The Old Lie

‘Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori’ – It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country – is taken from an ode by the Roman poet, Horace. There are lots of sick people in the world who would agree with Horace. Just so long as they’re not the ones doing the fighting and dying. Politicians, deluded nationalists, arms dealers, arms manufacturers, as currently is the case in Russia and Ukraine. Wilfred Owen responded:

…If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer,
bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

In August 1914 the SPGB had already declared:

Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our good will and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism. THE WORLD FOR THE WORKERS!

In the mid-sixties Barry Maguire was growling ‘We’re on the eve of destruction.’ We’ve been on the eve ever since the first American-produced atomic bomb was exploded on Japan in 1945. Twice.

At the same time, Donovan was singing about the effects of nuclear war:

Cities full of people burning, screaming, shouting loud,
And right over head, a great orange mushroom cloud.
Now there’s no more war
For there’s no more world.

Heavy metal bands were also producing anti-war songs.

As the mad men play on words,
And make us all dance to their song,
To the tune of starving millions,

To make a better kind of gun.
(Iron Maiden, Two Minutes to Midnight )

Politicians hide themselves away,
They only started the war,
Why should they go out to fight?

They leave that role to the poor, yeah’
(Black Sabbath, War Pigs)

War, I despise, it means destruction of innocent lives
War means tears to thousands of mother’s eyes when their sons go off to fight
and lose their lives.
It’s an enemy to all mankind…
Peace, love and understanding, tell me,
Is there no place for them today?
They say we must fight to keep our freedom but there’s got to be a better way,
War, What is it good for? You tell me (nothing)
Stand up and shout it (nothing).
(Written by P F Sloan, performed originally by Edwin Starr)

Folk singers too:

I learned our Government must be strong;
It’s always right and never wrong;
Our leaders are the finest men,
And we elect them again and again.
War is not so bad;
I learned about the great ones we have had.
(Written by Tom Paxton, performed originally by Pete Seeger)

Donovan sang:

He’s the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame,
His orders come from far away no more,
They come from here and there and you and me,
And brothers, can’t you see?

No, individuals are not to blame for war. Capitalism is. In 1935, Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, an American who had taken part in many military campaigns had an epiphany. He spilt the beans, listing the various countries he had worked in and the capitalists whose interests the military was working for: oil, banks, Wall Street, fruit companies. He described himself as a ‘gangster for capitalism’.

Karl Marx’s words that ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it,’ remain even more relevant today. The time is long past for us all to change it for the better.

Charles Dickens’s Scrooge asked the Ghost of the Future, ‘Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only?’ Response: ‘Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead.’


Next article: Post-capitalist farming ⮞

2 Replies to “The Old Lie”

  1. I think there was a bit of a mix-up in the editing of this article. ‘War’ by Edwin Starr wasn’t written by P. F. Sloan. It was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. And it wasn’t performed originally by Edwin Starr. It originally appeared on The Temptations album, ‘Psychedelic Shack’.

    P. F. Sloan did write Barry McGuire’s ‘Eve Of Destruction’.

  2. Well, as Captain Mainwaring used to say, I wondered when someone would spot that!
    Mea Culpa. My bad. Apologies. I take full responsibility for the error. I think in the talk I gave earlier this year I did credit P F Sloan with”Eve of destruction” but I didn’t credit the writers of “War.” Neither did I know about the original performers.
    Thank you for being so eagle eyed. Should I reference the song in the futureI shall now do so correctly.
    I was musing to myself earlier that the cultural references I generally use are of a particular time and one has to be of a certain age to understand them. I’m pondering on how I can make myself a bit more relevant to a far younger audience. Answers on a postcard…Congratulations btw on your latest 180.

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