Thomas Merton on his reaction to the English Prime Minister’s announcement that we would have “peace in our time” after the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938:
I was very depressed. I was beyond thinking about the intricate and filthy political tangle that underlay the mess. I had given up politics as more or less hopeless, by this time. I was no longer interested in having any opinion about the movement and interplay of forces which were all more or less iniquitous and corrupt, and it was far too laborious and uncertain a business to try to find out some degree of truth and justice in all the loud, artificial claims that were put forward by the various sides.
All I could see was a world in which everybody said they hated war, and in which we were all being rushed into a war with a momentum that was at last getting dizzy enough to affect my stomach. All the internal contradictions of the society in which I lived were at last beginning to converge upon its heart. There could not be much more of a delay in its dismembering. Where would it end? In those days, the future was obscured blanked out by war as by a dead-end wall. Nobody knew if anyone at all would come out of it alive. Who would be worse off, the civilians or the soldiers? The distinction between their fates was to be abolished, in most countries, by aerial warfare, by all the new planes, by all the marvelous new bombs. What would the end of it be?
I knew that I myself hated war, and all the motives that led to war and were behind wars. But I could see that now my likes or dislikes, beliefs or disbeliefs meant absolutely nothing in the external, political order. I was just an individual, and the individual had ceased to count. I meant nothing, in this world, except that I would probably soon become a number on the list of those to be drafted. I would get a piece of metal with my number on it, to hang around my neck, so as to help out the circulation of red-tape that would necessarily follow the disposal of my remains, and that would be the last eddy of mental activity that would close over my lost identity.
As an American I live in a society that is governed by politicians, of two symbiotic factions, who are so evil as not to merit the trust of their subjects, and who, rather than win the trust of their constituents by uniting clearly intelligible principles with lives lived according to the same, have instead exceeded the limits of their iniquity to such terrible and unpredictable arrogance, as to win election by defeating their opponents in binary elections in frightening more or less of the populace, each with their own inversely-defined versions of autocracy.
Americans, stripped of a political life in which officials are elected, now betake themselves to the polling places out of self-defense.
We do not vote for candidates whose potential for good excites us, but against autocrats whose violence frightens us.
If there were any question whether this were the true conclusion to draw from the study of the developments of the last hundred years, as we approach the centenary of that crowning achievement of modernism that we later began to call the World Wars, we would find sufficient stimulus in the following question:
Who would be worse off, the civilians or the soldiers?
The advancements of military technology of the last century have tended to produce more and more efficient means for exterminating civilians.
We criticize our Muslim opponents for using civilians as shields even as we define the means to assassinate with surgical precision, whomever we have condemned, both abroad and in our own wombs, as advancements.
Thanks, dear reader, should you choose to do so, for refraining from being accessory to tyranny.