Monday, August 22, 2011

"What If They Gave a War . . .": Some Thoughts

I saw it again today.  They have occasionally cropped up over the years, though they were more prevalent in the 1970s: that is, the bumper stickers that say “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”  Cute, supposedly pithy . . . but every time I see one, I know that my faith in the Left’s inability to think beyond a knee-jerk reaction is re-inforced.

That sentiment was addressed years ago by Bertolt Brecht, perhaps the most important German playwright of the early twentieth century (a lifelong Marxist and eventually a disillusioned East German), perhaps in reply to a query by Carl Sandburg.  The line is the first sentence of a poem by Brecht, and its use in these smug flights from reality is wildly out of context and reflects a violation of one of my father’s rules: “Don’t read to the first comma and quit.”  An author’s original language always carries more heft, and the poem in the original German reads:
Stell Dir vor, es ist Krieg und keiner geht hin?  Dann kommt der Krieg zu Euch!  Wer zu Hause bleibt, wenn der Kampf beginnt, und läßt andere kämpfen für seine Sache, der muß sich vorsehen: Denn wer den Kampf nicht geteilt hat, der wird teilen die Niederlage.  Nicht einmal Kampf vermeidet, wer den Kampf vermeiden will, denn er wird kämpfen für die Sache des Feindes, wer für seine eigene Sache nicht gekämpft hat. 
It is translated thus:
What if they gave a war and nobody came?
Then the war will come to you!
He who stays home when the fight begins
And lets others fight for his cause
Should take care: He who does not take part
In the battle will share in the defeat.
Even avoiding battle does not avoid
Battle, since not to fight for your own cause
Really means
Fighting on behalf of your enemy's cause.
The area around me trends bluer than blue politically, and this sentiment of enjoying life and liberty at the expense of others wears instantly thin.  Do these people really believe that mankind (I continue to use the politically incorrect term that has sufficed for several hundred years) can simply stop fighting, particularly in a defensive sense, on a whim?  These people, the same ones who, in the romantic social debacle of the 1960s and 70s spoke with such wide-eyed anticipation of the coming ‘Revolution’?  Do they really know how pathetic they are with their snarky, puerile drivel?

The poem mirrors the remarks of John Stuart Mill on the same notion:
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.  A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight; nothing he cares about more than his own personal safety; is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
I could go on, but you get my drift.  Scripture tells us that there will always be “wars and rumours of wars” (Matthew 24:6a) and “the poor you shall always have with you” (Matthew 26:11a).  Being poor does not limit itself to lack of substance in material things. 

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