Thursday, March 3, 2022

Conan Doyle and War

 "In these days of reaction and exhaustion we have heard much of the terror and the wickedness of war," Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in September of 1924 for the introduction of Brave Deeds by Brave Men. Then things get a little weird. "It is good that we insist upon it . . . war itself has its purposes and its beauty."


A guy who just saw his country go through the trench war mess that was W.W. I is talking about the beauty of war? A man who had seen the wounds and suffering of a medical unit in the Boer War? But he also saw something else.

"Have we not known what it was to rise above personal interest, above the base desire for ease and comfort, and to feel, perhaps for the first time in our lives, that the individual is nothing when weighed against a great cause."

England had to fight for its survival in W.W. I. It wasn't the aggressor, as it had been so many times before. I don't know if all of the figures in the pages that follow were part of a cause quite so noble, as England had been expanding its empire. I think Conan Doyle would have liked the spirit of the movie Independence Day where the world came together against an alien attack, but he probably would have also thought that it didn't teach its lessons as well as history.

"If Fate so ordains it that no great trials come to toughen the fibre of our children, then at least by reading in such a book as this what their fathers have endured and done they will feel shame to sink into a inglorious ease. The need of physical courage may be less pressing, but the need of moral courage is ever with us. . . . To fight for an unpopular cause, to cut through all the shams, to say what you know to be true however it may affront popular prejudice, to work selflessly for the common advance, these also are the duties less spectacular but no less real than the sacrifice of the soldier."

The phrase "world war" has come up a little too often lately, as one country is being directly tested by war, while the rest of the world questions what to do next. The shams, the lack of moral courage that we've seen of late, push Conan Doyle's other point about the need for same. Things are just a little more complicated than his "splendid little soldier book" of 1924 might help with. And, really, they always have been.

Moments of heroism that make good stories don't come often. Most of us just deal with the day-to-day, and try to make things better for those around us. I've heard it said that a lot of folks fighting in a war aren't fighting for creed or country, but their friends, their family, the people standing next to them. 

The tech evolves. Things like communication, the power of the uber-wealthy, and advanced weaponry all grow, but people? People are still the same basic model of humans from Conan Doyle's day, and occasionally it's interesting to let words from the past remind us of that.

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