Friday, March 26, 2010

Chesterton On Chivalry in War

Chesterton had read an essay in The Nation (yes, the same one), "On Chivalry In War," and wrote an answer to it. The article included the sentences "In the eighteenth century Swift and Voltaire were singular in thinking that war is fundamentally criminal. To-day we all thinks so." Chesterton replied,
In that case it would be truer to say that to-day we all flatly refuse to think. War, like weather, cannot in itself be either criminal or saintly;
He goes straight at this idea, even more popular in our day.

In this matter, as in many others, I am on the side of the vulgar majority. But I realise that there is an aristocracy of intellectuals who are quite spontaneous and sincere in the disgust which I describe; and who, while they are too intelligent to be content with merely praising peace, are infuriated by anyone praising war.
Heck, that attitude is now so firmly embedded in the culture of the west that even I have some of it.

Do not wonder when people cannot seem to make the elemenary distinctions between our actions and those of our enemies, such as Kennedy suggesting that Abu Ghraib was the same under Saddam and the US. Its first motive is not so much treason or an oversensitive conscience as a refusal to admit there can be anything redeeming or just about any war. All wars must be regarded as essentially evil because they are essentially terrible; thus all justifications for a war must be undermined, and any claim that we have acted with general restraint and nobility must be squelched.

This is one of the ways that people who are against war prove that they are more moral than thee. "Courage" must mean the mild inconveniences they face being disliked and hounded by those they have disliked and hounded for years; not courage in pain and danger in the Middle East.

1 comment:

karrde said...

There was a time when one of my siblings was of that mind: he thought that all wars were evil.

During the same time, one of our favorite pieces of fantasy literature (Tolkien's Lord of the Rings) was delivered to the Silver Screen by Peter Jackson.

I had learned to stay away from certain subjects if I wanted peace and quiet, but I noted to myself that the battle of Aragorn and Borommir with the Orcs, and the later struggles of the Rohirrim and of Gondor against the power of Saruman and Morder, were war.

And my sibling, who was adamantly of the opinion that war was evil, cheered the heroes on in their struggle.

It could have been that he was too enthralled in the story to notice, or he had a barrier in his mind between the fictional world and the real world.

More recently, his thoughts have shown some evidence of mature deliberation, rather than fads of the liberal stripe. He's even quoted Chesterton to me...I haven't yet decided to ask him if he's met Chesterton's discussion of the good and evil of war.