Friday, December 04, 2015

Peter Hitchens: Reflection on the British war debate

Robert E. Lee probably didn’t say ‘It is well that war is so terrible, lest we should grow too fond of it’. But his great opponent, William Tecumseh Sherman, almost certainly did say: ’I am tired and sick of fighting –its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands and fathers. It is only those who have never heard a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.’

And a few years afterwards, to graduates of Michigan military academy: ‘I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here.

'Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!’

Sherman prosecuted war with merciless vigour and is nobody’s idea of a pacifist. I suspect him of believing (as Prussia’s elite military corps did) that the only mercy in war is a swift victory by one side or the other , an unpleasant truth especially hard to stomach if yours is the side that loses.

Almost all the people I have met who knew about war held opinions similar to Sherman’s.  As a small boy, rather in love with war and its alleged glory,  and as a callow youth, amoral about violence in what I thought was a good cause, I thought them soppy and foolish. And when, without meaning to , I blundered into the edges of a couple of war zones, and heard live firing for the first time, and saw corpses after bullets had passed through them, and dirty, overcrowded hospital wards full of wounded men, and buildings which had been hit by modern munitions,  I very much took that view myself.  I am not a pacifist. I believe war is sometimes necessary, mainly in self-defence - and I absolutely support the training and maintenance of strong and usable armed forces.

But if I by some chance I were an MP, and if I were asked to support a warlike policy, I would need to hear arguments far better than those advanced in Parliament yesterday.  I am amazed at the strange enthusiasm which war still seems to produce in so many adults. I think it immature and naive.  I suppose I must just be very lucky to have known the people I knew, and seen the things I have seen.

Read the rest here.
HT: Dr. Tighe

An excellent read.


lannes said...

This Hitchens fellow is much more believable than his late (?) brother.

rabidgandhi said...

An excellent counterpoint to the majority of the media, which has been swooning at the 'majesty' of Benn the Younger's oratory.

Shorter Benn/Cameron: We were right to advocate for a war in the ME last time, although it led to more terrorism at home and abroad. Now that there is more terrorism we must face it with yet another war (which will obviously lead to more terrorism). It's a self-licking ice cream cone.

Patrick Sheridan said...

This is one of Hitchens' best pieces.

Iannes, I like both the Hitchens brothers and have referenced both their works. The elder (deceased these four years) tended to be rather sloppy in his research but was a gifted orator. I admired his courage in exposing Mother Teresa. I like Hitchens the younger as a conservative but I do not, by any means, agree with all that he says.