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  1. Pacifism and English Literature: Minstrels of Peace
  2. Robert White | Author | Inside Story
  3. Pictures at an Exhibition
  4. Victims of War

We are familiar with the way the poetry of the First World War influenced opinion against the military solution to international problems, but White traces pacifist writing back to the Middle Ages. Chaucer's views are notoriously harder to pin down, but his Knight's Tale certainly throws into relief the ironies that surround love in a time of war. Renaissance writing, too, was more sceptical towards violence than we have supposed, and many authors of the period reiterated Cicero's maxim that the worst peace was preferable to the best war.

Milton, White maintains, was a militant pacifist, uneasy about his own political support for the revolutionary Civil War of the s and paradoxically ready to make metaphorical war on warmongers. It was, after all, Satan who broke the peace of heaven to declare war on God. Perhaps the most interesting discussion in the book concerns Shakespeare. White wisely eschews the attempt to locate the dramatist in his own work, preferring to make the case that, without the intervention of a narrative moderator, the plays hold in suspension equal and opposite views.

Pacifism and English Literature: Minstrels of Peace

Military heroics on the part of the authorities rarely stand unchallenged in Shakespeare's work, however marginal the opposing voices. If this chapter makes clear how much of Henry V Laurence Olivier had to cut to make his stirring, patriotic film in , it also indicates how easily Orson Welles could turn the Henry IV plays against the Vietnam War in Chimes at Midnight two decades later. Not surprisingly, generations of women poets have been fluent in their condemnation of violence.

But the most sustained assault on the rationality of a specific conflict must surely be Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. This huge work depicts the heroic expectations invested in combat and the savage disappointments of the event, as well as the posturing of the generals on both sides and the implications of their blindness for the soldiers under their command. No brightly coloured pageantry, no amount of individual valour, justifies the mutilation, loss of life and, indeed, the collapse of illusions in the course of a struggle that led to more crimes of fraud, treachery, theft and murder than occur in centuries of peace.

Worse still, the novel indicates, since all's fair in love and war, these acts are not even regarded by their perpetrators as criminal. In Tolstoy's time, as in Shakespeare's, the shared model of war was hand-to-hand combat, soldiers confronting one another directly on the battlefield. But in the last century, with the increased mechanisation of warfare, adversaries no longer perceive at close range the effects of their weapons on individual human bodies.

Aerial bombardment has made civilian deaths the object of the exercise or, since the Geneva Conventions now confine a "just" war to military targets, an unavoidable case of "collateral damage". While armed conflict always had consequences for the widows and orphans, while it commonly laid waste the surrounding farmland, it has now acquired the means to destroy the water and food supplies, as well as the economic infrastructure, of whole populations.

Noam Chomsky - Pacifism

Remarkably, H. Wells vividly foresaw much of this in his novel of , The War in the Air , including "cities stricken with terror and dismay".

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These days, we remember the heroic resistance of Londoners to the Blitz, but the poets of the time also told the other side of that story. Her reaction to the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was to write "Three Poems of the Atomic Age", foreshadowing any number of protest songs and lyrics in the following decades. At the very least, literature has depicted combat in all its brutality.

Robert White | Author | Inside Story

We live in a world where increasingly implausible euphemisms are designed to reassure us of war's humanity: "smart bombs", for instance, as well as "friendly fire", not to mention "intelligence". Fiction and poetry, meanwhile, give a sharper picture than our own propaganda machines will permit. Written with conviction in the context of the West's shameful waste of life in Iraq, and its equally shameful failure to intervene in the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, this reflective and wide-ranging book presents a timely reminder that war is always a choice.

[Book review of White, R. S. Pacifism and English Literature (2008]

Literature tends to indicate that it is usually a poor one. Bob White argues that since the existence of Humanities is perennially threatened by war, teachers are justified in teaching their subjects from an emotions-based and polemically pacifist stance.

Pictures at an Exhibition

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It deals with poetry which is pacifist in perspective, from Anglo Saxon to the present day. Bob has also published articles and chapters arguing that since the existence of Humanities is perennially threatened by war, teachers are justified in teaching their subjects from an emotions-based and polemically pacifist stance.

Bombs also have a nasty habit of destroying forever our data, the repositories of our heritage as human beings, the more positive footprints we have left on the planet.

War incites racial hatred rather than fostering tolerance of other cultures and language-users. Meanwhile, it is no use complaining about globalisation, climate change or economic meltdowns if there is not likely to be an inhabitable earth left to live on, after the kinds of destruction that the technology of modern weapons offer are used.

It is no use extolling the value of music to still the savage breast, if the only sounds being heard by a civilian population are massive explosions that destroy their homes, schools, universities, farms, and hospitals. The wastage is not confined to property and objects, since in every war it includes the loss of lives of many young men and women—a whole generation of young men in —18—many of whom would have been students, promising writers and performers, and future scholars.

As an academic I may be able to understand and analyse with some humane sympathy why individuals and nations have been aggressive or bigoted and why conflict is inevitable in societies, but the point of such understanding would not be to condone or perpetuate such attitudes but to see them as a failure of education, to refute them with analysis instead of pretending a misplaced impartiality, and in the long term to make them irrelevant to the way we conduct our disciplines and run our lives. After all, a certain degree of conflict, often of quite a high order, can emerge within departments and families, but even the most heated antagonist would not accept that murder is a satisfactory resolution, or anything other than a criminal action, and it is not self-evident why international relations should be any different.

Peace Studies is now a respectable field of research and study. I understand that students at the Sandhurst Military Academy can take it as an optional course. As I write, there are over one hundred Centres devoted to researching and teaching peace and conflict resolution, mainly in the USA, India and Britain. However, such Centres, and books on the subject, usually focus on political, legal, economic and geographical issues at the present time, paying less attention to history and even less to imaginative literature.

Since war has been a permanent and continuing reality throughout human history, peace an ephemeral and fragile state, the vicious circle can be broken only by stepping outside the sense of binary alternatives and imagining a peaceful world remote from immediate conflicts, where the very sources of conflict have been eliminated — and literature sometimes offers such an option. To create a better world, we must first envisage one, and this takes the kind of profound conceptual shift that only the imagination, buttressing reason, can offer.

Literature and Peace Studies 5 I hope my book will be judged not as a thorough and critically systematic study, but as an open-ended and pioneering exploration of ideas which are crucial to human existence but which have been neglected by academic writers. Some such rational and imaginative versions of faith can be found in literature over the ages. Words The subject of this book nowhere turns on semantic niceties.

There is, however, a shade of difference between the two words, which explains my choice to prefer in the title the language of pacifism. In the transhistorical and literary approach adopted here, there is a level of abstraction from which one can oppose all wars as equally dependent on a logic asserting that problems can be solved by violence. The philosophy of pacifists would see all wars as equally objectionable on moral grounds, irrespective of time, place and political justifications offered, before, during or since. I prefer to use pacifism as a general and positive term, describing a philosophical stance that can still carry a meaning irrespective of the context of a singular war, and even when a war is not being waged.

There is, however, room for many other books that historically, politically, and geographically embed oppositional sentiments in the context of the detailed circumstances of particular conflicts, such as those written about trench warfare in the First World War.

Although I do not, in practice, consider the terms with close precision, an initial consideration of the words themselves, and of some logical and philosophical distinctions which have been made, is a convenient way to set a context of meanings and historical usage. Pacifism The policy or doctrine of rejecting war and every form of violent action as means of solving disputes, esp. Oxford English Dictionary The Oxford English Dictionary is a treasure trove of research, quite apart from its reassuringly confident statements of the meanings of words.

The first time it emerged in printed English was in at the Proceedings of the 10th Universal Peace Congress, when M. Both versions are relevant here, and both were conceptually available many centuries before the word was coined. The distancing effect of the inverted commas around the latter example might indicate simply the newness of the word in , but it also might reflect an ongoing ideological disagreement that runs through the succeeding quotations in the OED, swinging from the use of pacifism as a descriptive word to its use as a term of opprobrium.

That is an essential condition of war. As late as , E. Mumford, in his Introduction to Pacifism , i. It is a constructive policy of showing that there are more powerful and better ways of opposing your enemies.

Victims of War

The answer is emphatically no. This is to confuse pacifism with appeasement. The pacifist is definitely not a passivist. Pacificism a. Advocacy of a peaceful policy; rejection of war in a particular instance. As an ideological term, Pacifism influenced by Fr. It was used in the early twentieth century, and was regarded as an older synonym for pacifism. The latter is the negation of policy, not an alternative to it, and therefore irrelevant to my theme. Hence my disregard for the Peace Societies. The dissenters did not hold that war was always wrong but that it should be avoided wherever humanly possible.

For example, many who supported and even fought in the Second World War were opposed to the later conflict in Vietnam, just as earlier some had opposed the Boer War but supported the so-called Great War of —18, and many who had opposed the First World War believed in the cause of the Second World War. The distinction between one who opposes a particular war and one who rejects all war is relevant in analysing the stances of poets in biographical terms, although I shall argue that when a literary work is read outside its context the difference need not matter.

A poem can be read as pacifist even if it was written as pacificist, and we shall find many examples in this book.