A very big club

So I have to admit that I have a bit of a soft spot for George Bernard Shaw, mostly because he’s such a contrary old curmudgeon, and I really do appreciate a fellow spirit.

I came across this letter (a reply to an invitation to speak) buried in a collection I was processing and thought it was pretty classic G. B. Shaw. Addressed to Harry Laidler, then Secretary of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, and dated November 2, 1915, this letter is frighteningly prophetic. I’m not sure what Laidler said in his letter to Shaw, but it seems to have rubbed him the wrong way.

“Dear Sir,

I have no intention of visiting the United States this year. If I did, I am afraid you would hesitate to welcome me on your platform. I should strenuously recommend the United States to build thirty-two new dreadnoughts instead of sixteen, and to spent two billion dollars on its armament program instead of one. This would cost only a fraction of the money you are wasting every year in demoralizing luxury, a good deal of it having been in the past smattered over the continental countries which are now using what they saved out of it to slaughter one another.”

Think that’s good? Wait, it’s only going to get better:

“If the United States wishes to stop war as an institution; that is, to under takes the policing of the world, it will need a very big club for the purpose. It is possible, however, now that the belligerents are bleeding to death so rapidly that the only question to be decided is which side will be first exhausted, that the United States might not only induce them to state the terms on which they will consent to make peace, but even to co-operate in establishing supernational institutions which will provide an alternative to war, an even deal with war as a crime. Until then, the United States can decline to enter the race for the biggest armament only at the risk of finding itself where Britain would have been if only it had refused to keep ahead of the German fleet. It is true that at present the Pacifism of America is the hope of the wold, but it is because America is powerful as well as pacifist that she will be listened to. If I were an American statesman, I would tell the country flatly that it should sustain a Pacific navy capable of resisting an attack from Japan and an Atlantic navy capable of resisting an attack from Egland, with Zeppelins on the same scale, a proportionate land equipmpent of siege guns and so forth. And until the nations see the suicidal folly of staking everything in the last instance on the ordeal of battle, no other advice will be honest advice.”