As I Please

in Tribune

30 June 1944

George Orwell


I NOTICE that apart from the widespread complaint that the German pilotless planes ‘seem so unnatural’ (a bomb dropped by a live airman is quite natural, apparently), some journalists are denouncing them as barbarous, inhumane, and ‘an indiscriminate attack on civilians’.

After what we have been doing to the Germans over the past two years, this seems a bit thick, but it is the normal human response to every new weapon. Poison gas, the machine-gun, the submarine, gunpowder, and even the crossbow were similarly denounced in their day. Every weapon seems unfair until you have adopted it yourself. But I would not deny that the pilotless plane, flying bomb, or whatever its correct name may be, is an exceptionally unpleasant thing, because, unlike most other projectiles, it gives you time to think. What is your first reaction when you hear that droning, zooming noise? Inevitably, it is a hope that the noise won’t stop. You want to hear the bomb pass safely overhead and die away into the distance before the engine cuts out. In other words, you are hoping that it will fall on somebody else. So also when you dodge a shell or an ordinary bomb—but in that case you have only about five seconds to take cover and no time to speculate on the bottomless selfishness of the human being.

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IT cannot be altogether an accident that nationalists of the more extreme and romantic kind tend not to belong to the nation that they idealize. Leaders who base their appeal on la patrie, or ‘the fatherland’, are sometimes outright foreigners, or else come from the border countries of great empires. Obvious examples are Hitler, an Austrian, and Napoleon, a Corsican, but there are many others. The man who may be said to have been the founder of British jingoism was Disraeli, a Spanish Jew, and it was Lord Beaverbrook, a Canadian, who tried to induce the unwilling English to describe themselves as Britons. The British Empire was largely built up by Irishmen and Scotsmen, and our most obstinate nationalists and imperialists have frequently been Ulstermen. Even Churchill, the leading exponent of romantic patriotism in our own day, is half an American. But not merely the men of action, but even the theorists of nationalism are frequently foreigners. Pan-Germanism, for instance, from which the Nazis later took many of their ideas, was largely the product of men who were not Germans: for instance, Houston Chamberlain, an Englishman, and Gobineau, a Frenchman. Rudyard Kipling was an Englishman, but of a rather doubtful kind. He came from an unusual Anglo-Indian background (his father was curator of the Bombay Museum), he had spent his early childhood in India, and he was of small stature and very dark complexion which caused him to be wrongly suspected of having Asiatic blood. I have always held that if we ever have a Hitler in this country he will be, perhaps, an Ulsterman, a South African, a Maltese, a Eurasian, or perhaps an American —but, at any rate, not an Englishman.

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SIX million books, it is said, perished in the blitz of 1940, including a thousand irreplaceable titles. Most of them were probably no loss, but it is dismaying to find how many standard works are now completely out of print. Paper is forthcoming for the most ghastly tripe, as you can see by glancing into any bookshop window, while all the reprint editions, such as the Everyman Library, have huge gaps in their lists. Even so well-known a work of reference as Webster’s dictionary is no longer obtainable unless you run across a copy second-hand. About a year ago I had to do a broadcast on Jack London. When I started to collect the material I found that those of his books that I most wanted had vanished so completely that even the London Library could not produce them. To get hold of them I should have had to go to the British Museum reading-room, which in these days is not at all easy of access. And this seems to me a disaster, for Jack London is one of those border-line writers whose works might be forgotten altogether unless somebody takes the trouble to revive them. Even The Iron Heel was distinctly a rarity for some years, and was only reprinted because Hitler’s rise to power made it topical . . .


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