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John Middleton Murry: The machine of war


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 Democracy and the Democrat

There is this element in such an achievement, let us make no mistake about it – the pride of the modern airman in his own ruthless efficiency. He sits remote and apart. What are human beings to him? Objectives to be obliterated. What it all means, he has no idea. Neither have the authorities who send him. Long since, men have given up asking what it means. The Machine swoops them along, the doped slaves of Destruction. And hundreds of thousands of charming young Englishmen are being prepared to plunge into the same bright-eyed insanity, their fingers positively itching to let fall their load of bombs on a real city of real people….

What is really happening is that as the machinery of human devastation becomes daily more precise and scientific, the justification for mutual extermination become more precise and scientific too….

But, alas, the moment has come when Democracy, in the illusion that it is defending itself, may consent to modes of warfare which utterly annihilate its own inward principle. The reverence for the individual, without which it cannot live, has to be extirpated from the minds of its defenders. It may be said that this was always so. But, first, the allowance of conflict between soldier and soldier is different in kind from the allowance of the deliberate destruction of an unarmed population of women and children and men; and, second, it is precisely at the moment when Democracy becomes a reality that it is forced to defend itself by deliberate and wholesale barbarity. It can defend itself only be destroying itself. It can defend itself as a body, only be destroying its own spirit; nor will its body escape destruction either.


From The Man in the Machine

What, I find myself asking myself continually, is happening to the Man of to-day? What, for example, actually takes place in the psyche of the young recruit to the R.A.F. to-day?…

That is the spirit in which he takes out a bombing-plane, under instruction, and lets drop a cargo of dummy bombs on their target. It’s a technical problem and his tools are superb. They will be still more superb next month, for the designers have something quite extra-special up their sleeve. Meanwhile he wants full-marks for the handling of the pretty tool he has got.

“But, my friend, that target is women and children – humanity. You are learning most efficiently to wipe them out like flies.”

Well, of course, that doesn’t bear thinking about – not in that way. And he doesn’t intend to think about it….

Once the imagination has been set working it becomes a mere self-deception to suppose that making armaments is more pacific , or more human, than learning how to drop bombs accurately from a bombing-plane.


From Guernica Revisited

We English are appalled by Guernica. Yet what do we as a nation propose to do to stop Guernicas? To go and make more Guernicas. We English are appalled by the fact that “something” makes us drain our still-teeming wealth, not into making this country into the home of comely men and women, but into preparing the wherewithal for a hundred Guernicas.

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