If the war goes on


The long-rumoured report on Australian military atrocities in the Afghanistan war has just been released (and immediately kicked down the road by the national government). I have been thinking about why the Australian military were there in the first place.  It's a familiar story: "forward defence", stop-them-over-there, Defend Democracy, our government's need for some violence to scare the voters with, and the same government's habit of doing whatever the American government wants done... But then, why do we have wars anyway?


So I have been reading Hermann Hesse. If you know his work - it's not so popular these days - you have probably read his mystical parable Siddhartha, his surreal psychological novel Steppenwolf (which has the  best joke about classical music I have found in literature), or his very strange, rather plodding but also eerie academic fantasy The Glass Bead Game. But the best of his writing that I know is in a collection of essays first published in German in 1946 (the year he was given the Nobel Prize) under the title Krieg und Frieden - war and peace.


The translation has a better title: If The War Goes On. I have a paperback edition from 1978, much battered. The book has a brilliant cover illustration showing a heap of armour and war machines, from mediaeval to WWII, abandoned in the snow, and in the background a WWI biplane flying over Napoleon's retreat from Moscow.


The title comes from two short pieces, one written late in 1917 called "If the war goes on another two years", and one dated early in 1918 called "If the war goes on another five years". They are time-travel short stories.


In the first, Hesse goes away on an astral trip for two years, and comes back to find the war still running. Now nothing matters but the war, which has mutated into random mass bombing from balloons. He goes for a walk and is arrested because he doesn't have a permit to take a walk. He enters a Kafka-esque world (think The Trial or The Castle) of incomprehensible bureaucracy, finding he is in breach of multiple regulations, worst of all he doesn't have a permit to exist... Finally he gets to the top bureaucrat, who explains that all the regulations have a reason: they are to preserve and safeguard the war.


'Yes,' I said slowly, 'you've got something there. The war, in other words, is a treasure that must be preserved at any cost.' But why? The official explains again: 'Only one answer is possible: the war is all we have left!'


The second piece, in the form of an imaginary newspaper report from the future, is shorter though the irony is just as fierce. (Now I'm reminded of Böll's End of a Mission.) By 1925 the regime is culling the elderly, in a programme for the 'elimination of citizens demonstrably unfit for public service'. Police action against one citizen who resists this programme leads to the discovery of his son, a philosopher and poet working away in a secluded home who is a phenomenon: the only European who knows nothing about the war. When cross-examined by the authorities, the son thinks their stories about current events are fictions designed to test his mental condition. The newspaper reports that the University may decide to acquire him as the unique surviving case of an extinct species. "This 'pre-war man' will be subjected to thorough investigation and perhaps preserved for science."


War is a treasure, all we have left - and anyone outside its logic is a bizarre exception. Still? There might be something in it. Given all those war movies and airport thrillers (not spy stories so much as secret-police stories), the media full of combat-style sports, the breathless reports by correspondents from the latest front, the gun lobby and the international arms trade. Not to mention the fighting. There seems to be a case that the war did, indeed, go on...

Do we need intellectuals? Part II - the movie!

 A video recording of my 2020 Cunningham Lecture, "Do We Need Intellectuals", is now online, open access, here: 


 All welcome!

Do We Need Intellectuals?


Please join me at this free online event!

2020 Cunningham Lecture:
‘Do We Need Intellectuals?’
Delivered by Professor Emerita Raewyn Connell FASSA

Tuesday 27 October 2020, 12:00 Aust. Eastern Daylight Time

There is a sense of crisis in the university world, produced by the COVID-19 epidemic, the casualization and layoffs of academic and professional workers, and governments with little interest in truth, knowledge or education. In 2020 we must re-think familiar ideas. For most of the 20th century, intellectuals seemed to be important people – the rising class in post-colonial states and giant corporations, or the famous and vital dissidents of modern culture. Social-science research cooled down these ideas, producing a more realistic (and democratic) view of organized knowledge as the collective product of a complex workforce and an unequal global economy of knowledge. In Australia, with indigenous knowledge excluded from settler-colonial institutions, knowledge work has been powerfully shaped by dependence on the global North. Other possibilities appeared with the Chifley/Menzies/Whitlam agenda of development. Since the Keating/Howard market turn, however, a corporate economy led by mineral and agricultural exports has only a little need for applied natural science, and today’s right-wing populism has no use for the social sciences. The Tehan ‘job-ready graduates’ policy seems well suited to a future for Australia as a deeply dependent, fearful, neo-colonial society. The social sciences can help create better paths of development; but they require new generations of intellectual workers to flourish. Our responsibility in institutions like the Academy is not only the classic one of speaking truth to power. We also have a responsibility to sustain the wider knowledge workforce for the future.


This lecture will be held as an online event over Zoom. Registration is essential, and you can do this here: https://socialsciences.org.au/events/professor-raewyn-connell-2020-cunningham-lecture-2/

Men, Masculinity, God

 The international theological journal Concilium has recently published, open access, a special issue "Masculinities: Theological and religious challenges", tackling the old problem of the connections between religion, men and patriarchy. There's interesting material in it, even for the theologically challenged! Among other things discussions of sexual abuse in the church, Putin's regime in Russia, masculinity & race, clerical masculinities, and more. I wrote the lead article, about social-scientific approaches to the issue. You'll find it all here: https://concilium.hymnsam.co.uk/issues/20202-masculinities-theological-and-religious-challenges/.

Back to Top