THE PACIFIST SPEAKS
To the Editor of the Atlantic: — Life finds me an able-bodied male at the tender age of twenty-two, and a confirmed pacifist. My friends tolerate my views, my family are cynically disgusted. They tell me I am not practical.
The common assumption behind all our political turmoil seems to me to be that, while war is a nasty thing, it is finally a cultural necessity, and may even be excusable on certain vaguely defined ‘noble’ grounds. The cry goes up that the Fascist states are responsible for the prevailing and recurring necessity for war: I have at hand a seriouslyintentioned pamphlet advertising literature purporting to prove that all war is the direct result of the Fascistic trend in all ages of recorded history. I have seen similar sharply accusatory pamphlets which damn the Communistic philosophy as the recurring reason and cause of war. Public opinion swings wildly between the two aforementioned tenets, and leaves in its wake horrible nightmares of war threats and fancied sabotage and spy efforts. What little sober reason has been applied to the problem of war is ignobly buried under a weight of confusion which grows afresh with the approach of each recurring period of economic collapse. We find our several consciences lulled to sleep by a never-ceasing hammering of propaganda, which, while graciously condemning war, is yet pleased to assure us that the only defense of the ‘just’ in the event of armed attack is armed defense.
I hold the brief that we have dawdled with a lesser meaning of war than is the truth. We have as a race (there are great individual exceptions) shunted our interest from the obviously real principle underlying armed conflict to a lesser and more easily compromised issue. War can be called a ‘social evil’ or a ‘disease of man,’ and firmly and justly denounced as such; war can be described in its every filthy detail, and denounced as such; war can be admitted to violate every decent social principle, but on these bases war can still be excused. The true basis of war, and the only one which cannot be tampered with to excuse war, is beyond the bounds of the individual race or creed ego: it lies in the fundamental position that man occupies among the creatures of earth. The principle of armed conflict is a direct reversal of the principle of human progress, which is constructive in nature. War is the smouldering and quick-to-flame passion of destruction which is the outpouring of animal rage and irresponsibility. War presupposes a disability to reason and to believe. The statesman who casts his lot in favor of war either cannot or will not be the man that his race and forbears have made it possible for him to be. Last summer we had a grand celebration when I attained the stature of a man among men at my twenty-first birthday. Everyone had a grand time, including me, but I have decided to take seriously what served as a joke at that party. I’m going to be a man.
It will not follow that I shall show greater masculinity than I or my fellows ever have shown — but it will follow that I shall insist on being disloyal to any authority that tells me I must behave like a beast. My country increasingly assumes, along with the rest of the world, that if she does not protect her heavy industries, her giant financial investments, her unlimited natural resources, she shall have lost her soul — democracy shall have lost another champion; defiling hordes shall overrun the land and all the innocent shall be boiled in their own naïveté. Yet, may I point out that the very thing we are called upon to defend by arms — Democracy — is in itself a dream, an ideal, a satisfaction in the mind of man. I choose to maintain the ideal of democracy where no moth or rust or army can destroy it.
If it be true that there are sufficient monsters among men to wish and to consummate the physical destruction of my kind, I say let them get about winning their earth — they are welcome to it. I only hope it is big enough to hold them after they get it, and I trust that after the fireworks are over (happy day) they will be different from all other men and live to an infinite number of years to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
I have made a simple choice. I believe that the chief glory of man is not the World’s Fair, but the moral and spiritual integrity of this our human being.
I don’t think many of the teachers who taught me this believe it themselves, but I do, and it maintains for me my Apology for Pacifism.
BURKET KNIVETON, JR,
‘HERE THEY COME!’
February 15, 1939
To the Editor of the Atlantic: —
The port of Valencia is one of the most devastating things I’ve ever seen. The damage is beyond description. Not merely the floating derelicts, like those I saw in Barcelona, but the complete destruction of all that part of the city which borders on the port. Every house within a radius of half a mile is a litter of wreckage.
It’s just plain suicide to stay there any length of time. Incredibly, some people still live there, but it’s like a deserted village that’s been battered to death by bombs. Outside of the men who work there, I saw hardly a living soul. Some little old ladies sat hunched outside the low entrance of a bomb shelter, known here as a refugio. I wonder why they stay. Men at the docks, and sailors on ships at the port, get their wages increased 200 per cent while there. Maybe the old ladies haven’t anywhere else to go; maybe they don’t care what happens. Poor, helpless people.
Going along the streets of the city near the port, where misdirected bombs may fall at any time, I saw every few hundred yards homemade refugios. They’re just rough tunnels or dugouts under the tumbled bricks and masonry, hardly more than uncertain protection from shrapnel. But people go right on living in them — without comfort and in perpetual danger.
Only a short, distance from the port, outside the immediate danger zone, everyone seemed undisturbed and happy enough. I saw children laughing and playing games. It made me sick. The sound of those little kids’ voices. . . .
After breakfast this morning, walking through the city’s streets, Wallner, the American Consul here, pointed out that there’d probably be no bread today, for the people were not queued up for it. There are many days when the bread ration is cut off, and the lines form to buy whatever may be offered in its place. It’s a mystery to me how the scrawny dogs, which prowl around the garbage cans in vast numbers, manage to exist.
On our way back, Wallner suddenly said, ‘Here they come!’ He was listening. I’d never have noticed the sound against the noisy background of the city, but Wallner’s ears were sharpened by experience. Now I heard sirens going in various parts of the city to warn of the approach of enemy aircraft.
People were already hurrying to take shelter in refugios or in the basements of near-by houses. Some raced to the refugios, then stood outside, ready to duck in if the going got tough. These dugouts are bigger and better than the homemade ones near the port. Some of them go as much as thirty feet below the surface; many have lights and ventilating systems to keep the air clean.
We heard nothing for about five minutes, then the anti-aircraft guns began. We saw the white puffs of exploding shells high against the blue sky. But none seemed very close to the little black specks of planes, and the latter kept on coming as if they didn’t give a damn. No bombs fell, and, after a bit, people commenced coming out of their shelters. Then it started. They’d begun bombing the port.
The noise was terrific. It made our ears ache. The building vibrated like drums. The planes must have been lost in the sun or hidden by high clouds, for we didn’t catch another glimpse of them. I’d have felt more comfortable knowing where they were.
A few people stayed out on the square. I noticed one man who kept right on with his work, shining shoes. The rest either huddled behind stone pillars or were out of sight in refugios. Some people won’t go into the refugios because they’re not allowed out again until the release whistle sounds, which may be some time after the planes have gone. The din lasted for about five minutes; then complete silence.
As abruptly as the streets had cleared, they filled up again. A few minutes after the raid Valencia was back to normal. The bootblack kept on shining shoes.
The thing that got me was the feeling of absolute helplessness. There’s not a thing you can do about it all. I don’t wonder any more that people develop a sense of fatalism after going through this day after day. I guess I’d acquire it myself in a little while.
The Valencia papers are just two-page affairs, but they’re full of the stuff manufactured to appeal to man’s finer sentiments — phrases like ‘The Fatherland is worth every sacrifice’ and ‘The State needs the help of every man!’ They carry only short bits of news from the outside world. When Barcelona fell they held the news back for several days, then released it with the phony explanation that the high command thought it best to retire a short way in order to consolidate their position. I wonder how many people swallowed that. Today’s papers say that the Communist paper in Madrid has been banned indefinitely — a hint for the populace here of a new attitude toward the Communists. How’s anybody going to recognize truth when it’s forever wearing a mask of propaganda in print!
JOSEPH P. KENNEDY, Jr.