“WAR!” – Wilfred Harrison, War on War League, Cape Town, 1914

War! A familiar word, a necessary phenomenon, we are told, to maintain, our libertarian traditions and national civilisation. We admit it because it is customary to admit prevailing conditions without question or analysis. Head hunting or warfare in primitive times was customary, and also considered essential to man’s religion and destiny; then between individuals, now between organised nations, the same instinct is there, the same purpose, the same atrocious acts.

A distinct analogy between primitive and modern warfare; but the primitive method has been analysed and admitted to be barbarous, brutal and inhuman: modern organised warfare is still customary, lawful, just and heroic! The former was renounced because the perpetrators lived in a condition of savagery. The latter is accepted because the man, and not the deed, is considered a civilised product.

It is today NOT murder, it is war! So let us give it the necessary analysis and for the moment cast aside sentiment. Picture the “hero” glorified and awarded the Victoria or Iron Cross in the melee that brought him his fame. The reports of the pistol, the clash of the sword, the dying moans of those whom he has slain, and over whom he stands a maddened and excited victor bespattered in human blood. The heads of mothers’ sons and children’s fathers lie at his feet and their blood and brains besmear the ground, while in a dark garret to-day these mothers and children mourn with bitter tears their loss that has been his fame.

These and other gruesome deeds are demanded of you who respond to the ironical call of “Your country needs you!” Truly it does! In your country there is always unemployment, high rents and dear goods. There is always bad housing and disease, there is squalor and filth in home and factory, there is poverty and starvation. So YOUR country needs you! And yet in your country there are factories filled with goods eaten with moth and decay, and there are palaces and mansions in which a superfluity of luxury abounds.

Yes! YOUR country needs YOU. Are you prepared to fight for your country and help to bring wealth, happiness and peace with ALL people?

Source: Simons Papers, Manuscript and Archives section, African Studies Centre, University of Cape Town, Fragile Papers section


About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I have long been involved in union education, and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented or published 100s of papers conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 4 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and produced five books. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. My books includd include 'Politics at a Distance from the State: Radical and African Perspectives' (2018, co-edited with Kirk Helliker), 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' and 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014).