“Sincere and wrong”

When I was very young I wrote a novel — Lord, what a bad novel! — in which I made the hero say: “There were never any just wars but the religious wars.” It was, perhaps, the only quite sound remark in the whole book. Yet though it was in the mouth of a fictitious character in a fantastic story, it was severely criticized as a reactionary paradox. In a very fine article in the Nation recently, Mr Wells has seen and said that war is sometimes a horrible necessity, in order to put true ideas in the place of false ones. I do not say this for any cheap controversial purpose. I do not urge Mr Wells to apologise to the paladins and persecutors whom he has probably reviled all his life. Yet is is certain if the Crusades had succeeded, there would have been no Balkan Wars; and if the Southern effort in the Thirty Years’ War had succeeded, there would have been no Prussia. I merely welcome the first great truth gathered of this horrible harvest: the truth that if you think wrong, you go wrong.

Mr Wells thinks, and I think so, too, that in the case of the Prussian we are really warring against a delusion. He is like a lunatic with plenty of pistols and a good aim, but liable to shoot a dog out of hatred of cats. Thus he sees the Russian as a yellow-skinned Oriental. He sees the Briton as a yellow-haired deserter. But “they ain’t”. It is one of the innumerable shallow phrases of the modern and mercantile peace, that when people are sincere they should not be attacked. Why, it is exactly because they are sincere that they should be attacked. If a man pretends to be your wife’s previous and lawful husband, you can laugh at him as at any other amusing fraud. If he really believes that he is, you will take prompt action to prevent his acting on his belief. An insincere polygamist is an ornament in any modern house: we use him to carry tea-cups. But a sincere polygamist we will blow to hell, if we can, with horse, foot, and artillery. And if you ask us why, we can only answer — because he is sincere and wrong.

The Prussian is sincere and wrong. He really does think that he could do everything better than everybody; like Bottom the Weaver. I have no doubt he thinks that Prussians could play the bag-pipes better than Highlanders; or dive for pearls better than the pearl-fishers. Prussians already say they understand Shakespeare; from which manifest scream of madness it will be but one note higher to say that they understand Burns. They understand everything: there was never a madman who did not. So that our work with the Prussians is not so much a pulling-down of thrones as a casting-out of devils; not only out of the land, but out of the enemy.

Illustrated London News, 12 September 1914.

Published in: on January 30, 2019 at 4:36 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Love this. BTW, I assume you have heard that our friend GK is now an open case for sainthood:

    https://mendicantmonks.org/2013/08/03/a-new-catholic-saint/

  2. Yes, I did know that, though I’ve not heard much in the meantime.


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