War and Peace in World Literature

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War and Peace in World Literature


War fascinates humankind and has occurred throughout history. No culture has ever been immune to it, and the stories and experiences of many cultures around the world combine to create a global view of war and peace. Despite differences in time and geography, many of the sentiments expressed in world literature about war or peace closely echo similar thoughts in the contemporary world. Not only do these stories, some passed down for centuries, allow readers a glimpse into the past, but they also contribute to how the modern world sees war and peace today.

Hellenic and Roman

Two of the greatest civilizations in ancient Europe were the Greeks and the Romans, who lived around the Mediterranean Sea. Greece began as a collection of feuding city-states on the Greek peninsula that did not unite as a country until they were conquered by Rome in the second century b.c. Rome began as a tiny city-state but eventually conquered most of southern Europe, northern Africa, and Asia Minor before falling to barbarian tribes from northern and central Europe. Thus, war featured prominently in the culture and history of both civilizations and was an essential element in their founding.

The Trojan War cycle by the legendary Greek poet Homer (c. eighth century b.c.) sees war as a glorious thing. Of this cycle, only two poems survive: the Iliad, which tells a story about a conflict among the Greeks during the Trojan War, and the Odyssey, which relates how one of the victors of the war returned home after wandering for ten years. These two poems display a mixed attitude toward war. In the Iliad, when Menelaus offers a temporary truce to the Trojans, they agree, for "Achaians and Trojans were glad, deeming that they should have rest from grievous war."

Yet later, the Trojan leader, Hector, cradles his young son and prays to Zeus, "May he bring with him [from battle] blood-stained spoils from the foeman he hath slain, and may his mother's heart be glad." Despite their weariness over such a long siege, both sides retain their enthusiasm for war. They put warriors at the very top of their society, seeing a good peace as victory and the utter humiliation of the other side. Similarly, Odysseus in the Odyssey regrets the waste that the war inflicted on Troy. Yet, this does not stop him from playing pirate on the way home or making war upon his neighbors as soon as he gets there. When his wife's predatory suitors plead for mercy upon his return, he tells them:

    Ye dogs, ye said in your hearts that I should never more
    come home from the land of the Trojans, in that ye wasted
    my house, and lay with the maidservants by force, and
    traitorously wooed my wife while I was yet alive, and ye
    had no fear of the gods, that hold the wide heaven, nor of
    the indignation of men hereafter. But now the bands of
    death have been made fast upon you one and all.

The tale of the Trojan War, both its waste and its glory, influenced many writers in the Greek and Roman world to rewrite parts of the story to project different messages, as the fifth-century Greek playwright Sophocles (496–406 b.c.) did in his tragedy Ajax. Following the death of Achilles, the strongest Greek warrior in the Trojan War, Odysseus, and his fellow commander Ajax fight over Achilles' magical armor. The Greeks award the armor to Odysseus. This humiliates Ajax, who commits suicide after trying to kill Odysseus. For Sophocles, Ajax's pride is his fatal flaw. Though Ajax was one of the strongest warriors in the Greek army, his willingness to do anything to his enemy to save his own pride overshadowed his strength and military prowess. Conversely, Odysseus shows himself the better man by standing up to his fellow Greeks and insisting on a decent burial for his enemy after Ajax's suicide. Even though Ajax tried to kill him, Odysseus remembers Ajax's feats on the battlefield for the Greeks and refuses to dishonor him in death. Through Odysseus, Sophocles promotes the idea of rules of war that apply to victor and vanquished alike.

The Trojan War also influenced civilizations like Rome to claim descent from Trojan war refugees, as the first-century b.c. Roman poet Virgil (70–19 b.c.) did in the Aeneid (19 b.c.) In the Aeneid, a Trojan prince, Aeneas, son of a goddess, survives the sacking of Troy and flees the city with his father and son. Eventually, he founds Albion, the predecessor of Rome in western Italy, and becomes the ancestor to the Romans. Virgil wrote his poem as a tribute to the first emperor of Rome, Augustus Caesar. He explicitly uses the famous story of Troy to set up the Romans as heirs to the Trojans, thus giving Rome a share in the glory of Troy. So popular was the poem in both ancient and medieval times that many medieval kings also claimed this particular descent through the Roman Empire.

The belief in divine assistance in battle also persisted into medieval times. The idea that God is on the side of Right in war does not yet exist in Homer because the gods in Homer's poems cannot all agree as to which mortals they favor. By the time of the Aeneid, however, there is a hero who is not only favored by the gods but represents divine justice. Just before his final fight with his enemy Turnus, Aeneas tells his fellow Trojans, "Let there be no delay in what I ask, for Jupiter is with us." Virgil wants to show that his hero is right in every way, not only favored by the gods but by the king of the gods, Jupiter himself. The idea of war as a contest between good and evil continued to be popular in late medieval poems like "Orlando Furioso" and "Jerusalem Delivered."

The story of the Trojan War continues to inspire authors and readers, though for different reasons than it did in ancient times. Modern writers have offered their own interpretations and readings of the poem. Adèle Geras's young adult novel, Troy (2002), tells the story of the servants of several major Trojan figures and describes how the constant battle for the city of Troy affects their lives. Geras's novel reminds readers that war affects many people other than the soldiers who fight in it. This is not a concept that would have interested Homer or his audience. Noncombatants had no say in war in ancient Greece precisely because they did not fight in it. Today, everyone who is affected by war has a say in how it is fought, at least in theory.


Ancient China produced one of the most famous manuals of military strategy, Sun-Tzu's The Art of War. Sun-Tzu wrote this book about twenty-five hundred years ago, during a time when the empire of China had split into numerous warring kingdoms. For Sun-Tzu, war is a noble, even sacred, art of strategy at which each leader must excel. Princes and leaders of the warring factions were the target audience for Sun-Tzu's book. Therefore, the book promotes a flexible morality and a very long-term strategy. Deception, for example, is perfectly acceptable if it brings victory: "Warfare is the art of deceit." A quick victory without draining one's own resources is the key to profitable warfare: "There has never been a state that has benefited from an extended war."

Peace, on the other hand, does not mean an absence of war, which Sun-Tzu seems to be unable to imagine. In fact, the concept of peace is completely separate from the concept of war. For Sun-Tzu, peace means total harmony between a ruler and his people. Laws are absolute and must be obeyed absolutely, even by the ruler who has made them. This total agreement in will is what makes an army, and a kingdom, strong. Writers such as Machiavelli applied this principle to politics, while generals from Napoleon to Stalin applied it to both their armies and their governments. Sun-Tzu's theories prefigured both the discipline of the modern army and the repression of authoritarian and totalitarian governments.

The Han Dynasty

The short-lived Qin Dynasty followed the time that China was composed of warring kingdoms; in turn, the Qin Dynasty was followed by the much longer-lived Han Dynasty, which lasted from 206 b.c. to 220 a.d. The Han Dynasty was the longest and most illustrious dynasty in Chinese history; its reputation for stability and the imposition of governmental peace was comparable to that of the Roman Empire in the West. The eastern Han Dynasty was based on the principles of Confucius, a philosopher who lived during the period of the warring kingdoms. Confucius was known for his philosophy of peace as well as his view that one should not do anything to another person that one would not want done to oneself.

However, not everything that the Han Dynasty produced was Confucian in content. During the latter part of the Han period in the western Han Dynasty, historian Liu Xiang recovered the Zhanguoce (Stratagems of the Warring States) from the Han archives. It is a history of the period of the warring kingdoms; parts were lost and recovered over the following two millennia. The surviving sections comprise thirty-three chapters by numerous authors and cover the period from 490 to 221 b.c. This work is an early example of narrative history (historical events told using techniques from fiction, like plot, scene, and setting), including speeches and scenes, and sections focusing on the rise and fall of various distinctive states, including the battle strategies that they used. This book emphasizes the importance of war and strategy in the Chinese culture, as the various authors thought the subject important enough to notice and record. Because they were created, collated, and recovered over a long period of time, the stratagems have no single known author.

The long peace of the Han Dynasty also produced a flowering of great literature, especially poetry. Even rulers had the education, leisure, and inclination to write such works of high culture. Though wars occurred during this time, the overall peace and stability of the ruling system persisted for four centuries. As the system broke down in later years, rulers such as the warlord Cao Cao, a noted military strategist, still found time to write poems, such as "Though the Tortoise Lives Long," which hints at the enduring place war holds in his culture: "An old war-horse may be stabled, / Yet still it longs to gallop a thousand li." ("Li" is a measure of distance.) Living from 155 to 220 a.d., Cao Cao created the Han Dynasty's successor state, the Kingdom of Wei, though he did not live to see it develop. In his later years, he meditated on the brevity of life, the fact that everything passes away, and how one can still find pleasure in life before leaving this earth. His career ushered out the end of the Han Dynasty in a mixture of war-imposed peace.

Early India

Another early Asian civilization was the Indus Valley civilization on the Indian subcontinent. Between 2000 and 1500 b.c., northern India was invaded by the Aryans. The Aryans installed the caste system—still well-established in India—on the darker-skinned inhabitants of the southern part of the subcontinent. The Brahmins, a priestly class, and the Kshatriyas, a warrior class, dominated this system. The Hindus, India's largest ethnic group, are descended from the Aryans. From Hinduism sprang Buddhism, founded by the fifth-century prince, Buddha. Buddha believed that one could move up the caste ladder in one's next life by living a good life devoted to peace and harmony, continuing to move upward in each life until one merged with the divine, Nirvana.

However, most princes of Buddha's time were more famous for their prowess in war (and perhaps love) than for their skills in peacetime. In reality, the many ethnic groups within India were frequently at war. This may explain why two of the most famous epics in Indian literature, The Ramayana and The Mahabharata, both focus on conflict within the Kshatriya class. Like the literature of ancient Greece and Rome, early Indian literature makes war a way of achieving peace—though the Indian gods value peace far more than war.

The Ramayana is a heroic romance from around 500 b.c. that emphasizes the importance of peace. It tells the story of the Aryan king Rama, one of four brothers and the avatar (human incarnation) of the Hindu god Vishnu. Vishnu was the god of wisdom, reborn as Rama to stop an evil demon that could not be destroyed by the gods, only by humans and monkeys. By killing the demon, Rama restores peace to his kingdom, and therefore, to the universe. Even though Rama is chosen as a hero because of his great wisdom and desire to bring his people peace, he does so through his prowess as a warrior. He is a monster-killer like the Scandinavian hero of the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, who must slay evil in order to defeat it.

The Mahabharata (c. 1000 b.c.) tells the story of a war between cousins, one as devastating to the fighters as the Trojan War was to the Trojans and the Greeks. The main difference between The Mahabharata and the Iliad, however, is that while the Iliad offers no way out of the endless tragedy of mortals at the mercy of gods, The Mahabharata offers an escape to Nirvana through the pursuit of good acts. The heroes are still superhuman in Indian epics, but ordinary humans can influence the universe as well.

The Bhagavad Gita is a major passage in The Mahabharata that occurs on the eve of battle. One of the heroes of the epic, Arjuna, has a crisis of conscience when faced with the battle line of enemies, many of whom are relatives and former friends. "How can we want a kingdom, Govinda," he says, "when those for whom we want a kingdom, and its pleasures, and the joys of life, are here in this field of battle about to give up their wealth and their life?"

To convince Arjuna to fight, his friend Krishna reveals himself to be the god Vishnu, and thoroughly discusses the reasons why Arjuna must fight his enemies. Though this section of the poem is remembered in modern times as a meditation on peace, it is in fact an argument for the concept of the just war. The authors and audience of the poem see war as a way of establishing peace and also as a means to a glorious end. Arjuna then goes into battle, convinced by Krishna of the righteousness of his cause: "By thy grace I remember my Light, and now gone is my delusion."

Early Japan

Though Japan has become one of the most powerful countries in the world in the past few centuries, its history begins comparatively late. Colonized first by the Ainu, and then settlers from mainland China, it was dominated by the Chinese until 710 a.d. It was more or less united into a single realm by the seventeenth century. Japan owes much of its identity to its strong and long-lived military culture. The military class was called "samurai." They adhered to a strict code of "bushido," which insisted on absolute loyalty to one's lord, up to and including ritual suicide by self-disembowelment with one's sword, known as "seppuku."

Much of Japanese literature speaks of battles and other military prowess, celebrating the samurai culture. For example, Heike monogatari (The Tales of the Taira Clan), collected c. 1220, tell about the decline and fall of the mighty Taira clan during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, culminating in their defeat and utter overthrow in battle in 1185. They were eventually displaced by the Minamoto clan and a new imperial line.

The Tales of the Taira Clan is a collection of tales about three great warriors: the corrupt, merciless tyrant Taira no Kiyomori and two generals, his enemies, Minamoto no Yoshitsune and Minamoto no Yoritomo. Kiyomori is depicted as such an evil man that he is dragged, burning, by demons down to hell. Yoshitsune and his older brother Yoritomo are the heroes of the tales. They defeat the Taira, but Yoshitsune dies young after a falling out with his brother. Yorimoto, meanwhile, goes on to found the Kamakura Shogunate. These tales are illustrated in numerous paintings and other pictorial art through the centuries, focusing especially on Yoshitsune. His short, tragic life made him a folk hero in Japan, where he epitomizes the noble samurai whose life is cut short by worldly intrigue.

Unlike other cultures during this time, medieval Japan expected equal amounts of courage and fortitude from both women and men. One of the most striking figures in The Tales of the Taira Clan, for example, is the mighty female samurai Tomoe Gozen. She is the consort of the Minamoto general Yoshinake, who unsuccessfully tries to take over his clan and dies in the ensuing civil war. Though she appears briefly in the written story, Tomoe Gozen does not display the stereotypical feminine weakness often found in older Western literature, and she is the subject of many later paintings. She is equally noted for her prowess in battle and her loyalty to her husband. Despite her unusually martial role, her fidelity has made her a favorite subject of paintings and stories and an unexpected role model of the faithful wife.

The samurai culture embraced the nobility of warfare and the integrity of the individual warrior, thereby viewing battle as an opportunity for valor, bravery, and sacrifice. In Japanese literature, in contrast to Indian, Greek, and Roman literature, the responsibility for the success or failure in battle fell to the warrior, not the gods. Whereas Sun-Tzu's The Art of War placed value on military success over morals and honesty, works such as The Tales of the Taira Clan placed value on the skill and cunning of the samurai. It promoted the ideal of a society dominated by a warrior class and gave legitimacy to later attempts to centralize political power in Japan under the shogunates. It also promoted the idea of war as a civilized and honorable pursuit that should be conducted with grace, style, and even beauty. Subsequently, war has dominated Japanese literature.


Islam came early to Africa, spreading to North Africa within the decade after Muhammad's death in 632 and replacing Christianity in many places in the former Roman Empire. On the eastern side of the continent, it spread as far south as Zanzibar, an island off the coast of modern-day Kenya. It spread throughout West Africa, as far south as what is now central Cameroon. Because Islam preached a brotherhood of human beings that, in theory, saw no difference in race or color and allowed for clan loyalties, it appealed to the many tribes in these areas. However, it did not completely replace their native cultural and religious influences. Nor did everyone convert from their animistic (worship of animals) or Christian practices. Sub-Saharan Africans often combined these native customs with tenets of Islam to form a hybrid religion.

The Epic of Son-Jara, as recounted by Mandinka bard Fa-Digi Sisoko in 1968, is based on historical events but is also firmly rooted in myth. Transmitted orally for centuries in the Mande language, it tells the story of Son-Jara, a historical king who defeated Sumamuru, the king of the Susu, in battle in 1235 in the West African area of Senegal and Mali. Son-Jara is said to be descended from a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, Bilal, through his father. However, he is also descended from pagan sorceresses on his mother's side and takes much of his powerful magic from her. The characters hold many animistic cultural beliefs that belie and even contradict their Islamic faith.

As with other great epics, the story is based on familial conflict. Son-Jara is the second son of a great king, but the king receives news of his birth first and declares him his heir. Despite this, Son-Jara is cheated out of his inheritance. He and his family are driven into exile by the invading Susu king, Sumamuru, who uses his influence to make them unwelcome nearly everywhere. Son-Jara and his mother counteract this influence with powerful magic. Eventually, Sumamuru is undone by his own arrogance (much like Ajax in Sophocles's play Ajax) and is defeated by Son-Jara.

Son-Jara prevails because of the loyalty of his family, his own powerful magic, and his foe's arrogance. The creators and audience of the epic strongly emphasized the power of family connections, even over tyrants. As keepers of family values, the women in the story exert a powerful influence upon the action, and they are able to smooth the way with gifts and favors that the hero is later able to use. Family allegiance is all-important in Son-Jara's society, where the peace imposed by an intricate network of gifts, obligations, and blood ties is more powerful than the war that sometimes tears this network apart and even disrupts their nominal Islamic faith. Therefore, those who perpetuate this network, like Son-Jara's mother and sister, can wield great power, whereas those like the warlike outsider Sumamuru, who disturb it, are ultimately destroyed. This presents a different view of war and peace from what is seen in other parts of the world during this historical period, one that emphasizes the benefits of peace over the glories of war, the power of family and women over the power of individuals and men, and the influence of local culture (animism) over international religious influences (Islam).

The Epic of Son-Jara comes mainly from oral tradition, and it was not written down until the 1960s. Similarly, The Mwindo Epic tells the story of a mythical hero (this time from the Congo) who undergoes a series of magical adventures that may be based on actual events in pre-colonial times. Modern African writers have used these epics as inspiration for their own stories about pre-colonial Africa, most notably Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart. Because they hearken back to a culture and history untouched by European domination, these oral stories are now being recorded as vital precursors of African literature.

Mongol Empire (1206–1368)

During the same period, one of the most powerful and violent invasions in history occurred when the Mongols invaded Asia, Asia Minor, and Europe. Their leader was Genghis Khan, the son of a minor leader of a nomadic tribe of horsemen in the area now known as Mongolia. He was born sometime between 1155 and 1167 and died in 1227. His descendants expanded and consolidated his empire for another century and a half after his death. Though his father died early and his tribe abandoned him, Genghis grew into a powerful leader who gathered tribes under his banner through a combination of conquest and the promise of plunder and glory. But like Son-Jara, he also consolidated his power through family alliances and gifts, a lesson he learned from his mother.

Most historians outside of Mongolia remember Genghis Khan as a barbarian menace who terrorized civilization with violence and brutality. Historian Edward Gibbon (1737–1794) was an exception. In The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, he wrote admiringly of Genghis's rise to power on the basis of his fierce drive and natural abilities. According to Gibbon, periods of extended peace were debilitating to a civilization and brought corruption, while Genghis's raids alleviated those issues.

More recent historians, like Jack Weatherford in his book Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (2004), have promoted the view of the Mongol Empire as a positive force for peace that united Central Asia and fostered trade between Asia and Europe. While some have argued that Weatherford's thesis goes too far in one direction, he does present an alternate view of the conqueror that forces the reader to reevaluate Genghis Khan's influence on the world as an innovator and force for the spread of ideas, as well as a conqueror. The continuing debate and re-evaluation of Genghis Khan's campaigns of conquest show that wars and warriors can be viewed from multiple angles with multiple conclusions.

Ottoman Empire

Another of the great empires of near Asia was the Ottoman Empire of the Turks. The Turks originally came from Asia as the Seljuk Turks in the eleventh century, first invading Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) and then invading the Middle East of the Fertile Crescent. The Seljuk Empire was short lived, but other Turkish tribes pushed into Anatolia after them, threatening the Byzantine Empire (also known as the Eastern Roman Empire).

Sultan Osman I (1258–1326) founded the Ottoman Empire in 1299, lending his own name to it. For the next three centuries, Osman and his descendants were noted for their military prowess. Like most empires, this empire was founded on blood, but the Ottoman Empire was able to endure until the twentieth century because of its skills in peace. Though its government was based on a hierarchy subservient to the sultan, a person was more likely to obtain a government position on the basis of ability rather than birth. The empire also allowed different religions and ethnic groups to retain their cultures, languages, and customs by forming non-Muslim groups into "millets" based on their ethnic orientation. The decentralized nature of the government allowed both Muslims and non-Muslims to feel that they shared in the power of the empire. This gave them a strong reason to help maintain the peace.

Ottoman literature reflected the cosmopolitan character of the empire, borrowing heavily from Arabic, the language of the empire's main religion, Islam. Ottoman writers were also influenced by Byzantium's reverence for ancient Mediterranean culture. For example, when the poet Ahmedi (d. 1412) wrote the first great Turkish epic, "The Book of Alexander the Great," he used the past glories of ancient Greek civilization to extol the greatness of the Turks. The Greek empire, with its high culture and military might, was the gold standard to which many subsequent world empires aspired. Alexander the Great was a king of ancient Greece who conquered most of Asia Minor in the fourth century b.c., the same general area that the Ottomans conquered seventeen centuries later. In the poem, when a king complains to his vizier that he has no lands left to conquer, this could apply equally to Alexander and to the Ottoman sultans. "With my sword I've conquered many and many a shore; / Still I sigh right sorely: 'Ah! to conquer more!'" For the king in "The Book of Alexander the Great," war is the most noble of pursuits, far more worthy than peace.

Many a sultan echoed this sentiment. The Ottoman Turks established their empire in the eastern side of Anatolia in the thirteenth century but did not become powerful until the fourteenth century. By the fifteenth century, they had pushed the Byzantines back to the city of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), on the straits dividing Anatolia from Europe. The Ottomans took the city in 1453.

The Ottomans continued to expand, taking the northern coasts of Africa and Arabia, and most of near Asia and eastern Europe. They pushed as far as the city of Vienna in Austria in 1529 and then again in 1583. The first siege marked the height of the Ottoman Empire. John Stoye's The Siege of Vienna (1964) is about the second siege, which turned the balance of power toward western Europe. Rather than focus on the siege itself, Stoye examines the events leading up to the battle over Vienna and how the powers of western Europe allied with each other to turn back the Ottoman Empire. Though the Ottomans recruited for their army from all over their empire, they were far from home and were ultimately turned back by the city's defenders. For a second time, the Ottomans left Vienna without conquering it. The Ottoman army's failure at Vienna showed the Europeans that the Ottomans were no longer the unbeatable war machine that had swept through eastern Europe for over two centuries. After the second siege, the emboldened Europeans began to push back the empire's borders and establish their own dominance in former Ottoman territories. The Ottomans' power gradually faded over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Following defeat in World War I, the empire was finally ended from within in 1923 with the Republic of Turkey founded in its place.

Two centuries after Ahmedi, one of the most famous Turkish travelers, Evliya Çelebi (1611–1682), wrote his six-thousand-page work, Seyahatname (Book of Travels) from 1636–40. The book derived from his forty years of travels inside and outside the Ottoman Empire. This kind of extensive travel would have been impossible in a warring area, or one consisting of multiple city-states and nations. The empire brought a large area of Asia and the Mediterranean under one rule, making it possible for activites such as travel and trade to occur peacefully within the realm of the empire's infrastructure. It is the same type of environment that Genghis Khan's critics have suggested he established in his empire.

Mogul Empire (1526–1857)

The Islamic Mogul Empire was founded by Babur (1483–1530), a descendant of both Genghis and the other great Central Asian conqueror, Tamerlane. Babur invaded northern India with his army in 1526 to aid a rebellion against the Sultan of Delhi. After defeating the sultan in battle, Babur took over the area instead and became the empire's first shah. Despite its opportunistic beginning, later rulers of the Mogul Empire were equally noted for their devotion to the arts of peace as well as those of war. Shah Jahan had the world-famous Taj Mahal (1630–1653) built as a mausoleum for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Babur wrote his autobiography in Turkish, The Babur-Nama (Memoirs of Babur), one of the few early autobiographies in Islamic literature. This work shows both sides of Babur: it relates his conquests in war as told by a cultured man who appreciated the benefits of peace. Like Hernán Cortés, who conquered Mexico for Spain, he also attributed his conquests to divine favor: "For nearly 140 years Samarkand had been the capital of our dynasty. An alien foe of unknown origins, the Uzbeks, had taken possession of it! It had slipped from our hands; but God gave it back! Plundered and ravaged, our own was returned to us."

Despite candid and informative works like Babur's, much of what is now known about the Moguls derives from what their successors and foes, the British, wrote about them. In 1782, for example, Robert Orme (1728–1801) wrote Historical Fragments of the Mogul Empire, The Morattoes and English Concerns in Indostan from 1659. As an official historian of the East India Company, Orme set out to educate the British people about the region under the rule of the company. Orme favored colonization of India before most British people thought this was a good idea. He looked down on the Indians and felt that they needed a strong hand in government. Thus, the information in his work about the peoples in this area, including the Moguls, reflects this negative attitude. His account reveals more about the British attitudes toward war and peace than the Mogul attitudes. He felt that the best government in India would be achieved through military conquest and governorship by the British over local cultures, just as the British had done in the New World and at home. Works such as the Memoirs of Babur are important to a full and balanced understanding of the Mogul point of view.

Medieval and Renaissance Europe

In the Middle Ages, Europe was frequently a violent society torn between two ideals: the first ideal favored peace and was espoused by the Catholic Church; the second ideal favored war and was espoused by the knightly class. Society, especially where knights were involved, glorified war and relished battle. Encouraged by the church, the Crusades began in 1095 with idealistic goals tied to religion and valor, but soon turned into a violent attempt at early European colonialism, a failed experiment that resulted in the expulsion of the crusaders from Palestine in 1291.

By the sixteenth century, secular society's cynicism and love of war had become a significant influence. The Prince (1521) by Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527) was a manual that purported to teach a prince how to be a perfect ruler. It resembles Sun-Tzu's The Art of War in its emphasis on wielding power and winning at any cost. Like Sun-Tzu's China, Italy was a mass of warring kingdoms and republics. Therefore, war or peace could become a tool to gain or keep power. Machiavelli suggests that a prince should outwardly espouse Christian values while secretly doing whatever he needs to do—lying, cheating, stealing, or invading—to get ahead of his enemies. Today, if someone is referred to as Machiavellian, this means he or she is cunning or deceitful.

Meanwhile, Europe had begun colonizing the New World after its discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Columbus was not the first European to discover the Americas, but his landfall in the Caribbean began a massive colonization, first by the Spanish and Portuguese, and later by the French and English.

After Columbus, the Spanish conquered Central and South America, destroying several highly developed civilizations there, including the Aztecs and Incas. One justification the Spanish gave for conquering these areas was that Central and South American civilizations regularly sacrificed war captives and their own subjects to their gods. Therefore, the Spanish argued, they were bringing peace and safety to people whose rulers demanded a constant supply of blood. Despite these bloody native practices, the European justification was false, for their conquest killed far more people in the Americas than Central and South American rulers had ever destroyed for their own beliefs.

One of the most famous explorers of this period was Hernán Cortés (1485–1547), who ruined the Aztecs in Mexico and incorporated the territory into the Kingdom of Spain for King Charles V. Recently, scholar Anthony Pagden translated four letters that Cortés wrote to the king between 1519 and 1526. In them, Cortés epitomizes the new conquistador—bold, opportunistic, ruthless, and completely devoted to his own glory as reflected in the greater glory of Spain. Even so, and even though his audience cares most about the gold that he brings back, Cortés still tries to cast himself as an old-style soldier in the chivalric mode. He always claims, for example, that the Indians attack him first, onslaughts that he and his men suffer with patience and fortitude.

Back in Europe, others were reconsidering the past glories of their culture. In Orlando Furioso, Italian Ludovico Ariosto (1474–1533) retold the French story of Roland (here "Orlando"), an eighth-century knight under Emperor Charlemagne who died in a raid by the Basque on the border between France and Spain. Later epics like the eleventh-century The Song of Roland rewrote the same story into a contest between religions, with the Basque becoming Muslims and the fight raised to epic proportions. In Orlando Furioso (1545), Ariosto drives his hero mad for love (hence the name "Furioso"). Orlando undertakes a journey that recovers his sanity and readies him for his final battle, defending Paris against the Muslim foe and restoring Charlemagne's empire.

Ariosto also introduces new elements into the story—irony and humor. Orlando Furioso is one of the first war texts in world literature to poke fun at war and the reasons it is waged. Ariosto tweaks the old stories for a more modern sixteenth-century sensibility. By this time, people in the noble courts of Europe had heard these tales and no longer really believed in them. Ariosto used his own experience as a soldier to infuse the Roland tale with new life. His version is extremely violent, promoting sword and hand-to-hand combat over the newer use of firearms. For Ariosto, war was something both glorious and a little silly, and it was often fought over unimportant things. As in Japanese tales, female warriors also appear in Orlando Furioso. While its female villains are traditional chivalric beauties who use their feminine wiles to lead men passively to their doom, the good women in Orlando Furioso, like Bradamant and Marphisa, can hold their own with any man in battle, remaining virtuous all the while.

Jerusalem Delivered (1581) by Italian Torquato Tasso (1544–1595) retells the story of the First Crusade, when Christian knights took the city of Jerusalem from the Muslims in 1099, and the story of the first king of Jerusalem, Crusade leader Godfrey de Boulogne. Unlike Ariosto, Tasso delivers his tale without creative embellishment. He intends for de Boulogne to be seen as a great hero of old, not unlike the semidivine ancient Greek and Indian heroes, or Sir Thomas Malory's King Arthur in the British epic Le Morte d'Arthur (1485). Tasso insisted on submitting his work to the Catholic Church for criticism, and he eventually won ecclesiastical support for it. As a result, it became one of the greatest epics of the Counter-Reformation, the movement in which the Catholic Church tried to reclaim Europe from the Protestant Reformation. In a sense, Tasso's account of a war hero and leader became a weapon in the war between the Church and the Reformation.

Despite Tasso's sincerity in Jerusalem Delivered, the trend in epic and chivalric literature (noble wars waged by noble knights) continued toward irony and even mockery, as in Orlando Furioso. One of the most well-known works of European literature is, in fact, a parody of this tradition. Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616) wrote Don Quixote (1605) as a parody of sentimental epics of chivalry that were already becoming obsolete.

Don Quixote is an old knight obsessed with the glories of the past. Like Orlando, Quixote is driven mad, not by love, but by his obsession with reading old epic romances. He arms himself with rusty weapons and armor and roams the countryside in search of adventure, looking for a fight and an opportunity for heroism and valor. In his quest for battle, he attacks a windmill, which he has mistaken for a large foe. Quixote is eventually brought back to his senses and renounces his fascination with chivalry and all the epics that drove him mad. "Now I perceive the absurdity and delusion of them." But in doing so, he loses all of his dreams and dies disillusioned, "being brought to his end by … melancholy."

Though Cervantes, a former soldier himself, satirized the chivalric tradition and the old way of making war, his work survived because in a way, he believed in Quixote's ideals. Though they no longer belonged in a world of relative peace, Cervantes still saw value in them. He was satirizing the new, cynical world in which people fought with money and power instead of sword and shield. To this day, someone or something that is impractically idealistic is known as quixotic.

In The Conquest of New Spain, written in 1581 but published posthumously in 1632, Bernal Diaz del Castillo (1492–1584), one of Cortés's soldiers, tells his own version of the conquest of Mexico. This time, however, the Spanish, and Cortés in particular, do not come across as particularly heroic. Castillo, old and blind by the time he wrote his first-person account, was still bitter about being overshadowed by Cortés. He wrote his account to counteract those that deified Cortés as the sole hero of the conquest of Mexico. Castillo's account is a straightforward soldier's narrative that portrays the Aztecs as bloodthirsty tyrants and the Spanish as liberators with whom oppressed local tribes allied. Like Cortés, Castillo casts the Spaniards in old heroic molds to justify their actions during the conquest.

Literature for Revolutionary Change

The colonization of the New World changed attitudes toward war and peace not only in the Americas but also in Europe. In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the idea of social change through war took hold in Europe. It was the Age of Revolution, in which new social orders replaced old ones, often violently. This period also saw the rise of a new type of warfare. The invention of gunpowder and precision firearms, especially artillery, decreased the importance of the cavalry and increased the importance of the infantry. Soldiers turned into cogs in great war machines. It was the age of the general, and one of the greatest generals in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was Corsican Napoleon Bonaparte.

Following the French Revolution of 1789, which overthrew the old monarchy and old order in France, Napoleon rose through the ranks to become emperor. In that role, he conquered half of Europe and unsuccessfully attacked Russia. He was defeated and exiled, but he returned, only to suffer a final defeat by the British at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Jakob Walter (1788–1864), from Westphalia in Germany, was a soldier in Napoleon's army. Drafted in 1806, he survived the brutal winter of the Russian campaign. Many years later, he wrote his memoirs in the form of a diary, not sparing his readers the bloodshed and mud. The diary was edited by Mark Raeff as Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier Jakob Walter (1993). Walter's war memoir is unusual because it is the work of a common soldier from that period and therefore preoccupied with the concerns of a common soldier. Quoted in "Insects, Disease, and Military History: The Napoleonic Campaigns and Historical Perception," by Robert K. D. Peterson, Walter speaks bitterly, for example, of the lice that plagued the army in Russia: "The lice seemed to seek supremacy, for their number on both officers and privates was in the thousands." As a conscript, Walter had much less enthusiasm for warfare than most memoirists of the Napoleonic Wars, who were volunteers from the upper class. Most common soldiers had no education and did not write memoirs. Therefore, the appeal of Walter's work in the twenty-first century results from the rarity of voice and the modern period's preference for lower-class heroes in history.

Another book that greatly influenced social change was The Communist Manifesto (1848), written by Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895). In that year, revolution swept through several European countries, including Italy, Poland, Germany, Austria, and France. Though the old guard kept their seats for the most part, their power was permanently shaken and the map of Europe was redrawn.

The Communist Manifesto is, at its heart, a critique of the corrosive moral changes brought about by the rapid industrialization of Europe. Marx and Engels were highly critical of the new wealthy class, the bourgeoisie. This class made its wealth from the misery of workers, the proletariat, who, for the bulk of their lives, worked up to eighteen hours a day in factories and mines. The authors' revolutionary ideas came from their observation that the workers were uniting and educating themselves to better their conditions. Marx and Engels predicted a time when the bourgeoisie would become so corrupt that the workers would rise up against them in a great revolution that would destroy the bourgeoisie and result in a worker's paradise. This placed workers in an explosive position, suggesting that lasting peace could only be achieved by starting a war that would completely uproot and overturn European society.

Though Marx and Engels did not directly advocate violence, their ideas, known as Marxism, spread throughout the world and inspired others to attack unjust and corrupt regimes by any means possible. This created the ideal of communism—in which each person worked as he or she could and received what he or she needed—which has only dissipated since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union in 1989. Even though The Communist Manifesto inspired change and revolt against oppression, it also inspired oppression itself, producing some of the worst totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century, including Stalin's Russia and Pol Pot's Cambodia. Marxism has permanently altered modern views of war and peace.

Marx and Engels were not the only writers discussing these issues. French novelist Victor Hugo (1802–1885) wrote Les Misérables (1862), a classic novel in which a poor man, Jean Valjean, is thrown into prison for stealing a loaf of bread because he is starving. When he escapes and makes a new life for himself, he is pursued by a relentless police officer who refuses to leave him in peace, no matter what Valjean does to redeem himself.

Hugo opposed the emperor of France at the time, Louis Napoleon, a descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte. He also saw a great deal of injustice and corruption in French society, despite the violent changes and reforms of the French Revolution nearly a century before. The resulting peace was not as just or free as many French people had expected. Hugo believed that the duty of a writer was to create revolution in his fiction rather than on the street. He wanted people to have a violent reaction to his work and be inspired to change the current order from within, using political rather than military means.

At the same time, Russia was still a feudal society, with poor serfs remaining virtually enslaved until their emancipation in 1861. The Russian people were greatly affected by Napoleon's invasion and by the Crimean War in the mid-nineteenth century. Napoleon's invasion is the backdrop of one of the most highly regarded novels in world literature, War and Peace (1869) by Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910). Tolstoy's novel is large, sprawling, ambitious, romantic, and patriotic, with 365 chapters and 580 characters. It is more about war than about peace, yet it also tells the story of how a peaceful, apparently idyllic world was torn apart by war and reconstructed in the triumph of victory. Unlike the characters of the Civil War novel Gone with the Wind, the Russian characters of War and Peace feel that their sacrifices were worth the cost because they won their war. In post-war Moscow, for example, one character notes toward the end: "Everybody was celebrating the victory; there was a ferment of life in the shattered but reviving city." War often seems worth it when one is on the winning side.

In contrast, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918–) wrote about the peacetime failings of the Soviet system in the twentieth century following his own exile in the Soviet Gulag (a series of forced labor camps). The Gulag Archipelago, 1918–1956 (1974) is an eye-witness account of a revolution gone wrong. It describes the Russian penal system, in which, for two centuries, prisoners were transported to Siberia and forced to work there for decades at a time. Many of the inmates were political prisoners who had opposed the czarist monarchy and later, the Soviet government. Because Solzhenitsyn favored a return of the monarchy, he emphasized the nature of the Gulag under the Soviets, where it achieved new heights of murderousness and suffering, while downplaying its origin in czarist times.

Russia was not the only country affected by revolution during this period. China spent the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in great upheaval, as the centuries-old government and customs fell apart. Lu Xun (1881–1936) lived during this time and was the first modern Chinese novelist. Though he lived before the communist revolution in China and refused to officially become a Marxist, he was greatly admired by Communist China's founder, Mao Zedong. While in medical school in Japan, Lu Xun became interested in revolutionary concerns of class warfare, poverty, foreign influence in China, and modernization. He subsequently quit medical school, becoming a writer of short stories and editor of several leftist magazines.

Because of his revolutionary sympathies, Lu Xun's writings remain well known in China, notably "A Madman's Diary" (1918) in his first collection, A Call to Arms. His metaphorical style gives a universal aspect to his work that makes it equally relevant to modern China and other cultures as to his own period. In "A Madman's Diary," for example, the mad protagonist takes literally all the metaphorical ways that the people around him have of consuming each other. He claims, for example, that his brother once told him that if one's parents were ill, a good son would cut off a piece of his flesh and cook it for them to eat. He recounts many legends of tyrants eating their children, believing that he is surrounded by cannibals who have been taught this practice for the past four thousand years.

This story comments on Chinese society and how its traditions induce the Chinese to devour each other. But it also relates to instances of real cannibalism during a time of revolution, showing how war can lower the standards of acceptable behavior to disturbing levels. Lu Xun uses the point of view of a madman because mad people can say things that sane people cannot say; those in power do not take the mad seriously. According to Lu Xun, war and peace are equally corrosive if neither creates positive change in a culture that eats its own.

Published as a short story in 1986 and as a novel in 1987, Mo Yan's (1956–) Red Sorghum tells the epic saga of one family in Mo Yan's home region of "Gaomi County" in China between the 1930s and 1970s. This period covers both the Japanese occupation of China in World War II and the devastating purges of the Cultural Revolution. Mo Yan differs from previous authors of late twentieth-century Chinese literature by portraying war and its consequences without heroism or communist ideology. For example, he uses the color red, particularly for the sorghum crop, to symbolize the devastation of war. But red sorghum also gives the district life as its most important crop, sorghum wine. It therefore also becomes the story's central metaphor—a crop of peace that symbolizes the horrors of war, it represents the blood and death that come when the Japanese invade the area. Broken stalks of sorghum, smashed in the fighting, represent smashed people.

Returning to Russian history, Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966) was one of the great poets from the early Soviet period and a famous dissident. Because of her popularity, she was not imprisoned or executed by the Soviets. However, she was persecuted by the Soviet government for most of her life, lived in poverty with her work suppressed, and lost her husband and many friends to execution and permanent exile.

Despite this, she continued to write and participate in the cultural life of Russian dissidents until her death. Her greatest work, Requiem (1940), is a cycle of poems that illuminated the lives and suffering of women under Soviet rule, especially those with loved ones in prison. She tells them, "I pray not for myself / But all of you who stood there with me / Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat / Under a towering, completely blind red wall." Akhmatova gives a voice to those women left behind, despite having been robbed of her own husband. She reminds readers that the casualties of war and revolution do not always occur on the battlefields.

From the late eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, war and war literature often became a tool for social change. Gone were the stories of glorious battle and war for the sake of conquest. In their place, reflecting the revolutionary sentiments of the era, came stories of revolt, loss, sacrifice, and the hope for change.

The Great World Wars

World War I (1914–1918) and World War II (1939–1945) devastated Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. They also permanently re-drew the global map, putting new nations, like the United States, into positions of great power and devastating or even destroying old ones, like the Ottoman and Russian empires. The sense that humanity had been forever maimed pervaded post-war thinking, particularly after World War I, and fueled literary anti-war sentiment; depression and anger followed World War II. In the wake of these conflicts, literature expressed a disenchantment with war, often protesting or speaking out against the horrors of battle.

Isaac Rosenberg (1890–1918) was killed in the trenches of World War I. A Jewish, working-class youth of Russian descent living in London, he enlisted in the army in 1916 and was killed shortly before the end of the war. He published one book of poems, Youth, before his death. Rosenberg's poetry ranged from the romantic, melancholy imagery of "On Receiving News of the War" to the sardonic monologue he addresses to a trench rat in "Break of Day in the Trenches." In "On Receiving News of the War," he writes: "In all men's hearts it is. / Some spirit old / Hath turned with malign kiss / Our lives to mould," comparing war to a curse that might be lifted by magic. But in "Break of Day in the Trenches," his romanticism has turned bitter: "Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew / Your cosmopolitan sympathies," he tells a trench rat that he describes traveling back and forth across the no-man's-land with no regard for sides in the war. In his work, we can see the progression from idealistic civilian to disillusioned soldier that befell so many from his generation.

Erich Maria Remarque's (1898–1970) All Quiet on the Western Front tells a German soldier's side of the conflict in World War I. The protagonist, Paul, and his friends sign up for the German army, brimming with patriotism and excitement at the idea of being able to prove themselves in battle and become men. What they find in the trenches of the Western Front with France, however, is not manhood or anything else positive. Instead, they are slowly destroyed, one by one, in ways both dramatic and mundane, and their sacrifices are rendered meaningless. Like Tolstoy, Remarque, a World War I veteran, contrasts an idyllic peace prior to war with subsequent devastation. But unlike Tolstoy, Remarque was bitter about the German defeat in 1918 and felt that the war was wrong and pointless:

[W]hen I hear the word "peace-time," it goes to my head: and if it really came, I think I would do some unimaginable thing—something, you know, that it's worth having lain here in the muck for. But I can't even imagine anything.

Remarque wrote All Quiet on the Western Front in 1929 to deal with the feelings that he and other veterans continued to suffer: "It will go pretty hard with all of us…. Two years of shells and bombs—a man won't peel that off as easy as a sock." His disillusionment makes this one of the great modern anti-war classics.

World War II saw a change in the rules of war for civilians, with the destruction of non-combat cities and countryside more extensive than ever before. Thus, some of the most intense war literature of this period came from civilians, particularly women. Marguerite Duras (1914–1996) recorded her experiences in Nazi-occupied Paris in La Douleur (The War: A Memoir) (1985). Duras was not a passive observer of the war; she was involved both directly and indirectly. Her husband spent time in a concentration camp, and she joined the French Resistance, an underground movement against the Nazis, in 1943. She was so affected by her experiences that she did not write again until 1950. The memoir contrasts her two roles: the first that of a stereotypically passive female, nursing her husband back to health after his release; the second, her wartime role as a Resistance member, a soldier in a deadly, underground conflict in which the enemy seemed invincible and the price of a mistake was a horrible death. For Duras, these two roles went hand in hand.

After World War II, others who survived the death camps chose to memorialize both their experiences and the dead in writing. A catastrophic number of European Jews were murdered in concentration camps in Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland during the Holocaust. Paul Celan's (1920–1970) poem "Todesfuge" (Death Fugue) was inspired by his experiences in Jewish labor battalions in Romania during the war. In 1942 the Germans deported him and his parents from the Ukraine; both his parents died within months. Celan survived the war and eventually settled in Paris. "Death Fugue," an early poem about the camps, vividly portrays a blue-eyed Nazi commander who forces his Jewish prisoners to play music and dance to amuse him while he writes home to his golden-haired wife. In this place, even milk is black and poisonous. War, for Celan and countless other victims of Nazi brutality, is so total and inhumane that peace can never fully return in its wake.

Ingeborg Bachmann (1926–1973) wrote "Youth in an Austrian Town" as part of a collection of short stories, The Thirtieth Year (1961). This story looks at the war through the eyes of a child in Austria during the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and the war in the 1940s. Children are damaged by the system in which they grow up, yet they cling to their hope and idealism, as shown in the repeated image of trees turning gold in the autumn. It is an image of peace that also represents the fiery horrors of war, particularly the bombing of the town during World War II.

In the poem "Seven Laments for the Fallen in the War," Yehuda Amichai (1924–2001) writes about the Arab-Israeli conflict in Palestine from 1947 onward; this conflict has persisted to the present day, with little respite. Having immigrated to Israel from Germany in 1936, he and his family escaped the Holocaust. He fought in both World War II and the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. His poems are full of imagery pertaining to the war and the desert. He commemorates one fallen comrade as: "My good friend, who died in my arms in his blood, / in the sands of Ashdod, 1948, in June." He tries to participate in the patriotic enthusiasm that fuels the Arab-Israeli conflict, but is too tired and bitter. He asks toward the end of the poem, "How much more can one build the land / to catch up in this terrible three cornered contest / between comfort and building and death?" For Amichai, the conflict is no longer worth it. It costs too much.

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1964), an early short novel by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, describes a single day in the life of a convict in the Gulag system. It created an uproar when it was published, not just because it uncovered the horrors of the system, but because its hero survived by getting out of work as much as he could, a concept called "tufta." Some Gulag survivors found this an insult to those who had worked themselves to death in the camps.

At the end of the book, the protagonist lists all the reasons why it was a good day by camp standards, relating all the bad things that did not happen to him and a few minor pieces of luck, some as small as getting an extra piece of bread. Peace, in this environment, is not necessarily any sort of gain; instead, but it is the absence of loss, the small triumph of keeping what little one has. This list, and the idea that this is now all the protagonist can expect from a good day, emphasizes the slow, grinding horror of the Gulag, the failure of revolution and war to bring anything but more violence.

The Twentieth Century and Beyond

Post-war and early twenty-first-century views of war have been dominated by conflicts in places like Africa, Central America, and Central Europe. In the poem "A Far Cry from Africa" (1962), Nobel Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott (1930–) writes about the Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya during the 1950s. The Kikuyu, a large Kenyan tribe, mounted a bloody resistance to British occupation in which they murdered both British and other Kikuyu who disagreed with them. Though the Mau Mau Rebellion was eventually suppressed by the British, Kenya gained its independence from Britain in 1963. The poem indicates a division of allegiances, in part because Walcott is descended from both sides of the conflict. Born in the Caribbean, he later moved to the United States. "I who am poisoned with the blood of both, / Where shall I turn, divided to the vein? / … how choose / Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?" The conflict between a colonial power and its conquered land is echoed in the conflict of loyalties in the poet's heart.

While Walcott's sympathies are anti-colonial, he wonders how he can sympathize with the Kikuyu, who are unwilling to compromise with anyone. At the same time, he fails to see how the Kikuyu are any better than the British occupiers or the savage soldiers that eventually put the rebellion down. To Walcott, the Kikuyu are parasites on the land, stinging insects that leave devastation behind. Yet he is afraid to abandon the land to either side, or allow either side an undeserved victory. He feels a responsibility to stay and bear witness.

Argentinean Marxist Ernesto "Che" Guevara (1928–1967), on the other hand, felt no compunctions about jumping directly into post-colonial conflict and inflicting violence himself. He encouraged workers and poor people to rise up against governments that were exploiting and oppressing them. His manifesto, a collection of essays called Guerilla Warfare (1961), created the irregular tactics of warfare that Fidel Castro would use to take over Cuba in 1959. These tactics defied the traditional rules of warfare that called for clearly defined armies and clear lines of attack and defense. Guerillas could attack from everywhere and could be anyone, including civilians. Guevara in his turn was influenced by Mao Zedong, the leader of Communist China, who was inspired by Marx and Engel's The Communist Manifesto. For Guevara, war and peace blend into each other. There are no front lines and no innocents. The enemy could be anywhere. Eventually, he fell victim to his own philosophy when his politics and tactics led to his capture and execution in Bolivia in 1967.

At the same time that Guevara was espousing a peasant uprising, Iran was under a dictatorship of the Shah Reza Pahlavi, an uneasy, repressive peace that was overthrown by a fundamentalist revolution in 1979. During this revolutionary period, the Iranian author Reza Baraheni (1935–) wrote the poems "The Unrecognized" and "Answers to an Interrogation" (1973) in protest against Pahlavi's brutal regime. His poetry is based on his experience of spending 102 days in solitary confinement under the Shah. Baraheni sees the writer as constantly at war with repression; like Hugo, he sees writing as a form of revolution. One of the weapons that the writer can use is self-interrogation, which helps him or her write with honesty and truth, something that tyrants cannot abide.

South Africa's large Afrikaner minority, the descendants of white settlers from Germany, the Netherlands, and France, used a system called apartheid from 1948 to 1992 to subjugate the black majority and retain power for themselves. The inherent oppression and violence that came with apartheid inspired a number of authors to speak out against it. J. M. Coetzee's (1940–) novel Waiting for the Barbarians (1982), tells a quasi-fantasy fable about a magistrate living on the very edge of an empire in an African country (South Africa is implied but not mentioned by name). The empire is about to be overrun by barbarians, much as Rome was overrun in the fourth and fifth centuries. The magistrate is at first indifferent to the problem. But when he can no longer stomach the savage repression by the empire's military against barbarian prisoners, he rebels and his own people turn against him. The allegory of South Africa and apartheid is not subtle, but strong and vivid. The white Afrikaner minority is the embattled empire and the barbarians are the black majority who finally took power in 1994. For Coetzee, the empire itself turns barbaric through its own brutality while struggling to retain control, and therefore it deserves to fall.

Rezak Hukanovic's (1950–) The Tenth Circle of Hell: A Memoir of Life in the Death Camps of Bosnia (1996) tells the story of the genocidal conflict in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s from the point of view of one of its victims, a Bosnian Muslim. Like Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago, Hukanovic writes about his horrible experiences when he was imprisoned in a Serbian death camp, Camp Omarska. The narrator is so traumatized by the events that he refers to himself in the third person by the name Djemo. The title of the memoir comes from Dante's Inferno, which had nine circles of hell. The Bosnian Muslims in Omarska found a tenth circle below the frozen ninth, one worse than any hell they could imagine before. As recounted in the book, the Serbs target educated prisoners for particularly brutal treatment, much as the Khmer Rouge tried to eliminate the educated elite in Cambodia during the 1970s. The camp is finally liberated in 1992, but Djemo cannot leave his experience behind. He contends that the world is already forgetting what has happened and is even rewarding those who committed genocide. Hunakovic's account is not a war-protest novel, but rather a record of events that he insists should never be forgotten.

The third book by Haitian-born Edwidge Danticat (1969–), The Dew Breaker (2004), is a collection of stories that a former torturer for the Duvalier regime in Haiti tells his daughter after immigrating to the United States. The stories are about his victims, some dead, some alive, and some living in the United States. Some he meets again, and some remain in fear of him for the rest of their lives.

The title of Danticat's book reflects the fact that when the torturer came to arrest people, he did it so early in the morning that he was the first to break the dew in the grass outside their homes. The torturer feels remorse about his former life, but this may not be enough for his victims. Without their forgiveness, he cannot achieve redemption for his acts. His victims cannot find peace while he lives, but because of what he has done, he cannot grant peace to them himself. The trust that peace requires can no longer exist between them.


As these works show, war and peace are inextricably linked across time and border. For conquerors, war is a method for imposing peace on a society from the top down. For revolutionaries, it is a way of imposing peace from the bottom up. For the ancient Greeks and Romans, war was a game of the gods that could not be controlled by mortals. The ancient Chinese valued the strategies used in combat. For the ancient Indians and medieval Europeans, war was a deadly glory that kept one from ever achieving the peace of heaven. For modern victims of war, their suffering, not their participation, in war prevents them from knowing peace. There is one constant through history, however: peace is far more difficult to achieve than war.


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War and Peace in World Literature

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