The Concluding Installment of CRY HAVOC
In the chapters between the installment published in Maclean's February 15 and this, the concluding installment, Mr. Nichols presents a warm discussion, by letter, between Sir Norman Angell and Lord Beaverbrook; the record of a highly interesting conversation between Robert Mennel, “ex-conscientious objector,” and Yeats Brown, the Bengal Lancer; and a discussion between G. D. H. Cole and Sir Arthur Salter.
The Microbes of Mar$
IF YOU look back on the journey we have taken together, you will see that there is one very big gap in the winding road of argument. For, while we have been talking about war, what it will be like, what horrors it will bring in its train, what efforts are being made to avert it, whether it is intrinsically evil or intrinsically good, we have not really asked ourselves the question: “What is war’s ultimate cause?"
H hy do men fight, when they would much prefer to live at peace? Why do nations pour out their treasure in destruction when they sorely need it for construction? Why do people deliberately choose the disease of war when they might choose the radiant health of peace? You cannot explain these monstrous paradoxes merely by attributing them to the sinister activities of armament firms. You cannot put all the blame on the press, nor can you talk vaguely about men’s “instincts.” We want a clearer diagnosis than that. We want an absolutely conclusive answer to the question: What are the microbes of Mars?
I warn you that it will be a painful process for both of us. For the generic name of all these poisonous germs which cause war is—patriotism.
I believe, with every fibre of my being, that the hour has struck in the world’s history when every man who wishes to serve his country must realize that patriotism is the worst service he can offer to it. The time has come when it must be definitely admitted that patriotism is an evil in every
country—that the German patriot is as great a sinner as the English patriot or the American patriot or the Italian patriot. The time has come when this word—a hallowed word, I admit, a word that calls up memories of sublime sacrifice and deathless heroism—must be recognized as having changed its meaning, and as having lost its sense and its virtue.
What is Patriotism?
TT WILL BE a difficult task, for me as well as for you. I A was brought up in a conservative English household, with no sort of eccentricities, and I believed everything I was told in the war. Such influences are not easily forgotten. They are not forgotten yet. It is only the force of overwhelming conviction that makes me compel myself to define this word as it really is.
Now the first thing to realize about patriotism is that it is not an “instinct.” We are brought up—most of us — to imagine that it is a quality with which every decent man is bom—that if, when the child becomes adolescent it does not show the usual signs of “patriotism,” there is something wrong with the child.
This is such an obvious fallacy that it seems hardly worthy of refutation. However a very simple example will serve to refute it. Take a German baby, a French baby and an American baby, at the age of six months, and transport those babies to a little island in the Pacific. What are they then? They are helpless creatures dependent on you, and on you alone. They are certainly not “patriots.” And supposing you are an Englishman, in charge of those babies, and you only speak English, and you bring them all up to speak English too, will you regard the German baby and the French baby as “unnatural” because they do not leap about the island crying Deutschland über Alles or Vive la France?
These are ludicrous and puerile suppositions, are they not? Yes? Very well then. It is also ludicrous and puerile to suppose that patriotism is “instinctive”. It is utterly artificial. A product of education only . So far we are at one.
But before we go on any further, I think it will be worth our while to examine the reason why quite intelligent men
OW YOU SAY
still couple the words "patriotism ’ and “instinct.” I believe that it is largely because of a very simple verbal confusion. Every nation personifies itself. We talk of “Mother England.” The Germans talk of the “Fatherland.” The Italians, the French, the Americans, the Turks, the Chinese, and almost every other existent nation, adopt the same odd conceit. I call it “odd” because it is odd, this confusion of a blood relationship with an accident of geography. The boundaries of many nations are the result of pure caprice, the consequence of a tum in the political wheel, or the proverbial loss of a nail in a horse’s shoe. And yet, because of this completely artificial, and frequently sordid, chapter of accidents which decides the limits of national territory, millions of men are trained from infancy to regard a strip of land as sacredly as they regard their “mother.”
Snobbery and War
to me, “I am proud of being English”—or American, or German, or whatever it may be. You say it absolutely sincerely, looking me straight in the eyes. And I answer you in the same spirit, absolutely sincerely, looking you straight in the eyes. And I say to you:
If our argument together is a serious one, if you are as earnest as I am, you will please try to answer that question:
You find some difficulty in answering it? You find none at all? You have a great many reasons, which you can write on a sheet of notepaper, to give me, explaining why you are proud to be English? Splendid! But before you begin to write, let me make a brief suggestion.
Pride comes from achievement, doesn’t it? I am sure we are agreed about that. In case the generalization sounds too vague, let me put it in another way. Let me merely suggest that you will agree when I say that a man has no right to be proud of something which he has not done. A man, of course, can be grateful for what he is—he can be grateful to God for inheriting riches, or inheriting health, or inheriting good looks. But I hope it will be generally agreed that a man should not be proud of inherited wealth, nor should he be proud of a perfect profile. If he is, we generally regard him as a snob or a bounder. Do we not? I think you will be with me—even if reluctantly—up to this point in the argument.
Well, then, why are you “proud of being English?” Is not the answer to that—the only true answer—"I am proud of the accident of being born in a certain bedroom?” Is there any other answer? And if there is not, is it an answer which you are so very proud of giving?
Please do not mistake me. Do not say, “But I am proud of England—apart from all that—proud of belonging to the land of Shakespeare and Shelley and Nelson.” That has nothing to do with it. We are not discussing the merits of particular nations. We are discussing an accident—an accident of birth. Are you proud of that accident? I do not see how you can be proud of an accident. Grateful, if you like, but surely not proud?
Since this is a new and strange and probably antipathetic form of reasoning to most readers, it is necessary to reiterate the difference between being proud of England and being proud of being English. This difference is really radical. I am as proud as any man to think that any strip of this tormented planet could produce a man like Shakespeare, whose starry words will always sparkle on the world’s pages, as long as there is a wind to ruffle them. But I am surely permitted to say that I am equally proud of Germany? From Germany came Beethoven, to whom—if we are being personal—I owe a greater debt of ecstasy than to Shakespeare himself. And am I not also permitted to say that I am proud of Italy?
But, you tell me, the thing is deeper than that. Beyond reason. It is an emotional quality. You are impatient. You say to me:
How can I help loving England? England with the quiet lawns and the great trees in which the rooks are always
restless, England whose summer is eternal April, whose winter is a sleep broken with distant laughter? How can I help loving this land of the grey cities and the grey sea, this land whose very reserve makes my loyalty more ardent? Even when I am far from England, under the blazing sun in some strange city of towers and temples, the thought of England shines more radiantly than the gold on any worshipped idol. I love its kings and its queens, its flags and its songs, and to me my English passport is itself a title of nobility.
You think that you were asking those questions, and that I was preparing to deliver some rhetorical snub? No. 1 hose questions came from my own heart. Which shows how intensely difficult it is to eradicate them. Why should I wish to eradicate them, then? I don’t. I only wish to clear them up and to eradicate the ridiculous tailpiece at the end of the paragraph—“to me my English passport is itself a title of nobility.’’
That is pure snobbery, of the most dangerous sort. National snobbery leads to war as clearly as social snobbery leads to revolution. My English passport is a matter of good luck, that is all. (At the moment of writing, I mean. By the time these words are published it may not be a matter of good luck at all.)
“But those pretty words of yours about England—didn’t you mean them?” Certainly. As clearly as any pretty words I might write about Italy or France or Japan. It is fatal to be exclusive about love of your country. If you say that it would be as difficult for you to love the whole world as it would be to love sixty women at once, my only answer is that you must try to do so. It is incredibly difficult. So is Christianity, w'hich is all that I am advocating. It is the most difficult philosophy in the world, which is, presumably, the reason why it has never been tried.
For, make no mistake about it—this “exclusive” love of yours will one day be the cause of destroying England. It will lead you to hate any other lovers of their countries. You will both fight for what you love, and you will both be destroyed. For as we have seen, earlier in this book, a new war will lay bare the nations with no respect of persons, no distinction between victors and vanquished. The English manor house will fall with the German castle and the Venetian palazzo and the Turkish mosque and the Russian factory. And they will fall because their owners loved them not wisely but too well.
“War” in the Nursery
I AM ADVOCATING a complete revolution in international thought. It sounds a somewhat ambitious programme. Actually this revolution could be accomplished in a single generation, by the simplest means, and without a pennyworth of expenditure.
However, you may say to me: “You want a revolution in international thought. There’s the snag ! What is the use of our trying to be internationally minded if the other nations are being as national as ever? What is the use of a few Englishmen trying to love their neighbors when their neighbors love only themselves?”
There are several answers to these questions. Firstly, you make a grave mistake if you imagine that the other nations are as “national” as ever. There are tremendous international movements, largely suppressed in every country of the world. Naturally, you do not hear much about them. The Italian press is completely gagged. The French press is largely under the control of armament manufacturers. At the moment of writing, every liberal paper in Germany has a soldier sitting on its editor's desk. But in all my European travels, which have been considerable in the past few years, I have found overwhelming evidence of a vast body of young international pacifism disorganized, persecuted cruelly, hushed up, disgraced -but smoldering with intense activity. So we really are not quite so isolated as you may imagine, we pacifists.
Secondly, in reply to your objection that it is no use for an Englishman to be actively pacifist in a world whichI admit—contains a tremendous amount of red-hot nationalism,
I would reply that this argument of yours can be used in support of any form of cowardice or immorality you may like to mention. It would be exactly the same argument if you said to me: “What is the use of my trying to be a Christian in a world which contains so much evil?” You may answer that question for yourself.
Thirdly, and most important of all, one pacifist creates another. The reaction is international. If America builds an extra battleship, we feel that we must do the same.
If she scraps a battleship, we relax. The force of example is incalculable. If, when
you go out to dinner, you have the courage to answer some misguided man who, in a ruined world, and with the lesson of centuries of failure unlearnt, still maintains that “we must prepare for war in order to obtain peace,” if you can show him his tragic error, at the risk of losing his friendship, you will have done the best day’s work you ever did.
Having made this general survey, we can now make a more detailed examination of the microbes which cause war. It will be fitting if we begin at the beginning, and go upstairs to the nursery.
Supposing that in your nursery there is a set of toy soldiers. There is a set in most nurseries all over the world. And supposing that every time your children touched them, they got an electric shock. It is really rather a funny idea, and I admit that it makes me emit faint gurgles of laughter even as I write it. So that we need not labor a point that is already obvious and might easily be made ridiculous.
What is ridiculous—and a good deal worse than ridiculous —is the idea of giving children toy soldiers at all. That is not at all funny, and it arouses in me not the smallest desire to laugh. A child's brain is of the most exquisite delicacy. Impressions received before the age of adolescence are printed on it for ever. They may be apparently forgotten, apparently overlaid just as the bark of a grown tree may cover wounds which it received when it was a sapling. But underneath, in the subconscious, those impressions are as clear as ever, and for the rest of the child’s life serve their purpose in modifying conduct and molding ideas.
Just think, therefore, what you are doing when you put toy soldiers into the hands of a little boy. Soldiers—I imagine we will agree—are the emblems of war—the outward and visible sign of war. And these toy soldiers are pretty, brightly colored, gay, amusing. So you are saying to the child: “War is pretty, and brightly colored, too. It is
happy. It is great fun. It is a game. A game! It is the best game in the world. It is a much better game than education, for example. You can prove that merely by seeing how much brighter the soldiers are than the silly animals in your Noah’s Ark. A much better game than art too, because you could certainly never find colors in your paint box as brilliant as the red on your soldiers’ tunics.”
You do not say these things, of course, in so many words, but you are saying them, implicitly, every minute of every hour that your son is stretched on the floor, ranging his little toys in their rows.
Pop go the guns ! Bang, bang, bang, answers the enemy ! A row of little figures falls over. The nursery fire flickers happily. It is charming, is it not? And yet, if you have any imagination, you may see strange things in the shadows cast by the firelight. The little figures may not seem to stay quite still, as they fall, with a clink of metal, against each other. The limbs, perhaps, begin to twist and writhe, and
the paint on the tunics begins to run. And surely—and here your heart gives an uncomfortable jump—surely there is a sort of mist spreading over the ground — a yellow mist — and wffien it touches the little figures, they writhe still more, in a w'ay w'hich would be very funny, if it did not remind you, somehow'—of gas !
They told me, at the big stores round the comer, that the sale of toy soldiers had been larger this season than during any other season since the war. “You see, sir,” said the salesman, holding up a model tank, “we have so many attractive new models. There’s always something novel, in fact, in this line of the toy business.”
Why War Memorials?
THE SEEDS which you sow in the nursery do not take long to germinate. Any “healthy” boy, meaning any boy who has absorbed the normal allowance of lunatic ideas from his parents, very soon shows a keen interest in all things military. He is taken to w'atch the changing of the guard at Whitehall. He is fascinated. He w'ants a tunic like that. He wants a lovely shiny breastplate, and a helmet with plumes that the wind tosses wantonly. He wants to sit on a charger, while nursemaids, and other less excusable persons, slip notes into his beautiful, great shiny boots.
You take him to the military tattoo at Aldershot. Oh, it is beautiful, very beautiful and grand ! He is grow'ing up now, and his sense of the aesthetic is developing. For here, these long lines of men are as gay ribbons woven in an entrancing pattem, their swords are like silver fire, and their tunics are like red flowers. When the trumpet quivers through the night air, keen and true, it seems that no music could be sweeter. And is not the whole spectacle glorified, hazed over as with a flattering gauze, by the knowledge that all this beauty is also good and noble? That these men are heroes? That it is no mere ballet that is unfolding itself, but a pageant of bravery? England—my England! Your little boy may not say those words as he stumbles away, down the crowded steps, holding on to your hand. But he is thinking along those lines. Thinking passionately. Oh yes, you are making a good little soldier of him ! You are making just the right material to be asphyxiated, shattered, drowned or otherwise destroyed, by some machine or other, in some country or other, as yet undecided.
Do you still intend to go on with the good work?
Now, we can leave your small son, and concentrate on your own case.
Somewhere in your town, it is to be presumed, is a war memorial. It may not be a beautiful memorial, but every time you pass it, you feel a certain pride, a vague sense of glory. Perhaps it is because you knew some of the men whose names are carved on it. Or, perhaps, you are touched by the little bunches of flowers which are always laid on the steps. You wonder who put them there. You have never seen anybody putting any flowers on a war memorial. When do they do it? After dark, perhaps. Anyway, it is all very wonderful and very sad.
Ánd yet, every time I pass one of these memorials I feel like crying out aloud. For to me they are no fitting monument to the glorious dead. They are, rather, a silent mockery, both of the dead and of the living.
There is not a single true war memorial in England. Nor in America, nor in France, nor in any country over which the storms have swept. For answer me this. What have these marble men, stretched beneath broken columns in quiet villages—what have they to do with war? These eagles, whose wings are so proud and arrogant above so many busy thoroughfares, how do they enter into it? These groups in bronze, these happy warriors, frozen on the march, a song on their lips, in a perpetual ecstasy, what are they? Why are they there? Whom do they represent? What are they doing?
These emblems are cheating. Cheating! Because they have been hallowed by tears, no man w'ould demand their destruction. But they should be removed to the peace of churchyards, where they belong, and taken away from the busy thoroughfares where fools may be corrupted by them. For all over the world these memorials tell the same lies. The words are in strange dialects. But it is the same story and the same marble soldier. And I believe that if those lips could speak, if a breath were to come through the cold stone, the same words would echo faintly: “I died because they told me it was my duty. I died for my country. I was right. Wasn’t I?”
And the appalling answer, the answer that tears the very soul of the man who makes it, is: “No. You were wrong.”
Personally I see no reason why we should have war memorials at all. If the bubonic
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plague sweeps over a country, killing thousands of men, we do not erect shrines to it, as though it were something great and beautiful. War is doubly worse than plague, because it is infinitely more destructive and because it is deliberately chosen by man. Men do not inject themselves with the germs of plague, but they do inject themselves with the germs of war, and every war memorial is a fever spot, generating those germs.
If we cannot abolish those fever spots altogether, I should suggest that, at least, we sterilize them, by making them so hideous and so shocking that any war germs that might be lingering in the minds of children who played around them would be instantly killed. By the side of the plaques with the gilt lettering, that hang up in the entrance halls of so many schools I would cause to be hung up a diagram of what a soldier’s lungs look like after they have been eaten for a few hours by gas. I would reverently drape the statues, whether they were marching or sleeping, or waving flags or fixing bayonets, and I would build in their place, little rooms to house volumes of photographs of the wounded. Only the strong of heart would be able to look at those photographs. I was once sent a volume of them by a German publisher. I did not know what I was going to see when I opened them. The indescribable horror and bestiality of those faces and bodies, pulped almost beyond recognition as human beings, are the most painful memory life holds for me. And those were just photographs.
If they could be published on this page there would be no need of any more words from me.
“If I Should Die. . . .”
NOW LET LTS go into your library.
It would be obviously impossible for me to pick out from your shelves all the books which glorify war. Nor do I wish to do so. I would merely draw your attention to some of your books on the last war, and I would ask you to take these down, and study them again, in the light of what has gone before.
One book alone will serve as an example. It is Rupert Brooke’s 1914 and Other Poems. Over 140,000 copies of this volume have been sold. Extracts from it have been quoted on the graves of countless gallant young men. Sermons on it were preached by more than one bishop when I was at school. Its sonnets, of exquisite felicity, breathing the essence of a rare and fugitive spirit, have been lisped from mouth to mouth, have echoed in the strangest places, and go on echoing, with an ever falser note. The most famous sonnet of all need hardly be recalled to you. You know it by heart. . . .
“ƒƒ I should die, think only this of me That there’s some corner in a foreign land That is for ever England. There shall be In that rich earth, a richer dust concealed ...
Beautiful, is it not? The words, the rhythm, the sentiment—it is all so tranquil, so resigned. One pictures some fair youth sinking to rest in a quiet field . there is a red stain on his breast but the pain is soon gone. . . and he is asleep. And by some strange and lovely miracle his body mingles with the earth, and the poppies wave on the soil above him, keeping perpetual vigil.
Now, with that picture fresh in your mind, let me quote two quite casual sentences from Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer:
“/ particularly remember, as I passed down the trench, a pair of hands (nationality unknown), which protruded from the soaked ashen soil like the roots of a tree turned upside down. And floating on the surface of the flooded trench was the mask of a human face which had detached itself from the skull.” Which of these pictures struck you most? Rupert Brooke’s or Siegfried Sassoon’s? Which do you prefer—the poetry or the
prose? The painted allegory or the stark snapshot? The soothing legend or the revolting truth?
It is for you to choose. And as you choose, so you must act. If you do not wish the “mask” of your own son’s face—“detached from its skull”—to go floating down some drain as yet undug, then you should not send him to schools where the masters encourage these things by reading such poems to impressionable youths—poems which make a soldier’s death sound much finer, and much less painful than scoring a try in a football game.
They ban Russian literature. They ban scientific essays on sexual phenomena— essays which should be propped up under the nose of every English judge. They ban the passionate, bleeding prose of D. H. Lawrence. Yet they distribute Rupert Brooke wholesale.
Well, either “they” are mad, or I am. And I am not afraid of the verdict of posterity.
Mr. Nichols goes on to examine the textbooks from which the English boy is being taught at school. He demonstrates the stress that is laid on the battles of history while no notice is taken of nonmilitary characters who play vitally important parts in world-affecting movements. He continues:
All this has a very direct bearing on the subject of war and peace. In the first chapter of this book I suggested that “until August, 1914, the word 'war’ meant to the nations of the world what it had always meant, since the days of Napoleon—indeed, since the days of Hannibal.” It was 218 years before the birth of Christ when Hannibal marched south through Gaul and crossed the Alps. A good deal over two thousand years elapsed between that brilliantly futile exploit and the outbreak of the Great War. But though the beginning of the Next Great War will be, in all probability, less than twenty years since the beginning of the Last Great War, those twenty years have brought changes far stranger and more radical than the two thousand years which went before.
It is really vital that the teachers of our sons should realize this. I feel convinced that they do not realize it. If they did, they would throw up their hands in horror at the cruel and tragic way in which they are misleading youth. Day in and day out they are teaching them about these little wars of the past—these pretty, tiny affairs of flags and streamers, these manoeuvres as agreeable as the movements of an old-fashioned dance. And always these phenomena are given the name of “war.” so that when a boy thinks of the next “war.” he thinks in terms of his history books. This is a very terrible error, for which all parents are directly responsible. The next war will bear no more resemblance to the last than the trilobite to the sabretoothed tiger. The march of science has accelerated a millionfold. To fail to tell boys this, is as criminally neglectful as to fail to tell a child that it will be burnt if it plays with live coals.
Changing the History Books
IF YOU HAVE read so far you will have read far enough to fall into a grave error regarding the educational theories which I am advocating. It is quite possible that you may be saying to yourself: “So we are to be utterly ‘modern,’ are we? To scrap the history books for the newspapers? To ignore the tremendous lessons which history has to offer us by its contemplation of the lives and struggles and characters of men? To regard our social institutions as mushroom growths, whose early struggles are of no interest? What rot! Such theories would produce, in a few generations, a race of half-baked. loose-thinking irresponsible vulgarians.”
I quite agree. Such theories would. I have never advocated them and never shall. All I am suggesting is a change of emphasis. The modern history book devotes one paragraph to Newton and ten pages to the Duke of Wellington. I suggest that the ten pages should be given to Newton and the paragraph to Wellington. (He is not worth more than a footnote, but we must not do these things too violently.) Nor are these anachronisms evident only when war is in question. The modern history book devotes a paragraph to the growth of the Trade Unions and a whole chapter to the Elizabethan ecclesiastical settlement. It seems to me that this procedure should be exactly reversed. The intelligent modem schoolboy could write you quite a good essay on the history of artillery but he would make a very feeble showing if he were to attempt to trace the history of architecture. One
could develop this point ad infinitum. Our history books are merely long and wearisome monotones on the things which have died or the things which have caused death. The living and the creative, the healers, the liberators, the deathless army of inventors, of poets, and of martyrs—these are given a back place in the pageant. You cannot see the landscape because of the flags. You cannot hear the march of humanity because of the beating of the drums. You cannot see the new civilization because of the monuments and the memorials blocking out the
However, if a single reader has been convinced, it will not have been written in vain. For this revolution in international thought, which I am advocating, has got to begin with one man in one nation. And perhaps that man may be you.