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John Middleton Murry: Weapons of modern war involve bestialization of humanity


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 The Risk of Pacifism

It seems to me self-evident that pacifism can have only one policy which is expressive of its conviction. That policy is the policy of complete unilateral disarmament. Any other policy than that is not a pacifist policy.


The potentiality of pacifism lies in its absolute freedom from political compromise. Its basic and initial vision is that the time for compromise is over, for every form of political compromise leads ultimately to the one catastrophe of war. Pacifism therefore starts with the complete dissociation of the individual, as an individual, from war. This it regards as the one thing needful.


From Looking Before and After

The more luminously certain it appears to me that pacifism is the only way out of the stagnation and deathwards retrogression in which civilization is caught, the more evident it also appears that pacifism must at some point make the extreme demand upon us – the demand for a total sacrifice. Pacifism is, indeed, the only way out; but it is not an easy way out.


I would not for one moment suggest that the object of pacifism is anything other than the absolutely simple one of preventing war, by any means which does not involve the pacifist in participation in war. Modern pacifism will have failed if it does not become a determinant influence in preventing another war. Something else – something indeed essential to pacifism – may endure through the horror of war; but pacifism itself will have failed if that disaster comes.


From Concerning Compromise

Relative pacifists, who were prepared to take a non-combatant role in national defence, might be tolerated and used: but absolute pacifists could not be. Yet it was still part of the tradition of the country that there should be toleration of the individual who offered absolute, but non-violent resistance to participation in war. And it seemed to me that the real task of pacifists was, by their own existence, to compel the nation into some degree of self-consciousness – some actual realization that the “liberty” they would be called upon to defend by a total organization of mass-murder was actually being destroyed in the preparation for defense.


From Absolute: Relative: Absolute

A point is reached, in human history, when the manifest evil of war outweighs any possible good that may emerge from it. The weapons of war are so terrible that merely to use them involves a bestialization of humanity.


Absolute Pacifism, therefore, as I understand it, does not say that good can never come of evil. That would be to fly in the face of all my experience. It simply says that the evil of modern war is so monstrous that it completely and utterly outweighs any good that may come of it.


There is but a single plank to the Pacifist platform: the repudiation of modern war. It has but a single recommendation: to stop modern war by refusing to take part in it.


There is no “correct line” for Pacifists, no matter what they become.

Their business is to be awakeners of the human imagination to the sheer obscenity of modern war, primarily, and then to the corruptness of many other conditions which tend to make probable the outbreak of war. And, I should say, their business is also and equally to bring into being some germ of positive and creative life – that is, of quickened individuality, in themselves and others – that may work against the tremendous deathward drive of de-individualized humanity.


From The Signs of the Time

The basic fact is that the nature of war has utterly changed, even within the space of a generation. War is no longer war between between soldiers; war is no longer a defence of civil order; war is no longer a thing that can be justified to any form of the Christian conscience.


From The Preparation of the Pacifist

International war is avoided by plunging into civil war; and nowadays civil war (as is demonstrated daily in Spain) returns to international war.

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