Where are your sons off to? To Cuba, right? And why are they bound there? To defend the fatherland, they tell you, right? And why are they going? Because they are being ordered and coerced into going, right?
Well then: you need to know the whys and wherefores of their going. Listen.
On the Island of Cuba there is a war between the Spanish government, the government that lives off the sweat-become-money with which you pay the purchase tax and a thousand other levies that leave you shirtless and without a crust of bread to feed yourselves, and the Cuban people. The former seeks to govern the island at any cost, to fleece and tyrannise the inhabitants, whereas the latter is reluctant to go on letting itself be governed by it any longer: it wants a government of its choosing, one not imposed by anyone: it wants an end to being robbed and enslaved and, wearying of lobbying for administration and government rather than robbery, weary of pressing for political reforms that might grant them the rights enjoyed by every Spaniard, since the Spaniards are its rulers, and tired of enduring all this vexation and contempt, it has risen in arms to drive out those who are the cause of its afflictions. And the children of that people are over there fighting in the countryside with other sons of the people, your sons, whom the government has sent there to fight.
In its support, the government cites the fact that it discovered and conquered the Island in question, as if finding something that has an owner affords some entitlement to possessing it contrary to the wishes of the owner himself: as if a neighbour stronger and craftier than the next fellow were to enter his house, drive him out and set about taking over everything found within and, what is more, punishing the owner because the evicted one complains about such an offence. It also invokes love of country in order to get the workers to trot off like sheep to defend it whilst the rich stay here to taste the pleasures afforded them by those of us who earn our bread by the sweat of our brows, and could not give a fig for the country: which is to say, what matters to them is that we should go off and defend it so as to guarantee them a morsel of land and a few thousand more men to rob.
Oh, if it were up to them to defend this territory, you would see how this war would not only be over and done by now, but indeed would never have been provoked. Can you not see that? Not one of them is on his way over there. They send your sons because they are the plebs – as they describe them – and they have every confidence that they have not forgotten what the priest and the schoolteacher, the boss and the employer have taught them: in short, that they have not moved on, that they are today what they were yesterday, not having absorbed a single atom of the doctrines of regeneration and that they are, as a result, lacking in courage and dignity and awash with patriotism.
Patriotism! The patriotism of petty lies, for if a decree were to accord them full licence, temporarily or whatever, they would not so much race as fly to your side, not giving a damn whether Cuba is ruled by this government or some other.
Young and lacking in experience, born to education, all of the slavishness that they have received from the society that exploits them blinds them to a clear sight of this matter which costs them and costs you so dear, and in the name of the fatherland that crushes them underfoot, they readily or through force offer up their blood and yours.
The love of country invoked by those who send them is a nonsense today. Any one of you knows that if we do not work, the country is not going to support us: that the country maintains only the rich who steal our sweat: that many a time we have had to leave her because, even straining like beasts of burden, we cannot survive here and so we have left for the Americas “in search of better fortune”. And if even the least education understands that, then, strictly speaking, to what does country amount to to of us who live by our labour? Nothing: or rather, it is a phrase that serves to fire the blood of the unwary, filling their breasts with war-like enthusiasms and, like hungry wolves, they turn on their brethren who have not only done them no harm but whom they do not even know.
Ponder, mothers and sons, upon the meaning of country and ponder, o youngsters! It forces you to leave your beloved families at home in order to go off to fight like wild animals with men who have done you no wrong and who, like you, have mother, sons and brothers yearning for their imminent success so that they may rejoin them and share in their disappointments and their pleasures. Think of your mothers, your brothers, your entire family flooded with tears as you depart, perhaps never to return. Come back, ye sons of the people marching to the slaughter and see in your mind’s eye the home that you leaving behind you, devastated. There are your mothers weeping over your departure. Can’t you see them with their heart torn asunder by the pain caused by your absence and, more than that, by the thought that you are bound for suffering in that deadly climate, sweating and crestfallen, with a gnawing thirst, wearied to death from so much foot-slogging through the immense countryside: stretched out on a hospital bed, suffering cruel pain, sad and sobbing, without a friendly glance to offer you solace and none of the caresses you so sorely need to ease such torment?
Listen to us and listen to us well! Is there a single one of you that owns a yard of ground, a copper coin or the merest trifle on that Island? Not one: you have not so much as laid eyes on it, nor have you as yet any notion as to where it is or how far away it may be. All that you know is that it is several days’ sailing away: that some ships carry you there in their holds, packed in like sheep: that the swell has you sick for most of the crossing, and that, boxed in there, you have no option but to grin and bear it. But you do not even know how many millions are made by the company of these giants who bring you to that land which you find so inhospitable, in that even nature herself seems to want to drive you out by afflicting you with a thousand diseases.
A further forty thousand men!
Listen, mothers and listen, expeditionaries, listen. You are about to set off. Remember and do not forget that the only ones going are you who have no fortune, you who are bereft of all possessions, material, moral or intellectual, you who after toiling like animals cannot raise a few pesetas to buy yourselves out of the hated blood tax, or those without friends to redeem you .. the poor in spirit and pocket! The rich stay here to take their pleasures and sample the fleshpots … content and happy to walk at paso doble pace …
They are leaving, mothers! Leaving with a heavy heart .. but leaving all the same: they have their orders and must obey. Yours and that of the people gazing on impassively is a sad lot.
Wretched sons of the people, bereft of the courage required to turn your heart’s yearnings into deeds! Wretches! Raise your spirits and look your enemies in the face! … Do not stifle the anguish in your breasts!
For the sake of humanity, mothers, LET US PUT PAID TO WAR!
From: No 245 of El Corsario (La Coruña) 22 August 1896, (Cuban war of independence.). Translated by: Paul Sharkey.