Comments about killing and war by Orwell

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Burning ghost
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Comments about killing and war by Orwell

Post by Burning ghost » November 24th, 2017, 1:12 am

I have tried to show the spread of Orwell's thoughts here in regards to the killing that takes place in wartime. I find it a very interesting view and was simply curious about your views on what you think about his words. He was decidedly against pacifism, and there seemed to be quite a lot of it being voiced in the UK press at the time.
I noticed that apart from the widespread complaint that the Germans pilotless planes "seem so unnatural" (a bomb dropped by a live airman is quite natural, apparently), some journalists are denouncing them as barbarous, inhumane, and "an indiscriminate attack on civilians".

George Orwell, Tribune, 30 June 1944
The other thing that needs dealing with is the parrot cry "killing women and children". I pointed this out before, but evidently it needs repeating, that it is probably somewhat better to kill a cross-section of the population than to kill only young men.

- George Orwell, Tribune, 14 July 1944
... By shooting at your enemy you are not in the deepest sense wrong. But by hating him, in inventing lies about him and bringing children up to believe them, by clamouring for unjust peace terms which make further wars inevitable, you are striking not at one perishable generation, but at humanity itself.

- George Orwell, Tribune, 4 Aug 1944
... You must not think that because I "support" the war and don't disapprove of bombing I am in favour of reprisals, making Germany pay, etc. You may not understand this, but I don't think it matters killing people so long as you don't hate them. I also think that there are times when you can only show your feeling of brotherhood for somebody else by killing him, or trying to.

- George Orwell, Letter to John Middleton Murry, 11 Aug 1944
What strikes me about these comments (I have read the greater context so I have a more privileged position if you haven't read the full articles yourself) is that Orwell is cuttingly honest with his words. He was a man who'd fought in wars and been shot. At the time of writing these he was living in the Blitz. It is not as if he was unaware of the bombs dropping from above or of the stark reality of war and what it took to shoot another man dead.
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Re: Comments about killing and war by Orwell

Post by Greta » November 26th, 2017, 10:37 pm

Orwell appears focused on the functions of war, stripped of emotions. It is a dispassionate, "professional" attitude, calmly accepting the brutal and ugly sides of being a human - or organism per se.

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Re: Comments about killing and war by Orwell

Post by Burning ghost » November 27th, 2017, 3:45 am

Greta -

What I took away from this was his general point being that if we hide citizens from the reality of war then they will never come to know the horror of war. Having the bombs falling on you makes the war "real", while having the war fought far away with people killed does nothing.

I would equate this line of thought to how soldiers who returned from WWI and Vietnam were treated as "cowards". The ignorance of the populace about the reality, and experience of, war can be a very bad thing. The reality of war and death is only truly understood is every member of society us brought into it. I should add that he does say that he sympathises with a certain kind of pacifism, yet what he was against was the sort of pacifism more inclined to willfully ignore the reality of the situation.

To add, in his letter to John Middleton Murray :

After an apology about his comment directed at Murry
... As to my remarks about pacifism in general, I don't think I can withdraw anything. I hold to my opinion that it acts objectively in favour of violence and tends to turn into power worship.
He makes some other comments about how children playing in the parks was a good thing because all the iron railings were taken down and no one was left to patrol the green areas of London.
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Re: Comments about killing and war by Orwell

Post by Steve3007 » November 27th, 2017, 4:07 am

As Greta says, Orwell appears here to be acknowledging that war performs a function. World War 2 is very often held up as one of the clearest examples in human history of a "just war". A lesser of two evils. An essential job that had to be done. So I suppose it's not surprising that Orwell would write those things in that context and after having fought in Spain.

In 1984 the function of war, for The Party, is simply to destroy the products of human labour and unite the populace against an essentially imaginary common enemy. Orwell (if I remember rightly) envisages a world in which The Party keeps control of society by creating the need for constant over-production but with constant deprivation and poverty. Obviously inspired by a combination of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany.

The evil of demonizing/hating the enemy which Orwell describes in the letter that you (BG) quote from, and its function in keeping The Party in control, seems to be taken to its nightmarish extreme in 1984.
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Re: Comments about killing and war by Orwell

Post by Eduk » November 28th, 2017, 7:40 am

Orwell had a great recognition for dictatorships. I don't see his comments as dispassionate or emotionless at all. After all if not driven by emotion then who cares if people are in a dictatorship or not, who cares if people are competent agents or not, who cares if people are conscious or not.
I think he has seen what unconscious, emotionless, clock work, reality has to offer (within himself) and I don't think he likes it. This is what he means by saying killing someone (or the attempt) is a form of brotherhood. That only makes sense if your goal is to increase consciousness. It only makes sense if you value brotherhood in the first place.

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