posted April 15, 2003 at 2:59 PM MDT
Geist Magazine, Alberto Manguel's Reports "Reading Up on War"
"The essential ambiguity of literature is neither arbitrary nor unclear"
"Many years ago my father-in-law, who had been a British prisoner of war in Japan, gave me a small pocket anthology, The Knapsack, edited by the undeservedly forgotten Herbert Read. The book (which I have since passed on to my daughter) had been put together for the Ministry of War to be given to its soldiers: its proclaimed intention was "to celebrate the genius of Mars."
... The merits of courage, the choice of an honourable death, the obligation to fight for the fatherland and other rhetorical commonplaces appeared in many of those pages, but also the horrors of the massacres, the agonies of loss, the arrogance and greed of certain leaders. A page by Montaigne, "On the punishment merited for defending a fort with no good reason," held the following line: "There are those who have such a high opinion of themselves and of their own resources that they believe it is absurd that anyone in the world should oppose them." Montaigne had in mind not only the tyrants of his own century." [emph. added ... h_b]