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“Never again must this Thing happen”: Visions of the Past, Thanks to Gutenberg (VIII)



Most of these posts have discussed texts that there really isn’t much point for normal people to read. This post is an exception. Edward Carpenter’s furious 1916 pamphlet Never Again!, a plea to the people of Europe to never allow such a horrible war to happen in the future, is quite a good read. It’s a powerful statement that still has value today. What is a more powerful statement against war than:

That peasants and artisans, and shopkeepers and students and schoolmasters, who have no quarrel whatever, who on the whole rather respect and honour each other, should with explosive bombs deliberately blow one another to bits so that even their own mothers could not recognize them; That human beings should use every devilish invention of science with the one purpose of maiming, blinding, destroying those against whom they have no personal grudge or grievance; All this is sheer madness.

Carpenter was English and he is sure to cover himself against charges of being anti-patriotic. He says it’s fine to blame Germany for its policies, but also that each nation must look inside itself for its own responsibilities. He is sure to marvel at the glories of the British Navy and note the great heroism of the British armed forces. And ultimately, this is not a particularly political tract. It’s not Marxist or anti-democratic. It’s certainly not pro-German, nor does it resort to a plea for patriotism. Everyone is brave, everyone is patriotic to their own country, everyone is fighting the Fatherland or the Mother Country, and everyone is dying in vain. Carpenter was a socialist and a really fascinating individual, but there’s not really much of those politics in the text, outside of noting the commonalities everyday soldiers have with each other no matter what uniform they wear. If anything, the core political belief is that a) military technology has made it futile to continue fighting and that human beings simply can’t exist in the face of ever larger and more powerful armaments and b) the elite class driving foreign policy and war must not be sustained.

This is of course true, but it’s not a lesson the world really learned after World War I, if it has today.

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