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The Religion of Patriotism

[Being an extract from the speech delivered by Gustave Hervé to the jury, on the occasion of his trial for taking part in the “Antimilitarisme” agitation. Now done into English for the Socialist Party of Great Britain by Fritz.]

(It will be remembered that Gustave Hervé was condemned to pay a fine and sent to prison for four years, of which he served about six months - Editor)

Oh yes! We certainly deserve to go to the stake like all heretics, we who offend against the holy spirit of patriotism! For it is a religion, this patriotism of modern nations, a belief which is instilled into our minds from the cradle up, by the very same process that has been used by every form of religion from time immemorial.

You know how a Catholic is made. The child is taken in hand from his cradle. His mother, as she fondles him in her arms, teaches him prayers which he learns to repeat parrot fashion; she tells him tales of God, paradise, hell. His tiny brain like wax receives all these impressions, but doesn’t react under them. When he is seven years old, his mother, in the belief that she is doing the right thing by him, hands him over to the priest, who sows broadcast in his young brain childish bible stories which were current in ancient Judea, two or three thousand years ago, at a time when the Jewish people had about as little intellectual culture as the Behanzin blacks.

At the same time the stagey pomp of religious ceremonies, organ music, the “dim, religious light” of churches, incense scattered profusely on the altar, gorgeous costumes of officiating priests, strike his imagination and act upon his nerves; from that moment, let the child become even a great thinker like Pasteur, his brain will refuse to discuss, to think, when he concerns himself about religious matters.

It was in just such a fashion that we - and perhaps you too, gentlemen of the jury - patriots all of us, were treated. At a tender age, when the spirit of criticism was not yet born in us, we used as children to listen, seated round the family table, to stories of the horrible crimes committed by Germans or Englishmen, and the deeds of valour done by Frenchmen: little German boys at that very moment were learning about all sorts of horrid deeds done by Frenchmen, Englishmen, or Russians.

They used to tell us that France was the country of brave men, the country where alone would be found the spirit of generosity and chivalry; that France was the refuge of liberty: they used to say just as much for their country to little English boys, to little Germans, Russians and Japanese. And we in our innocence used to believe the lot!

For New Year’s gifts our parents, but especially our mother, would give us leaden soldiers, guns, drums, bugles and trumpets. And when this beautiful education had already made of us patriots in embryo, the school, the secular school, put the finishing touch by sending us clean cracked on patriotism.

Don’t you remember your little school books in which the Loriquets of patriotism used to arrange and cook national history in order to reflect the greatest glory on the French fatherland?

Little German boys had in their hands just such books, but extolling exclusively the German fatherland.

Can’t you call to mind those history books where on every page was cynically displayed some scene of bloodshed or the picture of some warrior bold?

They didn’t favour us with one only - the whole lot were put before us, Vercingetorix, Charles Martel, Duguesclin, Bayard, all Louis the Fourteenth’s generals, including those who burnt the Palatinate; all the generals of the “Grand Army”, who had dipped the flag of Valmy in the blood of every nation, not forgetting the vulture itself, Napoleon, on the top of his perch in the Place Vendôme.

Underneath each portrait were footnotes; with hatred of foreigners, national vanity, the worship of the sword oozing out from every line - fine sentiments, these, which a perusal of the Petit Journal - 5,000,000 readers! - the Petit Parisien and other papers with large circulations only served to heighten and develop.

To put the finishing touch to our patriot, to infect him to the very marrow of his bones, what remains? This only - we must let him get drunk on military pomp, a still more impressive form of display than anything to be seen in church.

No longer have we chasubles glittering with gold and precious stones; their place is taken by costumes with loud and gaudy colours, red, blue, and golden, with plumes and feathers.

In place of soft organ music we get the more exciting blare of brass and trumpet fanfares.

No more processions now: instead we have reviews on a large scale, after which we all run to watch, a blazing sun above, dust underfoot, the march past of an endless army of weapons of slaughter, and long lines of youth - the floor of the nations - marked down for future butchery.

Then when at last the crowd of patriots see going by on the end of a pole that scrap of stuff which represents the sacred emblem of the fatherland, a cold shiver of religious fervour runs down their backs and they devoutly bare their heads, just as their great-grandfathers used to uncover and bow their heads whenever the holy sacrament passed by.

(To be continued)