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George Bernard Shaw: War, governments and munitions manufacturers

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

George Bernard Shaw: Selections on war

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George Bernard Shaw
From Major Barbara (1905)

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STEPHEN…I have hardly ever opened a newspaper in my life without seeing our name in it. The Undershaft torpedo! The Undershaft quick firers! The Undershaft ten inch! the Undershaft disappearing rampart gun! the Undershaft submarine! and now the Undershaft aerial battleship! At Harrow they called me the Woolwich Infant. At Cambridge it was the same. A little brute at King’s who was always trying to get up revivals, spoilt my Bible – your first birthday present to me – by writing under my name, “Son and heir to Undershaft and Lazarus, Death and Destruction Dealers: address, Christendom and Judea.” But that was not so bad as the way I was kowtowed to everywhere because my father was making millions by selling cannons.

LADY BRITOMART. It is not only the cannons, but the war loans that Lazarus arranges under cover of giving credit for the cannons. You know, Stephen, it’s perfectly scandalous. Those two men, Andrew Undershaft and Lazarus, positively have Europe under their thumbs. That is why your father is able to behave as he does. He is above the law. Do you think Bismarck or Gladstone or Disraeli could have openly defied every social and moral obligation all their lives as your father has? They simply wouldn’t have dared. I asked Gladstone to take it up. I asked The Times to take it up. I asked the Lord Chamberlain to take it up. But it was just like asking them to declare war on the Sultan. They WOULDN’T. They said they couldn’t touch him. I believe they were afraid.

UNDERSHAFT [with a touch of brutality] The government of your country! I am the government of your country: I, and Lazarus. Do you suppose that you and half a dozen amateurs like you, sitting in a row in that foolish gabble shop, can govern Undershaft and Lazarus? No, my friend: you will do what pays US. You will make war when it suits us, and keep peace when it doesn’t. You will find out that trade requires certain measures when we have decided on those measures. When I want anything to keep my dividends up, you will discover that my want is a national need. When other people want something to keep my dividends down, you will call out the police and military. And in return you shall have the support and applause of my newspapers, and the delight of imagining that you are a great statesman. Government of your country! Be off with you, my boy, and play with your caucuses and leading articles and historic parties and great leaders and burning questions and the rest of your toys. I am going back to my counting house to pay the piper and call the tune.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. February 18, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Between us and 1905 lies a vast technological revolution. But in the end, little has changed. The only difference is that Undershaft would speak to us in politically correct language via a Web site full of virtuous statements about sustainable development and protecting the environment.

    • richardrozoff
      February 18, 2013 at 4:00 pm

      Bravo.

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