house to rise again
and for her husband to rise from the ashes
and for her children’s hands and feet to be stuck back in place.

In the morning they found her
still as stone,
sparrows pecking her hands.

–Miroslav Holub, “Five Minutes After the Air Raid”


War, only war, all twelve
months of the year. Our eyes
are cactus plants,
the thorns growing inward
to pierce our
tenderest nerves.

War, only war.
The orchids on the wall,
the ceiling fan’s whirl overhead,
all suffocate me.
Man sheds civilization
like a snakeskin
and bares the horror
of his naked face.

North, south, east, west—
no white-horsed hero
from the legends
will come to rescue us.

Each corner of the sky
is pushed down into darkness,
into the mush of rotting corpses
working their poison
on the air. Breath drowns
in this blind sea named time.

Still, sometimes the sound of leaves
makes me open my eyes to the sky.
Again, the mind begins to build its nest
among quiet wings,
the shadow of the shal tree
falls green
over my house
over the smell
of this warm, wet earth.
–Razia Hussain, “The Sound of Leaves”


... at every hour I wait for you.
And when the sadness that I hate comes
to knock at your door,
tell her that I am waiting for you
and when loneliness wants you to change
the ring in which my name is written,
tell loneliness to talk with me,
that I had to go away
because I am a soldier,
and that there where I am,
my love, I wait for you.
–Pablo Neruda, “Letter on the Road”

All warfare is based on deception. –Sun Tzu, The Art of War

A leader who doesn’t hesitate before he sends his nation into battle is not fit to be a leader. –Golda Meir, in Israel and Mary Shenker’s As Good as Golda: The Warmth and Wisdom of Israel’s Prime Minister

It doesn’t require any particular bravery to stand on the floor of the Senate and urge our boys in Vietnam to fight harder, and if this war mushrooms into a major conflict and a hundred thousand young Americans are killed, it won’t be US Senators who die. It will be American soldiers who are too young to qualify for the Senate. –George McGovern

I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in. –ditto

Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die. And it is youth who must inherit the tribulation, the sorrow, and the triumphs that are the aftermath of war. –Herbert Hoover, in an address to the Republican National Convention, June 27, 1944

The truth is that every morning war is declared afresh. And the men who wish to continue it are as guilty as the men who began it, more guilty perhaps, for the latter perhaps did not forsee all its horrors. –Marcel Proust, Le Temps Retrouvé

We were in a country devastated by war—
they’d crippled even the dolls of children.
The light, quick and strong,
bit into everything, turned it to stone.
We walked among bicycles and kites,
watched the colors, but our talk
strayed to that festering horror.
–George Seferis, “Letter to Rex Warner”

All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and the shortest means to accomplish it. –Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

I wrapped up the soap in a towel and thought: I didn’t know it was like this. I suppose the woman downstairs felt like this when her Mikhail went off. And so did the woman next door when her Alexei went off. And the eight thousand wives in Nalchik. And the ten million wives in Russia. And the millions of others outside of Russia. Each of them feeling as I do now. Each of us a digit with an exponent of many millions. That makes an emotional force raised to astronomical figures. I should think it would be enough to stop the war. –Margaret Wettlin, Fifty Russian Winters (her husband had just been called up for service during WWII)

…nothing is less moral than war. –The Marquis de Sade, Philosophy in the Bedroom

War is like love; it always finds a way. –Bertolt Brecht, Mother Courage and her Children

It is better we disintegrate in peace and not in pieces. –Nnamdi Azikwe

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy? –Mohandas K. Ghandi, Non-violence in Peace and War

A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it. –Oscar Wilde, “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.”

There was never a good War, or a bad Peace. –Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Joseph Banks, July 27, 1783

You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake. –Jeanette Rankin, in Hannah Josephson’s Jeannette Rankin: First Lady in Congress


The wild grasses rustle over Babii Yar.
The trees look ominous,
like judges.
Here all things scream silently,
and, baring my head,
slowly I feel myself
turning gray.
And I myself
am one massive, soundless scream
above the thousand thousand buried here.
I am
each old man
here shot dead.
I am
every child
here shot dead.
Nothing in me
shall ever forget!
–Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “Babii Yar”


When the world dissolves in its own chemicals
And the people’s bodies are as ghostly as the particles
discovered by Josephson in 1962, which pass through walls
like light through air,
And the people’s buildings are born again as blueprints, and the
print is invisible and the blue is the blue of the innocent
amnesiac sea,
And the hardwood trees, falling in forests everywhere, their
fractured branches tangled like a woman’s hair after love,
make no sound not because they are not heard but because
there is no longer anything for them to land on and thud
(The pine trees like unplayed whole notes trapped in a barbed-
wire stave)—

And even though the stones have become as insubstantial as

May there be new cities in the tolerant sky,
Held in place by their own gravity
(Or lack of it), places of peace where a man and a woman
Holding each other in the familiar bed of their long night
May see, through the window, as clear as light
The stubbornly loving shadow of a star that was once our sun
–Kelly Cherry, “Prayer for a Future Beyond Ideology and War”


Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.
Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?
He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.
Tao Te Ching


The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations. –David Friedman

The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war that we know about peace, more about killing that we know about living. –Omar Bradley

In war, there are no unwounded soldiers. –José Narosky

It is not merely cruelty that leads men to love war, it is excitement. –Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit

There is nothing that war has ever achieved that we could not better achieve without it. –Havelock Ellis, The Philosophy of Conflict

Men love war because it allows them to look serious. Because it is one thing that stops women laughing at them. –John Fowles, The Magus

War is death’s feast. –George Herbert, Outlandish Proverbs

If we let people see that kind of thing, there would never again be any war. –a Pentagon official explaining why the US military censored graphic footage from the Gulf War

I couldn’t help but say to [Mr. Gorbachev], just think how easy his task and mine might be in these meetings that we held if suddenly there was a threat to this world from another planet. [We’d] find out once and for all that we really are all human beings here on this earth together. –Ronald Reagan

[John] Dalton’s records, carefully preserved for a century, were destroyed during the World War II bombing of Manchester. It is not only the living who are killed in war. –Isaac Asimov [Note: I can find no source for this quote, so perhaps he never said/wrote it. I am leaving it here because what was said is true, regardless!]

The tragedy of war is that it uses man’s best to do man’s worst. –Henry Fosdick

When war is declared, truth is the first casualty. –Arthur Ponsonby, Falsehood in Wartime

We have war when at least one of the parties to a conflict wants something more than it wants peace. –Jeane J. Kirkpatrick

When the rich wage war, it is the poor who die. –Jean-Paul Sartre, Le Diable et le bon Dieu

You cannot prevent and prepare for war at the same time. –Albert Einstein

In modern war ... you will die like a dog for no good reason. –Ernest Hemingway

I think war might be God’s way of teaching us geography. –Paul Rodriguez

War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace. –Thomas Mann

If it were proved to me that in making war, my ideal had a chance of being realized, I would still say “no” to war. For one does not create a human society on mounds of corpses. –Louis Lecoin

War is fear cloaked in courage. –William Westmoreland

The military don’t start wars. Politicians start wars. –ditto

All wars are civil wars, because all men are brothers. –François Fénelon

War is not an adventure. It is a disease. It is like typhus. –Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The bomb that fell on Hiroshima fell on America too. It fell on no city, no munition plants, no docks. It erased no church, vaporized no public buildings, reduced no man to his atomic elements. But it fell, it fell. –Hermann Hagedorn, “The Bomb That Fell on America”

You can’t say that civilization don’t advance ... for in every war they kill you a new way. –Will Rogers, The Autobiography of Will Rogers

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. –John Stewart Mill

The most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war. –Erasmus, Adagia

Better to live in peace than to begin a war and lie dead. –Chief Joseph

Arms alone are not enough to keep the peace. It must be kept by men. –John F. Kennedy, in the 1963 State of the Union address

The only alternative to co-existence is co-destruction. –Jawaharlal Nehru

The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border? –Pablo Casals

Talking of patriotism what humbug it is; it is a word which always commemorates a robbery. There isn’t a foot of land in the world which doesn’t represent the ousting and re-ousting of a long line of successive “owners,” who each in turn, as “patriots,” with proud swelling hearts defended it against the next gang of “robbers” who came to steal it and did—and became swelling-hearted patriots in their turn. –Mark Twain, Notebook

Nationalism is an infantile sickness. It is the measles of the human race. –Albert Einstein, in Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman’s Albert Einstein, the Human Side

When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. –Samuel Johnson

Patriotism is a pernicious, psychopathic form of idiocy. –(?)

You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong no matter who does it or who says it. –Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks Out

Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons. –Bertrand Russell

Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious. –Oscar Wilde

Patriotism is often an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles. –George Jean Nathan

Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it. –George Bernard Shaw

You’ll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race. –George Bernard Shaw

Patriotism...is the egg from which wars are hatched. –Guy de Maupassant

Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism—how passionately I hate them! –Albert Einstein

To me, it seems a dreadful indignity to have a soul controlled by geography. –George Santayana

Each man must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and excusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country... –Mark Twain

Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind. –Albert Einstein, The World As I See It

I have no sense of nationalism, only a cosmic consciousness of belonging to the human family. –Rosika Schwimmer

Nationalism is a silly cock crowing on his own dunghill. –Richard Aldington

It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars. –Arthur C. Clarke

If I knew something that would serve my country but would harm mankind, I would never reveal it; for I am a citizen of humanity first and by necessity, and a citizen of France second, and only by accident. –Montesquieu

I am not an Athenian or a Greek, I am a citizen of the world. –Socrates

The most tragic paradox of our time is to be found in the failure of nation-states to recognize the imperatives of internationalism. –Earl Warren

I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth, and I am a citizen of the world. –Eugene V. Debs

Our country is the world, our countrymen are all mankind. We love the land of our nativity, only as we love all other lands. The interests, rights, and liberties of American citizens are no more dear to us than are those of the whole human race. Hence we can allow no appeal to patriotism, to revenge any national insult or injury. –William Lloyd Garrison, Declaration of Sentiments, Boston Peace Conference, 1838

Can anything be stupider than that a man has the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of a river and his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have not quarreled with him? –Blaise Pascal

It is lamentable, that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind. –Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary

It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens. –Baha’u’llah