Simon Weil’s Reflections on War

The Power of Nonviolence Writings by Advocates of PeaceThe tenth chapter of The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace contains a selection from  Simone Weils short 1933 essay Reflections on War .  Weil wrote this essay at age 24, and would die young eleven years later. Some would ascribe her death to her empathy for those suffering during World War II being too much for her frail health.

This section of the essay begins with the query: “Can a revolution avoid war?”  She rightly states that “Revolutionary War is the grave of revolution.”  This was the central to the nonviolent methods of Indian independence taking place at the time this essay was written.  And is central to the beliefs of today’s Occupation movement in the US. 

Weil sees the focus of war — no matter the economic system it is operating under — as “the obliteration of the individual by a state bureaucracy serving a rabid fanaticism.”   This is what makes the Occupation movement doubly powerful.  In addition to the use of a nonviolent ethos preventing the revolution from devolving into a war, the fierce opposition to crowning leaders prevents the state from targeting an individual for repression.

Looking at the wars that the state is engaging in right now, it is treating individuals who dare to oppose it such as Bradley Manning and Julian Assange in an extrajudicial manner.  No matter the alleged background of the US President, the excuse of war has consistently been used to strip individuals of the enumerated rights in the US Constitution.

Simone Weil

Weil states that the lever for change exists within our own country, and that there is no lesser evil option:

 . . . we must choose between hindering the functioning of the military machine of which we are ourselves so many cogs and blindly aiding that machine to continue to crush human lives.

Weil continues the machine metaphor to its treatment of individual soldiers as mere cannon fodder, and members of the society at large “that ceaselessy snatches and devours human beings”  Her language recalls Thoreau‘s challenge to “Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.

This selection of Weil’s essay end with her clearly cutting through all labels to the heart of the problem and demanding we do more than passively just hope for change:

Whether the mask is labelled fascism, democracy, or dictatorship of the proletariat, our great adversary remains The Apparatus — the bureaucracy, the police, the military. . . . the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this Apparatus, and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.

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