Powerful in their honesty, here are 10 assessments of war from those who lived through it.
Jeremy Cassar

27 Jun 2016 - 10:07 AM  UPDATED 27 Jun 2016 - 10:07 AM

Set during the most pro-war, nationalistic time in Denmark’s history, 1864: Denmark’s War, now available on SBS On Demand, provides great perspective on both the human and inhuman sides of the Second Schleswig War – a brutal skirmish won by the opposing side that marked a turning point in the shaping of modern Denmark.

Indeed, it's the participants of war who often provide the most profound hindsight - as these quotes illustrate...


Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

The man who led several of France’s military campaigns during the French Revolution offers a little self-deprecating truth:

“Soldiers usually win the battles and generals get the credit.”


Jean Giraudoux (1992-1944)

The first French writer to receive the Legion of Honour (in 1915) after serving with distinction during WWI finds no silver lining to the reality of war: 

“The brave men die in war. It takes great luck or judgment not to be killed. Once, at least, the head has to bow and the knee has to bend to danger. The soldiers who march back under the triumphal arches are death's deserters."


Ken Gillespie (1952- )

The now-retired Lieutenant AC DSC CSM in the Australian Army, who went on to serve as Chief of Army from 2008-2011, speaks frankly:

"War doesn't make boys men, it makes men dead."


Albert Camus (1913-1960)

The French-Algerian writer/journalist, whose poverty-stricken father was killed in WWI during the Battle of Marne, naturally took a hard stance against war with this pair of quotes:

“We used to wonder where war lived; what it was that made it so vile. And now we realise that we know where it lives... inside ourselves.”

“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants.”


Thomas Mann (1875-1955)

The German intellectual who regularly spoke out against Hitler in public and became one of the main voices of anti-Nazism during WWII said: 

“War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.”

And here’s Mann again, with a lovely bit of sarcasm:

"The war is horrible, but it has the advantage of keeping Hitler from making speeches about culture."


William Westmoreland (1914-2005)

A “successful” United States army general, who is attributed with winning on the battlefield and losing the US public’s support at the same time, speaks of the complications of modern warfare:

“Vietnam was the first war ever fought without any censorship. Without censorship, things can get terribly confused in the public mind.”


Dwight D Eisenhower (1890-1969)

The then-future five-star WWII general/US president, who wanted nothing more than to see combat, changed his tune after the war in this 1946 speech in Ottawa:

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity.”


Magnus Mansie

The Australian soldier in the 1991 Gulf War, who returned his medal of honour after the fact with fellow fighter Brett Jones, showed outrage at the long con perpetrated on him and his men:

"Saddam Hussein was armed by the Americans, the British, the French - they created this guy and it was all very well while he was serving their needs in the war against Iran. Then, the guy gets a little bit out of line and they try and pull him in. Who created this man? Who created the power that he has?"


Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929)

The eventual French president, who fought in the Franco-Prussian War and attempted to restore post-WWI France, spoke from experience:

“War is much too serious a matter to be entrusted to the military.”


Sun Tzu (544-495 BC)

The name most synonymous with tactical approaches to the battles of war said it all, with brevity:

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”


The entire series of 1864: Denmark’s War is available on SBS On Demand.

Watch the first episode right here: