No Comment, Quotation — April 3, 2008, 12:00 am

Canetti – War and the First Death

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Der erste Tote ist es, der alle mit dem Gefühl der Bedrohtheit ansteckt. Die Bedeutung dieses ersten Toten für die Entfachung von Kriegen kann gar nicht überschätzt werden. Machthaber, die einen Krieg entfesseln wollen, wissen sehr wohl, daß sie einen ersten Toten herbeischaffen oder erfinden müssen. Es geht nicht so sehr um sein Gewicht innerhalb seiner Gruppe. Es kann sich um jemand handeln, der von keinem besonderen Einfluß ist, manchmal ist es sogar ein Unbekannter. Es kommt auf seinen Tod an, und sonst nichts; man muß glauben, daß der Feind die Verantwortung dafür trägt. Alle Gründe, die zu seiner Tötung geführt haben könnten, werden unterschlagen, bis auf den einen: er ist als Angehöriger der Gruppe, der man sich selber zurechnet, umgekommen.

It is the first death which infects everyone with the feeling of being threatened. It is impossible to over assess the role played by the first dead man in the kindling of wars. Rulers who want to unleash war know very well that they must procure or invent a first victim. It need not be anyone of particular importance, and can even be someone unknown. Nothing matters except his death; and it must be believed that the enemy is responsible for this. Every possible cause of his death is suppressed except one: his membership in the group to which one belongs oneself.

Elias Canetti, Masse und Macht vol. 1, p. 152 (1960)(S.H. transl.)

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