Home > Uncategorized > H.G. Wells: The abolition of war will be a new phase in the history of life

H.G. Wells: The abolition of war will be a new phase in the history of life


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

H.G. Wells: Selections on war


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


What else has to go if war is to go out of human life? and the problem of what has to be done if it is to be banished and barred out for ever from the future experiences of our race. For let us face the truth in this matter; the abolition of war is no casting of ancient, barbaric, and now obsolete traditions, no easy and natural progressive step; the abolition of war, if it can be brought about, will be a reversal not only of the general method of human life hitherto but of the general method of nature, the method, that is, of conflict and survival. It will be a new phase in the history of life, and not simply an incident in the history of man.


It has been argued that such highly organized and long prepared warfare as the world saw in 1914-18 is not likely to recur again for a considerable time because of the shock inflicted by it upon social stability. There may be spasmodic wars with improvised and scanty supplies, these superficially more hopeful critics admit, but there remain no communities now so stable and so sure of their people as to prepare and wage again a fully elaborated scientific war. But this view implies no happier outlook for mankind. It amounts to this, that so long as men remain disordered and impoverished they will not rise again to the full height of scientific war. But manifestly this will only be for so long as they remain disordered and impoverished. When they recover they will recover to repeat again their former disaster with whatever modern improvements and intensifications the ingenuity of the intervening time may have devised. This new phase of disorder, conflict, and social unravelling upon which we have entered, this phase of decline due to the enhanced and increasing powers for waste and destruction in mankind, is bound, therefore, to continue so long as the divisions based upon ancient ideas of conflict remain; and if for a time the decadence seems to be arrested, it will only be to accumulate under the influence of those ideas a fresh war-storm sufficiently destructive and disorganizing to restore the decadent process.

Unless mankind can readjust its political and social ideas to this essential new fact of its enormously enlarged powers, unless it can eliminate or control its pugnacity, no other prospect seems open to us but decadence, at least to such a level of barbarism as to lose and forget again all the scientific and industrial achievements of our present age. Then, with its powers shrunken to their former puny scale, our race may recover some sort of balance between the injuries and advantages of conflict. Or, since our decadent species may have less vitality and vigour than it had in its primitive phases, it may dwindle and fade out altogether before some emboldened animal antagonist, or through some world-wide disease brought to it perhaps by rats and dogs and insects and what not, who may be destined to be heirs to the rusting and mouldering ruins of the cities and ports and ways and bridges of to-day.


I believe that all these conflicts and all such current conflicts are so irrational and destructive that it is impossible for a sane man who wishes to serve the world to identify himself with either side in any of them. These conflicts are mere aspects of the gross and passionate stupidity and ignorance and sectionalism of our present world…The capitalist, the employer, the property-owning class, as a class, have neither the intelligence nor the conscience to comprehend any moral limitations, any limitations whatever but the strong arm of the law, upon what they do with their property. Their black and obstinate ignorance, the clumsy adventurousness they call private enterprise, their unconscious insolence to poor people, their stupidly conspicuous self-indulgence, produce as a necessary result the black hatred of the employed and the expropriated. On one side we have greed, insensibility and incapacity, on the other envy and suffering stung to vindictive revolt…

The present system, unless it can develop a better intelligence and a better heart, is manifestly destined to foster fresh wars and to continue wasting what is left of the substance of mankind, until absolute social disaster overtakes us all…

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