AFTER World War I Edmund Blunden wrote that ‘Neither race had won, nor could win, the War. The War had won’ I want to testify that war still goes on winning, and we all go on losing, War is what most of us do now with most of our lives. It is not something far away on the other side of the TV. or lost in those unimaginable future fires of screaming nothingness. Our War is ordinary, local, routine stuff. We seldom notice it. But we know it’s there all right.
The food on our tables for breakfast. dinner and tea has a putrid stink of war about it: much of it comes to us on daylight robbery terms of trade, forced on people in poorer countries by our rulers’ military and economic muscle. Never mind, we shrug, Give us this day our daily victims. Never having eaten anything else, we gobble them up with gusto. Then a quick glance at the old digital watch— so cheap, it only cost ten dollars and a Filipina miscarriage— and it’s off to work or play in some vehicle especially designed to run on a mixture of gasoline and Middle East blood.
War sits quite at ease in every mosque and temple, church and chapel. He likes the flags and military memorials. He enjoys reading about himself in the holy books. And he laughs at the funny parts of the services —when they talk about love and justice—just as loud today as when he first heard them thousands of wars ago. For a very special treat, he sits in on a royal wedding, where not only the male protagonist but all the other men, even the civilians, must wear uniform — either military garb or morning suit.
War is a family day out (chosen by Dad) at the local air show. An evening’s entertainment at the cinema or on the TV is incomplete without him. The Romans had their circuses, but they didn’t have them every day, on every channel, down both sides of the High Street, in video stores and bookshops, in pubs and amusement arcades. Compared with us, those Romans visiting the local arena once a month to see (without binoculars) some brief and bungled bloodbath, were a pretty restrained and delicate bunch.
War is one of our biggest employers and takes, in a single bite, a huge chunk of our taxes. Our children’s lives are organised to suit his purpose. Few of their toys and lessons, playground culture, fashions and films escape his influence.
But hold it. War isn’t ’them’ or ’him’. War is you. And me. In a song by Brecht the pigs fall in joyfully behind the drums, to march off to the slaughterhouse, little knowing or caring that the drums are made of pigskin. Let no-one sit back and blame others, admiring their own clean hands because they are unemployed, or women, or workers, or young, or peace activists, or devout, or vegetarian, or subscribe to New Internationalist. In the war which may end by incinerating our world, we are all military reservists at the very least.
We are a whole society of ready-mobilised, ready-belligerent. inhuman beings, taking every opportunity to see that our brother and sister piggies fall into the sausage machine before we do. And the grim sausage making gulags are all around us. Prisons, mental hospitals, ‘homes’, borstals, dole queues, clinics special schools, ordinary schools, ghettos, sweatshops, families and many more. We shove people in and down and out of sight: what a relief to be done with them and back to the real business of life, which is our self-defeating lust for self-preservation
And perhaps even the peace movement is little more than a fascination with what we are about to receive. If its organisations are dominated by privileged people like myself— who have supped the blood of fellow human beings with a long and dainty silver spoon every day of our lives to become the fine moralists we are today — that is no surprise. Where everyone helps make a hell out of others’ everyday lives, the peace movement will not be a haven of the pure.
But what foolish Frankensteins we are! Having built a war monster to serve our foolishness and greedily accepted all the loot it brought, we should have known from the start it would turn against us too. Instead, we raise an indignant squawking peace movement against it. and ‘demand’ that the monster we ourselves created come to heel again But a fiend which has been licensed to howl ‘Nuke the Ayatollah’ and’ Smash the Argies’ will not take kindly to being put back on a diet of political cat biscuits.
In 1906 Europe laughed at the antics of cobbler Wilhelm Voigt, who put on an army captain’s uniform, commandeered a handful of idle soldiers and locked up the mayor of the Prussian town of Köpenik, before walking off with the town funds. His ghost returned one afternoon in the mid-1950s to the American city of Baltimore, when the nuclear alert sirens went off by accident and thousands spent a few hours dutifully in hiding, under tables or in cellars. But this time no-one laughed. Because we all live in Köpenik these days, just as we also live in Hiroshima.
Was that an editorial whisper at my elbow, saying something about trying to end on a positive note at least? But why should I sell the peace movement to itself for the ten thousandth inward-looking, self-satisfactory time? My awkward thought is that if you scratch a pacifist you may find a bomber pilot. Or vice versa.
I could say it was only through loving and learning from a wiser friend that I was able to write this at all. And love, not peace, is the true opposite of war. But we have made such a sad muddle of exploitation and conflict in most of our loving that it is the very part of our lives which war stretches out his grin the widest. The little fumbling help we can sometimes spare each other may be the only antidote to the rule of war over the rest of our lives. But right now it seems too little and too late to stop that rule becoming our terminal disease.