Beverley Nichols November 15 1933


Beverley Nichols November 15 1933


Beverley Nichols

Editor's Note: Because it is the most widely discussed hook written oj, and for a post-war generation that even now is being warned of further and more frightful wars to come, Maclean's presents herewith the first of a series of selections from “CRY HAVOC!" by Beverley Nichols. The first few paragraphs are extracted from the opening chapter and serve to introduce


I BELIEVE that the discussion of war should begin with the personal agony of the soldier and should end with the political and economic frictions which result in that agony. In the same way I think that the discussion of poverty should begin with the realization of empty stomachs and squalid rooms and should end with statistics. If that sounds involved, I would merely explain, humbly, that I am trying to say that I should like to see a model of a hideously wounded soldier on the respectable tables of disarmament conferences.

This is a book about WAR. It is a passionate endeavor to clear up a few of the problems which are agitating the mind of a very average man—agitating him so much that he has to set aside the writing of plays and novels, in order to get this thing settled. And therefore it seems vital that the word WAR should be clearly defined, unless we are going to argue at cross-purposes.

But how could any man carry the right image of war in his head when every schoolmaster under whom he had ever sat had striven so sedulously to implant the wrong one? “William the Conqueror, 1066” . . . through endless summer afternoons the little boys of England have chanted the familiar jingle, while the flies crawled up the windows and the class-room was sleepy with the tang of new-mown hay. They chanted it before the wrar; they chant it still, and across their young brains there flashes the silver of ancient sw-ords, over the shallow waters of their understanding there flutters the reflected gold of flags flying in forgotten winds, and down the long corridors of youth there echoes a sweet trumpet call to battle.

Of course, they have been to war-films, and have seen young men in really dreadful pain . . . such pain that the grease-paint ran down the actor’s cheeks as he crawled over the papier mâché trench. Oh, yes—-the little boys have seen war-films, and they have loved them . . . loved the flags

that alw-ays flared so bravely, at the end. across the skies of Hollywood, while the canned music filled the auditorium w-ith the strains of the Star Spangled Banner, the Marseillaise, or more rarely, God Save the King, inaccurately harmonized. They have seen these films, and they have gone out clutching their fathers’ hands, into the noisy streets, past placards announcing “The Greatest Anti-War Film of History.” And as they pass those placards you see that their young faces are flushed with the beauty of it all; you see, in their bright eyes, the old flash of silver lances. “War” is still, to the historian, to the politician, and to the filmdirector, a grand and inspiring affair.

We want another word. What is it to be? It must be a word devoid of decency, and a word devoid of sense. A word with no historical associations, carrying no sonorous echoes of tragic beauty. A word trailing no clouds of glory. There is no such word. And the only phrase which truly expresses the situation is “mass murder of civilians.” It is a clumsy phrase, but even so, it is better than the word “war.” There is hardly a single living authority who attempts to deny that the next war will be largely decided in the air, and that the first and main object of any air force will be to paralyze the enemy's nerve centres -i.e.. to destroy the chief enemy towns. This will involve, needless to say, the mass murder of civilians.

If you take this phrase and substitute it for the word “war,” you arrive at some grotesque conclusions. You are forced to face the fact that “the mass murder of civilians” is an extremely odd way of settling international problems, to say the least of it. It is easy enough to make beautiful speeches about “war”—Mr. Asquith, for example, made very pretty play with his unsheathed sword on more than one occasion in August, 1914. But if. instead of the phrase, "we shall not sheathe the sword” he had used the phrase, “we shall not desist from gassing babies.” the emotions of his audience might not have been so exalted. That is what any honest statesman, in any country, will have to say about a future “war.” And therefore I think that one of the greatest

♦The First Sub-Committee of the Temporary Mixed Commission cf the League of Nations. Report A. 8, 1921.

services any millionaire could render to mankind would be the offer of a substantial prize to any man who invented a slogan that would finally drive this cheating word "war” out of the currency of decent contemporary language.

And I have a very schoolboy feeling about the little book which follows, because I fear you may be tempted to mark it "gamma minus."

There are many thousands of young men in this country who feel, as I do. that life is not worth living under this shadow of war. The spring is poisoned, the summer is made a mockery, the winter is a dark time of threatening winds and haunting dreads. All that is gay and lovely in life is tainted. How can a man think, let alone dream, when the hills and valleys are filled with the echo of soldiers’ marching? How can he build a house, when the very soil is trembling beneath his feet? How can he have the heart to save a fortune, or plant a fair garden? How, even, can he make love, in this shadow, which broods over all human life like a monstrous phantom?

fi)nough of these questions. We had better plunge straight into the heart of the problem. And the heart of the problem, as I see it, is the armament industry.

There lies on my desk a little report issued by the league of Nations.* Quite a modest dwument. It was published twelve years ago, and after a few copies had fluttered round the offices of Europe, it was politely filed and forgotten.

league of Nations reports are usually boring in the extreme. But this one is of so sensational a nature that if it had received proper publicity it would have shaken Europe. For here are the hideous accusations which it makes;

1. That armament firms have fomented war-scares.

2. Have attempted to bribe government officials.

3. Have spread false reports concerning military and naval programmes of foreign countries in order to stimulate armament expenditure.

4. Have sought to influence public opinion through control of the press.

If you ponder these accusations, and read between the

Continued on page 37

Cry Havoc!

Continued from page 9

lines, you will see, gradually dawning, a picture for which the adjective “hideous” is mild. But it will be only a misty picture. 1 want to fill it in—to give it light and color and movement. And so I am now going to take you on a journey. We will get in a train, and travel to a destination which must remain anonymous, and these are the first words which we shall hear . . .

The Bloody International (Death, Ltd.)

OF COURSE, this is a novelty, so we get a better price for it.”

I stood in the armament factory, staring at the “novelty,” which was a new sort of floating mine. It was a particularly horrible variety. Any submarine which brushed against it would instantly be annihilated. The bodies of the crew’ would hurtle, in fragments, through the reddening water.

Yet this “novelty” only cost about £300. Pretty good business that, to kill fifty sailors for £300. It works out at only £6 per sailor. Of course, there are transport charges to consider, because these British mines were going to places as far distant as the Balkans and South America. Still, even if the net cost worked out at as much as £7 per sailor, it w'ould still be good business. Especially if the sailors who are blow-n up are British, as they well may be. British sailors, one imagines, cannot be worth much less than £7 apiece.

The factory w’here I saw' this mine, forms the starting-point of our pilgrimage. It is one of many that are scattered all over England. There is nothing secret about the activities of these institutions—in fact, members of the public can inspect an armament works almost as easily as they can inspect a chocolate factory. They will not be shown any secrets, of course, any more than the head of a chocolate firm will hand out to tourists his new formula for coffee creams. However there is no need to be shown secrets. The open facts are quite frightening enough.

It is very' essential, if you are going to read this book with any profit, that you should get a clear idea of the armament industry at w'ork. I myself had only a very hazy notion, when I began. I knew that guns and submarines, and bombing airplanes, and all that sort of thing, were being made by private firms, but I vaguely imagined that they must be under some sort of government control. I certainly did not realize that the entire business was unfettered and competitive. I did not realize that in our midst were these vast corporations, trading in death, profiting by death, owing their very' existence to death. The fact that these firms also trade in pleasure steamers, etc., does not alter the fact that, with many of them, the main trade is in death.

In case this idea is too shocking for you to grasp, at first—it took me some time to grasp it—-let me suggest a parallel which may possibly make it more vivid to you. Supposing that some enterprising journalist wandering in a desolate part of northern England, came across an old castle inhabited by a lunatic scientist. Supposing that by some means or other he obtained admission to the castle, wormed his way into the madman’s secrets, and then made the horrifying discovery that he was preparing to wipe out the entire population of London by an invention which w’ould infect the w hole city with a new' and agonizing disease. Supposing that he overpowered the scientist, in the true Edgar Wallace manner, rushed out of the castle, across the windswept moor, to the little village in the valley, woke up the landlord of the inn and got through to London on the telephone. Can’t you see the headlines of this scoop in the following morning’s Daily Blank?

Daily Blank Saves London’s Millions Incredible Plot of Mad Scientist Germs That Would Have Killed Millions

Yes, laugh, if you think it funny. The days when any of us w'ill be able to laugh are so tragically few that we may as well make the most of them. For the journalistic story I have suggested is a dull trifle, compared with the truth.

Armsville f is a flourishing town. Armsville is in clover. There are unemployed of course ... in fact, one of the foremen, when he w'as showing me over a gun factory', apologized because “things are so quiet note!“ It struck me as one of the queerest apologies I had ever heard. As though the matron of a cancer hospital should heave a sigh and say . . . “we’re so sorry . . . some of the beds are empty . . . there’s been rather a falling off lately . . . still we live in hopes!”

However, although Armsville is flourishing, it is grim. The skies look as though they have been scattered with ashes. The air is tainted. The whole place wras particularly depressing on the morning I visited it. The wind moaned round the sheds and the outbuildings, like a dying man, and the rain lashed down with the fury' of a barrage.

I w'as show'n over by the foreman of the w'orks. And since he was a charming man, doing his job efficiently and w'ell, I felt a little guilty, like a spy. And so, in order to set my conscience at rest, and to make my position quite plain at the outset, I said tc him:

“I don’t w’ant to see anything that I oughtn’t to see . . . nothing private . . . you understand.”

“That’s all right,” he said. “You w'on’t!”

Which, in a way, reassured me.

And yet, on the walls of the office, there was hanging a document which I should have thought would have been very private | indeed. As it apparently wasn’t . . . for ; anybody who walked in there could have j seen it, staring him in the face ... it w’ould i seem to be no breach of confidence to reproduce it. It was the firm’s “Estimates” . . . i.e., a chart of the w’ork which they had recently been undertaking. These estimates w’ere numbered, and each item bore the date when the objects being manufactured were due. The dates and the numbers need not concern us, but it may be interesting to note one fact about its activities. This is how this great English firm ... (in only one of its branches, remember) . . . has recently been contributing to civilization ... by supplying instruments of death to I no less than fourteen governments simultaneously. Two of these governments were, at that very moment, actually engaged in hostilities. Yet, Armsville wras supplying them both !

Now, before w'e go any farther over this factory, are you beginning to see that there was a certain reason for giving this chapter such a very blunt title? I called it "The Bloody International.” Well, you will hardly deny that it is international. And it is a little difficult to see how you can avoid calling it bloody—unless you think that s'uch tilings as mines are laid in the water for purely decorative purposes. So what else is it but a bloody international—this trade?

If you can think of a better title I shall be glad to hear of it.

And now let us continue our tour of the factory.

The first things I saw of any interest were housed in an immense barn-like building, which was in a perpetual state of uproar owing to the furious activity of the rivet ters next door. We had to shout to make ourselves heard. And so, when I saw these oddlooking guns, standing in a comer, I yelled :

“What are these?”

The guns were very complicated and

tAlthough this is a photographically accurate report of my visit to a certain armament factory, I shall use the pseudonym of Armsville, partly for personal reasons, but principally because a few incidents in the report are incorporated from visits to other and similar factories. The word Armsville is however the only touch of fiction in the report.

ingenious-looking. They were beautifully camouflaged in greys and yellows and blues.

"Anti-aircraft guns for Turkev.”


I approached them more closely. So although this firm was working for Greece, it was also working for Greece’s hereditary enemy. Turkey! The good old tradition, you see! For was it not Sir Basil Zaharoff who sold the world’s first submarine to Greece? And then took the first boat to Turkey and persuaded the Turks that since Greece had one submarine, Turkey must have two? And thereby started the great submarine race which nearly destroyed the British Empire? Zaharoff was a “patriot” honored by the Empire which had nearly been brought to its knees by the results of his business. I am a pacifist, honored by nobody. But which of us, in the long run, will be judged to have fought best for his country?

“Anti-aircraft guns for Turkey.”

There was a momentary lull in the rivetting operation and I examined the guns more closely. Their muzzles were pointed to the skies. They looked queerly devotional, pointing upward like that ... as though they had been frozen in a moment of prayer. Tranquil, they looked, as though they could never do any harm to anybody.

“Yes. The Turks are terrified of everybody.”

“So you do a good business with them?”

“Pretty good.”

I took another look at the guns. It was difficult to realize that they had been created in order to search the skies, perhaps for Englishmen, and bring them down to earth in blazing, screaming death. They looked so nice and peaceful. The sort of thing a woman might put in her hall, if she had a big modem house.

There was an inscription, in Turkish, on the platforms of the machine. Beautifully engraved on a shiny brass plate. I wondered who had written it. Some retiring professor of languages, I expect. Perhaps he came from Cambridge.

“To fire the gun . . . pull back lever A . . . press button C ...” And then, when he had written it, in Turkish, he looked out on to the green spaces of King’s, congratulated himself on having made a couple of guineas, and went in to have a sole and a glass of sherry in the dimly lit hall. And somewhere, somehow, some boy shivered,

¡ because he felt a sudden dizziness, a quick,

; fleeting agony, as though he were falling ... falling . . .

We walked on. Ahead of us loomed a gigantic gun —the biggest I had yet seen in this frightening place. It was mounted on a high platform, proudly. It was superbly modelled, and it gleamed with new paint. It looked every’ inch an aristocrat . . . and there were fifty feet of it ! Yet it was not an aristocrat. Indeed it spelt death to aristocrats. for it was destined for the Republic of Spain. Already twelve of its sisters had been dispatched to that turbulent country. Thirteen guns, with a range of thirty miles, firing fifteen-inch shells, each shell costing £100. Not for nothing did Spain cast off the yoke of monarchy, and join the revolutionary “brotherhood” of mankind.

But what does it matter to these firms, whether they deal death to monarchies or republics, to blacks or to whites, as long as they deal death? One of the overseers said to me, as I stared at his gun . . . "We don't care who's having a whack at whom, providing we get the order!”

And yet the young man who made this incredible remark was a decent, kindly fellow, with an open face and an engaging smile. The sort of chap you would trust. The sort that would not willingly be cruel to any living thing. That is one of the most tragic aspects of the armament trade—it takes fine men, and perverts them to its own horrible uses. For if you translate that young man’s remark into another sphere you will see how unconsciously ghastly it is. It is as though an undertaker, during an epidemic of some disease, were to mb his hands together and chortle. “We don’t care who dies, old or young, provided we get the order!”

On and on we went, through hall after hall, out into the windswept yards, back again, upstairs, downstairs. I lost track of the number of things I saw. There were stacks of machine-guns for Bolivia, ready for dispatch. There was a room where machines of amazing delicacy measured instruments of death to within a thousandth of an inch. The mine episode I mentioned at the beginning of the chapter. It was that which really impressed me most of all, because it was so very obvious that these mines which were being sold to foreign governments, would serve their main purpose agains: the British navy.

The mines were evidently the factory’s favorite. They were patted affectionately. They looked quite prettypainted pale grey, hanging up there, so still and sleek. I'm sorry. I can’t go on describing these hideous things. It gets me down. You have seen enough for the moment. Let us draw a line, and sum up the significance of this first step that we have taken together.

You have read a brief description of a private armament firm, one of a number of similar firms scattered over England.

This firm is unfettered. There is no sort of restraint on its activities. True, an export license has to be obtained from the Foreign Office before armaments can be exported but this license can usually be obtained for the asking. The diversity of the governments to whom, as we have seen, arms are being supplied is proof enough of this fact, if proof is needed.

Well, what does it mean? This is a business world, and people don’t work for nothing. What, then, is the crude, dirty truth behind the walls of these places? The truth is—more death, more dividends.

More death, more dividends! More blood —more bonuses! Each shell that screams across the sky ... no matter over what forsaken country that sad sky may lower ... is bringing money into the pockets of the Armsville shareholders. Perhaps only a penny or two, but every little helps. Thus may the men in Bolivia, in Roumania, in Italy, or wherever the Armsville writ may run, console themselves. Their entrails are blown out? Their leg is hanging by the knee? A “portion of the brain is protruding” —(as the medical reports so often delicately described it?) No matter. Some nice old soldier’s widow in Bournemouth can buy a few extra flowers for her husband’s grave next Christmas, because Armsville’s are paying their dividend as usual.

This is bitter writing, but the facts are as bitter as the taste of stale blood. Facts— you say? These things can’t be facts. Over and over again I have said the same to myself, laying down my pen, staring at the wall in front of me, asking myself when I am going to wake from this hideous nightmare. But it is no nightmare. I am not dreaming. The clock still ticks on the wall. Outside, the wind whirls and scurries in the giant elms, and the leaves that drift over the moonlit paths are real leaves.

These are facts. That the government of this country, of every country, allows vast corporations to trade in death. That the government of this country, of every country, while raising its black-gloved hands in horror at the White Slave Traffic, at the Drug Traffic, at all other illegal traffics, yet gives its approval, its honor and blessing, to the traffic in death. If you can give me a more accurate description of a private armament firm, I shall be greatly obliged. However, I regret to say that you can’t. A man who sells, at a profit, instruments for the destruction of other men, is a trafficker in death. The more instruments he sells the more profit he will make. Therefore, the more men who are killed, disembowelled, blinded, or otherwise rendered incapable of enjoying the dubious privileges of existence on this odd planet, the better he will be pleased. If you deny this, you deny that men like making money, which is really too much to ask me to believe. And so, like a problem in Euclid, the matter is solved.

It needs a strong man to face such a solution without hanging his head in shame for the human race.

To be Continued