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Randolph Bourne – Lessons not learned from World War I

January 7, 2015

“[A]ll that is really needed is the co-operation with government of the men who direct the large financial and industrial enterprises. If their interest is enlisted in diverting the mechanism of production into war-channels, it makes not the least difference whether you or I want our activity to count in aid of the war…. As long as the effective managers, the ‘big men’ in the staple industries remained loyal, nobody need care what the millions of little human cogs who had to earn their living felt or thought. …

Our war is teaching us that patriotism is really a superfluous quality in war. The government of a modern organized plutocracy does not have to ask whether the people want to fight or understand what they are fighting for, but only whether they will tolerate fighting. America does not co-operate with the President’s designs. She rather feebly acquiesces. But that feeble acquiescence is the all-important factor. We are learning that war doesn’t need enthusiasm, doesn’t need conviction, doesn’t need hope, to sustain it. Once maneuvered, it takes care of itself, provided only that our industrial rulers see that the end of the war will leave American capital in a strategic position for world-enterprise.”

(from ‘A War Diary’, The Seven Arts, II (Sept. 1917), pp. 535-547; reprinted in The War and the Intellectuals [1917])

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