War is horror

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.


As the war Russia unleashed against Ukraine rages on, my attention turned to the writers who wrote about war. Some of them glorified military conflicts, even considered it necessary in some cases. Maybe, in a war against aggression, but even so, I can’t sympathize with those writers. There is no grandeur in any war, no laurels in victory, just death, pain, and destruction. Other writers are deeply critical of any war and expose it for what it is: inexcusable horror. I have the deepest respect for such critics. I want to share a few of their quotes with my readers.

The painting I used for the quotes is called The Apotheosis of War. It was created in 1871 by the Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin (1842 – 1904). Educated as an officer from an early age, Vereshchagin served in several wars Russia conducted in Asia in those times. He also studied painting and received wide recognition as an artist in both Russia and Europe. Many of his paintings were intensely anti-war. He traveled a lot through Asia and Europe and exhibited extensively.

Some of his paintings, like the one you see in this post, caused acute controversy. Unlike some of the war artists of his generation, whose battle pieces often looked like parades, Vereshchagin graphically depicted the devastation of war and its aftermath. He also wrote about war. As a result, the top brass of many armies was furious with him.

There are stories circulating about this particular painting. In 1882, German marshal Helmuth Moltke visited Vereshchagin’s exhibition in Berlin. The artist brought Moltke to his painting The Apotheosis of War. The marshal got so angry he issued the order which forbade German soldiers to visit the exhibit and see the painting. The Austrian war minister did the same a year before, during Vereshchagin’s 1881 exhibition in Vienna.

In Russia, a ban on exhibitions of Vereshchagin’s works was also in effect on and off, as well as a ban on reproductions of his paintings in books and periodicals. The authorities accused the artist of slandering the Russian army. But the public loved him. His sensational and profoundly honest imagery attracted many who had never been interested in art before.

Ironically, the artist who abhorred war died of it. During the Russo-Japanese War (1904 – 1905), Admiral Makarov invited Vereshchagin to travel aboard his flagship, Petropavlovsk. On April 13, 1904, Petropavlovsk struck two Japanese mines and sank. Most of her crew, including both the admiral and Vereshchagin, were killed during the explosion or drowned.

What do you think about this painting? Do you know other powerful quotes about war? Tell me in the comments.

This entry was posted in art, Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to War is horror

  1. That is a wonderful depiction of war – and doesn’t glorify it. Or attempt to justify it.
    My father once said that no-one wins a war. There are losers and bigger losers. I think he is right.

  2. I don’t have any quotes to add, but I really like the ones you chose. They say a lot about what a war really is.

  3. Shame he died in a war. Wars aren’t glorious. They are just ugly and tragic. I think the anonymous quote is the most powerful.

  4. spunkonastick says:

    That is a powerful image. It’s a shame his work was so frowned upon.

  5. Loni Townsend says:

    Wars are tragic, and it’s a shame one was the cause of the artist’s death.

  6. Sonia Dogra says:

    This is heartbreaking. Wars are so unnecessary.

  7. Steph W says:

    Excellent quotes. They are certainly worth thinking about! If only the right people would think about them!

  8. Jemi Fraser says:

    I always had that anonymous quote up on my classroom walls.
    My parents grew up in Scotland during WWII. I’ve heard many stories of what childhood was like in a city that was often a target of bombs and I wish no one had to live through that. Ever. Humans need to be better.

  9. Those are great quotes, and a powerful image. I feel like there has long been a whole industry of trying to glorify war, and a few voices crying in the wilderness that “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” is a huge lie.

  10. yvettecarol says:

    I think it’s powerful, like poetry, saying everything in a succinct way. It says it all about the reality of war.

  11. denizb33 says:

    That’s a very powerful painting. I wouldn’t have guessed that it was from 1871, it seems nearly 100 years more modern than that. The horror of war never changes but wars seem to continue. Sigh.

  12. Steven Arellano Rose says:

    All meaning aside, I think it’s a really neat painting. That’s because I love skulls and ravens. After all, I’m a horror writer! So, I initially view it as fantastical.

    However, putting it into its historical context, I can see what this painting was saying and how it had such a big impact on people who viewed it during its time. And I both respect and honour what the artist said through it. The picture communicated a truth that people needed to see that had not been seen too often before because of how other artists romanticised war. Even with today’s televised and streamed news and the graphics of war that it shows in certain respects, this is a truth that still needs to be conveyed today in order to make people come up with alternatives to war and other forms of violence.

  13. Lynn La Vita says:

    Thank you for your moving piece. Your historical insight and image held my attention from beginning to end. The quotes you choose were thought provoking. Peace.

  14. Beth Camp says:

    Thank you for writing about the war in Ukraine which remains horrific and somehow continues, always with an undercurrent of a threat of a wider, world war. The details aboout the artist’s controversies underscore his courage and perseverance, so needed still.

  15. jlennidorner says:

    A strong painting. I don’t know why civilization hasn’t advanced beyond war yet. Or why this one continues to go on. Perhaps one day there will be voices of wisdom able to end it and repair some of the damage. Writing posts like this will hopefully expedite such wisdom into our world. One can hope.

    Dewey Decimal System Day is December 10. 📚
    “The only limit to your success is your own imagination” – Shondra Rhimes
    I most recently blogged about my upcoming book and launch party.
    I wish you a merry holiday ⛄ season, and a New Year full of peace, joy, and creativity.

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