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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 2, No. 18. September 20, 1939

Odd Thoughts on War

Odd Thoughts on War

It is now an anachronism to say that we are at war; but it is necessary in order to commence what I have called odd thoughts on war. Odd in that they are not intended to be a guide to action or even an indication as to what one should think, for both will depend on the individual and his particular ambit in society. This is merely a series of jottings.

To the jingoist it is an opportune time for his airy urgings, but even the jingo accuser should beware that he is not similarly guilty. I have had experience already of those who would "wade in and smash the bloody Huns." Such an attitude can only result in placing the defender of the aggressed in a position comparable to the aggressor. Patriotic fervour is not altogether a rational process—and it has its sadistic aspects such as the delight in sacrifice, etc.

The anthropologist has fairly effectively exploded the Nazi racial theory, but it is disturbing to find that such illusions are common even to those of our own ilk.1 The magnifying of the virtues of Anglo-Saxons may assume such proportions that all the civilisations of enemy belligerents may dwindle into remote inferiority. Nation glorification is as pernicious an evil as self-glorification. It is interesting to note an early example to hand, namely, a request that a certain vocalist, broadcasting, should substitute for two German compositions those of a different nationality. Such stupidity or perhaps excessive bureaucracy must be avoided.

Let us look now at civil liberties. Democracy is a relative concept, that is, even totalitarian states have some aspects of democracy, as is true vice versa. What I am concerned with are those aspects that have proved most fleeting in previous emergencies, and are covered under the collective term of "freedom of speech and assembly." On this point Laski says "that either in peace or at war the citizen's business is to contribute his instructed judgment to the public good. ... If a man says, like James Russell Lowell, that war is an alias for murder, it is his duty to say so, however inconvenient be the time of his pronouncement." To disallow this is "to limit criticism, and to limit criticism is to stifle criticism. An executive that has such a free hand will be liable to commit all the follies of a dictatorship."2 In such light should the Censorship and Publicity Emergency Regulations and other related enactments be wisely regarded, as also could they be administered and interpreted. To have a mere profession of democratic rights is not sufficient, it must be a reality.

Judging from discussions in the College precincts the cause of our malady seems wholly to be economic. That many basic, causal factors are economic is evident even after a casual examination of facts. And to agree on this is not uncommon. That we can trace many of the roots of war to the aggressive economics of capitalism is true, as it is to say that in its very aggressiveness it ultimately liquidates itself. But to claim that the economic is the sole cause seems a little sweeping. Rather that there is a whole complexity of economic, political, psychological,3 historical, and geographical reasons that are—as a whole—so that to say that one exhibits the entirety is to propose that a sole is a boot. On these grounds an alteration in our economic system must correspond with like adjustments in other spheres.

For those who are resolved that war is the solution, they should examine their premises, as should those who possess pacific tendencies. We have had the example since the last war, of nations arming to preserve peace. Or has it been to preserve peace? Or is it a case of ends and means? (are justified; not justified). At this moment there is a need to think clearly and to reflect reasonably. "To think effectively is to think to some purpose. To pursue an aim without considering what its realisation would involve is stupid: the result may be fortunate but cannot be wise." Besides, the danger of rushing in where angels fear to tread may be its opposite, "the danger of indulging in an academic detachment from life. This is the peculiar temptation of those who are prone to see both sides of a question and are content to enjoy an argument for its own sake. But thinking is primarily for the sake of action."4 And with this in mind I will leave you to your own devices.—M. L. Boyd

1 See "We Europeans"—Julian Huxley, A. C. Haddon, A. M. Carr-Saunders (Pelican) .

2 Laski, "Grammar of Polities."

3 See "War, Sadism, and Pacifism"—Glover.

4 "Thinking to Some Purpose"—L. S. Stebbing (Pelican).