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H.G. Wells: War is a triumph of the exhausted and dying over the dead

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

H.G. Wells: Selections on war

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H.G. Wells
From The Salvaging of Civilization (1921)

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In 1914 the European Great Powers resorted to war, as they had resorted to war on many previous occasions, to decide certain open issues. This war flamed out with an unexpected rapidity until all the world was involved; and it developed a horror, a monstrosity of destructiveness, and, above all, an inconclusiveness quite unlike any preceding war. That unlikeness was the essence of the matter. Whatever justifications could be found for its use in the past, it became clear to many minds that under the new conditions war was no longer a possible method of international dealing. The thing lay upon the surface.

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The deadly gifts continue. There was a steady increase in the frightfulness and destructiveness of belligerence from 1914 up to the beginning of 1918, when shortage of material and energy checked the process; and since the armistice there has been an industrious development of military science. The next well-organized war, we are assured, will be far more swift and extensive in its destruction—more particularly of the civilian population. Armies will advance no longer along roads but extended in line, with heavy tank transport which will plough up the entire surface of the land they traverse; aerial bombing, with bombs each capable of destroying a small town, will be practicable a thousand miles beyond the military front, and the seas will be swept clear of shipping by mines and submarine activities. There will be no distinction between combatants and non-combatants, because every able-bodied citizen, male or female, is a potential producer of food and munitions; and probably the safest, and certainly the best supplied shelters in the universal cataclysm, will be the carefully buried, sandbagged, and camouflaged general-headquarters of the contending armies. There military gentlemen of limited outlook and high professional training will, in comparative security, achieve destruction beyond their understanding. The hard logic of war which gives victory always to the most energetic and destructive combatant, will turn warfare more and more from mere operations for loot or conquest or predominance into operations for the conclusive destruction of the antagonists. A relentless thrust towards strenuousness is a characteristic of belligerent conditions. War is war, and vehemence is in its nature. You must hit always as hard as you can. Offensive and counter-offensive methods continue to prevail over merely defensive ones. The victor in the next great war will be bombed from the air, starved, and depleted almost as much as the loser. His victory will be no easy one; it will be a triumph of the exhausted and dying over the dead.

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Men, as a race, may succeed in turning their backs upon the method of warfare and the methods of conflict and in embarking upon an immense world-wide effort of co-operation and mutual toleration and salvage. They may have the vigour to abandon their age-long attempt to live in separate sovereign states, and to grapple with and master the now quite destructive force that traditional hostility has become, and bring their affairs together under one law and one peace. These new vast powers over nature which have been given to them, and which will certainly be their destruction if their purposes remain divergent and conflicting, will then be the means by which they may set up a new order of as yet scarcely imaginable interest and happiness and achievement.

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  1. hybridrogue1
    March 16, 2013 at 2:05 am

    How’s that new world order thingy working out for you H.G.?

    {grin}

    Too bad Mr Wells discovered too late that his Fabian socialist friends were the scoundrels behind the wars in the first place.

    Naivete is not innocence.

    \\][//

    • richardrozoff
      March 16, 2013 at 2:04 pm

      I posted the comments by Wells on war (past and to come) because they contain trenchant critiques thereof, but find his advocacy of (an enforced) world government abhorrent and frightening; comments to the latter effect have been left out.

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