34 Quotes that Deconstruct the Nature of War

A collection of quotes that help you deconstruct the nature of war that you may dismantle arguments and belief systems that uphold war.

by Taylor O’Connor | 19 June 2024

quotes on war

Photo by Austrian National Library on Unsplash

The human invention of war continues to wreak havoc on humanity. But how do we make sense of it all? Moreover, how do we end it? So too was slavery abolished, how to we work for the abolition of war?

Well, as the abolition of war may be a complex and challenging endeavor it is a worthwhile one for all of humanity. And while there may be many techniques and approaches for stopping a war or at a deeper level for working towards its abolition, a good place to start is to learn how to deconstruct war. And in deconstructing it, we may dismantle those structures and institutions, and ways of thinking that uphold war as an institution.

Writers, philosophers, historians, commentators and thinkers across time have pondered about the nature of war and violence. To help us learn practical ways to deconstruct war, may we learn from their wise words. And in our efforts for war abolition may we use these ideas to dismantle arguments and belief systems that produce war.


Quotes that deconstruct war

I have found 34 quotes that deconstruct the nature of war, and have broken them down into three categories to help in processing key concepts.

The first includes quotes describing what war is and what war is not. These describe war as a human invention and the most evil of systems created from the human imagination. In understanding that war was created in the minds of humans, our imaginations too can abolish it.

The second section includes quotes on the irrationality of war. It helps us deconstruct arguments in favor of war which are based on commonly held beliefs that are complete nonsense. It is hard to argue against false information that the vast majority of people believe in, but these quotes help us communicate the irrationality of war.

The third section focuses on quotes that cover the immense human suffering, death and destruction of war. Often these are concealed with lies by those who promote war, but I hope that reviewing these quotes can help you communicate to proponents of war about the immense human suffering resulting from war.


Quotes on what war is and what war is NOT

This first batch of quotes analyzes what war is. Authors convey that war is a human invention, and the most evil of human endeavors.

“War itself is the enemy of the human race.” – Howard Zinn (Historian, activist, 1922 – 2010, USA)

“There is but one evil, war. All the other proclaimed evils such as hate, greed, discrimination, and jealousy are only sub-categories of it.” – José Barreiro (Journalist, writer, activist, 1948 – present, Cuba and USA)

“War is only an invention, not a biological necessity.” – Margaret Mead (Anthropologist, 1901 – 1978, USA)

“War is an act of violence pushed to its utmost limits.” – Carl von Clausewitz (Military leader, 1780 – 1831, Kingdom of Prussia)

“War is not the continuation of politics with different means, it is the greatest mass-crime perpetrated on the community of man.” – Alfred Adler (Medical doctor, psychotherapist, 1870 – 1937, Austria)

“War is an invention of the human mind. The human mind can invent peace.” – Norman Cousins (Journalist, writer, activist, 1915 – 1990, USA)

“Wars are not acts of God. They are caused by man, by man-made institutions, by the way in which man has organized his society.” – Frederick Moore Vinson (Politician, Former Chief Justice of the United States, 1890 – 1953, USA)

Quotes on the irrationality of war

This batch of quotes highlights the irrationality of war from numerous different angles. I think that these can be helpful for those considering how to deconstruct arguments for war or formulate responses when confronted with the blind patriotism underlying all formal wars waged from one country to another.

“Can anything be stupider than that a man has the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of the river and his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have not quarreled with him?” – Blaise Pascal (Physicist, philosopher, writer, 1623 – 1662, France)

“Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.” – George Carlin (Comedian, 1937 – 2008, USA)

“War-making is one of the few activities that people are not supposed to view realistically; that is, with an eye to expense and practical outcome. In all-out war, expenditure is all-out, imprudent – war being defined as an emergency in which no sacrifice is excessive.” – Susan Sontag (Writer, philosopher, activist, 1933 – 2004, USA)

“To all those who walk the path of human cooperation, war must appear loathsome and inhuman.” – Alfred Adler (Medical doctor, psychotherapist, 1870 – 1937, Austria)

“There never has been a war yet which, if the facts had been put calmly before the ordinary folk, could not have been prevented. The common man, I think, is the great protection against war.” – Ernest Bevin (Activist, politician, 1881 – 1951, England)

“Belligerent peoples will have long ago realized that war is its own end, and that, to paraphrase a popular ditty, they fight because they fight because they fight.” – Randolph Bourne (Writer, activist, 1886 – 1918, USA)

“War itself is, of course, a form of madness. It’s hardly a civilized pursuit. It’s amazing how we spend so much time inventing devices to kill each other and so little time working on how to achieve peace.” – Walter Cronkite (Journalist, 1916 – 2009, USA)

“War is an instrument entirely inefficient toward redressing wrong; and multiplies, instead of indemnifying losses.” – Thomas Jefferson (Third President of the United States, 1743 – 1826, USA)

“War is as outmoded as cannibalism, chattel slavery, blood-feuds, and dueling, an insult to God and humanity, a daily crucifixion of Christ.” – Muriel Lester (Activist, 1883 – 1968, England)

“War is the unfolding of miscalculations.” – Barbara Tuchman (Historian, writer, 1912 – 1989, USA)

“You can no more win a war than win an earthquake.” – Jeanette Rankin (Politician, activist, 1880 – 1973, USA)

“You can bomb the world into pieces, but you can’t bomb it into peace.” – Michael Franti (Musician, 1966 – present, USA)

“Why does man have reason if he can only be influenced by violence?” – Leo Tolstoy (Writer, 1828 – 1910, Russia)

“Everything you do in war is a crime in peace.” – Helen McCloy (Writer, 1904 – 1994, USA)

“I guess every generation is doomed to fight its war, suffer the loss of the same old illusions, and learn the same old lessons on its own.” – Phillip Caputo (Writer, journalist, 1941, USA)

“All murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” -Voltaire (Writer, philosopher, 1694 – 1778, France)

Quotes on the death, destruction, and suffering of war

This batch of quotes underscores the immense suffering, death and destruction ever present in wars, yet always hidden from the public eye. I think these quotes are helpful to shine light on the immense human suffering that is hidden in any war. And in cases where politicians are making the case for war, it is important to make the public aware of inevitability of such suffering and death. Statements, slogans, narratives, and messages inspired by these below quotes can be very powerful.

“I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.” – General William Tecumseh Sherman (Military leader, 1820 – 1891, USA)

“Every war is a war against children.” – Eglantyne Jebb (Humanitarian, founder of Save the Children, drafted Declaration on the Rights of the Child, 1876 – 1928, England)

“When the rich make war, it’s the poor that die.” – Jean-Paul Sartre (Philosopher, activist, writer, 1905 – 1980, France)

“War doesn’t make boys men, it makes men dead.” – Ken Gillespie (Retired military leader, 1952 – present, Australia)

“Everything, everything in war is barbaric. But 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 (Writer, activist, 1849 – 1926, Sweden)

“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” – José Narosky (Writer, 1930 – present, Argentina)

“If it were proved to me that in making war, my ideal had a chance of being realized, I would still say ‘No’ to war. For one does not create human society on mounds of corpses.” – Louis Lecoin (Activist, 1888 – 1971, France)

“Old men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die.” – Herbert C. Hoover (Former President of the United States, 1874 – 1964)

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” – Albert Einstein (Physicist, 1879 – 1955, Germany and USA)

“There can be no compromise with war; it cannot be reformed or controlled; cannot be disciplined into decency or codified into common sense; for war is the slaughter of human beings, temporarily regarded as enemies, on as large a scale as possible.” – Jeanette Rankin (Politician, activist, 1880 – 1973, USA)

“There will one day spring from the brain of science a machine or force so fearful in its potentialities, so absolutely terrifying, that even man, the fighter, who will dare torture and death in order to inflict torture and death, will be appalled, and so abandon war forever.” – Thomas Edison (Inventor, businessman, 1847 – 1931, USA)


More quotes and resources on peace and war

I hope you enjoyed looking over this collection of quotes. I hope you found some inspiration, something to get you thinking about the nature of war and violence. And perhaps you have found ideas you can use in any effort to build peace.

For more quotes on war and violence, see another blog post of ours with a more comprehensive list of quotes on war and violence. And for quotes on peace and peacebuilding, see our blog post with a more comprehensive list of quotes on peace and peacebuilding.

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