I MAY E DEAD
Before I am twenty-five the chances are that I shall be dead. It seems impossible that we shall escape another European war in the not distant future.
High Reasons—Base Acts As I intend to take no part in the killing of the men and women whom we shall designate our enemy, it is probable that my life will be snuffed out by poison gas in some London street, unless of course our Government decides to shoot all conscientious objectors at the beginning of the war so that the rest of the community may have more of the little food there will be available.
Whichever way I die I shall at least have the comfort to know that I am dying in the war to end war. There will be other reasons. We shall be defending Democracy, or English Freedom, or Religion—whatever it is we may be certain that it will be something fairly noble.
After all, when Private Jones jabs his bayonet in the other man's belly and twists it round before withdrawing it, he must have at the back of his mind some pious reason for acting thus, so that his conscience may be quietened—if it has not already been quietened for good by the preliminary barbarities and degrations of war.
It is pitiful that less than twenty years since the signing of the Versailles Treaty it should still be necessary to argue the futility of war. Yet most Catholics today believe that war could be essential in order to avert a supreme moral evil. They call war a material evil. Yet in its effect it produces as much moral evil as material evil.
Need of Universal Christian Conscience The immorality and injustice, which in Europe today threaten another war, are largely the results of the wholesale abandoning of Christianity which the last war encouraged. If we are to solve the problems which these moral evils of injustice and immorality have raised. we have got to overcome these moral evils by living Christianity to the full and by forming in all the people about us a Christian conscience. I do not think anyone would be so illogical as to suggest war as the remedy. We can overcome our social problems by Christianity but apparently our supreme moral evils only by war.
I suppose an example of supreme moral evil would be the domination of Europe by Godless Communism. If we must finally have recourse to war in order to avert that—though it would seem that war is Communism's best ally—then there must be something wrong with our Christianity. We shall be fighting evil not with the teaching of Christ, but with machines and
instruments of death. We shall shout: " For God " as we kill, and in those who survive, will survive also an impregnable hate of the Power for Whom we claim to use our guns.
More Than Guns Will Ever Do
Surely soldiers of Christ is something different from soldiers of the King, or soldiers of the Fatherland? The weapons of the soldiers of Christ are prayer and personal sanctification. This is not prigtalk, nor wish-talk.
There are a great many Christians today, who by prayer and example are doing what no amount of guns or poison gas will ever be able to do. They arc making people realise that the Christian civilisation is the only lasting way to charity and justice in this world.
There has been of recent years a Renaissance in the Church. Youth has seen the necessity of a full Christian life. Thousands of young men and women have organised themselves in America and in those countries in Europe which are not
under a Fascist or National Socialist or Communist dictature, to make this Christian life possible for everyone, and to implant in men and women the understanding of the need for it. They call themselves Young Christian Workers.
If their movement can spread rapidly enough; if it can spread in those countries which at present deny it existence, there seems the practical way of making the doctrines of the Church actual to the people, and therefore making peace possible and lasting.
Had there been a strong movement of the Young Christian Workers in Spain it is likely that the present civil war would never have occurred. The abuses in the social order which both sides claim to be remedying might easily have been remedied by peaceful methods if the Catholic conscience had been sufficiently aroused.
But however important it was that there should have been a Young Christian Worker movement in Spain before the outbreak of war, it is a great deal more important that the movement should be established when the war is finished, so that the inevitable bitterness, which will be within the defeated, shall be overcome with reason and charity.
I Would Become a Communist I say now that I will not fight in a war, but perhaps that is presumptuous. It is certain that with the outbreak of war there will be a vast and thorough propaganda of hate and blood lust and national pietism. I pray that I shall not be vanquished by it. but already I am handicapped by an irrational love of uniforms and the music of trumpets and drums.
Meanwhile, before we are all drawn into the orgy of destruction there is so much work of construction to be done.
I am reminded of it everyday I travel from the suburb to the City. The train clatters heavily past the backs of mean houses and the blocks of dark tenements. In the small streets children arc walking to school and grey-faced women stand at the doors. From a window sill there droops a sooted flag, the end of a Coronation festivity. It is difficult sometimes to believe there can be any hope among the people who live in those dark, crowded rooms, in the midst of the unnatural acres of grey roof§ and tarmac.
I am amazed that so few people in England are Communists. If I were not a Catholic I would become a Communist tomorrow. But I am a Catholic, and there is the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ
which has yet to be known fully, and put to practice.
The Catholics hold the key to the problems of the injustice and poverty under which the people suffer. It seems that the key will be used—for the Catholic who is imbued with the Protestant idea of religion on Sundays only has become an anachronism—if war does not interfere.
There are of course other obstacles than war. There is the prevalent attitude among Catholics to tolerate Capitalist abuses whilst fiercely denouncing those of Communism.
There is the almost universal dumbness of the people at Mass. I have not yet been in a church where the High Mass on a Sunday is not sung by a choir. Usually it is a choir of a few women. Either the parish is afraid of these women or just lazy. I can think of no other reason for the docility with which the people sit through operatic Credos of fourth rate composers sung by high, lingering, sentimental voices.
There is also the class consciousness which afflicts Catholics in as great a degree as it does most English people. But none of these obstacles have the dreadful, destructive finality of war.
So Many Things To Enjoy
But although the shadow of the calamity is upon us, and the land reeks with the despair and the persecution by state officials of a million and three-quarters unemployed; although there are extravagent futilities in the hotels of Park Lane, and hugs in the homes off Commercial Road, yet there is gladness in living, and you can feel this gladness without having to pretend that the bad things do not exist. It is the gladness of having life in your organs, your limbs and your senses.
I am continually amazed at all the things it is possible to enjoy.
There is the sky with drifts of white cloud in it on a Spring morning early, there is the satisfying noise of the bus tyres on the shiny tarmac. On the railway posters are the names of far places and there are drops of vivid colour.
So many things . . . Fountain Court in the morning with the sun soaking into the red bricks through the traceries of a plane tree's branches, in the evening with the amber lamps alight and darkness not yet in the sky and in the distance the noisy passing of a gaudy tram along the Embankment and the broken reflections in water . . . the great, white, scalloped edge of the Daily Telegraph building against blue sky . . . the sudden sight of St. Paul's full of majesty and blessed English greyness above an insignificant green railway bridge as you turn the corner in Fleet Street . . the ladies in striped summer frocks who walk with their dogs in Hanover Square gardens . . the music of Mozart at night . . the chapel of St. Andrew in Westminster Cathedral with the sun shining on the silver bars . . . the stars over the thousands of small roofs, and the red smudges of cinema neon . . . the paths of searchlights moving across the darkness. .
But the searchlights . . . When I see them I am afraid. They are signs of war and of our trust in the machine to preserve us from death. It is a pathetic trust. The machines can keep us from life but never from death.