Panaït Istrati: Warmakers and toadeaters

Panaït Istrati: Warmakers and toadeaters
Stop NATO…Opposition to global militarism

Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Panaït Istrati
From Domnitza de Snagov (1929)
Translated by William Drake


“Sire, since I shall not twice in my lifetime encounter a man like Your Highness, I should like to be enlightened upon a matter that troubles me.”

“What is it?”

“This: by what I have heard from our elders and what I have lived through myself, in the Crimean War, I understand that the great powers have always fought with one another for the possession of weaker nations, like ours, which they crush, each in their turn. But the crushed nations notwithstanding do not die, and we Roumanians are proof of that fact. And the great powers, like Russia and Turkey, are content, in the end, to find themselves again where they were before they started to fight. Why, then, do they fight?”

Couza reflected an instant; then, he said:

“My lad, you embarrass me. I shall try to extricate myself by answering that the great powers act like those two men who ate the toad. Do you know the story?”

“No, Sire, I do not know it…”

“Then, listen! One fine morning, two peasants left their village to go to the market of a big town. One took a calf which he wished to sell. The other had only his arms, which he did not know what to do with. Passing a pond, the man with the calf, who was a foolish creature, said to his travelling companion, as he pointed to a disgusting toad:

“‘Look! If you eat that toad, I will give you my calf. Then it will be yours!’

“Fools love to make dares, and they always pick on the most foolish of their kind, who take the challenge on the wing. His companion, a lazy body who lived from hand to mouth, thought: ‘It must be frightening to eat a living toad; one does not even eat them cooked. But then, a calf – that makes it worth while!’ And, seizing the toad, he said to the first fool:

“‘You will give me the calf at once?’

“‘The instant you finish eating the toad!’

“The other took a bite, chewed quickly, and quickly tossed it down; but his heart was not in the business. ‘It will be hard work, by God!’ At the second mouthful, he thought he was vomiting out his entrails, and, perspiring with disgust, sat down on the grass.

“Seeing him almost halfway through the toad, the proprietor of the calf bethought himself:

“‘He is doing it, all right! He will eat it, and then I shall have lost my calf!’ And he, in turn, sweated. But the eater, after a third piece of toad, was at the end of his endurance, and made the following reflection: ‘No, I shan’t be able to finish it; but if I throw away the rest, he will scoff at me and that is all I will have for my trouble.’

“‘You know, old fellow,’ he remarked. ‘If you will eat the other half of the toad, why, I’ll let you keep your cow.’

“The pitiful instigator seemed only waiting for the word.

“‘As you wish, my friend. If that is how you put it, I accept.’

“And he had to swallow the remainder, with the same disgust. Then the two fools continued their journey, vomiting all along the road – one leading his calf, the other not knowing what to do with his arms, in just the same condition as he had been before they had shared the toad.”

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