Manfred von Richthofen stars in the world première of our play (called The Red Baron). It’s about to open – did you know this WW1 hero and great aerial killer, had a change of mind?
“The contempt of the German flyers for death was only equalled by their love of life while they still had that precious possession. So complete was their disregard for the hazard of aerial combat, I sometimes thought they were hardly aware of its terrible dangers. Yet that could not be possible, for on every day they went hunting in the skies some members of the Jagdstaffel failed to return. When I met them in their headquarters at the front they jested and sported as though the angel of death were not the permanent leader of their circus, and when they came to Berlin for a fortnight’s holiday, they lived as riotously as though they hadn’t a care in the world. That is, with a few exceptions, among them Richthofen…” from Anthony Fokker, supplier of planes to the German Empire.
You may have noticed that when you try to tell your children that drinking too much alcohol, or smoking – or about anything else that isn’t a good for them – it doesn’t always work. Some believe you. Many don’t care… but the vast majority try it and say… ‘Ah, yes, hmm… I see what you mean.’
It’s like that with war.
The day that it will be possible to pre-programme a baby’s brain with experience… we may break through to avoiding war.
But, as we are, too many of us enjoy it. War. Or can’t imagine it till it gets bad.
It’s the system we’re stuck with.
We come out of the womb knowing nothing. We have an inclination for learning a language and for imposing ourselves on everything – but we can’t imagine what it’s like to live.
Yet… there have always been people who could imagine how bad slaughtering your fellow human for advantage – was. They haven’t had much political effect over-all, through history… but they’re gaining ground.
Right through the First World War there were quite a number of folks… politicians, thinkers, sensible women… who tried to suggest that it was worth negotiating even after hundreds and thousands had died on the Somme – that getting back for those thousands – seeking vengeance – only meant many thousands more… dead. But we couldn’t stop.
Can we ever stop?
There’s a lot to be got out of war.
Don’t take notice of the blather about it’s futility.
It gives us crop land for our rising populations, iron and gold and tantalum and – often – cheap labour. It gives us our best stories.
But if you’re caught in the thick of it, it’s terrible.
I remember being astonished, not so long after the Second World War, that enterprising people were offering us fun dressing up in combats and rattling round a piece of woodland shooting paint balls at other humans. Red paint balls, so you could imagine the splodge of a really nasty wound on your… enemy?
Hope isn’t enough, is it? R.G.