Friday, March 9, 2018

"'not . . . a dog's chance'"

     "During the Second World War, [John Middleton] Murry poured his energies into sustaining ['Dick'] Sheppard's pacifist legacy.  Striving to translate into social fact what he had always regarded as a religious faith, he ran a pacifist community farm in Norfolk and commuted to an unglamorous office in Finsbury Park to edit Peace News, the weekly paper that Sheppard had hailed as a 'romance in journalism' and that became the official mouthpiece of the Peace Pledge Union.  But this tortured, tergiversating intellectual could not begin to compensate for Sheppard's absence—and nor could anyone else.  George Orwell, whose hard-headed scorn for pacifism knew no bounds, observed in 1941 that following Sheppard's death British pacifism seemed to have suffered a moral collapse.  It was a collapse that Murry's ill-judged posture as editor of Peace News did nothing to reverse.  Querying whether a Europe dominated by Hitler would necessarily be such a terrible thing, he was also loath to credit the multiplying stories of the horrors being visited on Jewish people by the Nazis and their collaborators.  Even more damaging was Murry's volte face in the last months of the war, his abject concession—when the truth of the death camps was laid bare—that he had been a 'mistaken visionary who had failed to grasp that in the face of totalitarian police states such as Hitler's Germany and Josef Stalin's Soviet Union, 'non-violent resistance did not stand a dog's chance'.  So much had long been self-evident to critics of pacifism such as Orwell and T. S. Eliot—though in Eliot's Calvinistic eyes what had rendered Dick Sheppard's peace pledge risible was not totalitarianism so much as the primordial corruption of human nature."

     Neil Berry, "Pacifism's Führer:  Dick Sheppard's struggle to avert world war," The times literary supplement (December 1, 2017):  20 (19-20).

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