Page images
PDF
EPUB

habits come between disinterested curiosity about the war's moral status and the people engaged in that war. These honourable motives have, however, been eked out, indeed increased, in their mythopceic efficacy, by sundry other feelings less avowable but quite as natural: the hankering after imitating others, but also after being imitated, and having one's own decisions justified by one's neighbours; the horror as of the void, of feeling isolated, out in the cold. Similarly by that innate demand for fairness, which claims most especially that others should duly partake in whatever sacrifice oneself has made; and all those insidious forms of jealousy which, by insisting on conformity, have done so much to keep up the moral standard of all times; and which, in;time of war, have so insisted on uniformity of action and unanimity of views. To all which must be added the paltry but potent circumstance that criticism of a man's views, especially when those views have cost practical sacrifices on his part, constitutes a reflection on his wisdom; and, wherever unanimity already prevails, a positive outrage on the community of which that man is a representative member. Thus does heresy become sacrilege and treason. Such are some of the intellectual deteriorations, moreover, if we hold intellectual integrity to be a moral virtue, the moral ones, which " being in " produces in the multitudes of men and women who suddenly find themselves engaged in a war which they are keenly aware they did not want. Other psychological necessities are at work in those who govern each country. Through ambition or fear, through rashness or tortuousness, or happy-go-lucky slackness, perhaps through circumstances for which they are not at all answerable, especially their own mentality and traditions, these leaders have plunged or floundered into acts involving thousand-, nay, million-fold tragic possibilities. Their power and prestige can be saved, their wisdom and virtue vindicated, only by the victory of their own side. That victory can be pursued, like the gambler's, only by continuing the game. Now the continuation of that game of war depends upon such an unceasing output of favourable beliefs, on such keeping up of all the passions of pride and hatred, fear, and aggressiveness, as make the fighting nations willingly pour out more and more life and treasure and accept more and more frightful odds. To each side equally a stalemate or the acceptance of mediation, although perhaps the most direct way to present, and the best warrant for future, peace, merely implies that the government has miscalculated and failed. Hence the denunciation of what are called "peace-traps "; hence constantly increased war propaganda, and, naturally, more and more rigorous suppression of all facts and ideas which might run counter to it. Thus is all doubt of, all inquiry into, the theory that only one side is in the right, and only one in the wrong, automatically stopped off by the fact of a country being in. They are penalized first by private scruple and reluctance towards individual responsibility; they are penalized more and more by unorganized, inevitable convergence of opinion in multitudes submitted to the same hopes and fears and sacrifices; they are penalized by intentional propaganda, by spontaneous or organized mob violence, and finally by police measures. Independent thought is silenced from the first; independent thinkers end by being imprisoned. Thus in the war-religion, as in other religions, certain beliefs begin by being the spontaneous outcome of passion, tradition, circumstances and mutual imitation, until by dint of propaganda and persecution, delusions and superstitions come to be established and endowed as obligatory dogmas. Let me remind my reader that this description applies not to one set of belligerents, but to both. I have nothing to do with what has happened in this country or in that country, but only with such things as, given men's feelings and men's intellects, could not fail to happen in every country engaged in such a war as this one. If my observation of the country which I know best, because it is my own, has led to the above description, it is only in so far as such observation has made me inquire into the fundamental psychological necessities which govern mankind equally everywhere, a knowledge of which belongs to the modern study of feeling and thought and their joint offspring opinion. Should any reader object that none, or not all, of these things have happened in his particular circle of acquaintance, I should merely ask by what psychological processes he explains these alleged exceptions. For of all possible studies, that of war-delusion and war-superstition puts one most out of conceit with generalization from single, and mainly anecdotal, instances, and with that controversial method which challenges the opponent to "name six." Let me add a last proviso. In speaking of war-delusion and war-superstition, I do not intend to exclude the possibility of some of these beliefs turning out to coincide partially or even wholly with real facts. It is not lack of such coincidence with real facts which constitutes a delusion or superstition; what does, is that the belief, to which we must apply either of these names, is held irrespective of coincidence with real facts, and for motives which would disregard, distort or deny whatever does not happen to coincide with their requirements. A doting mother may, by an unusual chance, have given birth to a son who is really a genius; but she would have believed him to be one even if he had been an obvious mediocrity. A sufferer from mania of persecution may occasionally be surrounded by spies, but he would anyhow have accused his most faithful friends of being such. That is delusion. In the same way the bone of a defunct saint may, by some obscure action of auto-suggestion, effectuate the cure of an hysteric; but Newman thought such cures were due to the saint's sanctity and that it was his duty to believe this; that is superstition. Similarly it is just possible that either the Kaiser or Sir Edward Grey may prove to have deliberately plotted this war; but when an Englishman accepts the first, and a German accepts the second, of these views, for gospel truth, these two conflicting and reciprocally destructive opinions have got one fact in common, namely: that the Englishman and the German are both trying to put the responsibility on the enemy; or, briefly, that both of them are victims of war delusion and war superstition, which either disdains facts or uses them solely for its own purposes. Such war delusions and war superstitions are, moreover, kept up by one of the unsuspected causes which have kept up the war itself: the gratification afforded thereby to cravings usually unsatisfied. I am not speaking of the desire for bullying and cruelty, nor even of such pugnacity as might be turned to better uses. War gratifies men's longings in ways rightly accounted virtuous, although of their virtue, to quote my own Satan, war has made a vice: discipline, abnegation, endurance. What is equally important, war abolishes the frequent suffering due to human loneliness and shyness, eking out by the same remedy, namely unanimity, the individual's even more frequent sense of doubt and insufficiency. Moreover, as is expressed in the extremely suggestive last conversations in Mr. H. G. Wells' Joan and Peter, war gives the life-enhancing and power-multiplying feeling of purpose to men ordinarily at a loose end, or idly pulled hither and thither by their own appetites; it affords an outward aim for those whose energy is too intermittent or whose innate organization is too rudimentary to give them an inner aim of their own. Thus war, which destroys so many of the finest, of the most highly organized, individuals, oddly enough nurses into satisfaction with life a perhaps equal number of mediocrities or semi-failures. And in war's invisible shrine there hang, like ex-votos, rows and rows of moral crutches.

VI

Quand on leur demande pourquoi Us se battent, Us disent: "Pour sauver mon pays." De Vautre cote des campagnes immenses . . . les autresles miens . . . ont la face tendue en avant, Us scrutent, Us flairent. —" Pourquoi te batstu?" —" Pour sauver mon pays." Les deux reponses sont tombees pareilles dans la distance comme les deux notes d'un glas, pareilles comme les voix du canon. . . .

Et ces deux moities de la guerre centinuent . . . & creuser, leur fosse . . . Elles sont separees par tout ce qui separe, et par des morts, des morts, et sans cesse rejetees chacune dans ses tles pantelantes par des feux sacres et des fleuves noirs, et par Fheroisme et par la haine.Barbusse, " Clarte," XVI. Even now that the price in lives has been paid and the debt in future ruin can no longer be cancelled, people are persuading each other and themselves that they would gladly incur it over again, perhaps even with interest. Quite naturally, bereaved parents, having thus lost their boys, will go on in the consoling belief that they would give them again for the sake of whatever this war has attained. While, as regards our public men and our priests and prophets, they, like the rest of us, had been brought up to expiate mistakes by the misery called shame or remorse, with the evident result that they have learned to persuade themselves of there being nothing whatever about which they need be ashamed or remorseful. Most persons, at all events among the nations accounted the winners, will therefore maintain that whatever has been bought by such a war must have been cheap at the price, indeed inestimable. The aim must have been worth the means when the means have been such as these. So the aim, rather than defined as any concrete, any temporal,

« PreviousContinue »