Category Archives: war

A spot of (paying) conflict tourism

Bang bang! That’s what they like

Happy escapades of the war-snaps profiteers

Some photographers, writes Dalrymple,

go from war to war as bees go from flower to flower.

Many of them have

a sense of purpose, perhaps the greatest gift to any human life.

War and dysentery


‘The narrator states that by 1918, war had come to seem so perpetual, so inescapable a fact of existence, that it was just another cause of death, “like cancer or tuberculosis or influenza or dysentery”. As to the latter, the German soldiers were so accustomed to it by the end of the war that they thought it was not worth pulling up their trousers; and the shirt-tails of their Russian prisoners of war were stained with blood.’

The procrustean BMJ

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 22.38.52There is practically no liberal nostrum, writes Dalrymple, to which the British Medical Journal does not subscribe. Its pages, he writes,

are innocent of debate. When the BMJ speaks, it is ex cathedra.

A recent issue

was devoted to the subject of war. The BMJ’s attitude to war is like that of Coolidge’s to sin: it is against it. War is so bad for the health. The white man has spoken. 

Fortunately for the world, the BMJ

has discovered the causes of war. They are the same as the causes of all other evils: inequality and poverty. Eliminate these, and peace will reign.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 23.08.19It seems to have escaped the BMJ’s notice, says Dalrymple,

that attempts during the 20th century to achieve radical equality were not entirely pacific or good for the health. Likewise, it has failed to notice that famine is much more likely to be a consequence of war than its cause.

The idea that wars are fought when ‘individuals are motivated to fight to seek redress‘ for their poverty

is laughable in its historical and psychological ignorance. Are Bin Laden and Saddam driven by poverty? Was Galtieri? Do Pakistan and India fight over Kashmir because of poverty?

The desire for someone else’s property

is not confined to the poor, nor need the property be of any value to be coveted. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought bloodily over scraps of land of use to neither nation.

The BMJ’s

procrustean theory of war is the liberal theory of crime writ large. Poverty makes men desperate, and desperation drives them to crime or (if they control an army) to war.

It is

up to us—the rich and contented portion of humanity—to prevent crime and war by paying more: for social welfare programmes in the case of crime, for foreign aid in the case of war.

It is, notes Dalrymple,

a tribute to the distorting power on educated minds of an abstract theory that anyone could believe such rubbish. Only someone with long years of formal training could deceive himself in this comforting fashion.

The fact that crime in Britain has risen along with income

should have been sufficient to persuade the BMJ that a more complex theory of human motivation was necessary.

Dalrymple points out:

The disregard of elementary reality is perhaps the distinguishing feature of much modern intellectual life.

A Steinway with its legs cut off. Around it, a bracelet of fæces

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 08.48.16Cloacal revolt against civilisation

Dalrymple describes a visit to Monrovia in an interregnum of the civil war there.

There were no telephones, no banks, schools or hospitals open, there was no running water or electricity supply, and every institution had been destroyed with a thoroughness that I have never seen equalled.

The Holy Virgin Mary. Chris Ofili, 1996. Oil, elephant dung, polyester resin, glitter, collaged pornographic images

The Holy Virgin Mary, Chris Ofili, 1996. Oil, elephant dung, polyester resin, glitter, collaged pornographic images

Dirty protest — or possibly an art installation

The Centennial Hall

was, of course, deserted when I visited. In the centre of the floor was what was probably the country’s only Steinway grand piano. Its legs and pedals had been carefully sawn off and disposed around it, the body of the piano lying flat on the ground. Around it in a ring, like a necklace or a bracelet, the people who had done this, or those of like mind, had disposed their fæces.

We have come a long way from the covering up of piano legs in order to preserve the purity of the thoughts of men in the drawing room.

Piss Christ, 1987, Andres Serrano

Piss Christ, 1987, Andres Serrano

Centennial Hall

Psychic effects of military service

At the time of Waterloo, says Dalrymple,

no one thought of the psychological effect upon the soldiers of witnessing so much violence (more than 30,000 were killed during the battle, about one in six of those who took part): nor could anyone have done so if he had thought of it. But it is now accepted wisdom that active military service leads men subsequently to commit crimes of violence, though the reasons are unknown.