Home > Uncategorized > Stephen Spender: Automata controlled by the mechanism of war, meaningless struggle between potential ashes to gain a world of ashes

Stephen Spender: Automata controlled by the mechanism of war, meaningless struggle between potential ashes to gain a world of ashes

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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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Although the air raids stopped, or happened only at rare intervals, this picture of the aeroplane over the huge plain with the people concealed in crevices, can be enlarged to a vision of the new phase of the domination and threat by machine-power politics, which the world had now entered and which did not end with the peace. The aeroplane filled ever widening circles in the minds of people beneath it; but the pilot and even the officers who commanded him at bases, their masters in governments and the vanquished and victors of the war, were diminished, until it seemed that they no longer had wills of their own, but were automata controlled by the mechanism of war.

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From now on, the fate of individuals was more and more controlled by a public fate which itself seemed beyond control. For control implies not only merely putting a machine into motion, but also being able to make it stop: modern war is a machine easy to make start, but it can only be stopped at the moment when it has destroyed or been destroyed by another war machine. Control means being able to relate a program of action to the results of that action. Now we had arrived at a stage when a large part of the resources of great nations were poured into programs of which no one could foresee the results. All this was only leading to subsequent plans for making atomic and hydrogen bombs to defend East against West or West against East in a meaningless struggle between potential ashes to gain a world of ashes…

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Lying awake during air raids I would think of the young pilots trained by both sides to believe that the destruction of a city was an abstract task or “precision bombing” without consideration of the people whose homes were being destroyed; of the young men being trained to the brutal enterprises of Commandos and Paratroopers; and of the children, either at the mercy of the bombers in the cities, or torn away and evacuated into the houses of strangers in the country. It seemed clear that – whatever the plans of governments – the peace would be a period of struggling to impose a pattern of reasonable behavior on a population that had been systematically demoralized…

How could the war result in anything but more bitterness and hatred, and a general acceptance of further wars, which would destroy all plans?

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