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John Middleton Murry: For England, peace or destruction


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

British writers on peace and war

John Middleton Murry: Selections on peace and war


John Middleton Murry
From England’s Debt to the World

I sometimes think that what the great and growing Peace Movement in this country now chiefly needs is some new perspectives on itself. I believe that absolute pacifism is something more than a horror-stricken reaction from the barbarity of modern war. It is rather, for me, a simple and revolutionary moral decision in which is consummated the history of past centuries. It is the immense simplicity which descends upon the mind which has patiently tried to understand human history as a process from which the living individual derives, in which he is inextricably involved, and to which he owes the dedication of himself.


That population of England depends upon peace. The last war showed how precarious our situation was: we “won” the last war by a miracle. Had America not come in we should surely have lost it. But nobody remembered that in making peace. Still less did anybody think about what the new development of the aeroplane really meant for England. Basil Zaharoff’s submarines, Bleriot’s aeroplanes – they meant the end of England: the end of an England that could exist and prosper in defiance of the world. England, henceforward, could live only by the world’s consent. If our politicians – statesmen I cannot call them – had had an inkling of this truth, they would have moved earth, and heaven, to secure a just peace-settlement, knowing that England was henceforward vulnerable as no other country in the world. Whatever war may mean for the continent, it means destruction for England. We may arm ourselves to the teeth, make the whole island one single gas- and bomb-proof shelter, none the less we shall be destroyed: our teeming populations will be wiped out, reduced from forty millions to ten.


If England is to survive, peace is necessary. No matter what it may be for the rest of the world it is a life-and-death affair for us. But we cannot have peace by asking for it, not even by praying for it (unless prayer has a new meaning for us). The condition of achieving peace in the modern world is to be prepared to give up everything for peace. It is no use making conditions; it is no use gulling yourself that you can offer the world “Peace – or War,” like the Roman ambassador in the old story. No one can tell how long it will take this nation to reach the knowledge that it must be prepared to sacrifice anything for peace; but with every individual who comes to the decision that he is prepared to sacrifice everything, himself, for peace, the time grows less. In them England is preparing to pay her debt to the world.

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