“When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die,” often attributed to Jean-Paul Sartre, is a poignant commentary on the disparities of power and the impact of war in society. It speaks to the stark contrast between the decision-makers and those who bear the consequences of those decisions. In this context, “the rich” refers not merely to individuals of wealth, but to those in positions of power: political leaders, influential figures, and others who have a say in whether a nation goes to war. They are distant from the battlegrounds, shielded by their status and influence, and often have interests that may be political, economic, or related to complex power dynamics.
“Wage war” reflects the initiation and continuation of conflict, often a calculated move determined by those at the top echelons of power for reasons that might be strategically, politically, or economically motivated, but usually disconnected from the welfare of the average citizen.
The heart of the statement is the grim reality that “it’s the poor who die.” This sombre truth highlights that the direst repercussions of war are endured by the ordinary people, especially the economically disadvantaged. They are the individuals sent to the front lines, the families torn apart, and the communities ravaged by the consequences of conflict. Despite having little to no say in the proceedings that lead to war, they suffer its most severe losses and devastation.
Sartre’s words resonate as a powerful critique of social injustice, the imbalance of power, and the tragic human cost of war. It underscores the brutal irony of war, where decisions are made by those least affected by the outcomes, while the heaviest costs are paid by those least protected from harm. It’s a timeless reflection on human society, urging consideration for the human cost in the machinations of power.