Mary L. Cummins: The News of War

September 10, 2020 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

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Mary L. Cummins
The News of War

Thirty thousand men swept away –
Thus comes the dirge from afar,
Thirty thousand on one dread day –
This is the news of war.

Thirty thousand desolate homes,
With women and babes who weep,
Weep for the thirty thousand souls,
Gone to their long, long sleep.

Gone? Cut down without time for thought
Of the God whom they have to face,
With never a friendly hand to mark
Their lonely resting place.

Land is dear bought with the price of blood,
And the breaking of human hearts,
And heavy, indeed, the price we pay
To heal a nation’s smarts.

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Vincent Godfrey Burns: An Ex-Serviceman Makes a Vow

September 9, 2020 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Vincent Godfrey Burns
An Ex-Serviceman Makes a Vow

War is a way the statesmen play,
Getting gain from a world in pain;
Perhaps they will say on some future day
“Let us try this game again!”

Patriot wags with the same old gags
Will exhort us to enlist once more,
Hand us guns and drums with their battle-flags
For the sport of that field of gore,

Where the rockets flare and the field-guns blare
Their tidings of terrible doom,
Where the chlorined air deals death everywhere
Till earth is one ghastly tomb.

A hard hill’s crest, a machine-gun nest –
There the bayonets will do their worst!
But God I’ve confessed I will do my best
That the foe will kill me first!

I’d rather die like a pig in a stye
With a bullet through my head,
Than hear that cry where the red heaps lie –
The last, soft sob of the dead!

Oh, God in heaven, let loose Thy leaven
Of Love in the hearts of men,
That forgiving seventy times the seven
Our world may have Peace! Amen.

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Walt Whitman: Away with themes of war! away with war itself!

September 8, 2020 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Walt Whitman
From Song of the Exposition

The male and female many laboring not,
Shall ever here confront the laboring many,
With precious benefits to both, glory to all,
To thee America, and thee eternal Muse.

And here shall ye inhabit powerful Matrons!
In your vast state vaster than all the old,
Echoed through long, long centuries to come,
To sound of different, prouder songs, with stronger themes,
Practical, peaceful life, the people’s life, the People themselves,
Lifted, illumin’d, bathed in peace – elate, secure in peace.

Away with themes of war! away with war itself!
Hence from my shuddering sight to never more return that
show of blacken’d, mutilated corpses!
That hell unpent and raid of blood, fit for wild tigers or for
lop-tongued wolves, not reasoning men,
And in its stead speed industry’s campaigns,
With thy undaunted armies, engineering,
Thy pennants labor, loosen’d to the breeze,
Thy bugles sounding loud and clear.

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Martha Shepard Lippincott: Peace on Earth

September 7, 2020 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

Martha Shepard Lippincott: Nations now for mammon fight

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Martha Shepard Lippincott
Peace on Earth

Peace be on earth, good will to men.
Oh! let us now Christ’s lesson teach,
Love, charity and kindly deeds
Is what dear Christ would ever preach.
War, wealth and strife he loveth not,
And they can never be his cause;
But peace, forbearance, charity
Have ever been our Saviour’s laws.

To shed the blood of others’ lives
Will never help to make wrong right;
It but increases earthly woes,
Puts Christians in a wicked light.
War is the fruit of hate, revenge,
Or else the greed for others’ wealth,
In private life we e’er would call
It murder, robbery and stealth.

Then why should it at wholesale rate
E’er be considered to be right,
When in an individual case
‘Twould drag a soul to darkest night?
To kill men in revenge is wrong,
So killing nations is a sin,
‘Tis wholesale murder in God’s sight,
His favor war can never win.

‘Tis horrible and worldly strife ,
A nation slaughtered for a gain,
That while the winning side rejoice,
How many hearts are filled with pain?
While purses of some ’twill enrich,
It is degrading to the soul,
And many mothers’ sons are lost,
Far worse than when sad death bells toll.

‘Tis not Christ’s way to right a wrong,
Nor man’s way either should it be,
Far better love and kindness rule
Than bitter animosity.
War stirs up in the human heart
But hatred, jealousy and greed,
For spiritual and better life
It does not sow a single seed.

Peace be on earth and live for love,
That will develop the lost soul;
In God’s great army let us now
For love and mercy all enroll;
Live as he bids and raise the world
Above a realm of care and strife,
And teach mankind the better part,
Preparing for eternal life.

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Charles Edward Montague: Post-war prescription for peace

September 6, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Charles Edward Montague: Selections on war and its aftermath

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Charles Edward Montague
From Disenchantment

Most of us, on the whole, find that effort is less fun than it was, and many things somewhat dull that used to sparkle with interest; the salt has lost, not all, but some of its savour; the grasshopper is a bit of a burden; old hobbies of politics, social causes, liberal comradeships, the loves and wars of letters and art, which used to excite, look at times as if they might only have been, at the best, rather a much ado about nothing; buzzing about our heads there come importunate suspicions that much of what we used to do so keenly was hardly worth doing, and that the dim, far goals we used to struggle towards were only possibly worth trying for and are, anyhow, out of reach now. That is the somewhat sick spirit’s condition. The limp apathy that we see at elections, the curious indifference in presence of public wrongs and horrors, the epidemic of sneaking pilferage, the slackening of sexual self-control – all these are symptomatic like the furred tongue, subnormal heat, and muddy eye.

****

Like the hard drinker next morning, we suffer a touch of Hamlet’s complaint, the malady of the dyspeptic soul, of indolent kings and of pampered youth before it has found any man’s work to try itself on –

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of the world!

****

The moral beauty of perfect contrition is preached to a beaten enemy by our Press while the vitals of England are rotting with unprecedented growths of venereal disease: an England of boundlessly advertised heroes and saints has ousted the England in which you would never, wherever you travelled, be given wrong change on a bus.

****

Working apart from the whole overblown world of war valuations, the scramble for honours earned and unearned, the plotting and jostling for front places on the stage and larger letters on the bill, the whole life that is commonly held up to admiration as great and enviable, they will live in a kind of retreat almost cloistral; plenty of work for the faculties, plenty of rest for the nerves, control for desire and atrophy for conceit.

****

We must remember that, in the course of nature, the proportion of former combatants among us must steadily decline. And war hath no fury like a non-combatant. Can you not already forehear, in the far distance, beyond the peace period now likely to come, the still, small voice…beginning to pipe up again with Ancient Pistol’s ancient suggestion: “What? Shall we have incision? Shall we imbrue?” And then a sudden furore, a war-dance, a beating of tom-toms. And so the whole cycle revolving again. “Seest thou not, I say, what a deformed thief this fashion is? How giddily a’ turns about all the hot bloods between fourteen and five-and-thirty? Sometimes fashioning them like Pharaoh’s soldiers in the reechy painting, sometimes like god Bel’s priests in the old church window; sometimes like the shaven Hercules in the smirched worm-eaten tapestry?” Anything to be in the fashion.

There is only one thing for it. There must still be five or six million ex-soldiers. They are the most determined peace party that ever existed in Britain.

****

[From the Manchester Guardian under the title of The Church and the War – A Satire in 1900, signed A Patriot]

“Still, man’s moral nature cannot, I admit, live by war alone. Nor do I say, with some, that peace is wholly bad. Even amid the horrors of peace you will find little shoots of character fed by the gentle and timely rains of plague and famine, tempest and fire; simple lessons of patience and courage conned in the schools of typhus, gout, and stone; not oratorios, perhaps, but homely anthems and rude hymns played on knife and gun, in the long winter nights. Far from me to ‘sin our mercies’ or to call mere twilight dark. Yet dark it may become. For remember that even these poor makeshift schools of character, these second-bests, these halting substitutes for war -remember that the efficiency of every one of them, be it hunger, accident, ignorance, sickness or pain, is menaced by the intolerable strain of its struggle with secular doctors, plumbers, inventors, school-masters, and policemen. Every year thousands who would in nobler days have been braced and steeled by manly tussles with smallpox or diphtheria are robbed of that blessing by the great changes made in our drains. Every year thousands of women and children must go their way bereft of the rich spiritual experience of the widow and the orphan. I try not to despond, but when I think of all that Latimer owed to the fire, Regulus to a spiked barrel, Socrates to prison, and Job to destitution and disease – when I think of these things and then think of how many of my poor fellow creatures in our modern world are robbed daily of the priceless discipline of danger, want, and torture, then I ask myself – I cannot help asking myself – whether we are not walking into a very slough of moral and spiritual squalor.

“Once more, I am no alarmist. As long as we have wars to stay our souls upon, the moral evil will not be grave; and, to do the Ministry justice, I see no risk of their drifting into any long or serious peace. But weak or vicious men may come after them, and it is now, in the time of our strength, of quickened insight and deepened devotion, that we must take thought for the leaner years when there may be no killing of multitudes of Englishmen, no breaking up of English homes, no chastening blows to English trade, no making, by thousands, of English widows, orphans, and cripples – when the school may be shut and the rain a drought and the oratorio dumb.”

But what did a few unfashionable curmudgeons count for, against so many gifted divines?

****
So now the pre-war virilists, the literary braves who felt that they had supped too full of peace, have died in their beds, or lost voice, like the cuckoos in June, and a different breed find voice and pipe up. These are the kind, the numerous kind, whose youth has supped quite full enough of war. For them Bellona has not the mystical charm, as of grapes out of reach, that she had for the Henleys and Stevensons. All the veiled-mistress business is off. Battles have no aureoles now in the sight of young men as they had for the British prelate who wrote that old poem about the “red rain.” The men of the counter-reaction have gone to the school and sat the oratorio out and taken a course of the waters, after the worthy prelate’s prescription. They have seen trenches full of gassed men, and the queue of their friends at the brothel-door in Bethune. At the heart of the magical rose was seated an earwig.

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Clinton Scollard: Victories

September 5, 2020 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Clinton Scollard: Selections on war and peace

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Clinton Scollard
Perseus

The old Medusa War, of grim array,
Lo, we had deemed the grisly horror dead!
May there arise some Perseus Peace to slay
This new Medusa of the gorgon head!

****

Victories

Strife strides o ’er alien lands with deafening roar,
And , as we list, the fearsome sounds increase ;
May all our triumphs be, from shore to shore,
The victories of Peace!

****

The Winds of God

Across the azure spaces,
Athwart the vasts of sky,
With winnowings of mighty wings
The winds of God go by.

Above the meres and mountains,
With unseen sandals shod,
Above the plains, with choric strains,
Sweep by the winds of God.

“Peace !- in His name!” they murmur;
“Peace – in His name!” they cry
Oh, men, give ear! Do ye not hear
The winds of God go by?

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Margaret Widdemer: A Mother to the War-Makers

September 4, 2020 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

Margaret Widdemer: After War

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Margaret Widdemer
A Mother to the War-Makers

This is my son that you have taken,
Guard lest your gold-vault walls be shaken,
Never again to speak or waken.

This, that I gave my life to make,
This you have bidden the vultures break –
Dead for your selfish quarrel’s sake!

This that I built all of my years,
Made with my strength and love and tears,
Dead for pride of your shining spears!

Just for your playthings bought and sold
You have crushed to a heap of mold
Youth and life worth a whole world’s gold –

This was my son, that you have taken,
Guard lest your gold-vault walls be shaken –
This – that shall never speak or waken!

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Charles Edward Montague: Aloof, detached officers lead to thousands of little brown bundles

September 3, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Charles Edward Montague: Selections on war and its aftermath

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Charles Edward Montague
From Disenchantment

The winter after the battle of Loos a sentry on guard at one part of our line could always see the frustrate skeletons of many English dead. They lay outside our wire, picked clean by the rats, so that the khaki fell in on them loosely – little heaps of bone and cloth half hidden now by nettles and grass. If the sentry had been a year in the army he knew well enough that they had gone foredoomed into a battle lost before a shot was fired. After the Boer War, you remember, England, under the first shock of its blunders, had tried to find out why the Staff work was so bad. What it found, in the words of a famous Report, was that the fashion in sentiment in our Regular Army was to think hard work “bad form”; a subaltern was felt to be a bit of a scrub if he worried too much about discovering how to support an attack when he might be more spiritedly employed in playing polo; “The nobleness of life,” as Antony said, when he kissed Cleopatra, was to go racing or hunting, not to sit learning how to forecast the course of great battles and how to provide for answering their calls. And so the swathes of little brown bundles, with bones showing through, lay in the nettles and grass.

Consider the course of the life of the British Regular officer as you had known him in youth – not the pick, the saving few, the unconquerably sound and keen, but the average, staple article made by a sleek, complacent, snobbish, safe, wealth-governed England after her own image. Think of his school; of the mystic aureole of quasi-moral beauty attached by authority there to absorption in the easy thing – in play; the almost passionate adoration of all those energies and dexterities which, in this world of evolution towards the primacy of the acute, full brain, are of the least possible use as aids to survival in men and to victory in armies….

That was how Staff College French came to be what it was. And as it was what it was, you can guess what Staff College tactics and strategy were, and why all the little brown bundles lay where they did in the nettles and grass.

****

We had not been long in Cologne when there arrived in hot haste a young pressman from London, one of the first of a swarm. He looked a fine strong man. He seemed to be one of the male Vestals who have it for their trade to feed the eternal flame of hatred between nations, instead of cleaning out stables or doing some other work fit for a male. His train had fortunately brought him just in time for luncheon. This he ate and drank with goodwill, complaining only that the wine, which seemed to me good, was not better. He then slept on his bed until tea-time. Reanimated with tea, he said genially, “Well, I must be getting on with my mission of hate,” and retired to his room to write a vivacious account of the wealth and luxury of Cologne, the guzzling in all cafés and restaurants, the fair round bellies of all the working class, the sleek and rosy children of the poor. I read it, two days after, in his paper. Our men who had helped to fight Germany down were going short of food at the time, through feeding the children in houses where they were billeted.

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Grace Fallow Norton: O I have heard the drums beat for war!

September 2, 2020 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

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Grace Fallow Norton
Mobilization in Brittany

It was silent in the street.
I did not know until a woman told me,
Sobbing over the muslin she sold me.
Then I went out and walked to the square
And saw a few dazed people standing there.

And then the drums beat, the drums beat!
O then the drums beat!
And hurrying, stumbling through the street
Came the hurrying stumbling feet.
O I have heard the drums beat
For war!

I have heard the townsfolk come,
I have heard the roll and thunder of the nearest drum
As the drummer stopped and cried, ‘Hear!
Be strong! The summons comes! Prepare!’
Closing he prayed us to be calm….

And there was calm in my heart of the desert, of the dead sea,
Of vast plains of the West before the coming storm,
And there was calm in their eyes like the last calm that shall be.

And then the drum beat,
The fatal drum, beat,
And the drummer marched through the street
And down to another square,
And the drummer above took up the beat
And sent it onward where
Huddled, we stood and heard the drums roll,
And then a bell began to toll.

O I have heard the thunder of drums
Crashing into simple poor homes.
I have heard the drums roll ‘Farewell!’
I have heard the tolling cathedral bell.
Will it ever peal again?
Shall I ever smile or feel again?
What was joy? What was pain?

For I have heard the drums beat,
I have seen the drummer striding from street to street,
Crying, ‘Be strong! Hear what I must tell!’
While the drums roared and rolled and beat
For war!

II

Last night the men of this region were leaving. Now they are far.
Rough and strong they are, proud and gay they are.
So this is the way of war….

The train was full and we all shouted as it pulled away.
They sang an old war-song, they were true to themselves, they were gay!
We might have thought they were going for a holiday –

Except for something in the air,
Except for the weeping of the ruddy old women of Finistère.
The younger women do not weep. They dream and stare.

They seem to be walking in dreams. They seem not to know
It is their homes, their happiness, vanishing so.
(Every strong man between twenty and forty must go.)

They sang an old war-song. I have heard it often in other days,
But never before when War was walking the world’s highways.
They sang, they shouted, the Marseillaise!

The train went and another has gone, but none, coming, has brought word.
Though you may know, you, out in the world, we have not heard,
We are not sure that the great battalions have stirred –

Except for something, something in the air,
Except for the weeping of the wild old women of Finistère.
How long will the others dream and stare?

The train went. The strong men of this region are all away, afar.
Rough and strong they are, proud and gay they are.
So this is the way of war….

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George William Russell: Gods of War

September 1, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Irish writers on peace and war

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George William Russell (A.E.)
Gods of War

Fate wafts us from the pygmies’ shore:
We swim beneath the epic skies:
A Rome and Carthage war once more,
And wider empires are the prize;
Where the beaked galleys clashed, lo, these
Our iron dragons of the sea!

High o’er the mountains’ dizzy steep
The winged chariots take their flight.
The steely creatures of the deep
Cleave the dark waters’ ancient night.
Below, above, in wave, in air
New worlds for conquest everywhere.

More terrible than spear or sword
Those stars that burst with fiery breath:
More loud the battle cries are poured
Along a hundred leagues of death.
So do they fight. How have ye warred,
Defeated Armies of the Lord?

This is the Dark Immortals’ hour;
His victory, whoever fail;
His prophets have not lost their power:
Ceasar and Attila prevail.
These are your legions still, proud ghosts,
These myriad embattled hosts.

How wanes thine empire, Prince of Peace!
With the fleet circling of the suns
The ancient gods their power increase.
Lo, how thine own anointed ones
Do pour upon the warring bands
The devil’s blessing from their hands!

Who dreamed a dream mid outcasts born
Could overbrow the pride of kings?
They pour on Christ the ancient scorn.
His Dove its gold and silver wings
Has spread. Perhaps it nests in flame
In outcasts who abjure His name.

Choose ye your rightful gods, nor pay
Lip reverence that the heart denies,
O Nations. Is not Zeus to-day,
The thunderer from the epic skies,
More than the Prince of Peace? Is Thor
Not nobler for a world at war?

They fit the dreams of power we hold,
These gods whose names are with us still.
Men in their image made of old
The high companions of their will.
Who seek an airy empire’s pride,
Would they pray to the Crucified?

O outcast Christ, it was too soon
For flags of battle to be furled
While life was yet at the high noon.
Come in the twilight of the world:
Its kings may greet Thee without scorn
And crown Thee then without a thorn.

 

 

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Charles Edward Montague: War propaganda leaves bill to be settled in peacetime

August 30, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Charles Edward Montague: Selections on war and its aftermath

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Charles Edward Montague
From Disenchantment

“Our casualties will be enormous,” a General at G.H.Q. said with the utmost serenity on the eve of one of our great attacks in 1917. The average war correspondent – there were golden exceptions – insensibly acquired the same cheerfulness in face of vicarious torment and danger. In his work it came out at times in a certain jauntiness of tone that roused the fighting troops to fury against the writer. Through his despatches there ran a brisk implication that regimental officers and men enjoyed nothing better than “going over the top”; that a battle was just a rough, jovial picnic; that a fight never went on long enough for the men; that their only fear was lest the war should end on this side of the Rhine. This, the men reflected in helpless anger, was what people at home were offered as faithful accounts of what their friends in the field were thinking and suffering.

Most of the men had, all their lives, been accepting “what it says ‘ere in the paper” as being presumptively true. They had taken the Press at its word without checking. Bets had been settled by reference to a paper. Now, in the biggest event of their lives, hundreds of thousands of men were able to check for themselves the truth of that workaday Bible. They fought in a battle or raid, and two days after they read, with jeers on their lips, the account of “the show” in the papers. They felt they had found the Press out. The most bloody defeat in the history of Britain, a very world’s wonder of valour frustrated by feckless misuse, of regimental glory and Staff shame, might occur on the Ancre on July 1, 1916, and our Press come out bland and copious and graphic, with nothing to show that we had not had quite a good day – a victory really. Men who had lived through the massacre read the stuff open-mouthed. Anything, then, could figure as anything else in the Press – as its own opposite even. Black was only an aspect of white. With a grin at the way he must have been taken in up to now, the fighting soldier gave the Press up. So it comes that each of several million ex-soldiers now reads every solemn appeal of a Government, each beautiful speech of a Premier or earnest assurance of a body of employers with that maxim on guard in his mind – “You can’t believe a word you read.”

****

The only new thing about deception in war is modern man’s more perfect means for its practice. The thing has become, in his hand, a trumpet more efficacious than Gideon’s own. When Sinon set out to palm off on the Trojans the false news of a Greek total withdrawal, that first of Intelligence officers made a venture like that of early man, with his flint-headed arrow, accosting a lion. Sinon’s pathetic little armament of yarns, to be slung at his proper peril, was frailer than David’s five stones from the brook. Modern man is far better off. To match the Lewis gun with which he now fires his solids, he has to his hand the newspaper Press, a weapon which fires as fast as the Lewis itself, and is almost as easy to load whenever he needs, in his wars, to let fly at the enemy’s head the thing which is not.

****

Any weapon you use in a war leaves some bill to be settled in peace, and the Propaganda arm has its cost like another. To say so is not to say, without more ado, that it should not be used. Its cost should be duly cast up, like our other accounts; that is all. We all agree – with a certain demur from the Quakers – that one morality has to be practised in peace and another in war; that the same bodily act may be wrong in the one and right in the other. So, to be perfect, you need to have two gears to your morals, and drive on the one gear in war and on the other in peace. While you are on the peace gear you must not even shoot a bird sitting. At the last stroke of some August midnight you clap on the war gear and thenceforth you may shoot a man sitting or sleeping or any way you can get him, provided you and he be soldiers on opposite sides.

****

War confers on those who wage it much the same self-dispensing power. They can absolve themselves of a good many sins. Persuade yourself that you are at war with somebody else and you find your moral liberty expanding almost faster than you can use it. An Irishman in a fury with England says to himself “State of war – that’s what it is,” and then finds he can go out and shoot a passing policeman from behind a hedge without the discomfort of feeling base. The policeman’s comrades say to themselves “State of war – that’s what it has come to,” and go out and burn some other Irishman’s shop without a sense of doing anything wrong, either. They all do it “over the left.” They have stolen the key of the magical garden wherein you may do things that are elsewhere most wicked and yet enjoy the mental peace of the soldier which passeth all understanding.

To kill and to burn may be sore temptations at times, but not so besetting to most men as the temptation to lie is to public speakers and writers. Another frequent temptation of theirs is to live in a world of stale figures of speech, of flags nailed to the mast, of standing to one’s guns, of deaths in last ditches, of quarter neither asked nor given. It is their hobby to figure their own secure, squabblesome lives in images taken from war. And their little excesses, their breaches of manners, and even, sometimes, of actual law, are excused, as a rule, in terms of virile disdain for anything less drastic and stern than the morals of the real warfare which they know so little. We have to think in what state we might leave these weak brethren after a long war in which we had practised them hard in lying for the public good and also in telling themselves it was all right because of the existence of a state of war. State of war! Why, that is what every excitable politician or journalist declares to exist all the time. To the wild party man the party which he hates is always “more deadly than any foreign enemy.” All of us could mention a few politicians, at least, to whom the Great War was merely a passing incident or momentary interruption of the more burningly authentic wars of Irish Orange and Green, or of English Labour and Capital.

****

For in this new warfare the journalist untruthful from previous habit and training would have just that advantage over the journalist of character which the Regular soldier had over the New Army officer or man in the old….

After the war was over he would return to his trade with an immense accession of credit. He would have been decorated and publicly praised and thanked. Having a readier pen than the mere combatant soldiers, he would probably write a book to explain that the country had really been saved by himself, though the fighting men were, no doubt, gallant fellows. He would, in all likelihood, have completed the disengagement of his mind from the idea that public opinion is a thing to be dealt with by argument and persuasion, appeals to reason and conscience. He would feel surer than ever that men’s and women’s minds are most strongly moved not by the leading articles of a paper but by its news, by what they may be led to accept as “the facts.” So the practice of colouring news, of ordering reporters to take care that they see only such facts as tell in one way, would leap forward. For it would have the potent support of a new moral complacency. When a man feels that his tampering with truth has saved civilization, why should he deny himself, in his private business, the benefit of such moral reflections as this feeling may suggest?

****

And then, your war won, there would be that new lie-infested and infected world of peace. In one of his great passages Thucydides tells us what happened to Greece after some years of war and of the necessary war morality. He says that, as far as veracity, public and private, goes, the peace gear was found to have got wholly out of working order and could not be brought back into use. “The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by men as they thought proper.” The pre-war hobby of being straight and not telling people lies went clean out of fashion. Anyone who could bring off a good stroke of deceit, to the injury of some one whom he disliked, “congratulated himself on having taken the safer course, over-reached his enemy, and gained the prize of superior talent.” A man who did not care to use so sound a means to his ends was thought to be a goody-goody ass. War worked in that way on the soul of Greece, in days when war was still confined, in the main, to the relatively cleanly practice of hitting your enemy over the head, wherever you could find him. The philosophers in our dugouts preserved moderation when they expected as ugly a sequel for war in our age, when the chivalrous school seems to have pretty well worked itself out and the most promising lines of advance are poison gas and canards. But the survivors among them are not detached philosophers only. They act in the new world that they foresaw, and the man whose word you could trust like your own eyes and ears, eight years ago, has come back with the thought in his mind that so many comrades of his have expressed: “They tell me we’ve pulled through at last all right because our propergander dished out better lies than what the Germans did. So I say to myself ‘If tellin’ lies is all that bloody good in war, what bloody good is tellin’ truth in peace?'”

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Augustine Birrell: Richard Cobden, visionary of world peace

August 29, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

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Augustine Birrell
From Cobden (1919)

Cobden was too bent on immediate persuasion ever to be offensively didactic. Yet in his hearty and noble detestation of Palmerston’s wars and ways he incurred great unpopularity by using language about England that went far to support the allegation, in itself untrue, that he was one of those men who, in Chatham’s language, had devoured the strange herb which makes men forget their native country. For example, he writes:

“We shall do no good until we can bring home to the conviction and consciences of men the fact that, as in the slave trade, we had surpassed in guilt the whole world , so in foreign wars we have been the most aggressive, quarrelsome, warlike and bloody nation under the sun.” Again: “I wish we had a map, with a red spot printed upon those places by land and sea where we have fought battles since 1688. It would be seen at a glance that we have (unlike any other nation under the sun), been fighting foreign enemies upon every part of the earth’s surface, excepting our own territory – thus showing that we have been the most warlike and aggressive people that ever existed.”

****

Cobden sought peace, as President Wilson is doing, through a League of Nations. Before our Russian War began he wrote: “I should appeal not only to Germany, but to all the States, small as well as great, on the Continent, for such a union as would prevent the possibility of any act of hostility from a common enemy.”

So long ago as 1849 (before President Wilson was born ), Cobden attended a Peace Congress in Paris, which set itself seriously to consider how best to promote the cause of Universal Peace. France, Germany, Belgium, England, and the United States were represented by men at least as eminent as any of those who are to-day making it impossible to get a bed in Paris. Victor Hugo, France incarnate, the mighty lord “of human tears,” was its President. M. de Girardin, the most famous editor in Europe, Lamartine, who was once, at all events, a name to conjure with, Chevalier, Say, and Bastiat, political economists of renown, and many others, unanimously recommended the friends of peace to prepare public opinion in their respective countries for the formation of a Congress of Nations, to revise the existing International Law, and to constitute a High Tribunal for the decision of controversies among nations. In support of their objects the Congress, acting, I am sure, in all good faith and sincerity, called to their aid “the representatives of the Press, so potent to diffuse truth, and also all ministers of religion, whose holy office it is to encourage goodwill among men.” This in August, 1849! What mockery it now sounds! The coup d ‘état, the Italian War; the Chinese War; the Crimean War; the Battle of Sadowa; the Franco-German War, bringing in its train the horrors of the Commune; the Boer War; the last War, and the present state of Europe! We have, indeed, supped full of horrors since 1849, despite all the efforts of a truth-diffusing Press, and the pulpit-eloquence of the ordained preachers of good-will among men.

None the less, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” and it is possible to meet in that same Paris to-day and discuss a League of Nations without even an augural grin appearing upon our speaking countenances. Cobden was on the right lines all his life.

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Charles Edward Montague: War’s demoralization

August 28, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Charles Edward Montague: Selections on war and its aftermath

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Charles Edward Montague
From Disenchantment

The war had more obvious disagreeables, too; you have heard all about them: the quelling coldness of frosty nights spent in soaked clothes – for no blankets were brought up to the trenches; the ubiquitous dust and stench of corpses and buzzing of millions of corpse-fed flies on summer battle-fields; and so on, and so on – no need to go over the list.

****

Nearly everybody is morally weary. Most of the men inspected have outlived the first profuse impulse to court more of bodily risk than authority expressly orders. Most of the doctors, living here in the distant rear of the war, have outlived their first generous belief in an almost universally high moral among the men. In the training-camps in 1914 the safe working presumption about any unknown man was that he only wanted to get at the enemy as soon as he could. Now the working presumption, the starting hypothesis, is that a man wants to stay in, out of the rain, as long as you let him. Faith has fallen lame; generosity flags; there has entered into the soul as well as the body the malady known to athletes as staleness.

****

Even officers tended to deprecate the higher temperatures of ardour in other ranks of base establishments. “You’re out for distinction,” – one honest rationalist would advise – “that’s what it is. Well, trust to me – up the line’s not the place where you get it. Every time a war ends you’ll find most of the decorations go to the people at G.H.Q., L. of C., and the bases.

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Edmund Blunden: War’s undormant cemetery

August 27, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Blunden: Writings on war

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Edmund Blunden
La Quinque Rue

O r o a d in dizzy moonlight bleak and blue,
With forlorn effigies of farms besprawled,
With trees bitterly bare or snapped in two,
Why riddle me thus – attracted and appalled?
For surely now the grounds both left and right
Are tilled, and scarless houses undismayed
Glow in the lustrous mercy of sweet night
And one may hear the flute or fiddle played.
Why lead me then
Through the foul-gorged, the cemeterial fen
To fear’s sharp sentries? Why do dreadful rags
Fur these bulged banks, and feebly move to the wind?
That battered drum, say why it clacks and brags?
Another and another! what’s behind?
How is it that these flints flame out fire’s tongue,
Shrivelling my thought? these collapsed skeletons,
What are they, and these iron hunks among?
Why clink those spades, why glare these startling suns
And topple to the wet and crawling grass,
Where the strange briers in taloned hedges twine?
O road, I know those muttering groups you pass.
I know those moments shrill as shivered glass.
But, I am told, to-night you mildly shine
To trim roofs and cropped fields; the error’s mine.

****

The Ancre at Hamel:
Afterward

Where tongues were loud and hearts were light
I heard the Ancre flow;
Waking oft at the mid of night
I heard the Ancre flow.
I heard it crying, that sad rill,
Below the painful ridge,
By the burnt unraftered mill
And the relic of a bridge.

And could this sighing river seem
To call me far away,
And its pale word dismiss as dream
The voices of to-day?
The voices in the bright room chilled
And that mourned on alone,
The silence of the full moon filled
With that brook’s troubling tone.

The struggling Ancre had no part
In these new hours of mine,
And yet its stream ran through my heart,
I heard it grieve and pine,
As if its rainy tortured blood
Had swirled into my own,
When by its battered bank I stood
And shared its wounded moan.

****

From On Reading That the Rebuilding of Ypres Approached Completion

“But my danger lies even here, even now worn weak and nerveless
I go drooping,
Heavy-headed, and would sleep thus lulled with your love’s fulness.
Sharply awake me
With fierce words, cold as the fangs of bayonets in the frozen saps,
Simple as the fact that you must kill, or go for rations,
As clear as morning blue, as red and grotesque as the open mouths
Of winter corpses.

****

“For words spoke at the Mermaid, I would not give the meanest
That I heard roaring
In some green-shuttered Nachtegaal or Kasteel, a brief evening,
While the panes were jumping;
Far less one of the sweet astounding jests and sallies
That dared contest with smoking salvos the forlorn hope’s attention,
That wreathed the burning steel that slew with man’s eternal laurel
In that one city.

“For her was much accomplished, and she will not forget me,
Whose name is Legion;
She will know who knew her best, and with his rough warm garment
Would have wrapt her;
Her midnight tears will well as grayly she remembers
The hillock’s signifying tree, that choked and gouged and miry,
Was like a cross, but such a cross that there no bleeding Figure
Might hang without tautology.”

 

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Charles Edward Montague: Soldier politician, recruiter of other men for battles that he avoided himself

August 26, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Charles Edward Montague: Selections on war and its aftermath

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Charles Edward Montague
From Disenchantment

London, to any open eye, was grotesque with a kind of fancy-dress ball of non-combatant khaki: it seemed as if no well-to-do person could be an abstainer from warfare too total to go about disguised as a soldier. He might be anything – a lord lieutenant, an honorary colonel, a dealer in horses, a valuer of cloth, an accountant, an actor in full work, a recruiter of other men for the battles that he avoided himself, a “soldier politician” of swiftly and strangely acquired field rank and the “swashing and martial outside” of a Rosalind, and a Rosalind’s record of active service. No doubt this latter carnival was not to be at its height till most of the New Army of 1914 was well out of the way. Conscription had not yet been vouchsafed to the prayers of healthy young publicists who then begged themselves off before tribunals. The ultimate farce of the mobbing of the relatively straight “conscientious objector” by these, his less conscientious brother-objectors, had still to be staged. But already the comedy, like Mercutio’s wound, was enough; it served. Colonel Repington’s confessional diary had not been published, but the underworld which it reveals was pretty correctly guessed by the New Army’s rising suspicion. And rumour said that all the chief tribes of posturers, shirkers, “have-a-good-timers,” and jobbers were banding themselves together against the one man in high place whom the New Army believed, with the assurance of absolute faith, to be straight and “a tryer.” It was said that Kitchener was to be set upon soon by a league of all the sloths whom he had put to work, the “stunt” journalists whom he had kept at a distance, the social principalities and powers whose jobs he would not do.

****

If man, in all his wars, is predestined never to love and trust his Brass Hats, least of all can he struggle against this disability when he is warring in trenches.

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Edmund Blunden: War’s harvest

August 25, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Blunden: Writings on war

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Edmund Blunden
Rural Economy
(1917)

There was winter in those woods
And still it was July:
There were Thule solitudes
With thousands huddling nigh;
There the fox had left his den,
The scraped holes hid not stoats but men.

To these woods the rumour teemed
Of peace five miles away;
In sight, hills hovered, houses gleamed
Where last perhaps we lay
Till the cockerels bawled bright morning and
The hours of life slipped the slack hand.

In sight, life’s farms sent forth their gear,
Here rakes and ploughs lay still,
Yet, save some curious clods, all here
Was raked and ploughed with a will.
The sower was the ploughman too,
And iron seeds broadcast he threw.

What husbandry could outdo this?
With flesh and blood he fed
The planted iron that nought amiss
Grew thick and swift and red.
And in a night though ne’er so cold
Those acres bristled a hundredfold.

Nay, even the wood as well as field
This thoughtful farmer knew
Could be reduced to plough and tilled,
And if he planned, he’d do;
The field and wood, all bone-fed loam,
Shot up a roaring harvest home.

****
From Undertones of War

Night was streaked and dissected with searchlight beams, but the raiding went on thoroughly, turning the area in which troops rest into a floor of Hades. As for the forward area, from the glimpses which I had of it, no unstable invention of dreams could be more dizzily dreadful. Taking up the rations used to be almost a laughing matter – not so now. Merely to find the way through the multiplying tracks and desperate obliteration of local identity would have been a problem; to get horses and vehicles through, in the foundering night of dazzling wildfire and sweltering darkness, with shells coming and going in enormous shocks and gnashing ferocity, to the ration or working party crouching by some old shelter, was the problem….A view of Spoil Bank under these conditions is in my mind’s eye – a hump of slimy soil, with low lurching frames of dugouts seen in some too gaudy glare;a swelling pool of dirty water beside it, among many pools not so big – the record shell hole; tree spikes, shells of wagons, bony spokes forking upward; lightnings east and west of it, dingy splashes; drivers on their seats, looking straight onward; gunners with electric torches finding their way; infantry silhouettes and shadows bowed and laden, and the plank road, tilted, breached, blocked, still stretching ahead. The plank road was at once the salvation and the slaughterhouse of the forward area in this battle. To leave it was to plunge into a swamp; to remain on it was to pass through accurate and ruthless shell fire. Spoil Bank was generally crowded with men and animals.

****

Never (to our judgment) had such shelling fallen upon us. For what reason? The Germans had clearly no idea of letting the British advance any farther along the Menin Road. Their guns of all calibres poured their fury into our small area. Reports of casualties were the principal messages from the front line, and we had no reason to think them exaggerated, with such a perpetual rain of shells. The trenches immediately about our pillboxes were already full of bodies. One man in my headquarters died of shock from a huge shell striking just outside. We endeavoured to send off a pigeon, but the pigeon scared by the gunfire found his way into the dugout again, and presently a noise under the floorboards led to his discovery. The men thought that many shells struck the pillbox. The only question seemed to be when one would pierce it, and make an end.

****

During this period my indebtedness to an Eighteenth Century poet became enormous. At every spare moment I read in Young‘s Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality, and I felt the benefit of this grave and intellectual voice, speaking often in metaphor which came home to one even in a pillbox. The mere amusement of discovering lines applicable to our crisis kept me from despair.

****

We also went to a lecture by a war correspondent, who invited questions, whereon a swarthy old colonel rose and said: “The other day I was obliged to take part in a battle. I afterward read a war correspondent’s account of the battle, which proved to me that I hadn’t been there at all. Will the lecturer explain that, please?”

****

Let me look out again from the train on the way to England. We travel humbly and happily over battlefields already become historic, bewildering solitudes over which the weeds are waving in the mild moon, houseless regions where still there are lengths of trenches twisting in and out, woods like confused ship masts where amateur soldiers, so many of them, accepted death in lieu of war-time wages; at last we come to the old villages from which the battle of 1916 was begun, still rising in mutilation and in liberation.

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Edmund Blunden: One needed no occult gift to notice the shadow of death

August 24, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Blunden: Writings on war

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Edmund Blunden
From Undertones of War

Beyond the area called Thiepval on the map a trench called St. Martin’s Lane led forward; unhappy he who got into it! It was blasted out into a shapeless gully by intense bombardment, and pools of mortar-like mud filled most of it. A few duckboards lay half submerged along the parapet, and these were perforce used by our companies, and ferociously shelled at moments by the enemy. The wooden track ended, and then the men fought their way on through the gluey morass, until not one or two were reduced to tears and impotent wild cries to God. They were not yet at the worst of their duty, for the Schwaben Redoubt was an almost obliterated cocoon of trenches in which mud, and death, and life were much the same thing – and there the deep dugouts, which faced the German guns, were cancerous with torn bodies, and to pass an entrance was to gulp poison; in one place a corpse had apparently been thrust in to stop up a doorway’s dangerous displacement, and an arm swung stupidly. Men of the next battalion were found in mud up to the armpits, and their fate was not spoken of; those who found them could not get them out.

****

But it is time to return from these abysmal peregrinations to the world up aloft, where still in outlying pits a minenwerfer or two (without its team) thrusts up its steel mouth toward the old British line, where the ration party uses the “dry places” in the mud – those bemired carcasses which have not yet ceased to serve “the great adventure” – and the passer-by hates the plosh of the whizzing fuse-top into the much worse than the fierce darts of the shrapnel itself….

****

The best bridge, No. 4, was a ferocious target, but at the Ypres end the new solid crossing was swollen with dead mules tipped on the wayside. The water below, foul yellow and brown, was strewn with full-sized eels, bream, and jack, seething and bulged in death. Gases of several kinds oozed from the crumbled banks and shapeless ditches, souring the air. One needed no occult gift to notice the shadow of death on the bread and cheese in one’s hand, on the discoloured tepid water in one’s bottle.

****

Running along another of the new plank roads, uncertain where it led, we beheld in the sickening brightness a column of artillery wagons, noiseless, smashed, capsized, the remains of mules and drivers sprawling among the wreckage.

****

The order presented no great intellectual difficulty, for the reduced battalion merely had to rise from its water holes, plod through the mud of an already beaten track, and fill other holes. Darkness clammy and complete, save for the flames of shells, masked that movement, but one stunted willow tree at which the track changed direction must haunt the memories of some of us. Trees in this battlefield are already described by Dante.

****

On my leave, I remember principally observing the large decay of lively bright love of country, the crystallization of dull civilian hatred on the basis of “the last drop of blood”; the fact that the German air raids had almost persuaded my London friends that London was the sole battle front; the illusion that the British army beyond Ypres was going from success to success; the ration system. Perhaps the ration system weighed most upon us. This was not the ancient reward of the warrior! He had never had a sugar-card in Marlborough’s wars, or even 1916.

****

Another shell, bursting on a small party of noncommissioned officers as they were about to leave the trenches after relief, robbed us instantly of Sergeant Clifford, a man of similar sweetness of character and for months past invaluable in all necessities. These losses I felt, but with a sensibility blurred by the general grossness of the war. The uselessness of the offensive, the contrast in the quality of ourselves with the quality of the year before, the conviction that the civilian population realized nothing of our state, the rarity of thought, the growing intensity and sweep of destructive forces – these views brought on a mood of selfishness. We should all die, presumably, round Ypres.

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John Middleton Murry: The machine of war

August 23, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

John Middleton Murry: Selections on peace and war

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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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H. M. Tomlinson: Great offensive. Curse such trite and sounding words

August 22, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

H. M. Tomlinson: Greatest evil is unconscious indifference to war’s obscene blasphemy against life

H. M. Tomlinson: The return of the soldier, of he who was once alive

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H. M. Tomlinson
From A Division on the March

I often doubt here the existence of a man who is talking to me. He seems altogether incredible. He might be talking across the Styx; and I am not sure at the moment on which side of that river I stand. Is he on the right side or am I? Which of us has got the place where a daily sun still rises? Yes, it is the living men here who are the uncanny spectres.

I have come in a lonely spot upon a little cross by the wayside, and have been stopped by a familiar name on it. Dead? No. There, right enough, is my veritable friend, as I knew and admired him. He cannot be dead. But those men in muddy clothes who sometimes consort with me round the burning logs on the hearth of an old château at night, I look across the floor at them as across countless ages, and listen to their voices till they sound unintelligibly from a remote and alien past. I do not know what they say to me. I am encompassed by dark and insoluble magic, and have forgotten the Open Sesame, though I try hard to remember it; for these present circumstances and the beings who move in them are of a world unreal and unreasonable.

I listen, and hear it again, the darkness throbbing; the badly adjusted horizon of outer night thudding on the earth–the incessant guns of the great war.

Winter 1917

****

From Holly-Ho!

In the train bound for the leave boat, just before Christmas, the Knight-Errant, who also was returning to the front, re-wrote the well-known hymn of Phillips Brooks for me, to make the time pass. It began:

“Oh little town of Bethlehem,
To thee we give the lie.”

A black smudge of a destroyer followed us over with its eye on us. The main deck was crowded with soldiers – you could not get along there – singing in their lifebelts; at times the chorus, if approved, became a unanimous roar. They didn’t want to be there. They didn’t want to die. They wanted to go home. But they sang with dolorous joy. The chorus died; and we heard again the deep monody of the sea, like the admonitory voice of fate. The battles of the Somme were to come before the next Christmas; though none of us on that boat knew it then. And where is the young officer who went ashore under the electric glare of the base port, singing also, and bearing a Christmas tree?

December, 1916

****

From Lent, 1918

But there was no escape. For I freely own that I am one of those who refused to believe there would be “a great offensive.” (Curse such trite and sounding words, which put measureless misery through the mind as unconsciously as a boy repeats something of Euclid.) I believe that no man would now dare to order it. The soldiers, I knew, with all the signs before them, still could not credit that it would be done. The futile wickedness of these slaughters had been proved too often. They get nowhere. They settle nothing. This last, if it came, would be worse than all the rest in its magnitude and horror; it would deprive Europe of a multitude more of our diminishing youth, and end, in the exhaustion of its impetus, with peace no nearer than before. The old and indurated Importances in authority, safe far behind the lines, would shrink from squandering humanity’s remaining gold of its life, even though their ignoble ends were yet unachieved. But it had been ordered. Age, its blind jealousy for control now stark mad, impotent in all but the will and the power to command and punish, ignoring every obvious lesson of the past, the appeal of the tortured for the sun again and leisure even to weep, and the untimely bones of the young as usual now as flints in the earth of Europe, had deliberately put out the glimmer of dawn.

Well for those who may read the papers without personal knowledge of what happens when such a combat has begun; but to know, and to be useless….There are occasions, though luckily they come but once or twice in life, when the mind is shocked by the basal verities apparently moving as though they were fugitive; thought becomes dizzy at the daylight earth suddenly falling away at one’s feet to the vacuity of the night. Some choice had to be made.

****

The fire is dying. It is grey, fallen, and cold. The house is late and silent. There is no sound but the ghostly creaking of a stair; our thoughts are stealing away again. We creep out after them to the outer gate. What are books and opinions? The creakings of an old house uneasy with the heavy remembrances and the melancholy of antiquity, and with some midnight presage of its finality.

The wind and rain have passed. There is now but the icy stillness and quiet of outer space. The earth is Limbo, the penumbra of a dark and partial recollection; the shadow, vague and dawnless, over a vast stage from which the consequential pageant has gone, and is almost forgotten, the memory of many events merged now into formless night itself, and foundered profoundly beneath the glacial brilliance of a clear heaven alive with stars. Only the stars live, and only the stars overlook the place that was ours. The war – was there a war? It must have been long ago. Perhaps the shades are troubled with vestiges of an old and dreadful sin. If once there were men who heard certain words and became spellbound, and in the impulse of that madness forgot that their earth was good, but very brief, and turned from their children and women and the cherished work of their hands to slay each other and destroy their communities, it all happened just as the leaves of an autumn that is gone once fell before the sudden mania of a wind, and are resolved. What year was that? The leaves of an autumn that is long past are beyond time. The night is their place, and only the unknowing stars look down to the little blot of midnight which was us, and our pride, and our wisdom, and our heroics.

April 1918

 

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Edmund Blunden: Death could not kneel

August 21, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Blunden: Writings on war

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Edmund Blunden
From Undertones of War

Near by was a pit, the result of much sandbag filling; among its broken spades and empty tins I found a pair of boots still containing someone’s feet.

****

When next morning’s sun gilded even the barbed wire I looked in early at my store dugout to decide how many duckboards were needed to refill it. The sun gleamed through the crannies there on the unutterably mangled heads and half-naked bloody bodies of some poor fellows, victims of the minenwerfer bombardment, who had been carried there to await burial.

****

Outside, on a kind of gallows, hangs a churchbell, beautifully dark green, and the gift of some fantastic ancient “seigneur de Mailly” – so its fair engraved inscription boasts. Perhaps he would not be wholly indignant if he knew that it was being used (as another chalk inscription on it advises) as a gas alarm; doubtless he intended it for the good of humanity.

The heart of the village is masked with its hedges and orchards from almost all ground observation. That heart, nevertheless, still bleeds. The old homes are razed to the ground; all but one or two, which play involuntary tricks upon probability, balancing themselves like mad acrobats. One has been knocked out in such a way that its roof, almost uninjured, has dropped over its broken body like a tea cosy. The church maintains a kind of conceptional shape and has a cliff-like beauty in the sunlight; but as at this ecclesiastical corner visitors are sometimes killed we may, in general, allow distance to lend enchantment.

****

It was Geoffrey Salter speaking out firmly in the darkness. Stuff Trench – this was Stuff Trench; three feet deep, corpses under foot, corpses on the parapet. He told us, while still shell after shell slipped in crescendo wailing into the vibrating ground, that his brother had been killed, and he had buried him; Doogan had been wounded, gone downstairs into one of the dugout shafts after hours of sweat, and a shell had come downstairs to finish him….

****

In spite of the sylvan intricacies (a trifle damaged) of Thiepval Wood, and a bedroom in the corridored chalk bank, and the tunes of the “Bing Boys” endlessly revolved, one was not yet quite clear of Stuff Trench; my own unwelcome but persistent retrospect was the shell hole there used by us as a latrine, with those two flattened German bodies in it, tallowfaced and dirty-stubbled, one spectacled, with fingers hooking the handle of a bomb; and others had much worse to remember.

****

It was now approaching the beginning of November, and the days were melancholy and the colour of clay. We took over that deathtrap known as the Schwaben Redoubt, the way to which lay through the fallen fortress of Thiepval. One had heard the worst accounts of the place, and they were true. Crossing the Ancre again at Black Horse Bridge, one went up through the scanty skeleton houses of Authuille, and climbing the dirty little road over the steep bank, one immediately entered the land of despair. Bodies, bodies and their useless gear heaped the gross waste ground; the slimy road was soon only a mud track which passed a whitish tumulus of ruin with lurking entrances, some spikes that had been pine trees, a bricked cellar or two, then died out. The village pond, so blue on the map, had completely disappeared. The Ligne de Pommiers had been grubbed up. The shell holes were mostly small lakes of what was no doubt merely rusty water, but had a red and foul semblance of blood. Paths glistened weakly from tenable point to point. Of the dead, one was conspicuous. He was a Scotch soldier, and was kneeling, facing east, so that one could scarcely credit death in him; he was seen at some little distance from the usual tracks, and no one had much time in Thiepval just then for sightseeing or burying. Death could not kneel so, I thought, and approaching I ascertained with a sudden shrivelling of spirit that Death could and did.

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John Middleton Murry: The choice, democracy or modern warfare

August 20, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

John Middleton Murry: Selections on peace and war

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John Middleton Murry
From Simplification and Society

There comes a moment when it is necessary that there should be a great simplification. The complexity of human society, the vast and still unconscious divorce which it engenders between our personal idealisms and the social conduct to which we are passively compelled, produces a feeling of paralysis and helplessness. We are being borne along, by forces we do not comprehend, to a destination we cannot discern. The feeling of helplessness is not new in human experience. What is new, oppressive, and sinister is the combination of a mastery over the forces of Nature, undreamed-of even 200 years ago, and a sense of impotence to prevent them from being perverted into scarcely imaginable powers of destruction and death. Humanity to-day is like Caliban: it turns savagely on the wisdom and spirit of the Universe.

****

There emerges – because there is bound to emerge at such a moment – a body of men and women who know that they too must surrender their freedom; but they do not surrender it to the State, or to Man. They surrender it to Reason, or Humanity, or God – to the power in themselves, which is not themselves, which makes for righteousness. They will have neither part nor lot in modern war. That is the only simplification possible for Democracy which does not betray the life of Democracy….

****

A modern nation may be able to wage modern warfare under the political form of Democracy; but it cannot wage modern warfare without killing the spirit of Democracy, for that spirit is indistinguishable from a spirit of reverence, or at least respect, for the individual human being. The indiscriminate mass-murder which is the essential feature of modern warfare, whereby it is distinguished from warfare in the past, is an activity which derides and annihilates the basic faith of Democracy. Just as surely, and perhaps more obviously, it derides and annihilates the basic faith of Christianity….When Democracy reaches the point at which it rejects the respect for human personality in its warfare, and in its preparation for war, it is preparing to commit suicide….

****

From Render Unto Caesar

There is a national society: it exists. But the international society does not exist. To pretend that it does, and seek to represent one’s nation at war as engaged in vindicating the majesty of law and executing justice on the offender against the international society is to deceive oneself and to indulge the confusion by which the pursuit of the national interest is identified with the pursuit of Justice.

****

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” is twisted, in the mind of the modern churchman, into meaning: “Render therefore unto the modern nationalist State the national war which which the modern national State demands.”….Nevertheless, the pretence that the modern national state is the equivalent of the empire of Caesar is pure pretence. This is no Caesar to-day: there are many Caesars. But it is of the very essence of the Caesar of whom Jesus spoke that there should be but Caesar. The Caesar whom Jesus knew was the sole master of the known world, and above all he was the keeper of the world’s peace. His power maintained the unity and the peace of the whole world. And if, by some scarce hoped-for miracle, such a power were to be established to-day, to unify and pacify the whole world known to us, we should be wondering and awe-struck at the mystery of a power so universal and beneficent. We should not even find it hard to understand that Caesar was reverenced as the embodiment of an authority evidently divine.

****

And now, by the slow lapse of time and the gradual and almost imperceptible decay, first of the reality of the great international and supernational authority of the Roman Caesar, then in the belief in the necessity of such an authority as was inherited by the Roman Pontiff, the great utterance of our Lord has been perverted into its very opposite. What on his lips was an acceptance of the authority which compelled universal peace and the rejection of the claims of a mere nation to shatter the peace has become a vindication of the claim of the national State to demand of its citizens an acquiescence in national war that must plunge the world into chaos and barbarism.

****

From Warfare: Old and New

One need not deny for one moment that war has always been horrible and inhuman in order to insist that nevertheless warfare is now generically different from what it used to be. The first and foremost difference is that, under modern conditions, the whole nation is totally organized for war. This is a necessary consequence of a highly developed technical civilization, under which each country, by reason of a network of communication inconceivable a hundred years ago, is organized as a material unit to a degree hitherto unknown. That is, in its consequences, more significant than the development of the purely destructive technique of modern warfare. The invention of the thermite bomb, for example, would not be one tenth so terrible were it not for the simultaneous crowding of millions of people into great cities….

This technical unification of a country makes it possible to turn the whole of a nation into one vast war-machine; and, of course, in warfare what is possible is always necessary. If you do not do it, the enemy will. So that by the process of sheer inevitability it is quite impossible to make the faintest distinction between civilians and combatants. There is a sinister parallelism in the development. Just as methods of warfare are evolved which – like the thermite bomb or the gas-bomb – must be indiscriminate in the destruction which they inflict, so an economic organization is evolved which completely “justifies” indiscriminate destruction. Modern warfare has to be deliberately indiscriminate. The aim is no longer to defeat an army, but to wreck a nation.

This, it seems to me, does mark a change in kind in the nature of war. The history of warfare is brutal enough. There have been over and over again in the past bestial massacres of women and children in cities that have been taken by storm. But I think it is true to say that in the past men’s consciences have been uneasy about these horrors. They were inclined to think such a massacre a sin against their religion, or a degradation of their military honour. And, anyway, there were quite simple physical limitations to the butchery: the soldier’s sword-arm grew tired. Again, the horrors were localized. Armies were small. Sometimes, as in the Thirty Years’ War, they made up for their primitive lack of ubiquity by keeping up the carnage for a generation. But. speaking roughly, the destructiveness of war was sporadic and local.

We have changed all that. Not only is warfare now universalized: the whole population and the whole resources of a nation are now immediately implicated. Therefore the necessary method of waging warfare is to seek primarily to destroy or paralyze the unarmed population. Here is the real “horrid innovation” of modern warfare. The new technical devices of destruction are relatively unimportant beside the fact that they are to be used quite deliberately to massacre the innocents. There is, and there can be, no pretence of directing the destruction against a “military objective.” Or rather, to destroy and terrorize the women and children is henceforward a main and avowed military objective.

Surely, this is a change in the nature of warfare; and it betokens an impending change in the nature of the men who wage it. We may admit that trying to kill an armed enemy is horrible enough; but if he is trying to kill you, there is a certain rough equality in the struggle, which, even after the invention of gunpowder and the gun, justified the common and stubborn feeling that war was the forcing-ground of some heroic virtues. It was a more glorious and more gruesome fight; and the fighting instinct is pretty primary in the human animal.

The element of the “fair fight” in warfare has diminished steadily in a technical civilization. Now it has disappeared altogether….

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William J. Locke: Life in its fullness and glory, war’s orgies of horror

August 19, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

William J. Locke: Following war

William J. Locke: I’m good at killing things, I ought to have been a soldier

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William J. Locke
From The Usurper

This was one of the rare occasions on which he spoke of his fighting experiences. It excited and exhausted him. To his sensitive temperament war had meant orgies of horror. He had sung of life in its fullness and glory, had regarded the idea of death with passionate resentment. War had already familiarized his nerves with peril which he had faced like many thousands of brave and commonplace comrades. But the bright spirit insistent on life had grown deadly sick at the slaughter and disease. Even now in the peaceful garden he could not free himself from the nightmare. He shrank from speaking of it. His infrequent illusions came from the depths.

****

“Oh, God, man! I’ve been through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I’ve seen life in its utter nakedness….I have bayoneted through the body a fresh blue-eyed lad whom I could have loved like a brother – I see his lips now….”

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H. M. Tomlinson: Greatest evil is unconscious indifference to war’s obscene blasphemy against life

August 18, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

H. M. Tomlinson: Great offensive. Curse such trite and sounding words

H. M. Tomlinson: The return of the soldier, of he who was once alive

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H. M. Tomlinson
From On Leave

It is difficult for him to endure hearing the home folk speak with the confidence of special revelation of the war they have not seen, when he, who has been in it, has contradictory minds about it. They are so assured that they think there can be no other view; and they bear out their mathematical arguments with maps and figures. It might be a chess tournament. He feels at last his anger beginning to smoulder. He feels a bleak and impalpable alienation from those who are all the world to him. He understands at last that they also are in the mirror, projected from his world that was, and that now he cannot come near them. Yet though he knows it, they do not. The greatest evil of war – this is what staggers you when you come home, feeling you know the worst of it – is the unconscious indifference to war’s obscene blasphemy against life of the men and women who have the assurance that they will never be called on to experience it. Out there, comrades in a common and unlightened affliction shake a fist humorously at the disregarding stars, and mock them. Let the Fates do their worst. The sooner it is over, the better; and, while waiting, they will take it out of Old Jerry. He is the only one out of whom they can take it. They are to throw away their world and die, so they must take it out of somebody. Therefore Jerry “gets it in the neck.” Men under the irrefragable compulsion of a common spell, who are selected for sacrifice in the fervour of a general obsession, but who are cooly awake to the unreason which locks the minds of their fellows, will burst into fury at the bond they feel. The obvious obstruction is the obstinate “blighter” with a machine-gun in front of them. At least, they are free to “strafe” him.

But what is the matter with London? The men on leave, when they meet each other, always ask that question without hope, in the seclusion of their confidence and special knowledge. They feel perversely they would sooner be amid the hated filth and smells of the battle-ground than at home. Out there, though possibly mischance may suddenly extinguish the day for them, they will be with those who understand, with comrades who rarely discuss the war except obliquely and with quiet and bitter jesting. Seeing the world has gone wrong, how much better and easier it is to take the likelihood of extinction with men who have the same mental disgust as your own, and can endure it till they die, but who, while they live in the same torment with you, have the unspoken but certain conviction that Europe is a decadent old beast eating her young with insatiable appetite, than to sit in sunny breakfast-rooms with the newspaper maps and positive arguments of the unsaved!

Autumn 1917

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

August 17, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

John Middleton Murry: Selections on peace and war

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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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Margaret Sackville: To One Who Denies the Possibility of a Permanent Peace

August 16, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville
To One Who Denies the Possibility of a Permanent Peace

Old friend, I greet you! you are still the same:
You poisoned Socrates, you crucified
Christ, you have persecuted, mocked, denied.
Rejected God and cursed Him – in God’s name.
You gave monotonously to the flame
All those (whom now you honour) when the new
Truth stung their lips – for fear it might be true;
Then reaped where they had sown and felt no shame.

Familiar voice, old adversary – hail!
Yesterday’s fools are now your gods. Behold!
The generations pass and we can wait.
You slandered Shelley, Florence Nightingale;
Now a new splendour quivers in the cold
Grey shadows overhead ; still you are late.

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James Russell Lowell: Selections on war and peace

August 15, 2020 Leave a comment
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H. M. Tomlinson: The return of the soldier, of he who was once alive

August 14, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

H. M. Tomlinson: Great offensive. Curse such trite and sounding words

H. M. Tomlinson: Greatest evil is unconscious indifference to war’s obscene blasphemy against life

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H. M. Tomlinson
From On Leave

Coming out of Victoria Station into the stir of London again, on leave from Flanders, must give as near the sensation of being thrust suddenly into life from the beyond and the dead as mortal man may expect to know. It is a surprising and providential wakening into a world which long ago went dark. That world is strangely loud, bright, and alive. Plainly it did not stop when, somehow, it vanished once upon a time. There its vivid circulation moves, and the buses are so usual, the people so brisk and intent on their own concerns, the signs so startlingly familiar, that the man who is home again begins to doubt that he has been absent, that he has been dead. But his uniform must surely mean something, and its stains something more!

And there can be no doubt about it, as you stand there a trifle dizzy in London once more. You really have come back from another world; and you have the curious idea that you may be invisible in this old world. In a sense you know you are unseen. These people will never know what you know. There they gossip in the hall, and leisurely survey the bookstall, and they would never guess it, but you have just returned from hell. What could they say if you told them? They would be embarrassed, polite, forbearing, kindly, and smiling, and they would mention the matter afterwards as a queer adventure with a poor devil who was evidently a little over-wrought; shell shock, of course. Beastly thing, shell shock. Seems to affect the nerves.

They would not understand. They will never understand. What is the use of standing in veritable daylight, and telling the living, who have never been dead, of the other place?

I know now how Rip Van Winkle felt about it. But his was a minor trouble. All he lost was some years. He had not changed, except that his beard was longer. But the man who comes back from the line has lost more than years. He has lost his original self. People failed to recognize Rip because they did not know his beard. Our friends do recognize us when they greet us on our return from the front, but they do not know us because we are not the men they remember. They are the same as ever; but when they address us, they talk to a mind which is not there, though the eyes betray nothing of the difference. They talk to those who have come back to life to see them again, but who cannot tell them what has happened, and dare not try.

Between that old self and the man they see, there is an abyss of dread. He has passed through it. To them the war is official communiqués, the amplifying dispatches of war correspondents, the silence of absent friends in danger, the shock of a telegram, and rather interesting food-rationing. They think it is the same war which the leave-man knows. He will tell them all about it, and they will learn the truth at last.

All about it! If an apparition of the battle-line in eruption were to form over London, over Paris, over Berlin, a sinister mirage, near, unfading, and admonitory, with spectral figures moving in its reflected fires and its gloom, and the echoes of their cries were heard, and murmurs of convulsive shocks, and the wind over the roofs brought ghostly and abominable smells into our streets; and if that were to haunt us by day and night, a phantom from which there was no escape, to remain till the sins of Europe were expiated, we should soon forget politics and arguments, and be in sackcloth and ashes, positive no longer, but down on our knees before Heaven in awe at this revelation of social guilt, asking simply what we must do to be saved.

****

The youngster who is home on leave, though he may not have reasoned it out, knows that what he wants to say, often prompted by indignation, cannot be said. He feels intuitively that this is beyond his power to express. Besides, if he were to begin, where would he end? He cannot trust himself. What would happen if he uncovered, in a sunny and innocent breakfast-room, the horror he knows? If he spoke out? His people would not understand him. They would think he was mad. They would be sorry, dammit. Sorry for him! Why, he is not sorry for himself. He can stand it now he knows what it is like. He can stand it – if they can. And he realizes they can stand it, and are merely anxious about his welfare, the welfare which does not trouble him in the least, for he has looked into the depth of evil, and for him the earth has changed; and he rather despises it. He has seen all he wants to see of it. Let it go, dammit. If they don’t mind the change, and don’t kick, why should he? What a hell of a world to be born into; and once it did look so jolly good, too! He is shy, cheery, but inexorably silent on what he knows. Some old fool said to him once, “It must be pretty bad out there?” Pretty bad! What a lark!

Autumn 1917

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John Middleton Murry: Weapons of modern war involve bestialization of humanity

August 13, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

John Middleton Murry: Selections on peace and war

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John Middleton Murry
From The Risk of Pacifism

It seems to me self-evident that pacifism can have only one policy which is expressive of its conviction. That policy is the policy of complete unilateral disarmament. Any other policy than that is not a pacifist policy.

****

The potentiality of pacifism lies in its absolute freedom from political compromise. Its basic and initial vision is that the time for compromise is over, for every form of political compromise leads ultimately to the one catastrophe of war. Pacifism therefore starts with the complete dissociation of the individual, as an individual, from war. This it regards as the one thing needful.

****

From Looking Before and After

The more luminously certain it appears to me that pacifism is the only way out of the stagnation and deathwards retrogression in which civilization is caught, the more evident it also appears that pacifism must at some point make the extreme demand upon us – the demand for a total sacrifice. Pacifism is, indeed, the only way out; but it is not an easy way out.

****

I would not for one moment suggest that the object of pacifism is anything other than the absolutely simple one of preventing war, by any means which does not involve the pacifist in participation in war. Modern pacifism will have failed if it does not become a determinant influence in preventing another war. Something else – something indeed essential to pacifism – may endure through the horror of war; but pacifism itself will have failed if that disaster comes.

****

From Concerning Compromise

Relative pacifists, who were prepared to take a non-combatant role in national defence, might be tolerated and used: but absolute pacifists could not be. Yet it was still part of the tradition of the country that there should be toleration of the individual who offered absolute, but non-violent resistance to participation in war. And it seemed to me that the real task of pacifists was, by their own existence, to compel the nation into some degree of self-consciousness – some actual realization that the “liberty” they would be called upon to defend by a total organization of mass-murder was actually being destroyed in the preparation for defense.

****

From Absolute: Relative: Absolute

A point is reached, in human history, when the manifest evil of war outweighs any possible good that may emerge from it. The weapons of war are so terrible that merely to use them involves a bestialization of humanity.

****

Absolute Pacifism, therefore, as I understand it, does not say that good can never come of evil. That would be to fly in the face of all my experience. It simply says that the evil of modern war is so monstrous that it completely and utterly outweighs any good that may come of it.

****

There is but a single plank to the Pacifist platform: the repudiation of modern war. It has but a single recommendation: to stop modern war by refusing to take part in it.

****

There is no “correct line” for Pacifists, no matter what they become.

Their business is to be awakeners of the human imagination to the sheer obscenity of modern war, primarily, and then to the corruptness of many other conditions which tend to make probable the outbreak of war. And, I should say, their business is also and equally to bring into being some germ of positive and creative life – that is, of quickened individuality, in themselves and others – that may work against the tremendous deathward drive of de-individualized humanity.

****

From The Signs of the Time

The basic fact is that the nature of war has utterly changed, even within the space of a generation. War is no longer war between between soldiers; war is no longer a defence of civil order; war is no longer a thing that can be justified to any form of the Christian conscience.

****

From The Preparation of the Pacifist

International war is avoided by plunging into civil war; and nowadays civil war (as is demonstrated daily in Spain) returns to international war.

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Upton Sinclair: The plea of Nicola Sacco, “What is war?”

August 12, 2020 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

Upton Sinclair: Selections on war

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Upton Sinclair
From Boston

[From Nicola Sacco’s testimony at his murder trial]

I love men to get everything that nature will give best, because they belong, – we are not of any other place, but we belong to nations. So that is why my idea has been changed. So that is why I love people who labor and work and see better conditions every day develop, makes no more war. We no want fight by the gun and we don’t want to destroy young men. The mother be suffering for building the young man. Some day need a little more bread, so when the time the mother get some bread or profit out of that boy, the Rockefellers, Morgans, and some of the peoples, high class, they send to war. Why? What is war? The war is not shoots like Abraham Lincoln and Abe Jefferson, to fight for the free country, for the better education to give chance to any other peoples, not the white people but the black and the others, because they believe and know they are mens like the rest, but they are war for the great millionaire. No war for the civilization of men. They are war for business, million dollars come on the side. What right we have to kill each other? I been work for the Irish. I have been working for the German fellow, with the French, many other peoples. I love the people just as I could love my wife, and my people for that did receive me. Why should I go kill them men? What he done to me? He never done anything, so I don’t believe in no war. I want to destroy those guns….

****

July 7th was the date of this oration. Three days previously all patriots had celebrated the Declaration of Independence, with its opening assertion that “all men are created equal.” If the author of that document, “Abe Jefferson,” could have been present in the Dedham court-house, he would have been able to understand the blundering protest of an uneducated foreigner, chained for life to an edge-trimming machine in a shoe-factory.

****

[From the final statement to the court of Bartolomeo Vanzetti]

“We believe more now than ever that war is wrong, and we are against war more now than ever, and I am glad to be on the doomed scaffold if I can say to mankind, ‘Look out’; you are in a catacomb of the flower of mankind. For what? All that they say to you, all that they have promised to you – it was a lie, it was an illusion, it was a cheat, it was a fraud, it was a crime. They promised you liberty. Where is liberty? They promised you prosperity. Where is prosperity? They promised you elevation. Where is elevation?”

“…Where is the moral good that the war has given to the world? Where is the spiritual progress that we have achieved from the war? Where are the security of life, the security of the things we possess for our necessity? Where is the respect for human life? Where are the respect and the admiration for the good characteristics and the good of the human nature? Never before the war as now have there been so many crimes, so much corruption, so much degeneration as there is now.”

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Edmund Blunden: The black fiend leaps brick-red as life’s last picture goes

August 11, 2020 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Blunden: Writings on war

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Edmund Blunden
Preparations For Victory

My soul, dread not the pestilence that hags
The valley; flinch not you, my body young.
At these great shouting smokes and snarling jags
Of fiery iron; as yet may not be flung
The dice that claims you. Manly move among
These ruins, and what you must do, do well;
Look, here are gardens, there mossed boughs are hung
With apples who bright cheeks none might excel,
And there’s a house as yet unshattered by a shell.

“I’ll do my best,” the soul makes sad reply,
“And I will mark the yet unmurdered tree,
The tokens of dear homes that court the eye,
And yet I see them not as I would see.
Hovering between, a ghostly enemy.
Sickens the light, and poisoned, withered, wan,
The least defiled turns desperate to me.”
The body, poor unpitied Caliban,
Parches and sweats and grunts to win the name of Man.

Days or eternities like swelling waves
Surge on, and still we drudge in this dark maze;
The bombs and coils and cans by strings of slaves
Are borne to serve the coming day of days;
Pale sleep in slimy cellars scarce allays
With its brief blank the burden. Look, we lose;
The sky is gone, the lightless, drenching haze
Of rainstorms chills the bone; earth, air are foes,
The black fiend leaps brick-red as life’s last picture goes.

****

A Reminiscence

Triumph! how strange, how strong had triumph come
On weary hate of foul and endless war,
When from its grey gravecloths awoke anew
The summer day. Among the tumbled wreck
Of fascined lines and mounds the light was peering,
Half-smiling upon us, and our new-found pride; –
The terror of the waiting night outlived;
The time too crowded for the heart to count
All the sharp cost in friends killed on the assault.
No sap of all the octopus had held us,
Here stood we trampling down the ancient tyrant.
So shouting dug we among the monstrous pits.

Amazing quiet fell upon the waste,
Quiet intolerable, to those who felt
The hurrying batteries beyond the masking hills
For their new parley setting themselves in array
In crafty fourms unmapped –
No, these, smiled faith,
Are dumb for the reason of their overthrow.
They move not back, they lie among the crews
Twisted and choked, they’ll never speak again.
Only the copse where once might stand a shrine
Still clacked and suddenly hissed its bullets by.

The War would end, the Line was on the move,
And at a bound the impassable was passed.
We lay and waited with extravagant joy.
Now dulls the day and chills; comes there no word
From those who swept through our new lines to flood
The lines beyond but little comes, and so
Sure as a runner time himself’s accosted.
And the slow moments shake their heavy heads,
And croak, ‘They’re done, they’ll none of them get through.”
They’re done, they’ve all died on the entanglements,
The wire stood up like an unplashed hedge, and thorned
With giant spikes – and there they’ve paid the bill.

Then comes the black assurance, then the sky’s
Mute misery lapses into trickling rain,
That wreathes and swims and soon shuts in our world.
And those distorted guns, that lay past use,
Why – miracles not over! – all a firing,
The rain’s no cloak from their sharp eyes. And you,
Poor signaller, you I passed by this emplacement,
You whom I warned, poor dare-devil, waving your flags,
Among this screeching I pass you again and shudder
At the lean green flies upon the red flesh madding.
Runner, stand by a second. Your message. – He’s gone,
Falls on a knee, and his right hand uplifted
Claws his last message from his ghostly enemy,
Turns stone-like. Well I liked him, that young runner,
But there’s no time for that. O now for the word
To order us flash from these drowning roaring traps
And even hurl upon that snarling wire
Why are our guns so impotent? The grey rain,
Steady as the sand in an hourglass on this day,
Where through the window the red lilac looks
And all’s so still, the chair’s odd click is noise,
The rain is all heaven’s answer, and with hearts
Past reckoning we are carried into night,
And even sleep is nodding here and there.

The second night steals through the shrouding rain,
We in our numb thought crouching long have lost
The mockery triumph, and in every runner
Have urged the mind’s eye see the triumph to come,
The sweet relief, the straggling out of hell
Into whatever burrows may be given
For life’s recall. Then the fierce destiny speaks.
This was the calm, we shall look back for this.
The hour is come; come, move to the relief
Dizzy we pass the mule-strewn track where once
The ploughman whistled as he loosed his team;
And where he turned home-hungry on the road
The leaning pollard marks us hungrier turning.
We crawl to save the remnant who have torn
Back from the tentacled wire, those whom no shell
Has charred into black carcasses – Relief
They grate their teeth until we take their room,
And through the churn of moonless night and mud
And flaming burst and sour gas we are huddled
Into the ditches where they bawl sense awake
And in a frenzy that none could reason calm
(Whimpering some, and calling on the dead)
They turn away; as in a dream they find
Strength in their feet to bear back that strange whim
Their body.

At the noon of the dreadful day
Our trench and death’s is on a sudden stormed
With huge and shattering salvoes, the clay dances
In founts of clods around the concrete sties
Where still the brain devises some last armour
To live out the poor limbs.
This wrath’s oncoming
Found four of us together in a pillbox,
Skirting the abyss of madness with light phrases,
White and blinking, in false smiles grimacing.
The demon grins to see the game, a moment
Passes, and – still the drum-tap dongs my brain
To a whirring void -through the great breach above
The light comes in with icy shock and the rain
Horridly drips. Doctor, talk, talk – if dead
Or stunned I know not; the stinking powdered concrete
The lyddite turns me sick – my hair’s all full
Of this smashed concrete. O I’ll drag you, friends,
Out of the sepulchre into the light of day:
For this is day, the pure and sacred day.
And while I squeak and gibber over you,
Out of the wreck a score of field-mice nimble,
And tame and curious look about them.
(These calmed me, on these depended my salvation.)

There comes my serjeant, and by all the powers
The wire is holding to the right battalion
And I can speak – but I myself first spoken
Hear a known voice now measured even to madness
Call me by name: “For God’s sake send and help us,
Here in a gunpit, all headquarters done for,
Forty or more, the nine-inch came right through.
All splashed with arms and legs, and I myself
The only one not killed, not even wounded.
You’ll send – God bless you.” The more monstrous fate
Shadows our own, the mind droops doubly burdened,
Nay all for miles our anguish groans and bleeds,
A whole sweet countryside amuck with murder,
Each moment puffed into a year with death.

Still wept the rain, roared guns,
Still swooped into the swamps of flesh and blood
All to the drabness of uncreation sunk,
And all thought dwindled to a moan, – Relieve.
But who with what command can now relieve
The dead men from that chaos, or my soul?

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James Russell Lowell: Uncle Sam presents his bill for war

August 10, 2020 Leave a comment

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

American writers on peace and against war

James Russell Lowell: Selections on war and peace

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James Russell Lowell
From The Biglow Papers

If, by means of direct taxation, the bills for every extraordinary outlay were brought under our immediate eye, so that, like thrifty housekeepers, we could see where and how fast the money was going, we should be less likely to commit extravagances. At present, these things are managed in such a hugger-mugger way, that we know not what we pay for; the poor man is charged as much as the rich; and, while we are saving and scrimping at the spigot, the government is drawing off at the bung. If we could know that a part of the money we expend for tea and coffee goes to buy powder and ball, and that it is Mexican blood which makes the clothes on our backs more costly, it would set some of us a-thinking. During the present fall, I have often pictured to myself a government official entering my study, and handing me the following bill: –

Washington, Sept. 30, 1848.

Rev. Homer Wilbur to Uncle Samuel

To his share of work done in Mexico on partnership account, sundry jobs, as below.

“killing, maiming, and wounding about 5,000 Mexicans $2.00
“slaughtering one woman carrying water to wounded .10
“extra work on two different Sabbaths (one bombardment and one assault) whereby the Mexicans were prevented from defiling themselves with the idolatries of high mass 3.50
“throwing an especially fortunate and Protestant bomb-shell into the Cathedral at Vera Cruz, whereby several female Papists were slain at the altar .50
“his proportion of cash paid for conquered territory 1.75
“do. do. for conquering do. 1.50
“manuring do. with new superior compost called “American Citizen” .50
“extending the area of freedom and Protestantism .01
“glory .01
———
$9.87

Immediate payment is requested.

N.B. Thankful for former favours, U. S. requests a continuance of patronage. Orders executed with neatness and despatch. Terms as low as those of any other contractor for the same kind and style of work.

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Max Plowman: The dead soldiers. Killing men is always killing God.

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

British writers on peace and war

Max Plowman: The God of War

Max Plowman: The Goddess of War

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Max Plowman
The Dead Soldiers

‘God only Acts and Is in existing beings or Men.’

I
SPECTRUM Trench. Autumn. Nineteen-Sixteen.
And Zenith. (The Border Regiment will remember.)
A little north of where Lesboeufs had been.
(The Australians took it over in December.)
Just as the scythe had caught them, there they lay,
A sheaf for Death, ungarnered and untied:
A crescent moon of men who showed the way
When first the Tanks crept out, till they too died:
Guardsmen, I think, but one could hardly tell,
It was a forward slope, beyond the crest,
Muddier than any place in Dante’s hell,
Where sniping gave us very little rest.
At night one stumbled over them and swore;
Each day the rain hid them a little more.

II
Fantastic forms, in postured attitudes,
Twisted and bent, or lying deathly prone;
Their individual hopes my thought eludes,
But each man had a hope to call his own.
Much else? God knows. But not for me the thought,
‘Your mothers made your bodies: God your souls,
And, for because you dutifully fought,
God will go mad and make of half-lives, wholes.’
No. God in every one of you was slain;
For killing men is always killing God,
Though Life destroyed shall come to life again
And loveliness rise from the sodden sod.
But if of life we do destroy the best,
God wanders wide, and weeps in his unrest.

April, 1917

****

The Two Worlds

‘How terrible then is the field of Death Where he doth rend the vault of heaven And shake the gates of hell!’

‘Death, O Terror born of war!
You would destroy this gracious earth,
And deafen with your brazen roar
The music love can bring to birth;
But there’s a sphere
You cannot hear
Singing its rapture;
My love and I compose a world you cannot capture.

We are a world complete in love,
So you may split your world in sunder:
The heavens with raving discord move,
And crack the earth with hellish thunder;
My love and I Have but to sigh
Our heart’s accord,
And lo! our world’s complete we need not speak a word.

Rage as you will, distracting Death,
You have no power to hold us single;
Love breathes you vanish at a breath:
You cannot part what lovers mingle.
Shout, wail and cry,
My love and I Are not affrighted.
At this day’s end we shall sleep unbenighted.

June, 1915

 

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John Middleton Murry: Selections on peace and war

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Thomas McGrath: All the Dead Soldiers

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Thomas McGrath
All the Dead Soldiers

In the chill rains of the early winter I hear something –
A puling anger, a cold wind stiffened by flying bone –
Out of the north….
and remember, then, what’s up there:
That ghost-bank: home: Amchitka: boot hill….

They must be very tired, those ghosts; no flesh sustains them
And the bones rust in the rain.
Reluctant to go into the earth
The skulls gleam: wet; the dog-tag forgets the name;
The statistics (wherein they were young) like their crosses, are weathering out,

They must be very tired.
But I see them riding home,
Nightly: crying weak lust and rage: to stand in the dark,
Forlorn in known rooms, unheard near familiar beds:
Where lie the aging women: who were so lovely: once.

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Edmund Blunden: War tableaux

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

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Blunden: Writings on war

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Edmund Blunden
From Undertones of War

[We] gained another artist of quality, who drew the best portrait of Francis Thompson. This was Neville Lytton. Tall, of a fine carriage, his outward and physical appearance expressing an intellect rather than a body, he at once attracted me. He was outspoken in his loathing of war, he did not rely on his rank to cover all points of argument or action, and his gallantry in going through the dirtiness, the abnegations of service, the attack upon all his refinement, was great. It naturally remained unrecognized by the crasser part of the officers and men.

****

The cause, of which I remained innocent, was that the Colonel had been ordered to make a raid at once on that point. The word “raid” may be defined as the one in the whole vocabulary which most instantly caused a sinking feeling in the stomach of ordinary mortals. Colonel Grisewood was confronted with the command to attack some part of the enemy’s line, here fortified with the keenest intelligence, the thickest wire and emplacements, in the dark and without any preparation. Not unnaturally, he was worried. What came of this is told by Neville Lytton in his war memoirs: Grisewood demurred, was disposed of, and another battalion was forced to lose the lives which ignorance and arrogance cost.

****

Brothers should not join the same battalion. When I was at the place where some of the wounded had been collected under the best shelter to be found, I was struck deep by the misery of a boy, whom I knew and liked well; he was half crying, half exhorting over a stretcher whence came the brave but weakened voice of his brother, wounded almost to death, waiting his turn to be carried down. What I could say was little; but a known voice perhaps conveyed some comfort in the inhuman night which covered us. In this battalion, brothers had frequently enlisted together; the effect was too surely a culmination of suffering….

****

Who that had been there for but a few hours could ever forget the strange spirit and mad lineaments of Cuinchy? A mining sector, as this was, never wholly lost the sense of hovering horror. That day I arrived in it the shimmering arising heat blurred the scene, but a trouble was at once discernible, if indescribable, also rising from the ground. Over Coldstream Lane, the chief communication trench, deep red poppies, blue and white cornflowers, and darnel thronged the way to destruction; the yellow cabbage flowers thickened here and there in sickening brilliance. Giant thistles made a thicket beyond. Then the ground became torn and vile, the poisonous breath of fresh explosions skulked all about, and the mud which choked the narrow passages stank as one pulled through it, and through the twisted, disused wires running mysteriously onward. Much lime was wanted at Cuinchy, and that had its ill savour and often its horrible meaning.

****

I went along three firebays; one shell burst behind me;Isawits smoke faint out, and thought all was as lucky as it should be. Soon a cry from that place recalled me; the shell had burst all wrong. Its butting impression was black and stinking in the parados where three minutes ago the lance-corporal’s mess tin was bubbling over a little flame. For him, how could the gobbets of blackening flesh, the earth wall sotted with blood, with flesh, the eye under the duckboard, the pulpy bone be the only answer?

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James Russell Lowell: A war supporter’s credo

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

American writers on peace and against war

James Russell Lowell: Selections on war and peace

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James Russell Lowell
From The Biglow Papers

I du believe wutever trash
‘ll keep the people in blindness, –
Thet we the Mexicuns can thrash
Right inter brotherly kindness,
Thet bombshells, grape, an’ powder ‘n’ ball
Air good-will’s strongest magnets,
Thet peace, to make it stick at all,
Must be druv in with bagnets.

****

Ez fer the war, I go agin it, –
I mean to say I kind o’ du, –
Thet is, I mean thet, bein’ in it,
The best way wuz to fight it thru;
Not but wut abstract war is horrid, –
I sign to thet with all my heart, –
But civlyzation doos git forrid
Sometimes upon a powder-cart.

****

We git the licks, – we ‘re jest the grist thet ‘s put into War’s hoppers;
Leftenants is the lowest grade thet helps pick up the coppers.
It may suit folks thet go agin a body with a soul in’t,
An’ aint contented with a hide without a bagnet hole in’t;
But glory is a kin’ o’ thing I shan’t pursue no furder,
Coz thet ‘s the off’cers parquisite, – yourn ‘s on’y jest the murder.

 

****

I made one of the crowd at the last Mechanics’ Fair, and, with the rest, stood gazing in wonder at a perfect machine, with its soul of fire, its boiler-heart that sent the hot blood pulsing along the iron arteries, and its thews of steel. And while I was admiring the adaptation of means to end, the harmonious involutions of contrivance, and the never-bewildered complexity, I saw a grimed and greasy fellow, the imperious engine’s lackey and drudge, whose sole office was to let fall, at intervals, a drop or two of oil upon a certain joint. Then my soul said within me, See there a piece of mechanism to which that other you marvel at is but as the rude first effort of a child, – a force which not merely suffices to set a few wheels in motion, but which can send an impulse all through the infinite future, – a contrivance, not for turning out pins, or stitching button-holes, but for making Hamlets and Lears. And yet this thing of iron shall be housed, waited on, guarded from rust and dust, and it shall be a crime but so much as to scratch it with a pin; while the other, with its fire of God in it, shall be buffeted hither and thither, and finally sent carefully a thousand miles to be the target for a Mexican cannon-ball. Unthrifty Mother State!

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Margaret Sackville: We are the mothers, and each has lost a son

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville
Victory

Who are ye that come with eyes red and weeping
In a long, long line and silent every one?
See overhead the flag of triumph sweeping –
“We are the mothers, and each has lost a son.”

Cries of the crowd who greet their god of glory!
What of these who crouch there silent in the street? –
“We are outraged women, ’tis a common story,
Quietly we lie beneath your armies’ feet.”

Red flags of conquest, banners great and golden!
Who are these silent ones upon our track?
“We in our thousands, perished unbeholden,
We are the women: pray you, look not back.”

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Max Plowman: The Goddess of War

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

British writers on peace and war

Max Plowman: The dead soldiers. Killing men is always killing God.

Max Plowman: The God of War

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Max Plowman
From the preface to A Lap Full of Seed

If you find a single line that is really interesting I beg that you will do me the kindness of shouting your discovery at the top of your voice; for you and I know we live in loud times, when brazen voices vie with the crash of machine-made warfare in the making of bedlam: times when we can ill afford to lose an interesting line.

Impassioned truth is always poetry; and no man ever yet attempted to tell the truth sincerely without achieving something of the nature of poetry.

I feel sure you will forgive me even my lack of Good Form when you remember that at least I never wrote a line in praise of
All the little emptiness of war.
[A parody of Rupert Brooke’s And all the little emptiness of love!]

****

The Goddess of War

‘I am drunk with unsatiated love;
I must rush again to War.’ [William Blake]

Glad in all regal splendour forth she rides
Upon a jet-black horse champing the curb,
While loud huzzas the pendant air disturb,
Since in her breast a nation’s hope abides.
Behold, the King and God she claims for guides!
And Justice too come thou and hate the Serb!
And men and angels, laud ye the superb
Majesty which in her peerless form resides!

Yet look again. Her eyes are balls of fire.
Her scarlet robe is bright with human gore.
Where’er she moves, ashes spring from the dust.
Truth saith: She taketh souls of men for hire
And burneth them in fires of their own lust:
That she is Self’s own self-appointed whore.

July, 1914

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John Middleton Murry: For England, peace or destruction

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

British writers on peace and war

John Middleton Murry: Selections on peace and war

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John Middleton Murry
From England’s Debt to the World

I sometimes think that what the great and growing Peace Movement in this country now chiefly needs is some new perspectives on itself. I believe that absolute pacifism is something more than a horror-stricken reaction from the barbarity of modern war. It is rather, for me, a simple and revolutionary moral decision in which is consummated the history of past centuries. It is the immense simplicity which descends upon the mind which has patiently tried to understand human history as a process from which the living individual derives, in which he is inextricably involved, and to which he owes the dedication of himself.

****

That population of England depends upon peace. The last war showed how precarious our situation was: we “won” the last war by a miracle. Had America not come in we should surely have lost it. But nobody remembered that in making peace. Still less did anybody think about what the new development of the aeroplane really meant for England. Basil Zaharoff’s submarines, Bleriot’s aeroplanes – they meant the end of England: the end of an England that could exist and prosper in defiance of the world. England, henceforward, could live only by the world’s consent. If our politicians – statesmen I cannot call them – had had an inkling of this truth, they would have moved earth, and heaven, to secure a just peace-settlement, knowing that England was henceforward vulnerable as no other country in the world. Whatever war may mean for the continent, it means destruction for England. We may arm ourselves to the teeth, make the whole island one single gas- and bomb-proof shelter, none the less we shall be destroyed: our teeming populations will be wiped out, reduced from forty millions to ten.

****

If England is to survive, peace is necessary. No matter what it may be for the rest of the world it is a life-and-death affair for us. But we cannot have peace by asking for it, not even by praying for it (unless prayer has a new meaning for us). The condition of achieving peace in the modern world is to be prepared to give up everything for peace. It is no use making conditions; it is no use gulling yourself that you can offer the world “Peace – or War,” like the Roman ambassador in the old story. No one can tell how long it will take this nation to reach the knowledge that it must be prepared to sacrifice anything for peace; but with every individual who comes to the decision that he is prepared to sacrifice everything, himself, for peace, the time grows less. In them England is preparing to pay her debt to the world.

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Georges Bernanos: War, the penalty of rendering unto Caesar what is no longer his

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

French writers on war and peace

Georges Bernanos: Wars like epidemics, with neither beginning nor end

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Georges Bernanos
From The Diary of a Country Priest
Translated by Pamela Morris

‘What is your grudge against the Church?’ I said at last, foolishly.

‘Mine? Oh, nothing much. You’ve secularized us. The first real secularization was that of the soldier. And it’s some time ago now. When you go snivelling over the excesses of nationalism, you should remember it was you who first pandered to the law-makers of the Renaissance, whilst they made short work of Christian right, and patiently constructed, under your very noses, right in your very faces, the Pagan State: the state which knows no law but that of its own well-being – the merciless countries full of greed and pride.’

‘Listen,’ I said, ‘I don’t know much about history, but it seems to me that feudal anarchy had its own risks.’

‘No doubt….You wouldn’t take them. You left Christianity high and dry, it took too long, it cost a
lot and brought in very little. You gave us the “state” instead. The state to arm us and clothe us and feed us, and take charge of our conscience into the bargain. Mustn’t judge, mustn’t even try to understand! And your theologians approve it all, naturally. With a simper, they grant us permission to kill, kill anywhere, anyhow, to kill by order, like executioners. We are supposed to defend our land, but we can also be used to keep down revolution, and if the revolution should win we serve it instead. No loyalty required. That’s how you put us “in the army,” and now we’re so thoroughly “in the army” that in a democracy inured to all servility, the lawyers themselves are really astonished at the servile ways of Ministers of War. “The army” is so entirely debased that even a fine soldier like Lyautey hated the very name of his profession. And besides, soon there won’t be any army. We shall all be in it, from the age of seven to sixty – in what, come to think of it? The word “army”’ means nothing when entire nations are hurling themselves against each other like African tribes – tribes of a hundred thousand men! And your theologians, more and more disgusted, will still “approve” of it, still print “dispensations,” or so I imagine, drawn up by the Secretary of the Board of National Conscience. But between you and me, when do your theologians intend to stop? The cleverest killers of to-morrow will kill without any risk. Thirty thousand feet above the earth, any dirty little engineer, sitting cosily in his slippers with a special bodyguard of technicians, will merely have to press a button to wipe out a town, and scurry home in fear – his only fear – of being late for dinner. Nobody could call an employee of that description a soldier. Can he even deserve to be called “an army man”? And you people, who refused Christian burial to poor mummers in the seventeenth century, how do you mean to bury a guy like that? Has our trade become so debased that we are no longer responsible for any one of our actions, that we share in the horrible innocence of our steel machines? Don’t tell me! A poor lad who puts his girl in the family way one spring night, is considered by you to be in mortal sin, but the killer of a whole town, whilst the kids he’s just poisoned’ll be vomiting up their lungs on their mothers’ lap, need only go off and change pants to “distribute holy bread”! Frauds you all are! What’s the use of pretending to “render unto Caesar”? The ancient world is dead, as dead as its gods. And the tutelary gods of the modern world -we know ’em; they dine out, they’re called bankers. Draw up as many agreements as you like. Outside Christianity there is no place in the West for soldiers or fatherland, and your shifty compromises will soon have permitted the final shame of both.’

He had risen and was still enfolding me in his strange gaze, always the same pale blue, but which looked golden in the shadow. He threw his cigarette furiously into the cinders.

‘I don’t give a damn,’ he said. ‘I’ll be killed before then.’

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Edmund Blunden: Initiation into war

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

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Blunden: Writings on war

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Edmund Blunden
From Undertones of War

Here, said the transport man, turning a corner, a night or two before the Germans had dropped several very large shells, almost on top of the quartermaster and his horse. Blew his horse onesided. This information sat heavily on me. The roar of a heavy battery, soon following, also troubled me, for as yet I did not know that sound from the crash of arriving shells. “‘Tis only some ‘eavies our party brought up yesterday.” The heavy battery was firing at the German area over the farmhouse, chickens, children and all, which ended this stage of our progress.

****

In the shallow ditch outside that Le Touret farm, among the black mud now nearly dry, were to be seen a variety of old grenades brown with rust. I looked at them with suspicion; and later on, returning on some errand, I saw them again. Why did no one see to it that these relics were duly destroyed? For that same summer they brought death to some idle Tommy whose curiosity led him to disturb the heap, seeming safe because of its antiquity. This was a characteristic of the war – its long arm reaching for its victim at its pleasure.

****

At some points in the trench bones pierced through their shallow burial and skulls appeared like mushrooms.

****

One of the first things that I was asked in C Company dugout was, “Got any peace talk?” It was a
rhetorical question. One of the first ideas that established themselves in my inquiring mind was the prevailing sense of the endlessness of the war. No one appeared to conceive any end to it. I soon knew that Day succeeded unto day, Night to pensive night.

Such as it was, the Old British Line at Festubert had the appearance of great age and perpetuity; its weather-beaten sandbag wall was already venerable. It shared the past with the defences of Troy. The skulls which spades disturbed about it were in a manner coeval with those of the most distant wars; there is little but remoteness about a skull. And, as for the future, one of the first hints that came home to me was implied in a machine-gun emplacement stubbornly built in brick and cement, as one might build a house.

****

The old trench lay silent and formidable, a broad gully, like a rough sunk lane rather than a firing trench. It was strewn with remains and pitiful evidences. The whole region of Festubert, being marshy and undrainable, smelled ill enough, but this trench was peculiar in that way. I cared little to stop in the soft drying mud at the bottom of it; I saw old uniforms and a great many bones. One uniform identified a German officer; the skeleton seemed less coherent than most, and an unexploded shell lay on the edge of the fragments. What an age since 1914!

****

The shortened, diminished cough of anti-aircraft shells often came down from the blue morning sky, and it was fashionable to stand watching and counting up the waste of public money on the part of our “Archies” shell by shell, the rumoured cost of these shells being then half a guinea. Sometimes this cynical accountancy was brought to an end as the air round us began to buzz and drone with falling fragments; large and jagged shards of steel would plunge murderously into the sandbags, and one discreetly got into the dugout.

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Margaret Sackville: Reconciliation over our mutual dead

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville
Reconciliation

When all the stress and all the toil is over,
And my lover lies sleeping by your lover,
With alien earth on hands and brows and feet,
Then we may meet.

Moving sorrowfully with uneven paces,
The bright sun shining on our ravaged faces,
There, very quietly, without sound or speech,
Each shall greet each.

We who are bound by the same grief for ever,
When all our sons are dead may talk together,
Each asking pardon from the other one
For her dead son.

With such low, tender words the heart may fashion,
Broken and few, of pity and compassion,
Knowing that we disturb at every tread
Our mutual dead.

****

Home Again

They give us sweets and picture-books and cigarettes and things,
And they speaks to us respectful – like as though we all was kings;
And they asks us silly questions – but they means well in their way,
So we tells them how we fought and fell on such and such a day,
And we talks a bit to please them when the ladies come to call:
But the things that we have done and seen they ‘aven’t seen at all.

An’ the blessed daily papers, why we’d like to take the lot
Right out of safe old England and let them see us shot.
There’s ‘eaps to tell them if we could, but it doesn’t seem worth while –
So we ‘olds our tongues and tempers, and when we can we smile.

They’re just like kiddies at their play – but we, we’ve felt and seen,
And ‘tween the likes o’ them an’ us the’re days and nights between:
Such days, such nights ! – there ain’t no words, not human, to express –
But we often wish they’d think a bit and chatter rather less;
But it takes a deal o’ pluck for that and quite a lot o’ brain,
And since they haven’t got them, well we simply can’t explain.

****

On the Pope’s Manifesto

One voice only through the reek and roar
Sounds with a simple and august appeal:
“Oh! little ones of God, will ye not heal
These wounds, and cease from strife and hate no more?”
Vain words! since violently as before
The nations heave, like a great sea up-tossed;
Even such a sea as Christ’s calm feet once crossed,
When the waves hushed their tumult to adore .

And now as then, the Outcast, the Despised
Christ, to us fighting in the name of Christ
Bids “Peace, be still” – but we have drawn the sword ,
And each secure his cause at least is good,
Sheds to approve that faith his brother’s blood;
Being by so much wiser than the Lord.

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John Middleton Murry: The pacifism of luxury and the pacifism of sacrifice

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

British writers on peace and war

John Middleton Murry: Selections on peace and war

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John Middleton Murry
From Beyond the Nation

Up to the last war our nationalism did not require conscription. It left the individual all kinds of luxury freedoms – and pacifism was one of them. In England it was possible to be a pacifist and a nationalist at once…..But slowly and inevitably, the mists of the old illusion are moving away, and the naked reality of the landscape begins to emerge….Our nationalism reveals itself as precisely the same as everyone else’s: it’s compelling us to do precisely the same things as everybody else. It is beginning to dawn upon us, generally, that the whole nation will be mobilized for war, and that it follows inexorably that a man will not be able to be a pacifist and a law-abiding citizen as well. Out of the war-machine today means out of the national machine.

It is best to have no illusions about it: not simply because it is always, in the long run, a good thing to have no illusions, but because (in my personal opinion) it enables the pacifist to understand what he is really after. He is out, whether he knows it or not, to break up the machine that has usurped the place of the natural society. That is the negative. The positive is that he is out to create a new international society. And that new international society does not have to wait for existence upon vast and impossible surrenders by the nations themselves. It exists already: it has existed from the moment that individual pacifists in every nation have decided that, in the matter of modern nationalist warfare, they must obey a higher authority than the nation. They may call this authority by different names. Some will call it Conscience; others will call it Reason; yet others will call it Humanity. I myself call it God. But it seems to me that there can be no doubt that under whatever name it may be concealed or revealed, it is always the same Authority. I also think that those who elect to obey this Authority are citizens of the same City.

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From This England

And how shall this country – this freedom that is my country – be defended today? By compelling its members to bear their part in raining high explosives and the rest of the abominations upon defenceless populations, to teach them not to rain them on our own?

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We lift up our hands in horror at what Japanese patriotism is doing in China. We refuse to admit to our consciousness that English patriotism will do exactly the same thing. It is time for a new patriotism: a patriotism that will die for its country, but will not kill for it – a patriotism that will bring the City of Man a little nearer to the City of God, instead of degrading it to the City of the Beast.

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Max Plowman: The God of War

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

British writers on peace and war

Max Plowman: The dead soldiers. Killing men is always killing God.

Max Plowman: The Goddess of War

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Max Plowman
The God of War

‘Let all Indefinites be thrown into Demonstrations.’

Pass, unknown monster, pass; the dawn of mind
Reveals thy lineaments. Ere break of day
Men saw thee as a cloud for the display
Of Heaven’s lightning, Heaven’s rushing wind;
They worshipped thee in fear and reverence blind,
Hanging about thine altars banners gay,
Beating loud drums, wreathing thy priests with bay,
And dancing at the murder of mankind.

No more we watch thy great foreboding shape
Sprawled on the darkened heavens. Instead we see
One soldier disembowelled by butchery,
One girl-wife, now a living shroud of crape;
And in the thinking sight of these we cry,
‘Spawn of our lust and hatred, thou shalt die.’

August, 1914

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Edmund Blunden: Writings on war

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Cecil Day-Lewis: Newsreel

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

British writers on peace and war

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Cecil Day-Lewis
Newsreel (1938)

Enter the dream-house, brothers and sisters, leaving
Your debts asleep, your history at the door:
This is the home for heroes, and this loving
Darkness a fur you can afford.

Fish in their tank electrically heated
Nose without envy the glass wall: for them
Clerk, spy, nurse, killer, prince, the great and the defeated,
Move in a mute day-dream.

Bathed in this common source, you gape incurious
At what your active hours have willed –
Sleep-walking on that silver wall, the furious
Sick shapes and pregnant fancies of your world.

There is the mayor opening the oyster season:
A society wedding: the autumn hats look swell:
An old crocks’ race, and a politician
In fishing-waders to prove that all is well.

Oh, look at the warplanes! Screaming hysteric treble
In the low power-dive, like gannets they fall steep.
But what are they to trouble –
These silver shadows – to trouble your watery, womb-deep sleep?

See the big guns, rising, groping, erected
To plant death in your world’s soft womb.
Fire-bud, smoke-blossom, iron seed projected –
Are these exotics? They will grow nearer home!

Grow nearer home – and out of the dream-house stumbling
One night into a strangling air and the flung
Rags of children and thunder of stone niagaras tumbling,
You’ll know you slept too long.

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John Middleton Murry: Non-intervention versus the universal peace of universal destruction

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

British writers on peace and war

John Middleton Murry: Selections on peace and war

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John Middleton Murry
From The Basis of Internationalism

As the medieval clerics in assenting to the edicts of the temporal powers interposed a saving clause – salvo ordine meo: “without prejudice to the rights of my order,” or some equivalent phrase – so the nations, ever since they became nations, have always explicitly or implicitly made a reservation of their “vital interests” from the domination of International Law. Since each nation was the judge of its own vital interests, the reign of International Law was a decorous facade, concealing a condition of international anarchy.

The principle of “non-intervention,” for example, of which we hear so much today, never was a principle which governed the actions of the British Government. We intervened to the tune of 100 millions, and a few thousand lives, in Soviet Russia as late as 1921; not long before that we intervened, in company with France, most tyrannically in the internal affairs of Greece. We forget these little episodes. The simple truth is that the moment we feel that our “vital interests” are involved, the principle of non-intervention goes into the lumber-room as a prejudice, only to be hauled out and re-varnished as a principle when we feel that it is against our “vital interests” to allow other nations to intervene.

****

The point I am trying to make will be clearer if we try to imagine a real and effective super-national authority, engaged in promulgating and enforcing the Law….It was possible to conceive, possible almost to realize, such a super-national authority in the far-off days of the Hildebrandine Popes. They could compel the subjects of a temporal prince to abandon their allegiance; they had the power to make plain to the simplest man, by excommunication and interdict, that if he obeyed his prince he was putting his immortal soul in peril.

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From Fascism and Nationalism

It follows, unfortunately, that fascism is happening in England too.. The difference is that our own is a negative Fascism, whereas the German and Italian kinds are positive: ours is unconscious, theirs is conscious: ours is the Fascism of “defence against Fascism.” To the average man, and to the politician, the difference seems great. In fact it is very small. Of the Fascist countries there is one thing, and one thing only, for the Englishman to say: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” And he had better hurry up finding the grace of God.

Take the name away and look at the reality of Fascism. It is only Nationalism: the nationalism of the countries that were the last to become nationalist. The real difference between English Nationalism and German Nationalism is that English Nationalism is satisfied with what is has got, and German Nationalism is not. And if German Nationalism or Italian Nationalism were to get enough to satisfy themselves, English Nationalism would at once cease to be satisfied. And the final equilibrium would be reached in the universal peace of universal destruction.

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From Material or Spiritual?

It is a noteworthy fact that of all European peoples the German and the Italians are probably, as individuals, the most pacific, the least nationalistic. That is, at least in part, because they submitted longest to the anti-national authority of the Holy Roman Empire. It is only during the last century that Germany and Italy have become conscious of themselves as “nations”: that they are seeking feverishly to make up for their backwardness in the general evolution towards national consciousness. As belated “nations” they suffer from a deep-rooted sense of inferiority: hence their extravagant aggressiveness.

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Margaret Sackville: Quo Vaditis?

July 24, 2020 1 comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville
Quo Vaditis?

“Where do ye go
Pale line of broken men?” –
We only know to die. Could we die twice, we’d die again.

“Wherefore?” – The call
Of a strange voice – was it of death or birth? –
Came to us all,
To all of us, the men of all the earth.

“And to what end?”
We ask not, but we see
The self-same light which kindles in our friend
Shine from the faces of our enemy.

“Same light, same doom!
And to what purpose?” – Deep
We lie in the same womb,
The slain, the slain together in one sleep.

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Edmund Blunden: The bondservice of destruction

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

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Blunden: Writings on war

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Edmund Blunden
From Undertones of War

I began to love these convalescent soldiers, and their distinguishing demeanour sank into me. They hid what daily grew plain enough – the knowledge that the war had released them but for a few moments, that the war would claim them, that the war was a jealous war and a long-lasting. 1914, 1915, 1916….Occasionally I would ask the silly questions of nonrealization; they in their tolerance pardoned, smiled, and hinted, knowing that I was learning, and should not escape the full lesson.

****

That evening, a lugubriously merry Highlander and a sturdy Engineer, to whom I had democratically appealed for help on some matter, who were themselves returning to the British Expeditionary Force next morning, asked me my age. I replied; and, discipline failing, the Scotchman murmured to himself, “Only a boy – only a boy,” and shed tears, while his mate grunted an angry sympathy.

****

The Base! dismal tents, glum roadways, prisoning wire! I took my share of a tent, trying to remember the way to freedom, and laid on my valise the ebony walking stick which had been my grandfather’s, and was to be my pilgrim’s staff. It went. I was away from it but a few minutes- it went. But this was before the war was officially making the world safe for democracy.

****

Was it on this visit to Étaples that some of us explored the church – a fishing village church – and
took tea comfortably in an inn? Those tendernesses ought not to come, however dimly, in my notions of Etaples. I associate it, as millions do, with “The Bull Ring,” that thirsty, savage, interminable training ground. Marching up to it, in the tail of a long column, I was surprised by shouts from another long column dustily marching the other way: and there, sad-smiling, waving hands and welcoming, were two or three of the convalescent squad who had been so briefly mine on the sunny slopes opposite Lancing. I never saw them again; they were hurried once more, fast as corks on a millstream, without complaint into the bondservice of destruction. Thinking of them, and the pleasant chance of their calling to me, and the evil quickness with which their wounds had been made no defence against a new immolation, I found myself on the sandy training ground. The machine guns there thudded at their targets, for the benefit of those who had advanced against such furies, equally with beginners like me. And then the sunny morning was darkly interrupted. Rifle-grenade instruction began. A Highland sergeant major stood magnificently before us, with the brass brutality called a Hales rifle grenade in his hand. He explained the piece, fingering the wind vane with easy assurance; then stooping to the fixed rifle, he prepared to shoot the grenade by way of demonstration. According to my unsoldierlike habit, I had let the other students press near the instructor, and was listlessly standing on the skirts of the meeting, thinking of something else, when the sergeant major having just said, “I’ve been down here since 1914, and never had an accident,” there was a strange hideous clang. Several voices cried out; I found myself stretched on the floor, looking upward in the delusion that the grenade had been fired straight above and was about to fall among us. It had indeed been fired, but had burst by some error at the muzzle of the rifle: the instructor was lying with mangled head, dead, and others lay near him, also bloodmasked, dead and alive. So ended that morning’s work on the Bull Ring.

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John Middleton Murry: The morality of bombing civilians is not arithmetic

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

British writers on peace and war

John Middleton Murry: Selections on peace and war

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John Middleton Murry
From The Pharisee and the Publican (1937)

Is it the mere size of the murder that we protest against? As though to bomb 5,000 innocent civilians were a hundred times worse than bombing 50, and five thousand times worse than bombing one! If that is the casuistry of modern morality, then I vastly prefer the more civilized casuistry of old. I can understand the essential difference between a venial and a mortal sin; I can see no essential difference between deliberately blowing one civilian to pieces and blowing up a million.

There is a story in the gospel of St. Luke which is pretty familiar, so familiar, I suppose, that it has long ceased to mean anything. It tells how two men went into the Temple to pray: The one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself: “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are – extortioners, unjust, adulterers. I fast twice a week, and pay my taxes.” But the publican, standing afar off, would not even lift his eyes toward heaven, but beat his breast and said: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” And Jesus said that the publican went home accepted by God, while the Pharisee was rejected.

I cannot help thinking that those who would protest against the outrages of Japan in China are like the Pharisee. Men who live in an England made rich as a result of the same type of outrages, men who are, and must be, members of a country which is prepared, under stress of “necessity,” to commit precisely the same outrages as Japan, and for the same ends – surely, they cannot do otherwise than as the publican: humiliate themselves and repent. They cannot protest – at least against anyone other than themselves.

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