Home > Uncategorized > Robert Graves: Men at arms and men of letters, the birth of English pacifism in the First World War

Robert Graves: Men at arms and men of letters, the birth of English pacifism in the First World War

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

Robert Graves: Selections on war

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Robert Graves
From Good-Bye to All That (1929)

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While with the cadet-battalion, I went out nearly every Sunday to the village of Garsington. Siegfried’s friends, Philip and Lay Ottoline Morrell, lived at the manor-house there. The Morrells were pacifists, and I first heard from there that there was another side to the question of war guilt. Clive Bell, England’s leading art critic and a conscientious objector, looked after the cows on the manor farm; he had been allowed to do this ‘work of national importance’ instead of going into the Army. Aldous Huxley, Lytton Strachey and the Hon Bertrand Russell were frequent visitors. Aldous was unfit, otherwise he would certainly have been in the Army like Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell, Herbert Read, Siegfried, Wilfred Owen, myself and most other young writers of the time, none of whom now believed in the War.

Bertrand Russell, too old for military service, but an ardent pacifist (a rare combination), turned sharply on me one afternoon and asked: ‘Tell me, if a company of your men were brought along to break a strike of munition-makers, and the munition-makers refused to go back to work, would you order the men to fire?’

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Lytton Strachey was unfit, but instead of allowing himself to be rejected by the doctors preferred to appear before a military tribunal as a conscientious objector…Asked by the chairman the usual question: ‘I understand, Mr Strachey, that you have a conscientious objection to war?’ he replied (in his curious falsetto voice): ‘Oh, no, not at all, only to this war.’ And to the chairman’s other stock question, which had previously never failed to embarrass the claimant: ‘Tell me, Mr Strachey, what would you do if you saw a German soldier trying to violate your sister?’ he replied with an air of noble virtue: ‘I would try to get between them.’

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In June, he [Siegfried Sassoon] had visited the Morrells at Oxford…Five poems of his had just appeared in the Cambridge Magazine (one of the few aggressively pacifist journals published in England at the time, the offices of which were later sacked by Flying Corps cadets).

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