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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Re: Comments about killing and war by Orwell

Post by Count Lucanor » December 28th, 2017, 5:32 pm

That just proves once again that when it comes to commentaries on social/political issues, famous writers can only come up with the most stupidest ideas. This time more striking, as the allegories of his politically-charged novels appear to showcase a witful criticism of such ideas. Killing as brotherhood? Come on...

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Re: Comments about killing and war by Orwell

Post by Greta » December 28th, 2017, 7:13 pm

Orwell appears to be talking about respect for one's combatants.

Having never fought a war or been shot at I respect Orwell's perspectives, even if I don't agree with all, eg. in war it is much better IMO to kill combatants rather than civilians, regardless of age or gender. When outmatched fighters embed in civilian populations, the latter are effectively being sacrificed as an "ethical shield" that logically can never hold.

I find it hard to judge those who have served in the military because, this being a eusocial society, they fight on my behalf with my taxes, whether I personally agree or (more usually) not in a given war. They do the dirty work so we don't have to; the concern for me is only when the "dirty work" becomes especially dirty, eg. illegal invasions, political interference, wanton damage to infrastructure and nature, and the abuse of captives and the vulnerable.

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Re: Comments about killing and war by Orwell

Post by Count Lucanor » December 29th, 2017, 12:34 am

Greta wrote:
December 28th, 2017, 7:13 pm
Orwell appears to be talking about respect for one's combatants.
Actually, he was justifying the killing of civilians, I guess because of some higher purpose. That's what warmongering is all about. No different than the positions held by the Italian proto-fascists, glorifying war as "the world's only hygiene". The higher purpose doesn't change much: patriotism, nationalism, freedom, civilization, etc.
Greta wrote: Having never fought a war or been shot at I respect Orwell's perspectives, even if I don't agree with all, eg. in war it is much better IMO to kill combatants rather than civilians, regardless of age or gender. When outmatched fighters embed in civilian populations, the latter are effectively being sacrificed as an "ethical shield" that logically can never hold.
In my case, I cannot respect any opinion that holds a superior motive to kill innocent people. And worst if he adds a pragmatic reason: better to kill a cross section of the population than only young men.
Greta wrote: I find it hard to judge those who have served in the military because, this being a eusocial society, they fight on my behalf with my taxes, whether I personally agree or (more usually) not in a given war. They do the dirty work so we don't have to; the concern for me is only when the "dirty work" becomes especially dirty, eg. illegal invasions, political interference, wanton damage to infrastructure and nature, and the abuse of captives and the vulnerable.
The claim of ours being a eusocial society is disputable. Other than the instinct of aggression and basic community safeguarding in primitive societies, I don't see any sophisticated form of warfare as a necessary, unavoidable social activity. Historically, in all societies (and capitalist society is no exception), no one is fighting on behalf of citizens, they are fighting for the interests of the ruling class, but of course it is needed that the general population sees the work of soldiers this way. The idea that "they are not us", that they do a dirty work, so that the class of civilians don't have to, ignores that there's no real significant social division between civilian and military: they are the brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, cousins, friends and neighbors, etc. Also, especially when thinking of today's hegemonic powers, is very hard, if not impossible, to find any war endeavor that is not "especially dirty", unethical, inhumane and driven by rapacious interests. And their colleagues in our non-hegemonic peripheral countries had served no better purpose, often allying with them to subdue their citizens and literally colonize us all.

Life is complex and it's hard to tell the good or bad reasons that motivate someone to join the military or the garbage collection company. Although I start with doubts, I hold my judgement of them until I get a better picture. But some people are easy to spot as falling somewhere in the spectrum of psychopathic behavior: they really like this thing, it's not just a job, but a vocation. An attitude rarely seen in garbage collectors.

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Re: Comments about killing and war by Orwell

Post by Burning ghost » December 29th, 2017, 2:57 am

Count Lucanor -

I understand your harsh assessment because I did post some quite provocative quotes. I did try and frame them within there context as best I could without having to type out complete pages from his articles and letters.

In regards to the bombing of citizens (and remember he was in blitz and being bombed at the time) he was responding to remarks made by someone who read his articles. He was against pacifism, yet sympathetic to a degree of pacifism.

The kind of "stupid ideas" Orwell came up with were Animal Farm and 1984. He openly opposed communism and was very critical toward the British government and even the Allies at large. He spotted was going on long before many others did and to call him a "fascist" is the most laughable thing I've ever heard! He risked his own life fighting against the fascist regime in Spain (where he was shot in the neck.) I think it makes perfect sense to kill people you don't hate. Hate is hardly akin to rational thought or action.

To fight someone you oppose is a sign of respect. To hate them and dehumanize them is horrific. The hyperbolic attitude of soldier against soldier causes mass murder.

I think I have already said this, but I'll repeat this anyway. When soldiers from WWI returned from the war many were branded cowards. Imagine what they went through fighting for their country. I think it is an extremely harsh thing to say that it is better for the whole cross-section of the population to suffer the consequences of war. Harsh, but I think it is a VERY harsh truth and leads to the betterment of people and the responsibility of the individual.

War is murderous. The more people effected by a war directly the better. Simply because those people will then fight tooth and nail to stop any war from beginning in the first place. Those cosy in their homes far away from the fighting under no direct threat have very little understanding of what war entails (I include myself here.)

Orwell fought and risked his life in the name of liberty. He was effectively condemning the modern equivalent of "safe spaces." Sometimes war is necessary, and fighting in life in general is unavoidable. Just veer away from fighting purely out of hatred was the general message I get from Orwell, and also avoid sitting by idle whilst some warmongering nation steams across Europe.

He was certainly a brutally cutting writer. I can only promise you that if you read all the letters in surrounding these quotes you'd have a better idea of where he was coming from. There are certainly parts where I was quite unsure of his reasoning, but latter on found a good enough explaintion. If you can save a million innocent lives by fighting and killing those that hold opposing views to yourself then do so. But don't do so out of hatred or by degrading the humanity of your enemy. I hope I never live to see that day, but if it comes then I hope I have the resolve and bravery it takes to risk my life for what I believe to be the right thing to do (I think WWII and the Spanish Civil War were both easy choices. I admire Orwell greatly for fighting in a foreign land to oppose fascism. I can hardly see myself travelling to a foreign land today to fight for the freedom of the country ... in this sense does it make me complacent?) Difficult subject to deal with so I hope you can appreciate why I posted it.
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Re: Comments about killing and war by Orwell

Post by Eduk » December 29th, 2017, 4:31 am

There is a scene in stranger things where two officers are standing over a very high cliff edge with a lake below. The first officers says it would be impossible to survive at this height the other recons he can make it.
What should the first officer do if the second officer decides to make the attempt?
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Re: Comments about killing and war by Orwell

Post by Belindi » December 29th, 2017, 6:20 am

Burning Ghost wrote:
"When soldiers from WWI returned from the war many were branded cowards. Imagine what they went through fighting for their country. I think it is an extremely harsh thing to say that it is better for the whole cross-section of the population to suffer the consequences of war. Harsh, but I think it is a VERY harsh truth and leads to the betterment of people and the responsibility of the individual.

War is murderous. The more people effected by a war directly the better. Simply because those people will then fight tooth and nail to stop any war from beginning in the first place. Those cosy in their homes far away from the fighting under no direct threat have very little understanding of what war entails (I include myself here.) "
I agree. And I thought that from the quotations that you provided Orwell opposed inflammatory and unthinking slogans such as "killing women and children" . From the quotations that you provided I gathered that Orwell was applying reason to his feelings of both fairness and respect for humanity.

Steve mentioned demonising. To tell lies about people or to neglect to tell the truth about someone is more evil than to be violent towards them. Physical damage is not as bad as damage to someone's 'mental health' or, more succinctly, their soul.

The other point that I learned from your quotations was that with reference to doodlebugs the more the person who does the killing is far from his victim by technology, or social distance, the more he is alienated from his humanity. The very fact that Orwell wrote as he did shows that Orwell believed passionately in showing by means of art, the novel, the evil of alienating oneself from humanity .

There are other art forms that popularise humanity, and show the demonising of persons for the lie that it is. In this connection I liked how he mentioned that due to the wartime 'salvage' (recycling) of park railings, public open spaces became available to all.

Burning Ghost wrote:
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.
Solzhenitzyn too, in his Nobel prize speech, recommended that good reportage is that which is true to the real people involved and conveys that truth and those feelings to the audience.

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Re: Comments about killing and war by Orwell

Post by Burning ghost » December 29th, 2017, 7:25 am

Belindi -
Steve mentioned demonising. To tell lies about people or to neglect to tell the truth about someone is more evil than to be violent towards them. Physical damage is not as bad as damage to someone's 'mental health' or, more succinctly, their soul.
You'll very little sympathy from me if you espouse those views. I cannot imagine how physical harm can be at all put below mere words. Sticks and stones and all that.

If you punch me in the face and break my nose it does both mental and physical harm. I cannot possibly agree with that name calling is worse than grevious bodily harm, or even a slap around the face.

Lying is not worse than murder. Lying is not worse than breaking someone's arm or punching them in the face. I have heard Chomsky's views though about "violence" and am aware of Derrida and such. I think there is something to be said for this, but mostly people exaggerate the scope of this idea and fashion into more lies thus becoming the thing they deem most "evil".

Of course there are always exceptions where words can stack up and cause serious damage. The thing is that outcome is quantified in a physical way not any other way. People may suffer venomous verbal attacks that affect their physical presence in the world - the harm is physical not ethereal, and I'd rather suffer a tirade of threats and curses than a tirade of physical blows that would physical disable and disfigure me for life.

Zizek comments on this kind of thing too in regard to child labour and the western privilege.
Now that unseen, faceless, conscienceless, and alienated multinational corporations control our elected governments it's vitally important that we know that our worst enemies are not directly physical aggressors .
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Re: Comments about killing and war by Orwell

Post by Count Lucanor » December 29th, 2017, 1:12 pm

Burning ghost wrote:
December 29th, 2017, 2:57 am
Count Lucanor -

I understand your harsh assessment because I did post some quite provocative quotes. I did try and frame them within there context as best I could without having to type out complete pages from his articles and letters.

In regards to the bombing of citizens (and remember he was in blitz and being bombed at the time) he was responding to remarks made by someone who read his articles. He was against pacifism, yet sympathetic to a degree of pacifism.

The kind of "stupid ideas" Orwell came up with were Animal Farm and 1984. He openly opposed communism and was very critical toward the British government and even the Allies at large. He spotted was going on long before many others did and to call him a "fascist" is the most laughable thing I've ever heard! He risked his own life fighting against the fascist regime in Spain (where he was shot in the neck.) I think it makes perfect sense to kill people you don't hate. Hate is hardly akin to rational thought or action.
I never said ALL of Orwell's ideas were stupid, neither his literary ideas, but these ideas in support of war certainly are, even though one could understand the blood boiling up in the middle of bombardment. I remember myself in the middle of an invasion and letting emotions getting carried away to say "screw them". But if I had sat down to write about it, I don't think I would have made such untempered remarks.

I never said he was a fascist either, I'm perfectly aware that he fought in Spain's civil war. It's not a matter of labels, but what's behind them. There are common features even in opposing ideologies and our judgements of them should not be about the general categories themselves, but the concrete actions or their advocacy. This is the case of advocating for violent means and sacrificing human lives for a supposed "greater purpose". I don't think there's anything noble in war and that should be held in mind even if one thinks it's necessary to engage in it.
Burning ghost wrote: To fight someone you oppose is a sign of respect. To hate them and dehumanize them is horrific. The hyperbolic attitude of soldier against soldier causes mass murder.
There are several ways to oppose and fight others while keeping respect, but the violent way is dehumanizing by itself and cannot ever mean any type of respect. Saying that you kill them, but not hate them, is simply an strategy to cover up this inhumane treatment. I think death can be a punishment exempt of hatred and in the aim of justice, but war doesn't work that way. There's no trial, no law, just a license to kill indiscriminately, at will. Collateral damage is always implied.

The other day I read an article about the "nice" ethical stance of Israel's weapon manufacturers, because they were making arms that supposedly could target specific objectives (people or places), without collateral damage. I wondered if these advocates thought for a moment that they could give away for free these weapons to their enemies, so that they could also be killed in such a nice and ethical way. That surely would demonstrate much respect.
Burning ghost wrote: I think I have already said this, but I'll repeat this anyway. When soldiers from WWI returned from the war many were branded cowards. Imagine what they went through fighting for their country. I think it is an extremely harsh thing to say that it is better for the whole cross-section of the population to suffer the consequences of war. Harsh, but I think it is a VERY harsh truth and leads to the betterment of people and the responsibility of the individual.
Going to die for your country is a sick ideology on its own. And as said, they usually don't really fight for the general interest of their country, but the particular interests of those in power.
Burning ghost wrote:Difficult subject to deal with so I hope you can appreciate why I posted it.
Yes, I appreciate the post as it has given me a better insight of Orwell's character.

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Re: Comments about killing and war by Orwell

Post by Burning ghost » December 29th, 2017, 1:45 pm

Count -

The context was in opposition to the ideology of pacifism that was being printed.

And yes, Dulce et Decorum est says all we ever need to know about dying for your country. WWII was about more than just national identity though.

If I have time over the weekend I'll try to post more of what he wrote so the context is more clear.
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Re: Comments about killing and war by Orwell

Post by Eduk » December 29th, 2017, 2:13 pm

Burning ghost I would save your typing fingers if I was you.
A badge or t shirt saying 'war is bad' is of little value other than it tells your enemies not to respect you and that they can take what they want.
My example from stranger things was supposed to illustrate that life is complex. Sometimes you have to physically stop your friend in order to save them, though they may not thank you. Sometimes you have to kill your friend to save your friends children, again for little thanks. Sometimes you do have to fight. Sad but true.
Orwell joining the Spanish war was insane in my opinion. And by the end I think he would agree. Animal farm explains his experience well I think. In that after the war nothing had changed and the people he was fighting with turned into the people he was fighting against.
For me Orwell's largest theme is that people are not all that individual. They are a product of environment. I may be wrong of course, that is just my take.
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