Thursday, 1 August 2013
War, Wells And Anderson
Wells wrote The War In The Air in 1907. He added a Preface in 1921 and another in 1941. The latter ended, "I told you so. You damned fools." (Wells, The War In The Air, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1973, p. 8)
Poul Anderson's collection, Conquests (London, 1981), addresses exactly the same theme as Wells' novel, The War In The Air: future technological warfare. The first story, "Kings Who Die," adds the more familiar Wellsian theme of space travel. In fact, the exportation of institutionalized violence into space is effectively offered as a partial solution to the problem propounded in The War In The Air, and experienced in World War II. The United States and United Asia have learned better than to bombard each others' cities or even each others' Lunar bases. Only soldiers die and only in space.
But why can this endless, carefully controlled slaughter not be ended to make way for peaceful coexistence on Earth and in space? The Unasian General Rostock practices brain-computer symbiosis like a character in Anderson's later novel, The Avatar. From all the data available to him, Rostock deduces that the sacrificial deaths of the revered soldiers is "'...an outlet for the destructive emotions generated in the mass of the people by the type of life they lead. A type of life for which evolution never designed them.'" (p. 35)
Rostock wants the American prisoner Diaz to join with him in devising a solution but first Diaz must help Rostock's fleet against the Americans! Is Rostock's claim to want peace merely a ruse to get Diaz's help in the war? I would be with Rostock in wanting to end war but a credible first step is not to enlist a prisoner's help in waging the war. Diaz agrees, a strange thing for an Anderson hero to do, but it turns out that he is acting under a posthypnotic command that he had agreed to but, of course, willingly forgotten. Appearing even to himself to cooperate, he gets close enough to Rostock to sabotage the latter's computer with an oscillator hidden in his body.
So, by the end of the story, the highest loyalty open to Diaz is to his country, not the more general loyalty to humanity apparently offered by Rostock. I have to agree in disagreeing with Rostock's means, if not his end. (Similarly, Aycharaych asked Flandry to help him preserve Chereion but that would have required Flandry to betray his allies, including his murdered fiancee's family. Good end, bad means.)
How plausible is Rostock's theory that the war is a revival of human sacrifice? This, if true, would be horrific and governments would have to agree to stop the slaughter, then find some other way to address their disagreements. But I think that they should do this anyway.