Friday, March 23, 2007

Letter to a Minister of State, Hermann Hesse

Bio: A German novelist and poet, Hermann Hesse was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. He left Germany during World War I, to protest the violence that was rampant in that country, and became a citizen of Switzerland. The letter below, written in 1917 to a minister of state, challenges him to end the dilemma of war.


"Beethoven’s music and the words of the Bible said exactly the same to me. It was water from one Source, the only Source from which good comes to man. And suddenly I felt that your speech, Mr. Minister, and the speeches of your governing colleagues, now and then do not stem from this Source; they lack that which makes words valuable and meaningful. Your words lack love; they lack humanity.

Your speech shows a deep feeling of concern and responsibility for your people, for the army of your people, for the honor of your people. But it does not show a feeling for mankind. It means, in brief, a few ten thousand new human sacrifices.
You may possibly call my memories of Beethoven a sentimentality. The words of Christ and of the Bible you will, at least in public, regard with certain reverence.

But if you believe in only one of the ideals for which you are fighting this war—be it freedom of countries or of the seas, be it the political progress or the rights of the small nations—if you believe in only one of these ideals, in one of these non-egotistical thoughts in your soul—then, while reading your speech, you must recognize that it has not served this ideal. It has not served any ideal at all. It is not an expression and result of a belief, of a feeling, of a humane need."

"To conceal a great dilemma for the time being, for yourself and your people, to postpone great and important decisions (which a! ways demand sacrifices)—that’s why you gave your speech, and that’s why the other ruling parties give theirs. It’s understandable. It is easier for a revolutionary or for a writer than it is for a responsible statesman to recognize the human in a world situation and to draw conclusions from it. It is easier for one of us because we are not responsible for the tremendous depression which grips a people when it realizes that it has not reached its war aim, and it may possibly have sacrificed hundreds of thousands of people and milliards of “values.” "

"The moment in which you would do it could become extremely important for the world. Possibly you would find inner freedom. It could be that your eyes and ears would suddenly be opened. Your eyes and ears, Mr. Minister, have been trained for years to see theoretical goals instead of reality; they are—true, it was necessary!
—long since used to not seeing a great many of the things of reality, to overlook them, to deny them to yourself.

You know what I mean? Yes, you know. But the voice of a great poet, the voice of the Bible, the eternally clear voice of humanity that speaks to you from this art, maybe it will make you for a moment really see and hear. Ah, what you would see and hear! Nothing any more of a dearth of work and the prices of coal. Nothing any more of tonnage and of pacts, of loans and all the things which have long since become the realities for you. In their place you would see the world, our old patient world, as it lies strewn with corpses and dying, as it is torn and ruined, burnt and defiled. You would see soldiers who lie between the frontiers for days, and how they cannot chase away with their shattered hands the flies from the wounds from which they perish. You would hear the voices of the wounded, the cries of the insane, the clamor and accusations of mothers and fathers, of brides and sisters, the cry of hunger in the people."

"If it were only possible to achieve this! This hour of music, this return to the true reality! I know you would hear the voice of humanity. I know you would lock yourself in and cry. And the next day you would go and do what is your duty to humanity. You would forsake a few millions or milliards of money, you would consider a small loss of prestige, you would blow to the winds the thousands of things (things for which in reality you are still fighting alone), if necessary even your seat of Ministry. For it you would do what humanity is pleading for and hopes for from you in untold anguish and misery—you would be the first among the reigning to condemn this lamentable war. You would be the first among the responsible to express what secretly all are already feeling: that a half year, that a month of war, is costlier than all it can gain in return.

Then, Mr. Minister, we would never forget your name, and your deed would mean more to humanity than the deeds of all who have ever led and won the wars."

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