Home > Uncategorized > Grant Allen: How can he be good if he hires himself out indiscriminately to kill or maim whoever he’s told to?

Grant Allen: How can he be good if he hires himself out indiscriminately to kill or maim whoever he’s told to?


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

British writers on peace and war

Grant Allen: I cannot contribute to making peaceable Canadian citizens throw themselves into the devouring whirlpool of militarism

Grant Allen: War and blood money


Grant Allen
From The British Barbarians

Bertram rather yawned through that technical talk; he was a man of peace, and schemes of organised bloodshed interested him no more than the details of a projected human sacrifice, given by a Central African chief with native gusto, would interest an average European gentleman.


“Oh, he’s a gentleman,” the General repeated, with unshaken conviction: “a thoroughbred gentleman.” And he scanned Philip up and down with his keen grey eye as if internally reflecting that Philip’s own right to criticise and classify that particular species of humanity was a trifle doubtful. “I should much like to make a captain of hussars of him. He’d be splendid as a leader of irregular horse; the very man for a scrimmage!” For the General’s one idea when he saw a fine specimen of our common race was the Zulu’s or the Red Indian’s – what an admirable person he would be to employ in killing and maiming his fellow-creatures!


“That’s General Claviger of Herat, I suppose,” he said in a low tone, as they retreated out of ear-shot beside the clump of syringas. “What a stern old man he is, to be sure, with what a stern old face! He looks like a person capable of doing or ordering all the strange things I’ve read of him in the papers.”

“Oh, yes,” Frida answered, misunderstanding for the moment her companion’s meaning. “He’s a very clever man, I believe, and a most distinguished officer.”

Bertram smiled in spite of himself. “Oh, I didn’t mean that,” he cried, with the same odd gleam in his eyes Frida had so often noticed there. “I meant, he looked capable of doing or ordering all the horrible crimes he’s credited with in history. You remember, it was he who was employed in massacring the poor savage Zulus in their last stand at bay, and in driving the Afghan women and children to die of cold and starvation on the mountain-tops after the taking of Kabul. A terrible fighter, indeed! A terrible history!”

“But I believe he’s a very good man in private life,” Frida put in apologetically, feeling compelled to say the best she could for her husband’s guest. “I don’t care for him much myself, to be sure, but Robert likes him. And he’s awfully nice, every one says, to his wife and step-children.”

“How CAN he be very good,” Bertram answered in his gentlest voice, “if he hires himself out indiscriminately to kill or maim whoever he’s told to, irrespective even of the rights and wrongs of the private or public quarrel he happens to be employed upon? It’s an appalling thing to take a fellow-creature’s life, even if you’re quite, quite sure it’s just and necessary; but fancy contracting to take anybody’s and everybody’s life you’re told to, without any chance even of inquiring whether they may not be in the right after all, and your own particular king or people most unjust and cruel and blood-stained aggressors? Why, it’s horrible to contemplate. Do you know, Mrs. Monteith,” he went on, with his far-away air, “it’s that that makes society here in England so difficult to me. It’s so hard to mix on equal terms with your paid high priests and your hired slaughterers, and never display openly the feelings you entertain towards them. Fancy if you had to mix so yourself with the men who flogged women to death in Hungary, or with the governors and jailors of some Siberian prison! That’s the worst of travel. When I was in Central Africa, I sometimes saw a poor black woman tortured or killed before my very eyes; and if I’d tried to interfere in her favour, to save or protect her, I’d only have got killed myself, and probably have made things all the worse in the end for her. And yet it’s hard indeed to have to look on at, or listen to, such horrors as these without openly displaying one’s disgust and disapprobation. Whenever I meet your famous generals, or your judges and your bishops, I burn to tell them how their acts affect me; yet I’m obliged to refrain, because I know my words could do no good and might do harm, for they could only anger them. My sole hope of doing anything to mitigate the rigour of your cruel customs is to take as little notice of them as possible in any way whenever I find myself in unsympathetic society.”

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