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Quand on leur demande pourquoi ils se battent, ils disent: “Pour sauver mon pays.” De l'autre cété des campagnes immenses . . . les autres—les miens . . . ont la face tendue en avant, ils scrutent, ils flairent.
—“Pourquoi te bats—tu P "
—“Pour sauver mon pays.”
Les deux réponses sont tombées pareilles dans la distance comme les deux notes d'un glas, pareilles comme les voix du canon. . . . ". . "
Et ces deux moitiés de la guerre centinuent . . . d creuser, leur fosse . . . Elles sont séparées par tout ce qui sãpare, et par des morts, des morts, et sans cesse rejetées chacume dans ses iles pantelantes par des feux sacrés et des fleuves noirs, et par Phéroïsme et par la haine.—BARBUsse, “Clarté,” 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, advantage, about whose attainment (for instance future peace) there might be difference of opinion, has been declared to be some supreme good, which, being an abstraction and an article of faith, is less exposed to criticism. This observation leads me to another item which, standing, as I have done, aside from the war, has appeared to me to form part of the mentality of those who have been in. One was brought up to think, and sometimes even thought, that mankind possesses an unshakable anchor against the tides and storms of passion and delusion, namely, the ever-stable impersonalities called Principles and Ideals. I have come to wonder whether of all the objects of man’s most personal attachments, of all the causes of his passionate delusions, there are any as dangerous as these alleged impersonalities. It is, of course, true that Principles and Ideals, especially in their humbler forms of standards, usages and commandments, can steady man against the buffets of passion and the floods of delusion. But on one condition only: that these oppose them. For when, as in war time, the Principle, the Ideal, the Standard, Usage or Commandment, happens to be on the same side as the passions and delusions, then this mechanism of moral and intellectual moorage becomes a mere hulk, clinging to which, as it floats on the dominant currents, we become only the more submerged and blinded by the perilous seas of unreality. Since an Ideal, a Principle, a Standard, whenever unanimously bowed to, becomes ipso facto supreme and perfect like a godhead. And any individual attempt to examine, to analyse, to appraise it for good and evil, becomes a sacrilegious outrage from which we shrink with the taboo-horror inherited from our own infancy and from that of our race. What self-respecting man or woman can openly refuse to bring a sacrifice for the common good, or will deliberately hold aloof from a good cause Now when the community exacts a sacrifice it is always for the common good; nor has any modern war been waged unless those waging it admitted their cause to be a good one. Good indeed it has always appeared at the time; it has been felt, hence believed, to be desirable because it was desired. But it has not necessarily been good in the sense of leaving a balance of good, of permanently desirable, results. Not necessarily good when, the urgency of passion once over, the cost of that sacrifice comes to be deducted from the value of what it has bought. Not necessarily good when what is obtained by the victory comes to be weighed against what was lost by the war. A good cause becomes less good, by whatever of good it sacrifices to itself. A supreme aim (if such a thing can exist), would needs be one which contains or reconciles all lesser aims. For there is one of the essential characteristics of all Reality, wherein it differs entirely from Passionate Delusion, namely, that while the latter looks only to the credit side, Reality keeps its implacably accurate accounts by double entry.
It will be objected that Principles, Ideals, Causes, Beliefs, Feelings, Passions and Ways of Seeing, are themselves realities, indeed among the most potent realities, as this war has surely shown. Of course. Were it otherwise I should not be pointing out some of the losses, themselves, alas, only too real, which these intangible Realities are capable of inflicting whenever really installed in real men's minds, moreover employing real hands and real weapons, let alone real tongues and real falsehoods. And since my chief plea against this war is its being an outrage on Reality, and one for which Reality will exact retribution—I must forestall some of the notes on my Play so far as to explain what it is I am talking about.
When a minute ago I spoke of Realities, I ought to have added the adjective other. That is the peculiarity, frequently troublesome, of Reality: that it always has other sides; the sides you do not happen to see or think of ; the sides which don’t interest you at this moment; the sides which happen not to be in any manner, yourself. Since feeling is always here, C
which means in the speaker, and now, which means the moment of speaking; for short of that it is merely the feeling you recollect yourself to have had, the feeling you suppose to be in some other person or in a future yourself; it is memory, inference, not feeling as such. But Reality is not merely here and now. It stretches out in space and in time. It unrolls in several dimensions; you walk out of one part thereof into another; you come in contact, agreeable or disagreeable, with a number of its sides which cannot be taken in all at once. Reality requires successive and various orientations and focuses, requires the telescope and also the microscope; it is bigger and smaller than your powers of sight; it is above and below; it is before and also after. You are a part of it, but a part never two seconds in contact (bodily or mental as the case may be) with the same other parts. You are not even a stable pattern of the same parts of yourself, but, like a kaleidoscope, you drop into all manner of combinations at the impact of the variously-changing combinations of everything else. What you see and feel is merely a fragment and a phase of Reality; what you speak of and define an even lesser part. That is why habits and preferences, delusions which, inasmuch as born of our needs, have something so much more natural and cogent about them, are notwithstanding, in the long run, so much less important than realities, indeed take half of their importance from the way they have of bringing us into unprofitable or harmful relations with other Realities. Such is confessedly the case with the delusions arising from the passions themselves due to conflict between private individuals; how much more when the delusions are the averaged, standardized, the unanimous ones born of the passionate conflict of whole nations! Neither need they be, nor are they, delusions all through ; they may contain a share of truth; and that gives them but the greater hold on our credulity. Even as there is mostly some starting point in real visual phenomena for whatever is called an optical illusion, so also in the delusions of passion there is often an element of reality; sometimes, as in what is called prejudice, an element borrowed from a distant past or from an unconnected namesake, as when Poles or Rumanians identify the Jews who crucified our Lord with the Jews whose shops they are looting.
But the most disconcerting business about Reality, and what causes us to collide with it is (I must reiterate this point) that it has so many sides and so rarely goes on presenting the same side, surface or angle to us. Whence our frequent knocking of heads, hurling ourselves into the void, or embracing, Ixion-like, clouds in lieu of goddesses.
And now to return to the warring nations. Even more than individuals, nations have many sides, too many for us to see, especially to feel (for they affect our feelings differently), at the same moment; too many sides for us to check off against one another, so much to the debit side, so much to the credit, and so much as balance. Being at war makes all nations turn inwards, towards their own members and partisans, those sides which are admirable, pathetic or at least sympathetic; while facing the enemy countries with only brutality, graspingness and double-dealing. So, during an air-raid, whether on London or the Rhineland, the townsfolk awaiting the bomb which may turn them into a mush of torn flesh and broken brickwork, could view the threatening airman, German in the one case, Entente in the other, only as an atrocious monster. And correctly. No less that airman’s comrades, as they watched him soaring through the barrage fire, or hurled, broken but victorious, to the earth, could see in that same airman only a hero. What from below is murder and devastation, becomes, from above, and in that flyer's own intention, nothing but gallant defence of self and country. Both sides of that reality exist; both views, so far as they go, are true. Only both sides cannot be viewed, cannot be felt, at once; and, for that reason, are faulty and C2