Quotations about   war

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Some people idealize force and pull it into the foreground and worship it, instead of keeping it in the background as long as possible. I think they make a mistake, and I think that their opposites, the mystics, err even more when they declare that force does not exist. I believe that it exists, and that one of our jobs is to prevent it from getting out of its box. It gets out sooner or later, and then it destroys us and all the lovely things which we have made. But it is not out all the time, for the fortunate reason that the strong are so stupid.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“What I Believe,” The Nation (16 Jul 1938)
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I realize that all society rests upon force. But all the great creative actions, all the decent human relations, occur during the intervals when force has not managed to come to the front. These intervals are what matter. I want them to be as frequent and as lengthy as possible, and I call them “civilization”.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“What I Believe,” The Nation (16 Jul 1938)
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There’s nothing noble about dying. Not even if you die for honor. Not even if you die the greatest hero the world ever saw. Not even if you’re so great your name will never be forgotten and who’s that great? The most important thing is your life, little guys. You’re worth nothing dead except for speeches. Don’t let them kid you any more. Pay no attention when they tap you on the shoulder and say come along we’ve got to fight for liberty, or whatever their word is. There’s always a word.

Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) American screenwriter and novelist [James Dalton Trumbo]
Johnny Got His Gun (1938)
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You can always hear the people who are willing to sacrifice somebody else’s life. They’re plenty loud and they talk all the time. You can find them in churches and schools and newspapers and congresses. That’s their business. They sound wonderful. Death before dishonor. This ground sanctified by blood. These men who died so gloriously. They shall not have died in vain. Our noble dead.

Hmmmm.

But what do the dead say?

Did anybody ever come back from the dead any single one of the millions who got killed did any one of them ever come back and say by god I’m glad I’m dead because death is always better than dishonor? Did they say I’m glad i died to make the world safe for democracy? Did they say i like death better than losing liberty? Did any of them ever say it’s good to think i got my guts blown out for the honor of my country? Did any of them ever say look at me i’m dead but i died for decency and that’s better than being alive? Did any of them ever say here i am, i’ve been rotting for two years in a foreign grave but it’s wonderful to die for your native land? Did any of them say hurray I died for womanhood and I’m happy, see how I sing even though my mouth is choked with worms?

Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) American screenwriter and novelist [James Dalton Trumbo]
Johnny Got His Gun (1938)
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JOKER: The dead know only one thing: it is better to be alive.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) American film director, screenwriter, producer
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
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I would give all my fame for a pot of ale, and safety.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry V, Act 3, sc. 2 [Boy] (1599)
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Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace, there’s nothing so becomes a man,
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry V, Act 3, sc. 1 [Henry] (1599)
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Man is a military animal,
Glories in gunpowder, and loves parade;
Prefers them to all things.

Philip James Bailey (1816-1902) English poet
“Festus” [Lucifer] (1839)
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The worst barbarity of war is that it forces men collectively to commit acts against which individually they would revolt with their whole being.

Ellen Key (1849-1926) Swedish feminist and writer
War, Peace, and the Future, ch. 6 (1916) [tr. Norberg]
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War is a simple matter compared with revolution. War is an applied science, with well-defined principles tested in history; analogous solutions may be found from ballista to H-bomb. But every revolution is a freak, a mutant, a monstrosity, its conditions never to be repeated and its operations carried out by amateurs and individualists.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Revolt in 2100 (1953)
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[T]here are historic situations in which refusal to defend the inheritance of a civilization, however imperfect, against tyranny and aggression may result in consequences even worse than war.

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) American theologian and clergyman
“Christian Faith and the World Crisis,” Christianity and Crisis (10 Feb 1941)
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Make love not war.

Gershon Legman (1917-1999) American writer
Speech, Ohio University (Nov 1963)

The coining of the phrase was attested in correspondence between Fred R. Shapiro, The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), and Legman's widow, Judith Legman.
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It had been boldly predicted by some of the early Christians that the conversion of the world would lead to the establishment of perpetual peace. In looking back, with our present experience, we are driven to the melancholy conclusion that, instead of diminishing the number of wars, ecclesiastical influence as actually and very seriously increased it.

William Lecky (1838-1903) Irish historian
History of European Morals, Vol. 2, ch. 4 (1869)
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We cannot insure Success, but We can deserve it.

adams-insure-success-deserve-it-wist_info-quote

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to Abigail Adams (18 Feb 1776)
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“Terrorism” is what we call the violence of the weak, and we condemn it; “war” is what we call the violence of the strong, and we glorify it.

harris-violence-of-the-weak-strong-wist_info-quote

Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986) Anglo-American columnist, journalist, author
“Nations Should Submit to the Rule of Law,” Clearing the Ground (1986)
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The manhood that has been in war must be transferred to the cause of peace, before war can lose its charm, and peace be venerable to men.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“War” (1838)
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This hand, to tyrants ever sworn the foe,
For Freedom only deals the deadly blow;
Then sheathes in calm repose the vengeful blade,
For gentle peace in Freedom’s hallowed shade.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Written in an Album (1842)
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It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation, and our earthly habitat would be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” National Cathedral, Washington, DC (31 Mar 1968)
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Hell to ships, hell to men, hell to cities.

Aeschylus (525-456 BC) Greek dramatist (Æschylus)
Agamemnon

Speaking of Helen of Troy. The literal translation is "Ship-destroyer, man-destroyer, city-destroyer."
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You judge a war according to who is in the right as long as you have no interest in the outcome; if you’re one of the participants, or if the result is going to have a major effect on you, then you have to create the moral principles that put you in the right — that’s nothing new, everyone knows it.

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
Dragon (1998)
Added on 5-Aug-16 | Last updated 5-Aug-16
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See, free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don’t attack each other. Free nations don’t develop weapons of mass destruction.

George W. Bush (b. 1946) US President (2001-09)
Speech, Milwaukee (3 Oct 2003)
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Referring to insurgencies in Iraq.
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Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.

Kennedy - war end of mankind - wist_info quote

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Speech, United Nations (23 Sep 1961)

Speech written by Theodore "Ted" Sorensen.
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Morale is the greatest single factor in successful war.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Crusade in Europe (1948)
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But all history has taught us the grim lesson that no nation has ever been successful in avoiding the terrors of war by refusing to defend its rights — by attempting to placate aggression.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
“Security in the Free World,” broadcast speech (15 Mar 1959)
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I know something about that war, and I never want to see that history repeated. But, my fellow Americans, it certainly can be repeated if the peace-loving democratic nations again fearfully practice a policy of standing idly by while big aggressors use armed force to conquer the small and weak.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
“Regarding the Situation in the Formosa Straits,” broadcast speech (11 Sep 1958)
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The only way to win the next world war is to prevent it.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Seattle (17 Oct 1956)
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It would repel me less to be a hangman than a soldier, because the one is obliged to put to death only criminals sentenced by the law, but the other kills honest men who like himself bathe in innocent blood at the bidding of some superior.

George Santayana (1863-1952) Spanish-American poet and philosopher [Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruíz de Santayana y Borrás]
Persons and Places, entry, c. 1880 (1944)
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They did to others that which they would not they should do to them — that grand principle of immorality upon which rests the whole art of war.

[Ils faisaient à autrui ce qu’ils ne voulaient pas qu’on leur fît, principe immoral sur lequel repose tout l’art de la guerre.]

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
From the Earth to the Moon, ch. 10 (1865) [tr. Scribner’s (1890)]
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Alt. trans.: "They did unto others what they would not have others do unto them, an immoral principle that is the basic premise of the art of war." [tr. Miller (1978)]
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Possibly my hatred of war blinds me so that I cannot comprehend the arguments they adduce. But, in my opinion, there is no such thing as a preventive war. Although this suggestion is repeatedly made, none has yet explained how war prevents war. Worse than this, no one has been able to explain away the fact that war creates the conditions that beget war.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh (19 Oct 1950)
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War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men. Though you follow the trade of the warrior, you do so in the spirit of Washington — not of Genghis Khan. For Americans, only threat to our way of life justifies resort to conflict.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Graduation Exercises, US Military Academy, West Point (3 Jun 1947)
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War is a grim, cruel business, a business justified only as a means of sustaining the forces of good against those of evil.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
United War Fund appeal (11 Sep 1945)
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It was not the absence of intelligence which led us into trouble but our unwillingness to draw unpleasant conclusions from it.

H. A. de Weerd (1902-1979) American military historian, author [Harvey Arthur de Weerd]
“Strategic Surprise in the Korean War,” Orbis (1962)

On the US decision in 1950 to call China's bluff by advancing above the 38th parallel.
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Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in blood of his followers and sacrifices of his friends.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Guildhall, London (12 Jun 1945)
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One of the things that I noticed in war was how difficult it was for our soldiers, at first, to realize that there are no rules to war. Our men were raised in sports, where a referee runs a football game, or an umpire a baseball game, and so forth.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Conference of the National Women’s Advisory Committee on Civil Defense (26 Oct 1954)
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I am under no illusion that our present strategy of using means short of total war to achieve our ends and oppose communism is a guarantee that a world war will not be thrust upon us. But a policy of patience and determination without provoking a world war, while we improve our military power, is one which we believe we must continue to follow. … Under present circumstances, we have recommended against enlarging the war from Korea to also include Red China. The course of action often described as a limited war with Red China would increase the risk we are taking by engaging too much of our power in an area that is not the critical strategic prize. Red China is not the powerful nation seeking to dominate the world. Frankly, in the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this strategy would involve us in the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy.

Omar Bradley (1893-1981) American general
Testimony, Senate Committees on Armed Services and Foreign Relations (15 May 1951)
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My life has been largely spent in affairs that required organization. But organization itself, necessary as it is, is never sufficient to win a battle.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Young Republican National Leadership Training School (20 Jan 1960)
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Are there no ideals more stirring than those of martial glory? Is this generation conscious of calls to the service of native land in ways no more worthy than the way of taking a musket and killing somebody? You ask, in the language of Prof. James, for a moral equivalent for war. A patriot needs only look about to find numberless causes that ought to warm the blood and stir the imagination. The dispelling of ignorance and the fostering of education, the investigation of disease and the searching out of remedies that will vanquish the giant ills that decimate the race, the inculcation of good feeling in the industrial world, the cause of the aged, the cause of the men and women who had so little chance — tell me, has war anything that beckons as these things beckon with alluring and compelling power? Whoso wants to share the heroism of battle let him join the fight against ignorance and disease — and the mad idea that war is necessary.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) American industrialist and philanthropist
“A Plea for Peace,” New York Times (7 Apr 1907)
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General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
“General, Your Tank Is a Powerful Vehicle,” in “From a German War Primer,” The Svendborg Poems (1939) [tr. Baxandall]
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In vast stretches of the earth, men awoke today in hunger. They will spend the day in unceasing toil. And as the sun goes down they will still know hunger. They will see suffering in the eyes of their children. Many despair that their labor will ever decently shelter their families or protect them against disease. So long as this is so, peace and freedom will be in danger throughout our world. For wherever free men lose hope of progress, liberty will be weakened and the seeds of conflict will be sown.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Tenth Colombo Plan Meeting, Seattle (10 Nov 1958)
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General, your tank
is a powerful vehicle
it smashes down forests
and crushes a hundred men.
but it has one defect:
it needs a driver.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
“General, Your Tank Is a Powerful Vehicle,” in “From a German War Primer,” The Svendborg Poems (1939) [tr. Baxandall]
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When I think about all the money we spent on bombs and munitions, and our failures in Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other places around the world … Instead of advancing our agenda using force, we should have instead built schools and hospitals in these countries, improving the lives of their children. By now, those children would have grown into positions of influence, and they would be grateful to us instead of hating us.

George Shultz (b. 1920) American economist, statesman, businessman
(Attributed)
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Quoted in In Daniel Levitin, The Organized Mind (2014).
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Better perish than hate and fear, and twice rather perish than make oneself hated and feared — this must someday become the highest maxim for every single commonwealth.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher and poet
The Wanderer and His Shadow (1880)
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CHAPLAIN: War is like love, it always finds a way.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
Mother Courage and Her Children, sc. 6 (1939)
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Might was the measure of right.

[Mensuraque juris / Vis erat.]

Lucan (AD 39-65) Roman poet [Marcus Annaeus Lucanus]
Pharsalia, 1.175
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Referring to earlier eras of anarchy.
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History gives no countenance to the theory that popular governments are either more moral or more pacific than strong monarchies.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
“Our Present Discontents,” Outspoken Essays: First Series (1919)
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PETRI: We cannot make peace with people we detest.

KIRK: Stop trying to kill each other. Then worry about being friendly.

John Meredyth Lucas (1919-2002) American screenwriter
Star Trek, 3×13 “Elaan of Troyius” (20 Dec 1968)
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There is no honorable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war — except its ending.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) American lawyer, politician, US President (1861-65)
(Spurious)

Sometimes actually attributed to Lincoln, it is actually a line written for a simulation of Lincoln by Arthur Heinemann for the TV episode Star Trek, 3x22 "Savage Curtain" (1969).
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It was involuntary. They sank my boat.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
(Attributed)

When asked how he became a war hero. In A. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days, 4.9 (1965)
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The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. “But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.” Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, this “closing off” that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.

Francis I (b. 1936) Argentinian Catholic Pope (2013- ) [b. Jorge Mario Bergoglio]
Homily (22 May 2013)
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War is not violence and killing, pure and simple; war is controlled violence, for a purpose. The purpose of war is to support your government’s decisions by force. The purpose is never to kill the enemy just to be killing him — but to make him do what you want him to do. Not killing — but controlled and purposeful violence.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Starship Troopers, ch. 5 [Zim] (1959)
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Institutions like to continue doing what they have been doing, always on a grander scale, if possible. When old enemies disappear, mellow, or turn into allies, as frequently happens in international relations, new enemies must be found and new threats must be discovered. The failure to replenish the supply of enemies is the supreme threat facing any national security bureaucracy.

Richard J. Barnet (1929-2004) American scholar, writer, activist
Roots of War, 5.1 (1971)
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Mark where his carnage and his conquests cease!
He makes a solitude, and calls it — peace.

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
Bride of Abydos, Canto 2, st. 20 (1813)

See Tacitus.
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To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.

[Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.]

Tacitus (c.56-c.120) Roman historian, orator, politician [Publius or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus]
Agricola, ch. 30 (AD 98) [tr. Oxford Revised]
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  • "They plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a wasteland, they call it peace." [Loeb Classical Library edition]
  • "To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace." [tr. William Peterson]
  • "They rob, kill and plunder all under the deceiving name of Roman Rule. They make a desert and call it peace."
Speech about Rome by the Caledonian chieftain Calgacus to his assembled warriors.
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Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves — to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
Mere Christianity (1952)
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The hope of the world is that wisdom can arrest conflict between brothers. I believe that war is the deadly harvest of arrogant and unreasoning minds.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, National Education Association, Washington, D.C. (4 Apr 1957)
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