from ‘1914 Illustrated - the Book of the Year’
a Record of Notable Achievements and Events
'The War of the Mind'
by H. G. Wells

Justification of the Conflict

two war-time allegories from 1914 and 1917


The War of the Mind

All the realities of this war are things of the mind. This is a conflict of cultures, and nothing else in the world. All the world-wide pain and weariness, fear and anxieties, the bloodshed and destruction, the innumerable torn bodies of men and horses, the stench of putrefaction, the misery of hundreds of millions of human beings, the waste of mankind, are but the material consequences of a false philosophy and foolish thinking. We fight not to destroy a nation, but a nest of evil ideas.

We fight because a whole nation has become obsessed by pride, by the cant of cynicism and the vanity of violence, by the evil suggestion of such third-rate writers as Gobineau and Stewart Chamberlain that they were a people of peculiar excellence destined to dominate the earth, by the base offer of advantage in cunning and treachery held out by such men as Delbruck and Bernhardi, by the theatricalism of the Kaiser, and by two stirring songs about Deutschland and the Rhine. These things, interweaving with the tradesmen's activities of the armaments trust and the common vanity and weaknesses of unthinking men, have been sufficient to realise disaster—we do not begin to measure the magnitude of the disaster. On the back of it all, spurring it on, are the idea-mongers, the base-spirited writing men, pretentious little professors in frock coats, scribbling colonels. They are the idea. They pointed the way and whispered "Go!" They ride the world now to catastrophe. It is as if God in a moment of wild humour had lent His whirlwinds for an outing to half-a-dozen fleas.

And the real task before mankind is quite beyond the business of the fighting line, the simple awful business of discrediting and discouraging these stupidities by battleship, artillery, rifle and the blood and courage of seven million men. The real task of mankind is to get better sense into the heads of these Germans, and therewith and thereby into the heads of humanity generally, and to end not simply a war, but the idea of war. What printing and writing and talking have done, printing and writing and talking can undo. Let no man be fooled by bulk and matter. Rifles do but kill men, and fresh men are born to follow them. Our business is to kill ideas. The ultimate purpose of this war is propaganda, the destruction of certain beliefs, and the creation of others. It is to this propaganda that reasonable men must address themselves.

And when I write propaganda, I do not for a moment mean the propaganda with which the name of Mr. Norman Angell is associated; this great modern gospel that war does not pay. That is indeed the only decent and attractive thing that can still be said for war. Nothing that is really worth having in life does pay. Men live in order that they may pay for the unpaying things. Love does not pay, art does not pay, happiness does not pay, honesty is not the best policy, generosity invites the ingratitude of the mean; what is the good of this huckster's argument. It revolts all honourable men.

But war, whether it pay or not, is an atrociously ugly thing, cruel, destroying countless beauties. Who cares whether war pays or does not pay, when one thinks of some obstinate Belgian peasant woman being interrogated and shot by a hectoring German officer, or of the weakly whimpering mess of some poor hovel with little children in it, struck by a shell. Even if war paid twelve-and-a-half per cent, per annum for ever on every pound it cost to wage, would it be any the less a sickening abomination to every decent soul. And, moreover, it is a bore. It is an unendurable bore. War, and the preparation for war, the taxes, the drilling, the interference with every free activity, the arrest and stiffening up of life, the obedience to third-rate people in uniform, of which Berlin-struck Germans have been the implacable exponents, have become an unbearable nuisance to all humanity. Neither Belgium nor France nor Britain is fighting now for glory or advantage. I do not believe Russia is doing so; we are all, I believe, fighting in a fury of resentment because at last after years of waste and worry to prevent it, we have been obliged to do so. Our grievance is the grievance of every decent life-loving German, of every German mother and sweetheart who watched her man go off under his incompetent leaders to hardship and mutilations and death. And our propaganda against the Prussian idea has to be no vile argument to the pocket, but an appeal to the common sense and common feeling of humanity. We have to clear the heads of the Germans, and keep the heads of our own people clear about this war. Particularly is there need to dissuade our people against the dream of profit-filching, the "War against German Trade." We have to reiterate over and over again that we fight, resolved that at the end no nationality shall oppress any nationality or language again in Europe for ever, and by way of illustration, we want not those ingenious arrangements of figures that touch the Angell imagination, but photographs of the Kaiser in his glory at a review, and photographs of the long, unintelligent side-long face of the Crown

Prince, his son, photographs of that great original Krupp taking his pleasure at Capri and, to set beside these, photographs pitilessly showing men killed and horribly torn on the battlefield, and men crippled and women and men murdered, and homes burnt and, to the verge of indecency, all the peculiar filthiness of war. And the case that has thus to be stated has to be brought before the minds of the Germans, of Americans, of French people, and English people, of Swedes and Russians and Italians, as our common evil, which, though it be at the expense of several Governments, we have to end.

Now, how is this literature to be spread? How are we to reach the common people of the Western European countries with these explanations, these assurances, these suggestions that are necessary for the proper ending of this war? I could wish we had a Government capable of something more articulate than " Wait and see! " a Government that dared confess a national intention to all the world. For what a Government says is audible to all the world. King George, too, has the ear of a thousand million people. If he saw fit to say simply and clearly what it is we fight for and what we seek, his voice would be heard universally, through Germany, through all America. No other voice has such penetration. He is, he has told us, watching the war with interest, but that is not enough; we could have guessed that, knowing his spirit. As a nation, we need expression that shall reach the other side. But our Government is, I fear, one of those that obey necessity; it is only very reluctantly creative; it rests, therefore, with us who, outside all formal government, represent the national will and intention, to take this work into our hands. By means of a propaganda of books, newspaper articles, leaflets, tracts in English, French, German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Italian, Chinese and Japanese we have to spread this idea, repeat this idea, and impose upon this war the idea that this war must end war. We have to create a wide common conception of a re-mapped and pacified Europe, released from the abominable dangers of a private trade in armaments, largely disarmed and pledged to mutual protection. This conception has sprung up in a number of minds, and there have been proposals at most once extraordinary and feasible for its realisation, projects of aeroplanes scattering leaflets across Germany, of armies distributing tracts as they advance, of prisoners of war much afflicted by such literature. These ideas have the absurdity of novelty, but otherwise they are by no means absurd. They will strike many soldiers as being indecent, but the world is in revolt against the standards of soldiering.

Never before has the world seen clearly as it now sees clearly, the role of thought in the making of war. This new conception carries with it the corollary of an entirely new campaign.

How can we get at the minds of our enemies? How can we make explanation more powerful than armies and fleets? Failing an articulate voice at the head of our country, we must needs look for the resonating appeal we need in other quarters. We look to the Church that takes for its purposes the name of the Prince of Peace. In England, except for the smallest, meekest protest against war, any sort of war, on the part of a handful of Quakers, Christianity is silent. Its universally present organisation speaks no coherent counsels. Its workers for the most part are buried in the loyal manufacture of flannel garments and an inordinate quantity of bed socks for the wounded. It is an extraordinary thing to go now and look at one's parish church and note the pulpit, the orderly arrangements for the hearers, the proclamations on the doors, to sit awhile on the stone wall about the graves and survey the comfortable vicarage, and to reflect that this is just the local representation of a universally present organisation for the communication of ideas; that all over Europe there are such pulpits, such possibilities of gathering and saying, and that it gathers nothing and has nothing to say. Pacific, patriotic sentiment it utters perhaps, but nothing that anyone can act upon, nothing to draw together, will, and make an end. It is strange to sit alive in the sunshine and realise that, and to think of how tragically that same realisation came to another mind in Europe.

Several things have happened during the past few weeks with the intensest symbolical quality; the murder of Jaurès, for example; but surely nothing has occurred so wonderful and touching as the death of the Pope, that faithful, honest, simple old man. The war and the perplexity of the war darkened his last hours. "Once the Church could have stopped this thing." he said, with a sense of threads missed and controls that have slipped away—it may be with a sense of vivifying help discouraged and refused. The Tribuna tells a story that, if not true, is marvellously invented, of the Austrian representative coming to ask him for a blessing on the Austrian arms. He feigned not to hear, or perhaps he did not hear. The Austrian asked again, and again there was silence. Then, at the third request, when he could be silent no longer, he broke out: "No! Bless peace!" As the temperature of his weary body rose, his last clear moments were spent in attempts to word telegrams that should have some arresting hold upon the gigantic crash that was coming, and in his last delirium he lamented war and the impotence of the Church.

Intellect without faith is the devil, but faith without intellect is a negligent angel with rusty weapons. This European catastrophe is the tragedy of the weak though righteous Christian will. We begin to see that to be right and indolent, or right and scornfully silent, or right and abstinent from the conflict is to be wrong. Righteousness has need to be as clear and efficient, and to do things as sedulously in the right way as any evil doers. There is no meaning in the Christianity of a Christian who is not now a propagandist for peace—who is not now also a politician. There is no faith in the Liberalism that merely carps at the manner of our entanglement in a struggle that must alter all the world for ever. We need not only to call for peace, but to seek and show and organise the way of peace.

Ninety-nine people in Europe out of every hundred are complaining of war now. The question is how to end it and prevent its recurrence. All Germany is knit by the fighting spirit, and armed beyond the rest of the world. Until the mind of Germany is changed there can be no safe peace on earth.

How are we to gather together the wills and understanding of men for the tremendous necessities and opportunities of this time? Thought, speech, persuasion, an incessant appeal for clear intentions, clear statements for the dispelling of suspicion, and the abandonment of secrecy and trickery; there is work for every man who writes or talks and has the slightest influence upon another creature. This monstrous conflict in Europe, the slaughtering, the famine, the confusion, the panic, and hatred, and lying pride, it is all of it real only in the darkness of the mind. At the coming of understanding it will vanish as dreams vanish at awakening. But never will it vanish until understanding has come. It goes on only because we, who are voices, who suggest, who might elucidate and inspire, are ourselves such little scattered creatures that though we strain to the breaking point, we still have no strength to turn on the light that would save us. There have been moments in the last three weeks when life has been a waking nightmare, one of those frozen nightmares when, with salvation within one's reach, one cannot move, and the voice dies in one's throat.


the author

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