Home > Uncategorized > Gabriel Marcel: War depersonalizes enemy, dehumanizes self

Gabriel Marcel: War depersonalizes enemy, dehumanizes self


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

French writers on war and peace

Gabriel Marcel: Modern war is sin itself, the suicide of the human race

Gabriel Marcel: War is disaster from which no counterbalancing advantage can be reaped


Gabriel Marcel
From Man Against Mass Society
Translated by G. S. Fraser

[As] soon, of course, as one has become aware of these passions that underlie the spirit of abstraction, it has become possible to understand that they have their place even among the most dangerous of the causes of war. There are a number of urgently relevant observations that force themselves on us here. The most important of them appear to be the following: as soon as people (people, that is to say, the State or a political party or a faction or a religious sect, or what it may be) claim of me that I commit myself to a warlike action against other human beings whom I must, as a consequence of my commitment, be ready to destroy, it is very necessary from the point of view of those influencing me that I lose all awareness of the individuality of the being whom I may be led to destroy. In order to transform him into a mere impersonal target, it is absolutely necessary to convert him into an abstraction: the Communist, the anti-Fascist, the Fascist, and so on…

Such idealized abstractions [the masses] are in some sense pre-ordained for the purposes of war; that is to say, quite simply, for the purposes of human inter-destructiveness.


Here. too, it is war which supervenes, but in forms under which it is not even recognized as such anymore, since it is in fact the systematic crushing of millions of beings reduced to a total impotence.


Some time ago I read in a daily paper, this: ‘The echoes of Bikini hard hardly died away when Dr. Gerald West, broadcasting from Schenectady, declared that the special division of the American services dealing with chemical warfare had perfected a new toxic substance of extraordinary power. Though in appearance this substance appeared to consist of perfectly harmless crystals, one ounce of it would be enough to cause the deaths of the whole human population of the United States and Canada.’ Now, whether Dr. West’s information was true to the actual facts or not – and I admit that in the sequel a partial denial of his story was issued – what is particularly important and significant is that his story could be broadcast: one might well ask whether the very fact that such a broadcast can be issued does not in some sense condemn the civilization in which it takes place. For, in fact, what does this announcement of Dr. West’s tell us but that a technique has been discovered in comparison to which the exploits of the most famous criminals in history amounted to mere child’s play? On the other, this broadcast had a meaning, it was not put over without a fairly obvious purpose; and that purpose was surely not merely, as in films and plays of the ‘horror’ type, to allow the public the pleasure of a voluptuous shiver. It is all too clear that the broadcast had some sort of definite relation with those toxicological investigations of which it aimed at announcing the results. Its purpose, in a word, was intimidation. We are in the presence here of blackmail on a world scale.

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