War and Peace
The Machine Will Never Triumph, part seventeen
I would call Attila, on his little horse
a man of peace.
For after all, he helped to smash a lot of old Roman lies,
the lies, the treachery, the slippery cultured squalor of that sneaking court
And after all, lying and base hypocrisy and treachery
are much more hellishly peaceless than a little straightforward
which may occasionally be a preliminary to the peace that passes
So that I would call Attila, on his little horse
a man of peace.1
War is a horrendous thing, but one must—as with all things—be aware that traditional ways and modern ways are different not only quantitatively, but qualitatively. Traditional war clearly caused less suffering, less bloodshed, but it was also less evil in that civilians were often not involved, and warriors often kept to codes of chivalry. No one in the modern era hated war—especially modern war—as much as Lawrence, but he was not a pacifist. During the first world war, he did everything within his power to object to the war, both publicly and privately, but refused to be a conscientious objector, since he felt it would be hypocritical to ease his own potential suffering—and suffer he did at the hands of the authorities—by taking a stance that he did not believe in. The natural world knows of no such thing as war, but it is a violent place. For Lawrence, violence could be justified, but never killing, especially indiscriminate killing. As discussed above, the best way to a new world, which would look a lot like the old world, would be a spiritual revolution. But, if a man like Attila came and swept away the entire edifice of modernity, that could only be viewed as a good thing. Where is all of the peace we strive for getting us? It is only burying us in a mass-grave. Perhaps we need a good dose of tribal violence. As Aldo Leopold writes:
We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men.2
Modern human civilization is a disaster both for man and animal. Ancient civilization had war, but without all the horrific modern implements of war. An ancient soldier would have to face his enemy and look him in his eyes as he fought him. Additionally, despite the cruel use of animals in classic warfare, there was a certain love and bonding between man and beast that we never see today. Lawrence makes this point powerfully:
And she felt a great woe: the woe of human unworthiness. The race of men judged in the consciousness of the animals they have subdued, and there found unworthy, ignoble.
Ignoble men, unworthy of the animals they have subjugated, bred the woe in the spirit of their creatures. St. Mawr, that bright horse, one of the kings of creation in the order below man, it had been a fulfilment for him to serve the brave, reckless, perhaps cruel men of the past, who had a flickering, rising flame of nobility in them. To serve that flame of mysterious further nobility. Nothing matters, but that strange flame, of inborn nobility that obliges men to be brave, and onward plunging. And the horse will bear him on.
But now where is the flame of dangerous, forward-pressing nobility in men? Dead, dead, guttering out in a stink of self-sacrifice whose feeble light is a light of exhaustion and laissez-faire.
And the horse, is he to go on carrying man forward into this? — this gutter?3
So we no longer have horses carrying us at all, but various machines, which are leading us, so gradually as to be virtually unnoticed, to our collective graves. All this peace and boredom of the modern word which is a peace without any real inner peace, almost makes one long for ancient wars with their honor, codes of conduct, and most of all life. A classical soldier knew how to live in ways modern men and women can only dream of. The will to power as embraced in the modern world is a terrifying thing, but divine power is a wonder to behold. Perhaps, it is time to pray for a new Attila to come along, a sun-man imbued with divine power to wipe away this castrated society of eunuchs we now live in. As Lawrence writes:
Attila, the Scourge of God, who helped to scourge the Roman world out of existence, was great with power. He was the scourge of God: not the scourge of the League of Nations, hired and paid in cash.
If it must be a scourge, let it be a scourge of God. But let it be power, the old divine power. The moment the divine power manifests itself, it is right: whether it be Attila or Napoleon or George Washington. But Lloyd George, and Woodrow Wilson, and Lenin, they never had the right smell. They never even roused real fear: no real passion. Whereas a manifestation of real power arouses passion, and always will.
Time it should again.
Blessed are the powerful, for theirs is the kingdom of earth.4