✇ Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us. – James Baldwin, Letter From a Region in My Mind (The New Yorker)
✇ The fun of talk is to explore, but much of it and all that is irresponsible should not be written. Once written you have to stand by it. You may have said it to see whether you believed it or not. – Ernest Hemingway, interview in The Paris Review
✇ Indeed, by packaging Success with Virtue, we make of failure a moral defeat. And rather than risk such failure, the less daring now take it to be the part of wisdom to sit it out in the booths and the bars. They do not wish to commit themselves, they are reluctant, in this sick air, to let themselves be engaged. Not realizing that the only true defeat is to be capable of playing a part in the world, and playing no part at all.
– Nelson Algren, Nonconformity
✇ The most bitter protest against the middle-class faith in money as an end in itself always comes, in the States, from the children of that class, who have to take the spiritual consequences of having too much of everything though earning nothing, while those who work hard all their lives never have enough of anything. Trapped between the double tyrannies of conscience and personal comfort, comfort wins going away.
✇ Risk for risk, for myself I had rather take my chance that some traitors will escape detection than spread abroad a spirit of general suspicion and distrust, which accepts rumor and gossip in place of undismayed and unintimidated inquiry. I believe that that community is already in process of dissolution where each man begins to eye his neighbor as a possible enemy, where nonconformity with the accepted creed, political as well as religious, is a mark of disaffection; where denunciation, without specification or backing, takes the place of evidence; where orthodoxy chokes freedom of dissent; where faith in the eventual supremacy of reason has become so timid that we dare not enter our convictions in the open lists, to win or lose. Such fears as these are a solvent that can eat out the cement that binds the stones together; they may in the end subject us to a despotism as evil as any that we dread; and they can be allayed only in so far as we refuse to proceed on suspicion, and trust one another until we have tangible ground for misgiving. The mutual confidence on which all else depends can be maintained only by an open mind and a brave reliance upon free discussion. I do not say that these will suffice; who knows but we may be on a slope which leads down to aboriginal savagery. But of this I am sure: if we are to escape, we must not yield a foot upon demanding a fair field and an honest race to all ideas.
– Judge Learned Hand, Speech given at the University of the State of New York, Albany. October 24, 1952. As quoted by Nelson Algren
✇ War is no longer made by simply analysed economic forces if it ever was. War is made or planned now by demagogues and dictators who play on the patriotism of their people to mislead them into a belief in the great fallacy of war when all their vaunted reforms have failed to satisfy the people they misrule.
– Ernest Hemingway
✇ They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But in modern war there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason. Hit in the head you will die quickly and cleanly, even sweetly and fittingly except for the white blinding flash that never stops, unless perhaps it is only the frontal bone or your optic nerve that is smashed, or your jaw carried away, or your nose and cheek bones gone so you can think but have no face to talk with. But if you are not hit in the head you will be hit in the chest, and choke in it, or in the lower belly, and feel it all slip and slide loosely as you open, to spill out when you try to get up, it’s not supposed to be so painful but they always scream with it, it’s the idea I suppose, or have the flash, the slamming clang of high explosive on a hard road and find your legs are gone above the knee, or maybe just a foot gone and watch the white bone sticking through your puttee, or watch them take a boot off with your foot a mush inside it, or feel an arm flop and learn how a bone feels grating, or you will burn, choke and vomit, or be blown to hell a dozen ways, without sweetness or fittingness: but none of this means anything. No catalog of horrors ever kept men from war. Before the war you always think that it’s not you that dies. But you will die, brother, if you go to it long enough.
✇ Let us learn our lessons… Never believe any war will be smooth and easy or that anyone who embarks on that strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events…incompetant or arrogant commanders, untrustworthy allies, hostile neutrals, malignant fortunes, ugly surprise, awful miscalculations. Always remember, however sure you are that you could easily win, that there would not be a war if the other did not think he also had a chance.
– Winston Churchill
✇ We may win when we lose, if we have done what we can; for by doing so we have made real at least some part of that finished product in whose fabrication we are most concerned: ourselves.
– Judge Learned Hand
✇ [empire building and nationalism are] … essentially mystical. It must somehow foster the impression that a man is great in the degree that his nation is great; that a German as such is superior to a Belgian as such; or an Englishman to an Irishman; or American to a Mexican: merely because the first-named countries are in each case more powerful than their comparatives. And people who have no individual stature whatsoever are willing to accept this poisonous nonsense because it gives them a sense of importance without the trouble of any personal effort.
– Felix Morley, Freedom and Federalism, as quoted by Thomas E. Woods Jr.
✇ States have successfully managed to persuade their subject populations that they themselves are the state, and therefore that any insult to the honor of the state is an insult to them as well, any questioning of its behaviour or intentions a slap in their very own faces. It becomes second nature for many people to root for their state in a way that does violence to reason and fact. They will defend the most contorted, ludicrous claims – claims they themselves would have dismissed with scorn had they come from Saddam Hussein or the 1980’s Soviet Union – if necessary to vindicate the honor of the men who rule them.