This text of Gertrude Steins', Wars I have Seen, first published in 1947 and now out of print, will be contributed to Project Gutenberg.
I do not know whether to put in the things I do not remember as well as the things I do remember. To begin with I was born, that I do not remember but I was told about it quite often. I was not born during the night but about eight o'clock in the morning and my father whenever I had anything the matter with me always reproached me by telling me that I had been born a perfect baby. I do not know whether the four living and the two dead older children had not been born equally perfect babies at any rate my father never reproached them with it when there was anything the matter with them. Anyway though I could not remember it from the beginning there was no doubt that I was the youngest of the children and as such naturally I had privileges the privilege of petting the privilege of being the youngest one. If that does happen it is not lost all the rest of one s life, there you are you are privileged, nobody can do anything but take care of you, that is the way I was and that is the way I still am, and any one who is like that necessarily liked it. I did and do .
The next thing I heard about myself was that I was eight months old. Of course I had been born in America, of course we were all of us born in America but all the same when I was eight months old we were not there. My uncle used to tell me about that. He was an art student in Germany, at that time, my mother's family who were not rich although all born in America and were not people who liked business, even if their father was a tanner, but tanning is not really a business at least it was not in those days, it was a trade and so my uncle after my mother married my father was helped by my father to go to Germany to study sculpture. In those far away days, Americans went to Germany to study art particularly sculpture and then after that they finished in Rome. That was the way it was and we were all in Europe and I was eight months old and they left me in the arms of my uncle, why was never explained, but anyway I cried and ladies he know came along and he did not like it. He was young then but I was so much younger that he did not like it. He often told me about that many years after.
The next thing that happened was that I was a very little older and we were in Vienna, a nice place then. and now there was something I could remember as well as some things I could be helped to remember by hearing them told again and again, then and later.
Born that way there is no reason why I should have seen so many wars. I have seen three. The Spanish-American war, the first world war and now the second world war.
There were of course a number of others that did not particularly concern me. The Boer war I remembered that one, the Japanese-Chinese war, and the Russian-Japanese war I remember that one very well too. Each one of these wars I remember for another reason. I suppose it is not so remarkable that I should have seen so many wars having seen a good many countries when I was a baby and having a feeling about countries which I suppose sooner or later since wars are make you be one of those that see them.
And so we were in Vienna and I have never seen it again but it has always remained for me something very real. It was there that I first came to be and so of course it was real and then there were really things, there was a public garden, a formal garden and i a kind of a way a formal garden pleases a child's fancy more than a natural garden. It is more like a garden that you would make yourself. And there was music and there was the old emperor who was a natural figure to have in a formal garden and there was his national anthem and then there were the salt caves and then there were birds and butterflies and insects in the woods and there was the catching of them and there was good eating and on my third birthday a taste of Vienna beer. And there were my mother and my brothers on horseback and there was a Czech tutor, one did not realise how important all these nationalities were going to be to every one then and a Hungarian governess, and there was the first contact with books, picture books but books all the same since pictures in picture books are narrative. I have just bought twenty of them for the school children of Bilignin and they are narrative.
My mother so I heard them say at a later date did not like being in Vienna all alone with five children. She had had a sister from Baltimore with her, but she had gone away, my father had gone back to America on business and my mother said she wanted to be nearer America so she packed up and left the tutor and governess behind her and with the five children she went to Paris. I continued to be the youngest one. I was about four years old then and I do not know whether I really remembered more about Paris but I think I did. It always does make war because one of the things that seemed to me in 1914 was that Paris was then the way I remembered it when I was four only then there was no war. But war makes things go backward as well as forward and so 1914 was the same as 1878 in a way.
Of course there are a good many times when there is no war just as there are a good many times when there is a war. To be sure when there is a war the years are longer that is to say the days are longer the months are longer the years are much longer but the weeks are shorter that is what makes a war. And when there is no war, well just now I cannot remember just how it is when there is no war.
And then my mother had enough even in Paris of being away from America and all her family in Baltimore and my father going back to America to do business and so we all packed up, after having bought dozens of everything and we went to London and then to America. In London there was no war no war at all but the first theatre I ever saw, which was Pinafore and I do not remember it but I remember the hall of the theatre and I remember a glitter and I remember that one followed the other and that was all there was of London. The trip home on the boat I do not remember at all and I do not remember that any one ever said there was anything to remember. Up to that time such emotions as I had had expressed themselves in German and then in French and then in Baltimore although I do not think we stayed there very long emotions began to feel themselves in English. there was the one my mother told that there was one little Indian two little Indians three little Indian boys, four little five little six little seven little eight little Indian boys. and then also war obtruded itself, I do not quite know how but Baltimore was a place where when my mother was young there had been a war, and where she had seen the Yankee soldiers going from one station to another and they had been shot at and she remembered it and we remembered it and there was a mysterious uncle who went all through the war and came out with or without or only with or only without a pair of shoes and he was then in the shoe business and naturally there was a connection. It was only later when I was a passionate admirer of General Grant and the Northern army that I realized that the uncle had been in the Southern army.
After Baltimore we went to California and then I really did begin to remember. I naturally did remember, not all, but at least really some landscape as well as eating and moving. I do not remember that we saw Indians but I was told afterwards that we had, and now for almost a great number of years there was no war, there was history of course and there was the civil war which had been but otherwise there were no wars. Such wars as there were were inside me, and naturally although I was a very happy child there were quite a number of such wars. Not many with anybody else because I was not quarrelsome and continuing being the youngest in the family continued being very well taken care of by everybody, also as being the youngest I had cajoling ways,one has when one continues to be the youngest.
In time of war you know much more what children feel than in time of peace, not that children feel more but you have to know more about what they feel. In time of peace what children feel concerns the lives of the children as children but in time of war there is a mingling there is not children s lives and grown up lives there is just lives and so quite naturally you have to know what children feel. And so it being now war and I seeing just incidentally but nevertheless inevitably seeing and knowing of the feeling of children of any age I do not now have to remember about my feeling but just feel the feeling of having been a certain age. And so there was life in California from about six to sixteen, and as each thing happened it did happen. So many things happened but really in remembering not more than one or two a year certainly not one every month certainly not one every week certainly not one every day. Well say two or three a year. Quite enough too to remember because the rest of the time was just the rest of the time.
During these years there was no war and if there was it was not any war of mine. But of course there was history, and there were novels historical novels and so there was in a way war all the time. Why not when there is always war and sometimes a nice war and sometimes an interesting war. And children do not take war seriously as war. War is soldiers and soldiers have not to be war but they have to be soldiers. Which is a nice thing. I remember that the only war that was not soldiers to me but war was the civil war. The other wars were soldiers emotions an something to see. They said things that sounded like soldiers not like war, but the civil war, not the other wars in America, not the revolutionary war or Indian wars they were soldiers not war. One of the first outside of English wars that I remember and after all that was an English war was the defeat of Braddock by the Indians because we had a story about that but this again was soldiers and not war but the American civil war was not soldiers it was war. And it is like the wars now they were not soldiers they are war. Veterans always feel that it is soldiers even though they know that it is war. Somehow General Grant was not a soldier he was war and that is the reason I like him.
Well all this time I went to school and school in California meant knowing lots of nationalities. And if you went to school with them and knew about their hair and their ways and all you were bound later not to be surprised that Germans are as they are and French and Greeks and Chinamen and Japs. There is nothing afterward but confirmation confirmation of what you knew, because nobody changes, they may develop but they do not change and so if you went to school with them why should you not know them. Some one was just telling me that in German universities they had professors who studied the characteristics of races. Quite unnecessary if you went to school with them but naturally the Germans did not know that. General Grant did. He had been to school with all the Generals of the civil war so he always knew what they would do.
That was the thing that interested me the most in the memoirs that he wrote and that I read.
And so to go back to historical wars. I naturally liked history and Shakespeare's plays and historical novels and there was always war. Of course ancient history was full of wars and the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was full of war but these did not any of them interest me as wars. English wars interested me, some French wars and the American civil war. And I was right because the American civil war was the prototype of all the wars the two big wars that I have completely lived. Also the American civil war.
Naturally my mother being Baltimore there was the South, and naturally there was the north. My father I never took on in war although he was north.
Of course there were Indian wars naturally there was no cinema then but if there had been, Indian wars would have been like that, although one could know people who had been in them and could see them the real Indians on the stage and there was Fenimore Cooper they were not real wars, not as real as some English wars in history and certainly not as real as the American civil war. A very real war.
But naturally all my childhood was not taken up with enjoying past wars, although as an omnivorous reader naturally there was a great deal of war. There was one very funny thing about wars as a child sees it, although there are so many killed there being so many dead is not very real at all, my feeling about that was quite a separate thing and had nothing to do with wars. And that is natural enough. However near a war is it is always not very near. Even when it is here. It is very funny that but it is true. Perhaps if one were a boy it would be different but I do not think so. I think even when men are in a war actually in a war it is not very near, it is here gut it is not very near. That is the way it seems to me from all I can hear and from all I can see. But the civil war was quite near. As near as a war can be. But as I say my childhood actual childhood had nothing to do with wars. As it really happened there were no wars just then none at all. There were just at the end of my adolescence but never before. From babyhood to the Boer war there was no war. No war at all.
So I had my childhood and my adolescence without outside of me there being any war.
What is there inside in one that makes one know all about war. You ask questions now why in Russia do not the Germans surrender when they are surrounded. And there is no answer except that perhaps they are afraid to. Perhaps. What is there inside one that makes one know all about war.
Death starts history and fears. And that begins very soon and dies out little by little or not at all or all.
A farmer on a hill said of the Germans, do not say that it had to do with their leaders, they are a people whose fate it is to always choose a man whom they force to lead them in a direction in which they do not want to go.
This same person on this same hill was saying, it was after a thunderstorm and we were talking about it together. Yes he said it is like them to call it a thunder and lightning war. Thunder and lightning a storm of thunder and lightning can cause a fair amount of damage and frightens you enormously but leaves nothing else behind it, no after-effect at all.
And so from the time I was little all through my adolescence although I read and read about wars, if you like history and historical novels you have to and historical plays, but here was no really outside war at least none that I noticed or that nobody around me noticed.
For a very long time I did not know what it was to be a child although I remembered it so well and I wrote as if I knew but actually there is a great difference between having it and remembering it, and there are so many children just now and as many ages as there are in a country school.
I went out in the moonlight, and it was so lovely and not cold although January and in the mountains and I took a walk and I met on the road a young gendarme who the French army having been demobilized had gone into the gendarmerie. He was not of the village that is to say he had married a girl in the village as he had been in garrison at Belley and they had had a simple wedding and had bought their own champagne and sausages and now they had a baby. And I said how goes it and he said I have just been appointed to the personal guard of the Marechal. Marechal Petain. Why that I said is a great promotion. Yes he said I do not know why, well I said you are rather better educated than your comrades, no he said just primary school, like they all have. And now he said I am going to Vichy and they are having my uniform made and I accompany him wherever he goes on my motorcycle. You know how to ride one I said. Oh yes he said I rode one in the war I was in the cavalry. Oh said I you were not then always in the Alpine troops, no he said after I escaped, I was a prisoner, I thought I would like a change. And said he now I am the personal guard of the Marechal and I am permanently attached to the government and if he dies whoever succeeds him, whether it is a dictator or something different I will be the personal guard of the government. He was only twenty-two and I wished him good luck and said perhaps we would meet in Paris and said he if the government goes there I will but I hope it will be free and I said I have good hope and he said I always have had and he said he was would say good-bye to me before he left and I said surely, and I went on walking with my white dog in the moonlight.
So as I say I know what it is to be any age now that there is a war and so remembering back is not only remembering but might be being.
This text of Gertrude Steins', Wars I have Seen, first published in 1947 and now out of print, will be contributed to Project Gutenberg.