February 19, 2015

"The Sling and the Pebble" by Ernest Hemingway

The Sling and the Pebble
"Ernest Hemingway and Joris Ivens, Guadalajara, Spain (1937)" (Photo by John Fernhout – source)
From Free World, March 1946, pp. 16-17. (See Hemingway's World War II essays here.)


Now that the wars are over and the dead are dead and we have bought whatever it is we have it is a good time to publish books like this.

We have come out of the time when obedience, the acceptance of discipline, intelligent courage and resolution were most important into that more difficult time when it is a man's duty to understand his world rather than simply fight for it.

To understand we must study. We must study not simply what we wish to believe. That will always be skillfully presented for us. We must try to examine our world with the impartiality of a physician. This will be hard work and will involve reading much that is unpleasant to accept. But it is one of a man's first duties, now.

It will be our duty, when we have sufficient valid knowledge, to disagree, to protest, even to revolt and to rebel and still work always toward finding a way for all men to live together on this earth.

It has been necessary to fight. It has been necessary to kill, to maim, to burn and to destroy. Certainly for a country whose continent has never been bombed we have done our share of bombing. We have possibly killed more civilians of other countries than all our enemies did in all the famous massacres we so deplore. There is really very little favorable difference to a man or a woman between being burned alive or stood against a wall and shot.

We have waged war in the most ferocious and ruthless way that it has ever been waged. We waged it against fierce and ruthless enemies that it was necessary to destroy. Now we have destroyed one of our enemies and forced the capitulation of the other. For the moment we are the strongest power in the world. It is very important that we do not become the most hated.

It would be easy for us, if we do not learn to understand the world and appreciate the rights, privileges and duties of all other countries and peoples, to represent in our power the same danger to the world that Fascism did.

We have invented the sling and pebble that will kill all giants; including ourselves. It is simple idiocy to think that the Soviet Union will not possess and perfect the same weapon.

This is no time for any nation to have any trace of the mentality of the bully. It is no time for any nation to become hated. It is no time for any nation even to swagger. Certainly it is no time for any nation to jostle. It is no time for any nation to be anything but just.

In this new world all of the partners will have to relinquish. It will be as necessary to relinquish as it was necessary to fight. No nation which holds land or dominion over people where it has no just right to it can continue to do so if there is to be an enduring peace. The problems this brings up cannot be examined in this foreword. But we must examine them and examine them intelligently, impartially and closing our eyes to nothing.

This book has one advantage. The various articles are not full of the knowledge after the fact of the use of the release of atomic energy. We need to study and understand certain basic problems of our world as they were before Hiroshima to be able to continue, intelligently, to discover how some of them have changed and how they can be settled justly now that a new weapon has become a property of a part of the world. We must study them more carefully than ever now and remember that no weapon has ever settled a moral problem. It can impose a solution but it cannot guarantee it to be a just one. You can wipe out your opponents. But if you do it' unjustly you become eligible for being wiped out yourself.

In Germany our military courts have sentenced a sixty-year-old German woman to be hanged as one of a mob which brutally murdered American aviators who had parachuted to the ground in Germany. Why hang her? Why not burn her at the stake if we wish to make martyrs?

For the Germans know whether any sixty-year-old German women were ever killed by fighter pilots, on their way back from missions, coming down to strafe German villages. As far as I know we never hanged any pilots for going down on the deck and doing a little strafing. German civilians, strafed in Germany, feel much the same about it as Spanish civilians strafed in Spain by Germans or as American civilians would feel if the Germans had ever been able to strafe them.

Say you've been down on the deck; sometimes there were comic incidents. Often they looked comic from the air. Nothing blew up like ambulances (which proved the Germans carried munitions in them). Always plenty of comic instances when you have command of the air. Comic to you. I believe in shooting up everything, myself, and getting it over with. (You shouldn't say that. That's too much like war.) But you cannot expect them not to be excited if you fall into their hands.

Air-Marshal Harris is on record as to what he wished to do to the German people. We were fighting the German people as well as the German army. The Germans fought the British people as well as the British army. The German army fought the Russian people and the Russian people fought back. That is war and to fight a war any other way is playing dolls.

But the secret of future peace is not in hanging sixty-year-old women because they killed fliers in hot blood. Hang or shoot those who starved and beat and tortured in cold blood. Hang or shoot those who planned the war and would plan another. Hang or shoot deliberate war criminals. Deal with the S.S. and the voluntary Party members as they should be dealt with. But do not make martyrs of sixty-year-old women who killed in anger against force which had become so strong it no longer had any conscience or any feeling of evil doing.

To win a war you have to do things that are inconceivable in peace and that are often hateful to those who do them. That is they are hateful for a while. Afterwards some people get used to them. Some get to like them. Everyone wants to do everything, no matter what, to get it over with. Once you are involved in a war you have to win it by any means.

The military, in order to maintain their status and certain safeguards of their status, would like to have war fought by rules. The air-forces steadily smashed through all these rules and developed a realistic war in which nations fought nations; not armies armies.

An aggressive war is the great crime against everything good in the world. A defensive war, which must necessarily turn to aggressive at the earliest moment, is the necessary great counter-crime. But never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime. Ask the infantry and ask the dead.

We have fought this war and won it. Now let us not be sanctimonious; nor hypocritical; nor vengeful; nor stupid. Let us make our enemies incapable of ever making war again, let us re-educate them, and let us learn to live in peace and justice with all countries and all peoples in this world. To do this we must educate and re-educate. But first we must educate ourselves.