STEINBECK ON WAR


The military mind must limit its thinking to be able to perform its function at all. Thus, in talking with a naval officer who had won a target competition with big naval guns, we asked, “Have you thought what happens in a little street when one of your shells explodes, of the families torn to pieces, a thousand generations influenced when you signaled Fire?” “Of course not,” he said. “Those shells travel so far that you couldn’t possibly see where they land.” And he was quite correct. If he could really see where they land and what they do, if he could really feel the power in his dropped hand and the waves radiating out from his gun, he would not be able to perform his function. He himself would be the weak point of his gun. But by not seeing, by insisting that it be a problem of ballistics and trajectory, he is a good gunner officer. And he is too humble to take the responsibility for thinking. The whole structure of his world would be endangered if he permitted himself to think. The pieces must stick within their pattern or the whole thing collapses and the design is gone. We wonder whether in the present pattern the pieces are not straining to fall out of line; whether the paradoxes of our times are not finally mounting to a conclusion of ridiculousness that will make the whole structure collapse. For the paradoxes are becoming so great that leaders of people must be less and less intelligent to stand their own leadership. 

– Steinbeck writing in 1940 or ’41

Until next time.

Dylan – Salt Spring Island, BC

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