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Arnold Bennett: The Primary Object of War


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

British writers on peace and war

Arnold Bennett: The miraculous lunacy of war

Arnold Bennett: The Slaughterer

Arnold Bennett: War casualties and war profiteers


Arnold Bennett
The Primary Object of War
From the Daily News and Leader, London

The primary object of this war and of all wars is to lacerate human flesh, to break bones, to inflict tortures, to paralyze, and to kill. Every army in the field today is out for maiming and homicide, and for nothing else. Certainly armies make prisoners, not because they want to do so, rather because they are afraid logically to carry out their principles. Every explosive weapon, from the 42-centimeter gun to the service revolver, is designed, made, charged, and fired with the definite and clear intention of either doing men to death or inflicting upon them the severest possible disablement, which must nearly always be accompanied by intense physical pain, and which very often involves life-long misery and woe. Guns are aimed against buildings only for the reason that they serve directly or indirectly to protect men from murder and disablement, and the purpose of destroying buildings is to deprive men of some kind of defense, and thus expose them to destruction, torture, and paralysis. This is war. This is what is going on daily just now in many different parts of Europe against the outraged conscience of the world. This is the basis of military glory, and of all those other fustian things that overlords rant about. This is what overlords wish to perpetuate among the usages of mankind. Let us never forget that war is first and last the tearing of human flesh, the shattering of human bones, and the greatest source of human agony, both physical and mental.

We see on a poster “Ten Thousand Casualties.” But we forbear from letting the words raise an image in our minds. Our conception of the affair implied by those three words is a mathematical conception more than anything else. We do not see a thousand prisoners led away in despair, nor a thousand decaying corpses lying in strange, contorted attitudes on the ground, nor eight thousand tortured, bleeding men, whose torn and pierced bodies have in a few moments exuded hogsheads of blood. You protest that I ought not to use such a phrase as “hogsheads of blood” – it sickens you. And why should you not be sickened? Those hogsheads of blood, lacerated limbs, smashed bones, glazing eyes, screams of pain, are exactly what we all in every country asked for when we voted supplies. A battery which could not point proudly to such results might as well spike its guns in shame. It is a tremendous pity that those who cause war seldom see what the thing is that they have caused. It is a tremendous pity that we cannot all of us see on the cinema the fall of a shell into a trench crowded with men, and the convulsions of the wounded in the open field. What men can suffer we ought surely to have the strength to witness! Could we bring ourselves to do so, could diplomatists, overlords, and financiers be compelled to do so, there would be an end to war and of bellicose ideals. War only persists because people do not realize what it is. People object to realizing what it is, and their delicate sensibilities are carefully respected by practically all those who talk or write about war.

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