There’s sure a lot of interesting stuff to think about. I picked up an old compilation of Playboy interviews to reread the 1980 interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono that they did around the time Starting Over came out, right before he was shot. Then I got sucked into reading several other interviews, like Bertrand Russell, Vladimir Nabakov, and Albert Schweitzer, and they’ve all had interesting things to say about war…
Here’s Lord Russell on the cold war:
…I would strongly recommend an agreement on both sides not to teach that the other side is wicked. For Americans, communism is the Devil; for Russians, capitalism is the Devil. The truth is that neither is wickeder than the other. They are both wicked.
Another matter to which I have always attached great importance in education is that schools ought not to teach nationalism. Every school, with hardly any exception, has as one of its objects the deception of children. They teach them patriotism, to salute the flag. But the flag is a murder symbol, and the state is a pirate ship, a gang of murderers come together. When they salute the flag, they salute a symbol of bloody murder. All this is perfectly clear, valid psychology.
The fact that since my youth – I was 19 when I left Russia – my political outlook has remained as bleak and changeless as an old gray rock. It is classical to the point of triteness. Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of art. The social or economic structure of the ideal state is of little concern to me. My desires are modest. Portraits of the head of the government should not exceed a postage stamp in size. No torture and no executions.
Here’s Dr. Schweitzer, when asked, ‘Considering the differences which split the world, do you think war can be averted?’:
My friend, we must hope so. But deep-down among men, you know, the differences are not always as great as they appear on the surface. Look – quick! – look at those two chickens fighting under the tree. See how they rush at one another, make a big noise and ruffle their feathers… and now, what? You see, it’s all over. It was just bluff, just noise. Big nations are like those chickens. They also like to make big noises. But very often, it means no more than two chickens, squabbling under a tree.
But what took me the deepest into thought concerning the war was the interview I read last night and this morning with Albert Speer, the architect of the Third Reich and Hitler’s second in command, who was condemned to 20 years in Spandau after confessing during the Nuremberg trials to the enslavement of 5,000,000 people into forced labor. Here he is on Hitler’s comments about a son as a successor:
‘Think of the problems if I had children! In the end, they would try to make my son my successor, and the chances are slim for someone like me to have a capable son. That is almost always how it goes in such cases.’ He always cited the example of Goethe’s son, who was a cretin, to explain his distrust of a hereditary succession.
How’s this for cognitive dissonance?
I was forced to wait on the airstrip in freezing cold for several hours while Soviet POWs strove to clear the snow and ice from the runway, and at one point, several Russians in padded jackets surrounded me and gesticulated animatedly. They spoke no German, and I no Russian, but finally, one scooped up some snow and rubbed my face with it. I realized he was warning me of frostbite. Another of the Russians reached into the filthy, tattered remnants of his Red Army uniform and handed me a clean, folded, white handkerchief to wipe my face. Later, that image stuck in my mind: Here was one of a race we were determined to turn into helots, a people whom we already regarded as little more than pack animals, giving me what was probably the last of his personal possessions – and for no other reason than that I was a fellow human being threatened by the elements.
If Adolf Hitler had possessed a button that would destroy the entire world, he would have pushed it at the end. Today, there are such buttons in the war rooms of all the great powers. None of the world’s leaders is a Hitler, but the hatreds and fears on which Hitler thrived still persist, and the potential for mass destruction is even greater today. in the 1970s, an executioner never has to see his victims, whether they number in the hundreds or the thousands or the millions. This was the nightmare of Nazi Germany, the first modern state to mechanize murder. It is also the nightmare of a world of H-bombs and high-altitude jet bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles and chemical-biological warfare. In such a world, terrorized by technology, we are all in Auschwitz.
I know that these instruments of death are in the hands of sane men, often decent men, but there were sane and decent men in Nazi Germany and they did not avert the greatest bloodbath in recorded history. The automated juggernaut of modern mass destruction can all too easily achieve a momentum of its own, carrying the world to total annihilation. Once the beast is loosed, it can travel in only one direction. The descent into hell can be an exhilarating ride, but it is a one-way trip. I know. I have been there. I still am.