« PreviousContinue »
who believe that war is not a crime. This ” (said my friends or seemed to be saying), “this is how we feel towards this war in which we participate with horror but with deliberate choice. And YOU, in this shallow satire of yours, represent this struggle between Good and Evil, this trial of strength between Yustice and Injustice, as a mere collective world-cataclysm for which all are equally responsible or rather irresponsible ; you dare to represent it as a mere involuntary, aimless, senseless dance of Death, in which all the Nations, with little to choose between them, join hands in imbecile, abominable obedience to Satan’s fiddling. Is this ” (so ends the spoken or unspoken protest of my warlike friends), “Is this, CAN this really be, your meaning? ”
It is. And more completely so, perhaps, than those who thus ask whether I mean it, can, for the time being, quite comprehend. As to the further query, when it is a query and not a mere ejaculation of disappointment, the how and why such a meaning can be mine, that is not so briefly answered, yet requires answering. Not that it matters a button to those who ask the question, why anyone, and least of all myself, should have come by opinions contrary to their own. But because this how and why of the opinions set forth in this play and in its notes, may make them easier to grasp by future readers less given to such surprised and distressed—may I again say it ?—exclamations disguised as queries.
The reasons I have set forth against participation in this war, spiritual participation by single individuals no less than collective participation by every belligerent Nation, especially my own, these convictions concerning the war’s origins and results, these judgments of its moral value, these arguments in defence of my own lack of participation, are not the reason, in the sense of the cause, of my inability thus to take part. Indeed, paradox though it sounds at first, I have come by
these views of the war just because I have not been able to be, as the current phrase goes, in the war; although once I had come by such views, the holding of them implied that I should Imp out. It was my initial aloofness which made me see the war as a common catastrophe, in which this country’s real danger was its danger as a portion of the whole war-imperilled world, instead of seeing only my country’s danger at the enemy’s hands, and calling that a danger to civilization and the future.
I have said that my views were the result rather than the cause of such aloofness. As to the reasons, in the sense of muses, of that aloofness from the war, they are individual to myself, and do not affect the truth or error of my views; they only explain how I came by them. They are matters of personal biography, of such bringing up and surroundings as have made me know, admire, love, but also mistrust, several nationalities; and while intensifying my appreciation of the splendid or delightful qualities special to each of them, made me incapable of identifying myself with the whole of any, because that whole of any country implied likewise a good many persons and characteristics I do not happen to like . . . And, by the way, all the belligerent nations have acquired in my eyes a common defect: namely, of being belligerents; indeed, I have watched them becoming more and more like one another in their ways of feeling and acting,'War having (paradoxically!) replaced the normal division of functions, the collaborating and complementary variety, of the various peoples by the common aims, efforts and methods of reciprocal destruction, until the warring world has become a mere homogeneous mass of systematic and automatic imitation of enemy by enemy : conscription, trenches, poison gases, submarines, air-raids, propaganda of hatred, atrocity mongering, coalition government and postal censure having given Britain and Germany and F rance, Austria and Italy, a most conspicuous and lamentable family-likeness.
Closing this parenthesis let me say once more that my aloofness from the war, though explicable partly by my previous opinions on certain other subjects (specially those I had dealt with under the heading of “Vital Lies”), is due to personal circumstances and, as already mentioned, probably rather to a minus than a plus, rather to having missed out things which I had, perhaps, better have had, than to any advantages. Of this latter question I am no judge, but neither are those who complain of my resulting aloofness from the war into which they have thrown themselves. The point to grasp, however, is that being what I am I had to hold aloof. Moreover, that—and this concerns my play— holding thus aloof I have been able to see the war under a certain angle and in certain of its aspects which would have been hidden from me had I, as the phrase goes, been in it.
But before passing on to this question of what I have been able to see, by remaining, not like my friend Romain Rolland au dessus, but simply en dehors, de la mé‘lée, let me meet a common objection, namely, that one cannot, indeed has no right to, have views about the war unless one has participated in it—participated by belief, and more especially by suffering. As to belief, the same objection is made against everyone who disbelieves a religious creed. As regards suffering I maintain that all the suffering of the war does not fall under the heading of death and wounds, terror, exile and ruin, or even personal anxiety and bereavement. Suffering cannot be easily, or decently, gauged. And admitting that the impersonal must needs be less acute than the personal, kind, it has to be remembered that there are emotional compensations in militant hope, in effort enthusiastically put out for victory, especially in faith in the perfect righteousness of one’s own cause; all of which are sadly lacking to those who, like myself, have faith only in peace and look upon the victory of either side as the victory only of war. There are people to whom the war itself has been the greatest suffering, as the fear of it had the greatest fear, of all their life. But granting that such grief and anxiety cannot be mentioned in the same breath as that of those who have been in the war, there would remain to prove that suffering really helps to the forming of clearer opinions and more equitable judgments about whatever has caused that suffering. As regards myself, I own that the sorrow which the war’s bare fact has brought into my life, is more likely to have made me misunderstand than understand it; and if it has made me a partisan against war, what shall we expect of those who have been made partisans against their adversaries? As regards intensification and enlargement of sympathy, that has doubtless taken place towards those fighting on one’s own side; but it is more than counterbalanced by the addition of anger and vindictiveness on one’s friends’ account to anger and vindictiveness on one’s own, and the utter inability to recognize the bare human nature of those to whom one’s sufferings are attributed. Thus the women of every belligerent nation seemed to forget that there were mothers, wives and sisters on the enemy side; much as the air-raided Londoners crying for reprisals on the “ Babykillers ” forgot that there were babies in Rhineland towns and that Allied bombs must surely kill some of them. But whether or not personal suffering increases or diminishes human sympathy (and I think the latter is the case), this much is certain, that since suffering, so long as it lasts, is far the most dominant and exclusive of mental and moral states, it constitutes a bias, and is a cause of delusion.
And now let me come to the things which, to my belief, my not being in has allowed me to see. Chief among these are the circumstances and feelings by which certain facts concerning the war, or rather concerning all the belligerents engaged in it, were hidden or disguised from the recognition of those who, unlike myself, were in.
“ Then said Yeremiah .' It is false ; I fall not away to the Chaldeans . . . Therefore the princes said unto the King: We beseech thee let this man be put to death .' for thus he weakens the hands of the men of war that remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, in speaking such words unto them ; for this man seeleeth not the welfare of this people but the hurt . .
Then they took Yeremiah anal cast him into the dungeon . . . --Jeremiah xxxvii-xxxviii.
The sins of omission and commission which brought all the various nations into this war, and those sins’ precise distribution and assessment among them, is a question for future, for disinterested, investigation. So long as the warpassions endure, such investigation can be neither adequately carried on nor properly understood. What I Want to deal with is quite different. It need not be sought for in the secrecy of archives and memoirs ; it has been made manifest, and only the more completely for being manifested unintentionally, in every public pronouncement and private conversation. This very universality is what has hitherto prevented its recognition. But, even more, that such recognition required an observer who, unlike all save the minutest minority of all belligerent peoples equally, happened not to have had his or her heart in the war ; happened, as the phrase goes, not to have been in. For what I am referring to is the modus operandi, psychological far more than political, whereby that very fact of spiritual participation in the war prevented those who did participate fromseeing the realities
towards peace which those unperceived realities demanded. Since, such at least is my contention, the long duration of this war has resulted less from its hitherto undreamed of military machinery, less from the even more unprecedented wholesale fabrication of public opinion, than from the