It is Armistice night. I have just come home through London along with a portion of the joyful crowds who are going to celebrate. But what are they celebrating? It cannot be the end of wars since expenditure on armaments still grows, and the “East” and the “West” harries the imaginations of diplomats. Is it a victory they would celebrate? But here a million unemployed, and the miners are marching on London to remind legislators that hunger is abroad in the coalfields.
As I travelled on ‘bus and tube my mind wandered over the events of the war and since. The petty squabbles of war “leaders,” military, naval, and political, who each tried to keep a grip on the shoddy coat of glory; the nobleness of purpose with which each saddled the other with incapacity. I tried to think of a leader who possessed the military virtues we were taught to revere when we were children—and I failed to think of one. Even the modesty of Lawrence is lost in a crowd of full-dress photographs taken in the waste places of Arabia. A few short years have stripped the idols, one by one, of the gilding a venal Press and a hypocritical platform painted on with such a lavish hand.
The enemies of wartime have again become the joint partners in the plunder of peacetime. German, Austrian, Italian, French, American and English shareholders are indiscriminately mixed in the giant companies and trusts that take from the workman of different lands all that he produces above the pittance that pretends to keep him.
While the crowds passed before the Cenotaph to-day those who had grown wealthier out of war and peace swept in their luxurious cars to the palaces built out of the blood and toil of slaves. Behind all the mockery and cynicism lie the devastated homes, the cheerless hearths, of millions of the poor. The hollow shams at the top and the bitter misery at the bottom; the trickery and the illusions; the romance and the reality.
The tragedies of the war existed not only in the deaths, the mutilations, and the sorrows of the bereaved, but also in what lay behind much of it. Imagine the feelings of those forced, by fear of a white feather or by conscription, who went to battle without enthusiasm but with much dread. They had to endure the manifold hardships without the inner fire of a cause worth while to sustain them. Of such were many who are buried in nameless graves.
Most of us, particularly the more imaginative, when not drunk with enthusiasm or liquor, suffer the nameless dread of mutilations or death. Thousands, nay millions, went through this agony during those terrible years. Of the young and the old of many countries eight and a half millions were killed , twenty-one million wounded. This country alone had a million dead to mourn for and two millions wounded.
But what are the celebrations for? What have the millions died for? Why do many an old couple sit by the fire dreaming sadly of what might have been? Oh, sordid reality! Oh, cold, comfortless truth! Because one group of money bugs wanted more profit than another! For this the flower of youth was trampled and destroyed by the iron heel of war. And even now, while the horror and dread of those days still stirs restlessly in the mind, like the remnants of the spell of a nightmare, the nations of the earth are still hotly pursuing each other in a headlong race to more terrible wars still, though the wiser ones foresee that the end is not worth the price, in wealth and prestige, that will have to be paid.
And those who so easily sent our loved ones to their graves are niggardly in payment to the mutilated and the dependants. They groan of the height of the taxes, and tell fairy tales of the wealth of the pensioners. They would have us believe, as they orate at their many-coursed dinners, that they are really too poor to stand the strain. When unemployment was widespread before the war it was said that the country was too poor to maintain the human scrap heap of industry. Yet, on the war alone, this country was able to throw away wealth to the amount of over six thousand million pounds in four years! And this while millions of the population were entirely withdrawn from productive work.
And to-day those who might ponder over these things and be dangerous to the powers that prey have their emotions diverted into safe channels. They are given a few cenotaphs, a few processions, a turgid mass of hypocritical sentiments. They mourn by cold monuments and return to work sad, but satisfied.
What a civilisation! What a tragedy!