Home > Uncategorized > Leonard Merrick: Strange there weren’t more that didn’t think it a virtue to commit murder if you put on khaki

Leonard Merrick: Strange there weren’t more that didn’t think it a virtue to commit murder if you put on khaki


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

British writers on peace and war


Leonard Merrick
From In the Year of Our Lord 1918

Bit I read in a London paper over there said the “pre-war time, now it had passed away, seemed like an evil dream.” It didn’t seem like that to me. The “bad old days of peace,” the paper called it. Said all us boys would “find it painful to go back to business, after the great romance and glory of war.” I don’t think. I know one of them that would have given something to be back, calling “Sign,” in the bad old days of peace, while he was sticking that great romance. Made me feel funny all over to see London again at last, and look at the “civilian population that was bearing their trials with such heroic fortitude.”


It’s “Hope the war lasts for ever,” isn’t it? Mother couldn’t bear to go out, because of what the neighbours are saying. People with sons of their own, too. It makes me wonder who I’ve been doing it for. There’s mother – and there used to be you. Makes me wonder about lots of things, religion and that. At church, on Sunday, the collection was for teaching our Christianity to the heathen, the peaceful heathen that aren’t busy bombing one another. And nobody laughed.

Don’t make any mistake. I’m not saying England hadn’t got to fight. England had got to fight, right enough, because it ain’t a civilised world. But the parsons, and the priests, and the rabbis, and the papers could have said how horrible it was, our not having learnt any way to settle things, ever since we took to wearing clothes, except new ways of slaughtering one another. They hadn’t got to pretend war was something fine, and splendid, and improving. They hadn’t got to pretend war had changed every woman in England to a holy angel, and Englishmen were “finding their souls” by driving bayonets through other men’s bellies. England couldn’t help going to war, but England could have helped praising war. We were told, at the start, as how Armageddon had been led up to by those German writers that had “preached the devilish doctrine” that war did good. They must have had a rare job, if they preached it more than our own newspapers were preaching it before a month was up. Those of them that I saw, anyhow. If the war has been such an “ennobling influence,” if it has “purified” us all half, or a quarter as much as they keep on saying, the Kaiser must be the best benefactor England ever had. Then why don’t they put up a monument to him in Trafalgar Square?

And what did they want to put the “Great War” for on the shrines I see? I should have thought they might have found a better word for it than “great.” Ain’t “great” bringing up the kids to hold with the lie that war is an ennobling influence, like the savages do? If I had my way, I’d put the “Crudest War,” or the “Worst War” on all the shrines.

Remember how I used to hate Gus Hooper for his conscientious objector lay? Well, I’m not keen on him now – Hooper may have been a swine – but I’ve come to see that, if war is ever done away with, it will be just because the real conscientious objectors are top dog. I expect by then they won’t be called conscientious objectors, and it will sound strange to read how, in our time, there weren’t more than a few men or women that didn’t think it a virtue to commit murder if you put on khaki. Even ladies you can’t say too much for – I mean, real ladies, not our disgraceful sort, them that have been heroines, a lot of them, and worked themselves to shadows – I’ve heard more than one of them put in a good word for war, with “They say war brings out men’s best qualities.” You could hear that, under their pity for us, they approved of war. It did come on me as a shock. I used to think we were all so up-to-date, all the finished article, if you know what I mean. I don’t think anybody will look the same to me again, quite, no matter how smart they are dressed. When you look at people in the streets now, you can often fancy them as Ancient Britons, coming along naked. There’s nothing that looks quite the same. Not sunshine in the parks. You cheer up wonderful, for a minute, and then you feel as if the sunshine was camouflage, too. War won’t ever be done away with because kaisers and governments leave off wishing they could grab something that somebody else has grabbed first – it isn’t in human nature – but only because they can’t get men willing to kill, and be mangled for it. “Civilised warfare?” Might as well talk about Peaceful massacre. Why, if this bloody world of ours was civilised, there’d have been no need for England to go to war, or Belgium to go to war, or anybody else to go to war. No need for Fritz to go to war. We shouldn’t have had the Worst War at all. Bill, and his war gang would have been seized by the Germans themselves, and clapped into gaol, or a lunatic asylum, according to what the doctors said about them.

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