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John Middleton Murry: Modern warfare is the deliberate massacre of the innocents


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 Warfare: Old and New

Modern warfare is the deliberate massacre of the innocents. When humanity gets to that point, something has to happen. This is an abomination different in more than degree from the old horror of war. In spite of the persistence of that old horror, humanity has very gradually climbed a few rungs up the ladder of morality. War is now such an abomination that it will plunge mankind not merely into physical disaster, but into an unplumbed moral abyss.


From The Foolishness of Peace

It is something – and no small thing either – to have the truth publicly asserted by an English statesman to-day. But how can it be reconciled with modern war – the modern murder of unarmed populations?…That in the very effort to defend, by modern war, a society which (as I also believe) is based on the supremacy of the human personality, we are doomed completely to abjure the supremacy of human personality.


From Democracy and Politics

For the naked truth is, first, that Democracy cannot be defended by modern war, because in the very effort to put itself in a posture of defence it ceases to be Democracy; and, second – but more important and more essential – because in waging modern warfare by the bestial means that are necessary to it, it annihilates the basic idea of modern Democracy, which is reverence for the individual human being. Democracy cannot be defended by modern war, because practically it is destroyed in the process of unitary military organization, and because its spiritual content, its meaning, is destroyed by the bestiality of its necessary military acts.


From Faith and Politics

The difference between a sentiment for peace and a conviction for peace is that the latter is prepared for sacrifices, while the former is not. Peace is a definite thing, for the establishment of which men have to struggle against the current of the world. It is not even enough to abandon war – though the real abandonment of war is far more definite and exacting than cherishing a sentiment for peace – it is necessary, in the last resort, to achieve peace in one’s heart: the peace which can look forward, undismayed, to a plunge into the totally unknown.


Pacifism, that is to say, cannot be contorted into a means of defence for a society that is, or even into an insurance against war. Pacifism, as surely as international war, means the existing society goes into the melting-pot: only pacifism means that we go into the melting pot. But that pacifism is an easy way out, or that it is a solution which must be self-evident to any sane and sensible man – that is simply untrue.


From Pacifism and Property

The social structure that makes for war, makes also nearly all the things you regard as indispensable to living. It is surprising how many people still count themselves Pacifists, who mean by it no more than they would like to have all they have, and enjoy all that they enjoy, without the disturbance, the danger, and the mental discomfort of war. War is to them a horrible business, and they see no reason why it should not be stopped. It is a strange and hideous excrescence upon an otherwise comely world, and they propose that it should be cut off, painlessly, as it were under an anesthetic.


The modern anthropologists tell us that in a primitive society men were not, as we used to imagine them, armed to the teeth against one another: on the contrary, they were pacific. If that be so, it may well serve as a parable, and a prophesy. If we want peace, we shall have to achieve some new basic simplicity of living. If we want privilege, if we want more than our poorest neighbor, then, whether we are conscious of it or not, whether we call ourselves Pacifists or not, our unconscious social being is making for war.


From Revolution Through Peace

To call your soul your own, and to keep it your own, in this modern world, in which the corporate unconsciousness of every nation is driving steadily toward war – well, to my mind there is nothing more revolutionary than that….The pacifist who does not realize that modern society is an economic whole which is to-day being kept in motion chiefly by armaments-production has a great deal to learn.


There are still a great many people who believe themselves to be pacifists, yet think they will have kept faith if they decline to be implicated directly and visibly in war. That is not enough. The licence to conscience that the totalitarian state of to-day will give while making war is only a licence to assist it in the “peaceful” departments of war-making….

Nothing less, finally, than the absolute non-cooperation with the modern state in time of war is required of the pacifist.


From Save the Children

The individual who decides to resist war and take the consequences has at one stroke removed cause and effect as well. The tiny cell of the vast social organism that he is, has declared for life instead of death, for love instead of hate, for reality instead of illusion.

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