“Armageddon” (September 1914)

first printed in The Little Review (September 1914)
Thanks to The Modernist Project

Armageddon
BY MAXWELL BODENHEIM

The greatest war of history flames away all other human concerns. Upon the reaction of humanity to this gigantic thing depends the future. No one can foresee what will happen to the cultures and the peoples which already crackle in its vortex. It is more profitable to search the heart of America.

A great newspaper has published a cartoon picturing Uncle Sam on a harvesting machine, calmly saying “Giddap” to his horses, while a neg­lected sheet with the inscription “European war” blows to one side. As long as devastation and horror do not exist on his own piece of land. Uncle Sam doesn’t care-—while he can harvest his wheat and sell it at a good high price to starving people. Even the dramatic aspect of the tre­ mendous conflict does not impinge on his provincial consciousness. Can this contemptible attitude represent that of any great number of our people? One cannot escape the feeling that it is the usual reaction of the newspaper to anything outside of “business,” whether it be social misery, or an interest­ ing idea. But in this case its brutish stupidity is so flagrantly apparent that even the majority must revolt from it.

A more creditable reaction is anger. With such titanic wrath blazing in Europe, any sensitive person must reflect a little of it. Anger at what? We don’t know precisely until we stop to think. The emotion comes before the intellectual objective. Anger perhaps at the terrific human waste. Twenty-odd million men flying at each other’s throats and destroying the bitterly won triumphs of years of peace, without any good reason. W e hear phrases like “balance of power,” “dynastic supremacy,” “the life of our country,” “patriotism,” “racial prejudice,” “difference of religion.” Each individual nation is praying to God with profound sincerity for its own success. Priests bless the arms. There is no denying the reality of all this in the consciousness of Europe. Such things do lead men to battle with the fire of conviction.

Well, the brutal fact stands out like a giant against the sky, that if such motives can produce such a result, they are working only for their own destruction. Not a single nation, whether conqueror or victim, can come out of the struggle as strong or as great as it went in. All alike must be swept into destitution of all the things civilization has taught us to value. And this is the result of civilization ! It is a spectacle or demoniac laughter.

And shall the United States stand aloof with a feeling of pitying super­iority, thinking that, because we happen to have a president instead of a king, and inhabit a different continent, such motives are foreign to us? What folly of conceit ! As long as we cultivate the ideal of patriotism, as long as we put economic value above spiritual and human value, as long as in our borders there exist dogmatic religions, as long as we consider desirable the private ownership and exploitation of property for private profit-—whether by nations or by individuals-—we maintain those elements of civilization which have led Europe to the present crisis.

Do not think that we shall ever escape wrath, hatred, violence. The so-called “primitive emotions” are giving incontrovertible proof of strong present existence. The thing to do is to turn all the emotions, which are eternal, into new forms which shall not be self-destructive, which shall pro­ pel instead of oppose the starward march of mankind. Violence? Yes, if it destroys something hateful.

Well, the brutal fact stands out like a giant against the sky, that if such motives can produce such a result, they are working only for their own destruction. Not a single nation, whether conqueror or victim, can come out of the struggle as strong or as great as it went in. All alike must be swept into destitution of all the things civilization has taught us to value. And this is the result of civilization ! It is a spectacle or demoniac laughter.

And shall the United States stand aloof with a feeling of pitying super­ iority, thinking that, because we happen to have a president instead of a king, and inhabit a different continent, such motives are foreign to us? W hat folly of conceit ! A s long as we cultivate the ideal of patriotism, as long as we put economic value above spiritual and human value, as long as in our borders there exist dogmatic religions, as long as we consider desirable the private ownership and exploitation of property for private profit-—whether by nations or by individuals-—we maintain those elements of civilization which have led Europe to the present crisis.

Do not think that we shall ever escape wrath, hatred, violence. The so-called “primitive emotions” are giving incontrovertible proof of strong present existence. The thing to do is to turn all the emotions, which are eternal, into new forms which shall not be self-destructive, which shall pro­ pel instead of oppose the starward march of mankind. Violence? Y es, if it destroys something hateful.

Nineteenth-century civilization has overwhelmingly and dramatically failed. What shall we build now?

 

 

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