As I Please
Tribune, 19 May 1944
Brittains pamphlet, Seed of Chaos, is an eloquent attack on indiscriminate or
obliteration bombing. Owing to the R.A.F. raids, she says,
thousands of helpless and innocent people in German, Italian and German-occupied
cities are being subjected to agonizing forms of death and injury comparable to the worst
tortures of the Middle Ages. Various well-known opponents of bombing, such as General Franco and Major-General
Fuller, are brought out in support of this. Miss Brittain is not, however, taking the
pacifist standpoint. She is willing and anxious to win the war, apparently. She merely
wishes us to stick to legitimate methods of war and abandon civilian bombing,
which she fears will blacken our reputation in the eyes of posterity. Her pamphlet is
issued by the Bombing Restriction Committee, which has issued others with similar titles.
Now, no one in his senses regards bombing, or any other operation
of war, with anything but disgust. On the other hand, no decent person cares tuppence for
the opinion of posterity. And there is something very distasteful in accepting war as an
instrument and at the same time wanting to dodge responsibility for its more obviously
barbarous features. Pacifism is a tenable position; provided that you are willing to take
the consequences. But all talk of limiting or humanizing war is
sheer humbug, based on the fact that the average human being never bothers to examine
The catchwords used in this connexion are killing
civilians, massacre of women and children and destruction of our
cultural heritage. It is tacitly assumed that air bombing does more of this kind of
thing than ground warfare.
When you look a bit closer, the first question that strikes you
is: Why is it worse to kill civilians than soldiers? Obviously one must not kill children
if it is in any way avoidable, but it is only in propaganda pamphlets that every bomb
drops on a school or an orphanage. A bomb kills a cross-section of the population; but not
quite a representative selection, because the children and expectant mothers are usually
the first to be evacuated, and some of the young men will be away in the army. Probably a
disproportionately large number of bomb victims will be middle-aged. (Up to date, German
bombs have killed between six and seven thousand children in this country. This is, I
believe, less than the number killed in road accidents in the same period.) On the other
hand, normal or legitimate warfare picks out and slaughters all
the healthiest and bravest of the young male population. Every time a German submarine
goes to the bottom about fifty young men of fine physique and good nerves are suffocated.
Yet people who would hold up their hands at the very words civilian bombing
will repeat with satisfaction such phrases as We are winning the Battle of the
Atlantic. Heaven knows how many people our blitz on Germany and the occupied
countries has killed and will kill, but you can be quite certain it will never come
anywhere near the slaughter that has happened on the Russian front.
War is not avoidable at this stage of history, and since it has
to happen it does not seem to me a bad thing that others should be killed besides young
men. I wrote in 1937: Sometimes it is a comfort to me to think that the aeroplane is
altering the conditions of war. Perhaps when the next great war comes we may see that
sight unprecedented in all history, a jingo with a bullet hole in
him. We havent yet seen that (it is perhaps a contradiction in terms), but at
any rate the suffering of this war has been shared out more evenly than the last one was.
The immunity of the civilian, one of the things that have made war possible, has been
shattered. Unlike Miss Brittain, I dont regret that. I cant feel that war is
humanized by being confined to the slaughter of the young and becomes
barbarous when the old get killed as well.
As to international agreements to limit war, they are never
kept when it pays to break them. Long before the last war the nations had agreed not to
use gas, but they used it all the same. This time they have refrained, merely because gas
is comparatively ineffective in a war of movement, while its use against civilian
populations would be sure to provoke reprisals in kind. Against an enemy who cant
hit back, e.g. the Abyssinians,
it is used readily enough. War is of its nature barbarous, it is better to admit that. If
we see ourselves as the savages we are, some improvement is possible, or at least
A specimen of Tribunes correspondence:
TO THE JEW-PAID EDITOR, TRIBUNE, LONDON.
JEWS IN THE POLISH ARMY.
YOU ARE CONSTANTLY ATTACKING OUR GALLANT POLISH ALLY BECAUSE THEY KNOW HOW TO TREAT THE
JEW PEST. THEY ALSO KNOW HOW TO TREAT ALL JEW-PAID EDITORS AND COMMUNIST PAPERS. WE KNOW
YOU ARE IN THE PAY OF THE YIDS AND SOVIETS.
YOU ARE A FRIEND OF THE ENEMIES OF BRITAIN! THE DAY OF RECKONING IS AT HAND. BEWARE. ALL
JEW PIGS WILL BE EXTERMINATED THE HITLER WAY THE ONLY WAY TO GET RID OF THE YIDS.
Typed on a Remington typewriter (postmark S.W.), and, what is to my mind
an interesting detail, this is a carbon copy.
Anyone acquainted with the type will know that no assurance, no
demonstration, no proof of the most solid kind would ever convince the writer of this that
Tribune is not a Communist
paper and not in the pay of the Soviet Government. One very curious characteristic of Fascists I am speaking of
amateur Fascists: I assume that the Gestapo
are cleverer is their failure to recognize that the parties of the Left are
distinct from one another and by no means aiming at the same thing. It is always assumed
that they are all one gang, whatever the outward appearances may be. In the first number
of Mosleys British
Union Quarterly, which I have by me (incidentally, it contains an article by no less a
person than Major Vidkun Quisling),
I note that even Wyndham Lewis
speaks of Stalin and Trotsky as though they were
equivalent persons. Arnold Lunn, in his Spanish Rehearsal, actually seems to
suggest that Trotsky started the Fourth International on Stalins instructions.
In just the same way, very few Communists, in my experience, will
believe that the Trotskyists are not in the pay of Hitler. I have sometimes tried the
experiment of pointing out that if the Trotskyists were in the pay of Hitler, or of
anybody, they would occasionally have some money. But it is no use, it doesnt
register. So also with the belief in the machinations of the Jews, or the belief,
widespread among Indian nationalists, that all Englishmen, of whatever political colour,
are in secret conspiracy with one another. The belief in the Freemasons as a revolutionary
organization is the strangest of all. In this country it would be just as reasonable to
believe such a thing of the Buffaloes. Less than a generation ago, if not now, there were
Catholic nuns who believed that at Masonic gatherings the Devil appeared in person,
wearing full evening dress with a hole in the trousers for his tail to come through. In
one form or another this kind of thing seems to attack nearly everybody, apparently
answering to some obscure psychological need of our time.