9th February 2003

My grandparents got married in 1938. I wasn’t born until 1964, but nevertheless as they brought me up I absorbed this story from them, of the summer before the war. 1939, of course. The war began in September. Everyone had expected war in 1938, but Chamberlain had gone to Munich and averted it, “I have here a piece of paper,” my grandfather would sniff at politicians he disapproved of.

They’d got married in the safety of an averted crisis, and they’d had that one astonishing summer, the summer of 1939, when the sun shone every day, they had two people’s income and no children yet, a house of their own, and they could start to buy things. “Oh, we bought that the summer before the war,” they would say, fondly, of tchotchkes and useful things. It was the summer before rationing, before austerity, after the Depression, when they had their health and strength amid plenty.

They could go on trips, they went to Devon, to Lynton and Lynmouth, which I swear must have sunk under the sea in WWII because I only ever heard about them as a lost paradise. There was nothing to prevent us going back, but we never did. I still have never been there, though I have heard so much about that one holiday there. When we were clearing out my grandfather’s things after his death, we found the receipts from the hotel they stayed in, preserved through three moves, fifty years, a war.

The summer of 2001, Rysmiel and I got married. Zorinth was the best man. Friends came from seven countries, including several from the US. It was a halcyon day in Hay on Wye, the town of books, the sun shone. At the end of August, we went to Philadelphia, which we told people was our honeymoon, but was actually Worldcon. (It was amazing how quite sensible people would accept the concept of a trip to Philadelphia for a honeymoon.) We came back exactly a week before the towers fell.

Indeed, a few days after they fell, I went into my local post-office in Swansea and the people there were delighted that I was safe. They’d known I was in America, and not seen me since my return, and America for them and for me had become those falling towers. It was wonderful to be able to remember that it was also Worldcon, a trip with Jon Singer to see a botanical garden, beautiful sushi, the summer before the…

The ladies in the post office asked me to tell my friends in the US that they were thinking of them. I think I was the only person they knew who had friends in the US, the only person who posted things from there to New York — which I did fairly regularly sending things to Tor. They wanted a personal connection and I was the best they could manage. I posted their message on rasseff, what else could I do?

I grew up far more in the shadow of WWII than people who were brought up by people the age of my parents, because my grandparents brought me up. So it’s natural that it was 1939 I thought of. Also the fall of the towers made me think of the Blitz, it would have to. Anyway, people are notoriously always ready for the last war, and that was, emotionally, for me, the last war. But it helps to know which side you are.

Everything went weird. It’s not 1939, when one could honestly, as Orwell put it, fight for the bad against the worse. We’re being asked to fight unjust colonial wars, to no clear purpose, foreign adventures that do not have to do with the attack. The enemy is nebulous. It is the twenty-first century. There are times to fight and times to think and times to wonder why you’re being lied to. I’m not a pacifist. I’d have fought in WWII. I said that peace is a complex thing and sometimes it takes fighting to get it, and I mean that. But I need more of a justification for war than this.

The thing is that the justfication is there and the war is there and they’re not connected, and the whole thing gets blurred in the rhetoric, and then where are you? Is the side we’re being asked to fight for in fact the worse? Do we have any right to be involved in this?

Most of the time I try to go along not thinking about it, because thinking about it is so overwhelmingly awful that it knocks me flat.

Isaac had a fascinating pacifist Erasmus quote in his LJ which I think applies very well to people starting unjust wars for their own advantage — Hitler, in 1939; Jameson in 1895; Bush, now.

“If I am truly that peace so extolled by God and by men; if I am really the source, the nourishing mother, the preserver and the protector of all good things in which heaven and earth abound; if, without me, no prosperity can endure here below; if nothing pure or holy, nothing that is agreeable to God or to men can be established on earth without my help; if, on the other hand, war is incontestably the essential cause of all the disasters which fall upon the universe and this plague withers at a glance everything that grows; if, because of war, all that grew and ripened in the course of the ages suddenly collapses and is turned into ruins; if war tears down everything that is maintained at the cost of the most painful efforts; if it destroys things that were most firmly established; if it poisons everything that is holy and everything that is sweet; if, in short, war is abominable to the point of annihilating all virtue, all goodliness in the hearts of men, and if nothing is more deadly for them, nothing more hateful to God than war—then, in the name of this immortal God I ask: who is capable of believing without great difficulty that those who instigate it, who barely possess the light of reason, whom one sees exerting themselves with such stubbornness, such fervor, such cunning, and at the cost of such effort and danger, to drive me away and pay so much for the overwhelming anxieties and the evils that result from war—who can believe that such persons are still truly men?”
—Desiderius Erasmus

And we, the ordinary people, like my grandparents, like all of us all over the world, are the corporals and privates without whom, Tolstoy says, Napoleon’s army would never have marched.

There may be need for a war that will turn our lives over, and there may be need for it over the cause of September 11th, but this Iraq adventure isn’t that war.

I refuse it, as the ordinary German people who got married after Munich and equally enjoyed that summer of 1939 should have refused the Polish adventure.

Posted in Life as it blossoms out in a jar or a face