Two Wars


by Leo Tolstoy



Two wars are at the present time being waged in the Christian world.  One, it is true, has been ended, while the other is still going on; but they were waged at one and the same time, and the contrast between the two is striking.  The first, now ended, was an old, vainglorious, stupid, cruel, untimely, obsolete, pagan war, the Spanish-American War, which by the murder of one set of men decided how and by whom another set of men was to be ruled.  The second war, which is still going on, and which will be ended only when all wars shall end, is a new, self-sacrificing, sacred war.  It is based on nothing but love and reason – the war against war.  As Victor Hugo expressed it at one of the congresses, the best and most advanced part of Christian humanity declared war long ago against the other coarse and savage part of the same Christian humanity.  A handful of Christian men, the Dukhobors of the Caucasus, have of late waged this war with particular force and success against the powerful Russian government.

The other day I received a letter from Colorado, from a Mr. Jesse Glodwin, who asked me to send him “a few words or thoughts, expressive of my sentiments, in regard to the noble work of the American nation and the heroism of her soldiers and sailors.”  This gentleman is, with the vast majority of the American nation, fully convinced that the action of the Americans (they beat a few thousand nearly unarmed men – in comparison with the armament of the Americans, the Spaniards were nearly unarmed) is unquestionably a “noble work,” and that those people who, having killed a large number of their neighbors, for the most part survived and were well and comfortably fixed in life, were heroes.

The Spanish-American War, to say nothing of the horrible things which the Spaniards had done in Cuba, and which served as the pretext for the war, resembles this[1]:

A decrepit and doting old man, who was brought up in the traditions of false honor, in order to settle a misunderstanding that arose between him and a young man, challenges this young man, who is in the full possession of his strength, to fisticuffs.  The young man, who, to judge from his past and from what he has said more than once, should be above such a settlement of the question, accepts the challenge with knuckles in his clenched fist, jumps upon the decrepit and doting old man, knocks out his teeth, and breaks his ribs.  He then ecstatically tells his exploits to a vast public of just such young men as he is, and this public rejoices and praises the hero who has maimed the old man.

Such is the one war that has occupied the minds of all in the Christian world.  Nobody speaks of the other war.  Hardly anyone knows anything about it.  The other war is like this:

All the states deceive the people, saying, “All of you who are ruled by me are in danger of being conquered by other nations.  I look after your well being and security, and so demand that you shall annually give me millions of rubles, the fruits of your labors, which I am going to use for rifles, cannons, powder, and ships for your defense.  I demand, besides, that you shall enter the organizations instituted by me, where they will make of you senseless pieces of an immense machine – the army – which I manage.  While connected with this army you will cease being men and having your own wills, but will do everything I want you to do.  What I want to do first of all is to rule.  The means I use for ruling is murder, and so I am going to teach you to commit murder.”

The common people submit to this deception, give up their money for their own enslavement, and themselves enslave one another in spite of the obvious insipidity of the assertion that they are in danger of attack from the governments of other states; in spite of the degradation of that slavery to which men are subjected when they enter the army; and in spite of the cruelty of the business to which they are called.  (The governments of other states assert that they, in spite of their desire for peace, are in the same danger.)

And here there appear people who say:

“What you say of the threatening danger and of your concern about protecting us against it is a deception.  All the states affirm that they want peace, and at the same time arm themselves against one another.  Besides, according to the law that you profess, all men are brothers and it makes no difference whether we belong to this state or to another, and so the attack of other states upon us, with which you frighten us, has no terror and no meaning for us.  But the main thing is that, according to the law given to us by God, and which you, who demand of us a participation in murder, also profess, we are clearly forbidden to commit murder or even any acts of violence.  We cannot and will not take part in your preparations for murder, will not give you any money for the purpose, and will not join the gangs you establish.  You corrupt the reason and the conscience of men by changing them into instruments of violence, who are submissive to every evil man taking this instrument into his hands.”

In this consists the second war, which has for a long time been waged with the representatives of rude force, and which of late has flared up with particular virulence between the Dukhobors and the Russian government.  The Russian government has brought out against the Dukhobors all those instruments with which it can fight: arrest, house arrest, prohibiting communication, seizure of letters, espionage, prohibiting news reports pertaining to the Dukhobors, slander, bribery, flogging, imprisonment, deportation, and the ruin of families.  But the Dukhobors, on their side, have put forth nothing but their own religious instruments, meek reasonableness and long-suffering firmness, and say, “We must not obey men more than God, and no matter what they may do, we cannot and will not obey them.”

People praise the Spanish and American heroes of that savage war, who, wishing to distinguish themselves in the eyes of men and to receive rewards and glory, have killed a very large number of men, or who have died themselves in the process of slaying their neighbors.  But no one speaks or knows of these heroes of the war against war; they are not seen or heard by anyone.  They have died by being beaten with rods, in stinking cells, or in oppressive exile, and still to their very last breath they remain faithful to the good and to truth.

I know of dozens of these martyrs who have died, and hundreds who, scattered over the whole world, continue this martyr’s profession of the truth.

I know Drózhzhin, a peasant teacher, who was tortured to death in the disciplinary battalion.  I know another, Izyumchénko, Drózhzhin’s companion, who was kept for a while in the disciplinary battalion and then was sent away to the end of the world.  I know Olkhóvik, a peasant, who refused to do military service.  For this he was sentenced to be sent to the disciplinary battalion, and on the boat he converted his guard, Seredá.  Seredá, who understood what Olkhóvik said about the sin of military service, came to the authorities and said, as the ancient martyrs said, “I do not want to be with the tormentors; put me with the martyrs.”  And so they began to torture him, sent him to the disciplinary battalion, and then to Yakútsk Territory.  I know dozens of Dukhobors, many of whom have died or gone blind, who nonetheless do not submit to demands that are contrary to the law of God.

The other day I read a letter about a young Dukhobor who was sent by himself, without any companions, to a regiment stationed in Samarkand.  Again, the same demands on the part of the authorities were made, and the same simple, unswerving answers were given: “I cannot do what is contrary to my faith in God.”  “We will torture you to death.”  “ That is your business.  You do your business, and I will do mine.”

And this twenty-year-old boy, cast by himself into a foreign country amidst hostile people – strong, rich, cultured people, who direct all their forces to conquering him – does not succumb and does his great work.

They say, “These are useless sacrifices.  These men will perish, but the structure of life will remain the same.”  In the same way, I think, people spoke of the uselessness of Christ’s sacrifice and of the sacrifices of all the martyrs for the sake of truth.  The people of our time, especially the scholars, have become so dense that they do not understand, and in their denseness cannot even understand, the significance and the influence of spiritual force.  A charge of ten thousand pounds of dynamite sent into a crowd of living men – that they understand, and in that they see strength.  But an idea, a truth, which has been realized, which has been introduced into life to the point of martyrdom, which has become accessible to millions, is not force according to their conception, because it does not boom and you do not see broken bones and puddles of blood.  Scholars (it is true, bad scholars) use all the power of their erudition to prove that humanity lives like a herd, which is guided only by economic conditions, and that reason is given to it only for amusement.  Governments know what it is that moves the world, and so, from a sense of self-preservation, unerringly and zealously monitor the manifestation of spiritual forces, on which depends their existence or their ruin.  For this reason, all the efforts of the Russian government have been directed toward making the Dukhobors harmless, isolating them, and sending them abroad.

But, in spite of all their efforts, the struggle of the Dukhobors has opened the eyes of millions.

I know hundreds of old and young military men who, thanks to the persecution of the meek, industrious Dukhobors, have had misgivings as to the legality of their own activity.  I know people who for the first time have reflected upon life and the significance of Christianity, prompted by what they saw of the life of these people or heard of the persecutions to which they have been subjected.

And the government, which rules over millions of people, knows this and feels that it has been struck at its very heart.

Such is the second war, which is being waged in our time, and such are its consequences.  Its consequences are of importance, and not for the Russian government alone.  Every government that is based on the army and on violence is struck in the same way by this weapon.  Christ said, “I have conquered the world.”  He really has conquered the world, if people will only believe in the power of the weapons that He has given to them.

The weapons are reason and conscience – for each man to follow his own reason and conscience.

This is so simple, so certain, and so obligatory for every single man.  “You want to make me a participant in murder.  You demand of me money for the preparation of the implements of murder, and you want me to become a participant in the organized gathering of murderers,” says a rational man, who has not sold or dimmed his conscience.  “But I confess the same law with you, in which not only murder, but even every hostility, has long ago been forbidden, and so I cannot obey you.”

It is this means, which is so simple, that will conquers the world.


August 15, 1898




Transcribed and edited by WWW.NONRESISTANCE.ORG.


This transcription is under no copyright protection.  It is our gift to you.

You may freely copy, print, and transmit it, but please do not change or sell it.

And please bring any mistakes to our attention.




[1]Transcriber’s note – Tolstoy does not mention the Philippine theater of the Spanish-American war.  From 1896 to 1898 the people of the Philippines, with American assistance, waged an armed struggle for independence from Spain.  They all but defeated the Spanish and declared independence on June 12th, 1898.  However, the Americans double-crossed the Filipinos and captured Manila on August 13th, 1898, after making a secret agreement with the Spanish governor to do so, and specifically excluded the Philippine army from the mock battle that served as a pretext for the Spanish surrender.  Spain later ceded the Philippines to the United States under the Treaty of Paris, thus replacing one colonial ruler with another and robbing the Filipinos of the independence that should have been theirs.  The Filipinos struggled unsuccessfully for independence from the Americans from 1899 to 1913. The United States double-crossed the Filipinos a second time when they granted the Philippines independence in 1946 by stripping Filipino veterans of their military benefits, even though they had fought for the Allies as U.S. citizens during WWII.