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Robert Hugh Benson: The whole human race will be at war

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

British writers on peace and war

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Robert Hugh Benson
From The Lord of the World

“Europe is arming as fast as possible. I hear we are to meet the Powers next week at Paris. I must go.”

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“There is no more. But it is just as certain as it can be that this is the crisis. If the East can be persuaded to hold its hand now, it will never be likely to raise it again. It will mean free trade all over the world, I suppose, and all that kind of thing. But if not -”

“Well?”

“If not, there will be a catastrophe such as never has been even imagined. The whole human race will be at war, and either East or West will be simply wiped out. These new Benninschein explosives will make certain of that.”

“But is it absolutely certain that the East has got them?”

“Absolutely. Benninschein sold them simultaneously to East and West; then he died, luckily for him.”

Mabel had heard this kind of talk before, but her imagination simply refused to grasp it. A duel of East and West under these new conditions was an unthinkable thing. There had been no European war within living memory, and the Eastern wars of the last century had been under the old conditions. Now, if tales were true, entire towns would be destroyed with a single shell. The new conditions were unimaginable. Military experts prophesied extravagantly, contradicting one another on vital points; the whole procedure of war was a matter of theory; there were no precedents with which to compare it. It was as if archers disputed as to the results of cordite. Only one thing was certain – that the East had every modern engine, and, as regards male population, half as much again as the rest of the world put together; and the conclusion to be drawn from these premisses was not reassuring to England.

But imagination simply refused to speak. The daily papers had a short, careful leading article every day, founded upon the scraps of news that stole out from the conferences on the other side of the world….Nothing suffered very much; trade went on; European stocks were not appreciably lower than usual; men still built houses, married wives, begat sons and daughters, did their business and went to the theatre, for the mere reason that there was no good in anything else. They could neither save nor precipitate the situation; it was on too large a scale. Occasionally people went mad – people who had succeeded in goading their imagination to a height whence a glimpse of reality could be obtained; and there was a diffused atmosphere of tenseness. But that was all. Not many speeches were made on the subject; it had been found inadvisable. After all, there was nothing to do but to wait.

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