The Great War still haunts us. This book draws together examples of the ‘aesthetic pacifism’ practised during the Great War by such celebrated individuals as Virginia Woolf, Siegfried Sassoon and Bertrand Russell. It also tells the stories of those less well known who shared the attitudes of the Bloomsbury Group when it came to facing the first ‘total war’. The five-year research for this study gathered evidence from all the major archives in Great Britain and abroad in order to paint a complete picture of this unique form of anti-war expression. The narrative begins with the Great War's effect on philosopher-pacifist Bertrand Russell and Cambridge University.
any existing moral, humanistic or aesthetic anti-war feeling –
reactions that, as we will see, were as valid and real as any of a religious or
political nature. I felt it was time to set the record straight.
Very occasionally, this humanistic anti-war feeling has been noted in ‘official’ studies. In his Pacifism in Britain 1914–1945: The Defining of a Faith, the
historian Martin Ceadel singles out what he terms ‘humanitarian pacifism’ as a
valid form of anti-war feeling, stating that it is ‘no less a dogma’ than religious
or political pacifism. However, in Ceadel
to the destructive ‘fiery conviction’ of
the war years. In addition, Russell’s concerns were echoed, often independently,
by other individuals, whether celebrated or obscure.
The ground was being laid for the organised voice of historian Martin Ceadel’s
‘humanitarian pacifism’ of the 1920s and 1930s.16 It is clear that aesthetic and
A war of individuals
humanistic anti-war feeling was not simply an inter-war ‘innovation’, but existed much earlier during the actual conflict and emanated from differing sources
on an individual basis in its expression.
doubt and uncertainty thrown across page and canvas by the conflict. Despite their notoriety, the reactions of the Bloomsbury individuals are
important both in their own right and as a mirror to the similar reactions of
obscurer individuals from differing circumstances and backgrounds.
In the origins of Bloomsbury – well known as one of the foremost cultural
groups of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods – is to be found the moral
and aesthetic core for some of the most significant humanistic reactions to the
war. The small circle of Cambridge undergraduates whose
), and the Quaker J.W. Graham, the author of Conscription and Conscience (1922), to individuals such as the conscientious objector
Howard Marten, mentioned in the Introduction. Crucially, these observations
included (as will be seen) some evidence of contemporary recognition of aesthetic, humanistic and moral objections.
While religion of all denominations played a large part in determining responses to the war, both for and against, in many cases the boundaries between
‘recognised’ opposition and humanistic anti-war reaction could become blurred.
’, according to the captain of his regiment – a regiment in
which he had become something of an institution by the time of his death.
Keeling mixed in various circles and recognised from personal experience (in
common with Bertrand Russell) that there was little common ground between
the ‘demagogic Socialists’ and the ‘Hypersensitive aesthetic intellectuals’. He
knew Rupert Brooke and, like him, had started to drill with the Artists’ Rifles
in August 1914 though, unlike Brooke, Keeling refused a commission, deciding
instead to enlist in the 6th Battalion, the Duke of York
Women and the war
The Great War, most people would have agreed at the time, was a male creation. Politicians, statesmen and kings bred it and soldiers fought and fed it.
Thus far, this study has regarded those women within Bloomsbury whose aesthetic reactions to the conflict provide such a good starting point when examining the war in this context. What of other women, existing independently from
that hot-house of creativity, but who felt similarly? Due to their status in society as a whole, women necessarily operated within a different cultural milieu to
Obscurer individuals and their themes
The destruction of nature as reality and metaphor
This chapter casts the net wider. Following the responses of the small but influential Bloomsbury circle, the earlier chapters have encompassed the experiences of other celebrated thinkers and writers (especially Bertrand Russell),
some of whom donned uniform, and also certain women, well-known and otherwise, some of whom travelled to the war-zone as nurses or observers. It has
became clear that similar aesthetic–humanistic responses occurred outside the
wise-cracks that pass for humour in the action
movies of Arnold Schwarzenneger, Bruce Willis etc. In some ways
they are similar to those often tiresome pauses between frenetic
action in which plot is explained slowly and carefully to both protagonist and audience in a certain kind of action movie. In addition there is often evidence of a display of the programmer’s
technical virtuosity, an attempt to push the limits of what is
realisable within the technology of the moment that generates the
same aesthetic appreciation as the finely realised illusion of the
literature, as an aesthetic experience, are connected to
perceptions and the emotions connected to perceptions are another way to make sense
of international politics. Emotions have a social character and can construct
communities of understandings and like-mindedness and in this way can play an
important role in political events. In this case sentiment for those suffering was
the basis for the construction of a community of saviours of the Balkan Slavs,
stirred by images of