Book Review: Flights of Fancy
To The Keepers of the Slaughterhouse, by Walter Gore. Mitre Press, 14s.
This book consists of two short stories—“Novellas” the publisher calls them —which are “. . . addressed to all those who think that fundamental problems may be settled, once and for all, by the application of violence.” The theme of the first story is not new. The world has become divided into two massive armed camps, each under the domination of a military clique although ostensibly governed democratically. Eventually they go to war and the result is the obliteration of the human race by nuclear weapons. Not quite, though, because somehow about six dozen people manage to survive on one or two islands miles from anywhere, and start the painful job of reconstructing their lives and the rebuilding of humanity.
Well, it is a distinct possibility. The destructive power of nuclear bombs is massive, but in putting the proposition, the author has ignored some rather important facts. First of all, the military do not exist as a separate entity, answerable to no one but themselves. The capitalist class of this and other major powers have long ago brought the armed forces firmly under governmental control. Even the popular General Macarthur found this when he urged the use of atomic warfare against China during the Korean War and was promptly recalled by President Truman.
Then again, never has the fate of the world depended on the maniacal whims of a single man (Field Marshal Van. Rogen, Chief of Staff of one of the armed camps in the story), and there is no evidence to suggest that it ever will be, never mind the contrary propaganda with which we have been assailed from time to time when it suited our masters. Admittedly a short story cannot cover every point, but Mr. Gore has left far too many gaps in his narrative for us to take it all that seriously. The prospect of any war, big or little, nuclear or conventional, is a horrifying one, but when we have said this we have not said anything very original. Modern war is capitalist society in conflict, not just a few high-ranking, trigger-happy brasshats in the Pentagon or Kremlin. If the author could even have hinted at that, his book would have been of more value.
His second story is a bit more off the ground than the first. A sort of modern Noah’s Ark tale. A space expedition reaches a far distant planet and finds a form of conscious plant life. That is to say, the beings have similar shaped bodies and move around just like humans, but are constructed of plant matter, not animal protein. It is an entirely non violent society yet it plans to destroy the human race, which is regarded as a threat to its existence. So the space travellers hurry back to earth to warn us of the approaching disaster.
Quite honestly, we find it hard to take any part in this one seriously, despite vaguely expressed ideas earlier on about “international cooperation’’ and “world government.” The write-up on the dust cover assures us of the author’s ‘ . . . numbing bitterness against the social forces around him, awakening to the discovery that if man is to cope with those forces he must first carefully study their nature.” Fine. But what is their nature? Socialists have grasped the answer to that one. and we gladly offer Mr. Gore the benefit of what knowledge we have, for we realise the vital urgency of the task before us. First of all, however, let us keep our mental rockets firmly in orbit, and not lose control of them in far off flights of fancy.