So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lay Down Your Arms

Lay down your arms, the autobiography of Martha von Tilling 2d revised edition by Bertha von Suttner; authorized translation by T. Holmes. Published 1914 by Longmans, Green in New York.

In 1905 Bertha Von Suttner was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. It was given to her for this novel, Die Waffen nieder! (Lay Down Your Arms!) originally published in 1889, and for her work in organizing an international peace movement. As our nation is about to enter its 10th year of foreign wars, and politicians are clamoring for another, I felt a needed to read this book.
Leo Tolstoy compared the effect Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin had on the abolition of slavery to the effect Lay Down Your Arms was having towards the abolition of war. Martin Gregor-Dellin in 1988 wrote "Bertha von Suttner belongs without doubt along with George Sand, Cosima Wagner, Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale, and the Duse, to the great women of a century which still made it difficult for women to be great." Suttner died only weeks before the outbreak of World War I which she struggled so hard to prevent.
This popular novel introduced thousands of readers of her time to the arguments of pacifism. Written in an autobiographic style this book tells the story of a woman raised in a military family who becomes opposed to war and sets out to document rational arguments against the patriotic reasons nations put forward to justify their wars. Set in the second half of the 19th century, the story begins when she is a young woman in Austria who falls in love with a young officer in the army.
Suttner uses the actual European conflicts of the time as a backdrop for her heroine's disillusionment and growing arguments against war. As the politicians of Austria, Prussia and France lead them into one senseless war after another, she relates the horrors suffered by the the people of Europe. The main drawback of the book is that few today will have much knowledge of the political problems and figures she writes about.
However, the arguments used to start wars in 19th century Europe sound just like those used by modern politicians to justify invasions like those of Iraq and Afghanistan. Listening to her hope for find a rational way to end armed conflict, especially when we have the United Nations and the International Court of Justice, is so inspiring. Could it be that all the people have to do is "Lay Down Your Arms?"

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