Home > Uncategorized > Stephen Spender: Lecture on Hell: battle against totalitarian war

Stephen Spender: Lecture on Hell: battle against totalitarian war

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

Stephen Spender: Selections on war

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Stephen Spender
From World Within World (1948)

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Our indignation at the death of a child killed in an air raid was deeply suspect unless we were opposed to all air raids.

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The sense of political doom, pending in unemployment, Fascism, and the overwhelming threat of war, was by now so universal that even to ignore these things was in itself a political attitude. Just as the pacifist is political in refusing to participate in war, so the writer who refuses to recognize the political nature of our age must to some extent be refusing to deal with an experience in which he himself is involved…

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With the fall of the Spanish Republic, followed quickly by Munich, this phase ended…

After this the emotions and the arguments used by the anti-Fascists were taken over by the democratic governments in their war against Hitler. Journalists sometime complained in the Press that the anti-Fascist writers who had shown such zeal in 1936 and 1937 seemed perversely uninterested, now that the action against Hitlerism for which they had been clamoring, was really taking place. But the fact was that the anti-Fascist battle had been lost. For it was a battle against totalitarian war, which could have made the war unnecessary…

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To me, the idea of air raids and destruction were never quite real. The lectures at the Training Center on different types of bombs were like lecture on Hell, or on the perversion of the human will. At the end of a lecture on the effects of gases (for we had to distinguish between those that smelt like pear-drops, carnations and sickly-sweet hay), I hid for half an hour in a telephone box, overwhelmed by the vision of human beings asphyxiating one another in poisonous over-sweet scents…

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Michael saw beyond the waste and incompetence of administration to the folly of bombing which became progressively more and more a destruction of the basis of the post-war world. Bending over his photographs which showed the immense damage done to Europe by the policy called “saturation bombing,” he saw that the methods of war could lead to the end of European civilization. “The bombing of Hamburg,” he said in his embarrassed, stifled voice, “cannot be justified as necessary to the victory. It’s the destruction, not just of Germany, but of an essential part of Europe.”

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