Gertrude Stein

Wars I Have Seen 1

... and the nineteenth century dies hard all centuries do that is why the last war to kill it is so long, it is still being killed now in 1942, the nineteenth century just as the eighteenth century took from the revolution to 1840 to kill, so the nineteenth century is taking from 1914 to 1943 to kill.
[...]

... and so as I say the world war 1914-1918 began and the nineteenth century a very resistant strong obstinate and convinced of its service to humanity and progress was trying to be killed that is to say they were trying to kill it but could they. No. Not even by the 1914-1918 war, they could not and they did not and now it is dead Hitler killed it, and like a very Samson he fell down with it and was killed in its ruins.
[...]

Incontestably the 1914-1918 war was a nineteenth century war just as the 1939-19— war incontestably is not. And the hopes and the fears, and the relation to finite and infinity of this war and the method of belief and unbelief, and the hope of progress and reform all these things are not nineteenth century not at all not now.
[...]

There is one thing that is certain, and nobody really realised it in the 1914-1918 war, they talked about it but they did not realise it but now everybody knows it everybody that the one thing that everybody wants is to be free, to talk to eat to drink to walk to think, to please, to wish, and to do it now if now is what they want, and everybody knows it they know it anybody knows it, they want to be free, they do not want to feel imprisoned they want to feel free, even if they are not free they want to feel free, and they want to feel free now, let the future take care of itself all they want is to be free, not to be managed, threatened, directed, restrained, obliged, fearful, administered, they want none of these things they all want to feel free, the word discipline, and forbidden and investigated and imprisoned brings horror and fear into all hearts, they do not want to be afraid not more than is necessary in the ordinary business of living where one has to earn one’s living and has to fear want and disease and death.

There were enough things to be afraid of, nobody wants to be afraid, just afraid, afraid of things people should not be afraid, they do not. This is true in October 1943, it is true. In 1914-1918, it was still the nineteenth century, and one might still think that something that would happen might lead one to higher and other things but now, the only thing that any one wants now is to be free, to be let alone, to live their life as can be, but not to be watched, controlled, and scared, no no, not.
[...]

The nineteenth century did not understand this, not even in the 1914-1918 war which tried to end the nineteenth century but since it itself did not understand it, it could not end the nineteenth century, but now now we all realise, the inevitable and the thirst for freedom, we all do.

Gertrude Stein: „Wars I Have Seen” (1945; London: Brilliance Books, 1984), 16, 74-76.

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Gertrude Stein


Having left Paris for Majorca in 1915 “to forget the war a little,” Gertrude Stein (b. February 3, 1874 in Allegheny, PA, d. July 27, 1946 in Paris) and her partner Alice B. Toklas returned to their adoptive country in 1916 to join the war effort. , delivering relief supplies to hospitals around France from 1917 until the end of the war. In Wars I Have Seen (1945), written during WWII in her signature style, Stein put the 1914-1918 war in a larger historical perspective.