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George Gissing: “Civilisation rests upon a military basis”

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

British writers on peace and war

George Gissing: Selections on war

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George Gissing
From Isabel Clarendon

There they found the gentleman in question conversing with Mrs. Stratton, a man of smooth appearance and fluent speech. His forte seemed to be politics, on which subject he discoursed continuously during luncheon. There happened to be diplomatic difficulties with Russia, and Mr. Lyster – much concerned, by-the-bye, with Indian commerce – was emphatic in denunciation of Slavonic craft and treachery, himself taking the stand-point of disinterested honesty, of principle in politics.

“We shall have to give those fellows a licking yet,” remarked Colonel Stratton, with confidence inspired by professional feeling.

“What I want to know,” exclaimed Mr. Lyster, “is whether England is a civilising power or not. If so, it is our duty to go to war; if not, of course we may prepare to go to the – ”

“Don’t hesitate, Mr. Lyster,” said Mrs. Stratton good-naturedly, “I’m sure we all agree with you.”

“Civilisation!” proceeded the politician, when the laugh had subsided; “that is what England represents, and civilisation rests upon a military basis, if it has any basis at all. It’s all very well to talk about the humanity of arbitration and fudge of that kind; it only postpones the evil day. Our position is the result of good, hard fighting, and mere talking won’t keep it up; we must fight again. Too long a peace means loss of prestige, and loss of prestige means the encroachment of barbarians, who are only to be kept in order by repeated thrashings. They forget that we are a civilising power; unfortunately we are too much disposed to forget it ourselves.”

“The mistake is,” remarked Frank Stratton, “to treat with those fellows at all. Why don’t we take a map of Asia and draw a line just where it seems good to us, and bid the dogs keep on their own side of it? Of course they wouldn’t do so – and then we lick’em!”

His mother looked at him with pride.

“I respect our constitution,” pursued Mr. Lyster, who was too much absorbed in his own rhetoric to pay much attention to the frivolous remarks of others; “but I’ve often thought it wouldn’t be amiss if we could have a British Bizmarck” – so he pronounced the name. “A Bizmarck would make short work with Radical humbug. He would keep up patriotism; he would remind us of our duties as a civilising power.”

“And he’d establish conscription,” remarked Frank. “That’s what we want.”

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