[PW] Request help tracing adage about war in Reader's Digest

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com
Thu Oct 1 23:12:55 PDT 2015

W0mbats: Your aid is requested for the exploration of an adage about
war attributed to Bertrand Russell. Here are two versions:

War does not determine who is right - only who is left.
War doesn't show who's right just who's left

The attribution to Russell appears to be spurious. The earliest
evidence I've found via Google Books (GB) snippet data is in The
Reader's Digest. GB dates are sometimes inaccurate, but in this case I
think 1931 is probably the correct year. Here is the GB metadata

Year: 1931
Month: Unknown
Periodical: The Reader's Digest
Volume: 20
Article Title: Patter
Quote Page 108

[Begin excerpt]
War does not determine who is right -- only who is left. -- Montreal Star.
[End excerpt]

I extracted some text and found "Patter" at the top of the page with
the quotation. "Patter" was a regular feature of The Reader's Digest.
Page 108 was probably a continuation page of the "Patter" article and
not the first page. To precisely identify this citation it is
necessary to examine each page 108 in volume 20. I think there are six
issues in the volume. None of the libraries near me have volume 20.

The goal is to obtain a complete and accurate citation. A scan of the
table of contents showing the date and article title together with
scans of the article containing the quotation would be great.
Alternatively, simple visual verification is ok.

Please let me know if you can help.

Below are some additional citations to provide context.

In 1907 a thematically similar point was made in a religious journal,
but the discussion was not concise, and it did not use the left-right

[ref] 1907 July 20, The Christian Work and the Evangelist, Volume 83,
Edited by Joseph Newton Hallock, The Optimist by Frederick Lynch,
Start Page 83, Quote Page 84, Column 2, The Christian Work and the
Evangelist, Bible House, New York. (Google Books Full View) link


[Begin excerpt]
For war never decides what is right or just any more than do fights
with fists. Both merely decide which party is the stronger. But men
are beginning to want justice now.
[End excerpt]

In 1909 a thematically related point was expressed concisely, but the
phrase did not use the left-right wordplay.

[ref] 1909, The Christian Ministry and the Social Order: Lectures
Delivered in the Course in Pastoral Functions at Yale Divinity School,
1908-1909, Edited by Charles S. Macfarland, The Minister in
Association with International Movements by Rev. Frederick Lynch,
Start Page 269, Quote Page 279, Yale University Press, New Haven,
Connecticut. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
It means the sense of justice being born among nations, for war never
decides who is right, but only who is mightiest. This desire that
justice be done is almost surest sign of the age of the coming of the
nations under the Christian spirit.
[End excerpt]

In 1931 The Reader's Digest printed an instance of the saying under examination.

In April 1932 Mrs. Francis B. Sayre addressed a meeting of
Universalist Church members held on the campus of Dean Academy in
Franklin, Massachusetts. She included an instance of the adage using
the word "force" instead of "war" in her speech:

[ref] 1932 April 30, The Christian Leader, The Public Meeting at
Franklin, Start Page 546, Quote Page 572, Column 3, Universalist
Publishing House, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans; thanks
to the Graduate Theological Union of Berkeley, California)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
"You do not drift into peace, you drift into war," said Mrs. Sayre.
And after all, "force does not prove who is right; only who is left."
[End excerpt]

In June 1932 a newspaper in El Paso, Texas printed an instance:

[ref] 1932 June 28, El Paso Herald-Post, (Untitled filler item), Quote
Page 4, Column 2, El Paso, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
"War does not determine who is right--only who is left," a reader
writes: "In the World war, the United States is left--holding the
[End excerpt]

In December 1932 a London periodical called The Spectator published an
instance of the saying:

[ref] 1932 December 30, The Spectator, Why I Believe In War by F.
Yeats-Brown, Start Page 911, Quote Page 911 and 912, (Page 9 and 10 of
issue), London, England. (Online Archive of The Spectator at

[Begin excerpt]
Another argument against war is that "it doesn't settle who's right,
but only who's left." That is partly true, but war does settle which
side has the better organization, endurance and survival value.
Finally, there is the ethical argument. Admittedly war is cruel, and
to be avoided by all possible means.
[End excerpt]

In 1946 The Rotarian printed a variant that replaced "war" with "the atom bomb":

[ref] 1946 December, The Rotarian, Last Page Comment, Quote Page 64,
Column 1, Published by Rotary International. (Google Books Full View)
link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
THE ATOM BOMB, some grim wit has said, will never determine who is
right -- only who is left.
[End excerpt]

Researcher Barry Popik has a valuable entry on this topic. The first
citation is based on the Google Books snippet data for "The Christian
Leader". Here is a link to his webpage:

With appreciation,
Garson O'Toole

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