“Stuck all over with swords and daggers”

What can they mean when they say that we must not put militarism into boys? Can we by any possibility get militarism out of boys? You might burn it out with red-hot irons; you might eventually scourge it out as if it were a mediaeval devil; but except you employ the most poignant form of actual persecution, you certainly will not prevent little boys thinking about soldiers, talking about soldiers, and pretending that they are soldiers. You may mortify and macerate this feeling in them if you like, just as you may mortify and macerate their love of comrades, or their love of wandering…

A child’s instinct is almost perfect in the matter of fighting; a child always stands for the good militarism as against the bad. The child’s hero is always the man or boy who defends himself suddenly and splendidly against aggression. The child’s hero is never the man or boy who attempts by his mere personal force to extend his mere personal influence… To put the matter shortly, the boy feels an abysmal difference between conquest and victory. Conquest has the sound of something cold and heavy; the automatic operations of a powerful army. Victory has the sound of something sudden and valiant; victory is like a cry out of a living mouth. The child is excited with victory; he is bored with conquest. The child is not an Imperialist; the child is a Jingo – which is excellent. The child is not a militarist in the heavy, mechanical modern sense; the child is a fighter. Only very old and very wicked people can be militarists in the modern sense. Only very old and very wicked people can be peace-at-any-price men. The child’s instincts are quite clean and chivalrous, though perhaps a little exaggerated.

But really to talk of this small human creature, who never picks up an umbrella without trying to use it as a sword, who will hardly read a book in which there is no fighting, who out of the Bible itself generally remembers the ‘bluggy’ parts, who never walks down the garden without imagining himself to be stuck all over with swords and daggers – to take this human creature and talk about the wickedness of teaching him to be military, seems rather a wild piece of humour. He has already not only the tradition of fighting, but a far manlier and more genial tradition of fighting than our own. No; I am not in favour of the child being taught militarism. I am in favour of the child teaching it.

– The Illustrated London News, 20 October 1906.

Published in: on March 21, 2007 at 11:34 am  Leave a Comment  

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