11 November 2007

Neal Ascherson writes:

"War kills. That is all it does." The words come from Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars, and Carolin Emcke [in Echoes of Violence: Letters from a War Reporter (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007)] has used them as the epigraph for her first chapter. Maybe she took them out of some context that would modify their meaning. I hope so, because they are not true.

War certainly kills, often lavishly. It would be easier to loathe unconditionally if that were all it does. But having lived through one enormous one, fought in a small one, and attended several others as a spectator, I can't deny that wars can make the world go round as well as spattering
it with blood. Wars destroy nations and create others; they release torrents of technological change and innovation that would normally take many decades to evolve. They bereave women and also liberate them; they shatter the isolation of communities and leave them with alien diseases and mountains of military surplus. They empower and enrich thousands of unworthy people, but they also give angry self-confidence to millions of good people who had been taught to regard themselves as worthless. Wars turn cities into archaeology and green meadows into deadly minefields, but they can also generate historic upwellings of hope and solidarity.

When they end, most men and women feel released from a nightmare and swear: "Never again!" But others, while sharing that relief, confess that they found something in war that they loved, and that they will always miss.

-- Neal Ascherson, "Do They Crave War?", The New York Review of Books, 8 November 2007.

* * Also by this writer:

Diary: "Neal Ascherson among the icebergs." London Review of Books, 18 October 2007: here

"It ended the most devastating slaughter until the Second World War." Guardian, 1 November 1998: here

On Poland and the Church. Frontline, PBS, 1998: here

On the old. Guardian, 15 November 1998: : here

On St. Petersburg. Independent, 28 May 2003: here

On Robert Fisk. Independent, 16 October 2005: here

On the fall of Berlin. London Review of Books, 28 November 2002: here

Oh what lovely war! A chance to kill that men just die for. Observer, 11 July 1999: here

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