Posted by: sean | December 16, 2007

Leo Tolstoy: Emperor’s Clothes & War

In Andersen’s fairy tale, when the King went in triumphal procession through the streets of the town and all the people were delighted with his beautiful new clothes, a word from a child who said what everybody knew but had not said, changed everything. He said: ‘He has nothing on!’ and the spell was broken, and the king became ashamed and all those who had been assuring themselves that they saw him wearing beautiful new clothes perceived that he was naked!

We must say the same. We must say what everybody knows but does not venture to say. We must say that by whatever name people may call murder – murder always remains murder and a criminal and shameful thing. And it is only necessary to say that clearly, definitely, and loudly, as we can say it here, and men will cease to see what they thought they saw, and will see what is really before their eyes.

They will cease to see the service for their country, the heroism of war, military glory, and patriotism, and will see what exists: the naked, criminal business of murder!

And if people see that, the same thing will happen as in the fairy tale: those who do the criminal thing will feel ashamed, and those who assure themselves that they do not see the criminality of murder will perceive it and cease to be murderers.

–Leo Tolstoy, speech delivered in 1909 to the 18th International Peace Congress held at Stockholm.


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