Bertrand Russell? Frank P. Hobgood? Jessie Woodrow Wilson Sayre? Reader’s Digest? Montreal Star? Andrew Carnegie? Winston Churchill? Anonymous?
War does not determine who is right — only who is left.
The atom bomb will never determine who is right — only who is left.
The first saying is often attributed to the philosopher and social thinker Bertrand Russell, but I have never seen a precise reference to support this connection. Would you please examine this expression?
Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Bertrand Russell wrote or spoke this adage.
The earliest citation located by QI was printed in “The Reader’s Digest” issue of February 1932. However, magazines such as “The Reader’s Digest” were released one or two weeks before their cover date. Hence, the February issue was actually released in January 1932. The saying was accompanied with an acknowledgement to a Canadian newspaper: 1
War does not determine who is right — only who is left. — Montreal Star.
QI has been unable to access the archives of “The Montreal Star” which shut down in 1979. It is possible that the old newspaper pages have not yet been digitized. Some future researcher may find the phrase in the paper and determine who employed it.
On February 24, 1932 a military man named Col. Frank P. Hobgood delivered a speech at a meeting of a popular service organization, and he employed an instance of the saying. This occurred about a month after the appearance in “The Reader’s Digest”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2
“The next war will not decide who is right but who is left,” Col. Frank P. Hobgood declared in a stirring appeal for disarmament before approximately 250 Rotarians and Rotary Anns assembled in a combined Rotary inter-city meeting and birthday party at the ballroom of the King Cotton hotel last night.
Currently, Hobgood is the first named individual who has been linked to the adage. But the expression was already in circulation before he delivered his talk. Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who identified the citation immediately above and other valuable citations.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1932 February, Reader’s Digest, Volume 20, Patter, Start Page 107, Quote Page 108, Column 2, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1932 February 24, Greensboro Daily News, Horrors of Next War Pictured By Hobgood In Talks to Rotarians, Quote Page 16, Column 1, Greensboro, North Carolina. (GenealogyBank) ↩