Thursday, February 23, 2023

Angry pacifism

I loved this, perhaps because it combines a lesson from history, political cartoons, and C.S. Lewis, but also because I like the historical analogy:
On September 9, 1944, mere days after the liberation of Paris by Allied forces in World War II, one of the most revered English minds of the 20th century penned a warning that looked beyond the immediate conflict toward the unthinkable—a third world war. C.S. Lewis was concerned about a lingering public attitude of apathy that threatened to leave Great Britain ill-prepared for her own defense in the years to come, just as a similar climate had sapped its strength in the age of appeasement in the 1930s.
“We know from the experience of the last twenty years that a terrified and angry pacifism is one of the roads that lead to war. I am pointing out that hatred of those to whom war gives power over us is one of the roads to terrified and angry pacifism. … A nation convulsed with Blimpophobia will refuse to take necessary precautions and will therefore encourage her enemies to attack her.”
What did Lewis mean by Blimpophobia? It’s an allusion to a popular British political cartoon of that era....

Colonel Blimp was the creation of Sir David Low, considered one of the most influential political cartoonists of the 20th century. The colonel sported a walrus mustache, a stately paunch, and carried an air of the old British aristocracy. Blimp invariably found himself pontificating on world events while wrapped in a towel, red faced, and enjoying a good sauna or Turkish bath. He came to represent the confused, contradictory, but no less confident attitude of British officials in the 1930s: He was befuddled but well-meaning, and he consistently made bold but incoherent statements on domestic and foreign affairs. ....

Low habitually used Colonel Blimp to lampoon Britain’s confused, contradictory, and accommodating treatment of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and other rising threats in Europe and Asia:
“If the Abyssinians don’t stop defending themselves, Mussolini will take it as an act of war … ”

“There’s only one way to stop these bullying aggressors—find out what they want us to do and then do it … ”

“Hitler only needs arms so that he can declare peace on the rest of the world.” ....
Lewis recognized that a reflexive opposition to an engaged foreign policy, rising out of a distaste for those in charge, was setting the stage for disaster. Prior to his fame as an author, theologian, and thinker, Lewis was a distinguished veteran of World War I and a keen observer of his country’s mood during the interwar period. He had seen the results of the “angry pacifism”—it had “led to Munich, and via Munich to Dunkirk.” In other words, frustrations aimed at the past had caused Britain to suffer near destruction in the present. As the war in Ukraine hits the one year mark, our nation must ask itself whether it will be led in the 21st century by a terrified and angry pacifism, buttressed by a confused and contradictory foreign policy, or whether it will stand up against stupidity in its many iterations and manifestations. People are dying. It is not the time to listen to our home-grown Colonel Blimps when they stand in solidarity with dictators who demand capitulation and call it peace. (more, but likely requiring a subscription)
C.S. Lewis's essay “Blimpophobia” appeared originally on September 9, 1944 in Time and Tide. It has been reprinted in Present Concerns.

Jacob Becker, "The Dangers of an ‘Angry Pacifism’," The Dispatch, Feb. 23, 2023.

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