Bertrand Russell the Passionate Skeptic: A Biography

By Alan Wood | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XX
Pacifism and the Second World War

IT is somewhat unfair to Russell's reputation, though easily understandable, that books like Freedom and Organization and Power attracted less public attention than his pacifist propaganda during the same years.

Russell was so far from being an orthodox pacifist that, as we have seen, he had advocated a strong British Navy, as a condition for a socialist Britain surviving in a capitalistic world. What changed his mind was air power, which he saw was making sea power obsolete; and he predicted that another war would be fought by aeroplanes spreading poison gas and perhaps disease germs.

He wrote in 1933: 'If either side wins the next war (which is unlikely), it will be the side whose young men have shown the most intelligence in chemistry and bacteriology.' Lecturing to the Fabian Society in 1935, he prophesied that air attacks on big cities would mean destruction and panic, 'involving a total breakdown of our food supplies, and the launching of millions of starving desperate nomads from the ruined towns on the countryside.' These predictions were developed in detail in his book Which Way to Peace?, written for Michael Joseph and published in October 1936. He forecast tremendous loss of life, and he added in a newspaper interview that he was afraid the war would go on until Europe was in chaos, industrialism and ordinary government had disappeared, and there were widespread epidemics.

In Which Way to Peace? he argued that the chaos caused by air raids would make martial law essential: 'A war in defence of democracy would necessarily begin with a military despotism, and there is no reason to doubt that it would end with one.' . . .

-184-

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