Sunday, 1 October 2017

The Peace Of The World (1915)

By mid-1915 it was clear that optimistic prophesies of a quick end to the war, such as inform The War That Will End War, had been premature. Wells was amongst many forced to rethink their positions. His article in the Daily Chronicle, ‘Looking Ahead: After a Year of War’ (3 Aug 1915) insisted that England was ‘sweeter spirited and harder working’ than it had been at the start of the war. Wells praised what he called the ‘democratic army’ fighting in France and looked forward hopefully to a ‘less submissive’ population after the war. The Peace Of The World pamphlet (which originally appeared in a slightly different form in the New Review in March 1915) put some flesh on the bones of this possible future. In a nutshell: a ‘World Council’ [31]

Such a Council will only work, Wells insists, if we also root-out of the war impulse on a human level. But here too Wells is hopeful: ‘the people who actually want war,’ he says, ‘are perhaps never at any time very numerous. Most people sometimes want war, and a few people always want war. It is these last who are, so to speak, the living nucleus of the war creature that we want to destroy’ [18]. There follows an analysis of belligerence as such, which seems to me rather astute:
These war lovers are creatures of a simpler constitution. And they seem capable of an ampler hate. You will discover, if you talk to them skilfully, that they hold that war “ennobles”, and that when they say ennobles they mean that it is destructive to the ten thousand things in life that they do not enjoy or understand or tolerate, things that fill them therefore with envy and perplexity—such things as pleasure, beauty, delicacy, leisure. In the cant of modern talk you will find them call everything that is not crude and forcible in life “degenerate.” And going back to the very earliest writings, in the most bloodthirsty outpourings of the Hebrew prophets for example, you will find that at the base of the warrior spirit is hate for more complicated, for more refined, for more beautiful and happier living [The Peace of the World, 19]
But just when you think Wells has said something really penetrating he says something patently cuckoo. Militarism, he argues, is not found amongst professional soldiers. It is a feature of ‘men overmuch in studies and universities’, who
get ill in their livers and sluggish in their circulations, they suffer from shyness, from a persuasion of excessive and neglected merit, old maid’s melancholy, and a detestation of all the levities of life. And their suffering finds this vent in savage thoughts.
You know what? I really don't think that's true, actually.
A vigorous daily bath, mixed society, a complete stoppage of beer, spirits and tobacco, and two hours of hockey in the afternoon would probably make decently tolerant men of all these fermenting professorial militarists. Such a regimen would certainly have been the salvation of both Froude and Carlyle. It would probably have saved the world from the vituperation of the Hebrew prophets—those models for infinite mischief. [Peace of the World, 21]
You’d like to assume a thinker who'd backed himself into arguing that the Books of Samuel and Joshua are as warlike as they are because their authors smoked too much, or hadn’t play enough hockey would stop, take a step back and have a bit of rethink. Not Wells though.

Anyhow: the two pillars of his proposed postwar settlement will be ‘a World Council organization’ and ‘propaganda’ [37] to innoculate us against militarism. Together these will ensure the one essential thing: disarmament. That is to say, not literal disarmament, but rather the nationalization of arms manufacture: ‘it is not being suggested that the making of arms should cease in the world, but only that in every country it should become a state monopoly’. Indeed, as it goes on, the pamphlet increasingly stretches the dictionary definition of ‘disarmament’:
None of this really involves the abandonment of armies, or uniforms or national service … A world conference for the preservation of peace and the suppression of armaments would neither interfere with such incorrigible squabbles as that of the Orange and Green factions in Ireland, nor absolutely prohibit war between adjacent states. [Peace of the World, 55]
Er … OK? The booklet ends with a peroration to ordinary people not to wait for the leaders, but to make the World Council happen themselves.

No more specifics? Well alright.

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