Saturday, September 25, 2010

Quotable Orwell 3

[I saw the Australian Broadcasting Company's (a kind of Down Under BBC) rebroadcast of the PBS documentary on My Lai on the 19 September, and it brought up some of the issues addressed in the Orwell quote below. But Orwell would've had something else to say, surely, about My Lai. Is it possible to commit an "atrocity" even in war? Near the end of the film, one of the soldiers of "Charlie" Company insisted that there is no such thing in war as an "unlawful order" that a soldier might be duty-bound to disobey. In my own experience, soldiers were told to obey questionable orders (including, presumably, shooting children) and bring up their reservations about it with the chain of command later. In this way, however, a soldier can be relied on to commit every conceivable horror, whether it prinked his conscience or not.]

So far as it goes, the distinction between an atrocity and an act of war is valid. An atrocity means an act of terrorism which has no genuine military purpose. One must accept such distinctions if one accepts war at all, which in practice everyone does. Nevertheless, a world in which it is wrong to murder an individual civilian and right to drop a thousand tons of high explosive on a residential area does sometimes make me wonder whether this earth of ours is not a looney-bin made use of by some other planet.

-"As I Please," Tribune, 31 December 1943

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