834: If the War Goes On by Hermann Hesse

by Gerard


834.912: Hesse, Hermann. If the War Goes On…: Reflections on War and Politics. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973. 186 pp.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature
  • 830: Literatures of Germanic languages
  • 834: German essays
  • 834.9: 1900 to present
  • 834.91: 1900 to 1990
  • 834.912: 1900 to 1945

The two World Wars of the 20th century were unfathomably polarizing. There were those who believed war was necessary to defeat either national or global enemies, and those who believed acts of aggression and war were counter to our enlightened place in history. Hermann Hesse, in If the War Goes On, is vehemently against war. In this collection of 27 essays, Hesse explores his own feelings about war and also the experiences of living through both great calamities.

Hermann Hesse’s writing won him the 1946 Nobel Prize in Literature for pieces that “exemplify the classical human ideals,” and those ideals are on display in his nonfiction. While most of the pieces are reactions to World War I, we see his vivid pacifism grow when the World War II starts thirty years later. One strange facet of the writing, however, is that he very seldom condemns the Nazis for their actions. Much of his focus is on the larger idea of war itself and how that turns innocuous feelings of nationalism into a deadly frenzy. Hesse calls on those fighting to examine what they are doing and what that means not only for their future, but also future generations.

I rather enjoyed this collection. While the book itself is a little dated, the feelings aren’t. The translation is very crisp and tries to capture a lot of Hesse’s original energy. This is one of those books I would come back every five years or so for a bit grounding or perspective. This collection comes from a great era of anti-war writing and shouldn’t be passed up. An invigorating read.