Pacifism as an Enemy of Peace 

blimp 01The literary careers of C.S. Lewis and George Orwell overlapped in some interesting ways.* Today we will consider a rather odd British personality mentioned by each of them in wartime essays, Colonel Blimp.

Colonel Blimp was a cartoon figure, inspired by a conversation between two military officers who were arguing that “cavalry” officers should continue to wear spurs even when they migrated into tanks.**

At one time the cartoon was so popular that Lewis wrote:

It may well be that the future historian, asked to point to the most characteristic expression of the English temper in the period between the two wars, will reply without hesitation, “Colonel Blimp.” (“Blimpophobia”).

The good colonel echoes similar foolish notions as he blusters about in a caricature of pompous military commanders. Blimp is retired, but harangues all within earshot about the wisest course for the nation.

Orwell wrote derisively of the military and imperialistic middle class, that he called “the Blimps.” He drew the label from the “colonel with his bull neck and diminutive brain, like a dinosaur.” (“The Lion and the Unicorn”).***

blimp 02The cartoon above illustrates how Colonel Blimp is certain he has the solution to winning the arms race. The frame to the right shows that he believes his wisdom extends beyond the military to politics in general.

Timely Advice from C.S. Lewis

In “Blimpophobia,” Lewis offers advice which proves apropos for our modern age. Today, as fanatical barbarians seek to destroy civilization, enlightened nations and individuals must be vigilant.

One dimension of that vigilance involves walking the fine line between unbridled nationalism and self-absorbed pacifism. When he wrote, Lewis was worried about the anti-war sentiment that threatened to undermine Britain’s response to the Nazis.

Lewis, a wounded combat veteran of the Great War, recognized the truth of the Colonel Blimp caricature. He said something veterans recognize even more clearly than civilians. There is an overabundance of preening and stupidity in the military.

The infection of a whole people with Blimpophobia would have been impossible but for one fact—the fact that seven out of every ten men who served in the last war, emerged from it hating the regular army much more than they hated the Germans. How mild and intermittent was our dislike of “Jerry” compared with our settled detestation of the Brass Hat, the Adjutant, the Sergeant-Major, the regular Sister, and the hospital Matron!

Now that I know more (both about hatred and about the army) I look back with horror on my own state of mind at the moment when I was demobilized. I am afraid I regarded a Brass Hat and a Military Policeman as creatures quite outside the human family.

Still, he said we cannot allow that sad truth to cause us to deny the requirement to maintain a strong defense. “A nation convulsed with Blimpophobia will refuse to take necessary precautions and will therefore encourage her enemies to attack her.”

C.S. Lewis warned his countrymen of the dangers military-phobia during the Second World War. And—among the war-weary nations of the free world battling jihadism—we are wise to heed his wise words today.

The future of civilization depends on the answer to the question, “Can a democracy be persuaded to remain armed in peacetime?” If the answer to that question is No, then democracy will be destroyed in the end. But “to remain armed” here means “to remain effectively armed”. A strong navy, a strong air force, and a reasonable army are the essentials. If they cannot be had without conscription, then conscription must be endured. (C.S. Lewis, “Blimpophobia”).


* In “A Literary Phobia,” I compared some advice they offered to writers. The counsel in question sounds similar on the surface, but actually differs. In “Orwellian Advice,” I contrast the two authors in much greater detail.

** Blimp’s creator, David Low, resided in London but was actually a New Zealander.

*** You can read Orwell’s 1941 essay, “The Lion and the Unicorn,” here.

9 thoughts on “Pacifism as an Enemy of Peace 

  1. I’ve been thinking about how to respond–more to the title than the article. I think Lewis has a pretty nuanced view, and bang up on finding the cartoons!
    I wonder if there is a difference between a secular pacifist and a Christian pacifist. A secular pacifist says that it is wrong to harm another. Set aside the fact that violence comes in degrees, along a spectrum. When pressed with the question, “but what if someone you love is threatened?”, I don’t know what this pacifist would say. Most people I know who hate war or hunting, support the police when they arrest a murderer.
    A Christian pacifist has a Christian reason: Jesus said “turn the other cheek,” and among the examples Christ gave, physical violence was one of them. In this age, in this dispensation, we are not to use the temple of the Holy Spirit to do violence. It may turn out ill in the end. The Nazis may rule. “Nevertheless”–to use John Yoder’s word–nevertheless, we take our violence, and we take it again, and the world is redeemed by Christ.
    It’s a pretty startling viewpoint. And it may be true that a pacifist may not bring more peace but more violence. In that sense, a Christian pacifist must say, “so, we trust in God, who is our peace, and Christ, the prince of peace.”

    1. Good thoughts. You’re definitely right in saying that secular and religious (particularly Christian) pacifism are distinctly different creatures. The Christian gamut is terribly confusing, running from those who would allow the violation of innocents rather than violently intervene, to some who would justify the use of the sword in a way not completely different than jihadis. Fortunately, in my opinion, these extremes are minorities.

      I take my stand with C.S. Lewis and the Just War tradition of the Church.

  2. Thanks for this…it comes after I have just watched an old episode of ‘The West Wing’ (The Warfare of Genghis Kahn) which touched on the issue of nuclear capability in the Middle East and in Israel in particular, raising all the usual issues in the usual sixty minutes, but at least without any easy resolution. Of all the translations of Luke 2:14, few, if any, seem to suggest that peace (with God, certainly, and not necessarily at all between men) can, or should, be a universal expectation in this age. Maybe our better obedience (as Christians, utterly dependent on Christ) to Romans 12:14-21, at a personal level first, is the best we have to offer, even when it comes to the complex questions of international relations? Thanks again…

    1. As you suggest, there won’t be lasting peace until the return of the Messiah… Paul’s advice to the Romans is wise though: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all… if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…” Many former enemies have been transformed into friends by such efforts. Still, it is quite naive to think that the truly evil will respond positively even to such kindness.

  3. Timely post. Excellent thoughts.
    I’m standing with you and Lewis.
    I can’t quote scripture, but believe God gave us a brain and expects us to use it. Man is flawed and there is going to be conflicts (of territory, economy, or interpretation of God’s words) for a long time.
    We are in His image? God is to humanity as a father is to his family. The head of the household is supposed to nurture and protect his wife and children. Governments, like fathers, are to protect those under their care/their citizens. Feeding and caring for those less fortunate – being an example of peaceful resolutions – is the noble goal. If all were responsive to that. Once again conflicts even over those actions…but man is flawed.
    My older brother once facing a neighborhood bully. We were taught not to fight as it was the sign of a weak mind who didn’t know how to do anything else. But one afternoon my dad told him “I know the Bible says to turn the other cheek, but after you’ve tried alternatives, God doesn’t expect you to be doormat and get pounded into the ground. Sometimes you have to say ‘Enough.'” So he taught him a few punches. Once brother showed he wasn’t backing down, it was over and they went back to being friends.
    Just FYi, my dad the youngest of a large farm family didn’t believe in killing people. Yet after Peal Harbor he enlisted – as a medic. He said he could serve and hold true to his beliefs. Once attacked, he said he had to defend his country, way of life, and family.
    Were I wise and knew the Bible as well as he did, there’s no doubt there’s scripture to support what you call Just War tradition of the Church.
    Good time to pray for understanding of more than we can see and guidance. God bless and protect our troops

    1. I had a similar experience with a bully when I was in grade school. I stood up to him after a season of abuse, pushed him to the ground, pinned his arms with my knees and said “is it over?” Ended up being chased home by one of his older friends (on a bike, with me on foot). Sometimes bullies have friends. That is a good reminder for our day as well. There are many different networks of people working in a concerted effort to destroy civilization. Thinking they are isolated and uncoordinated is a dangerous error.

      That’s wonderful about your father serving as a noncombatant. He lived out his beliefs and didn’t use them to mask the cowardice that is so prevalent in our world. Medics are universally regarded as one of the most valued members of every military team. I’ve talked to many combat veterans who would not have hesitated to lay down their life for their corpsman, because they knew he was willing to do the same for them.

      1. Ha HA had to laugh at the bully story – that’s true. Better to have earned respect on both sides.
        Dad always said there were no atheists in foxholes. He was in the Battle of the Bulge. At one point during the war, the German line was less than a mile away and moving. Word came to retreat. There were injured men on the tables. The medical unit chose to stay. The line held somehow. Sometimes all you can do, he said, is do what needs to be done and trust.
        Uncertain times. Not knowing the entire big picture, all we can do is strive to do the best we can and trust.

      2. Truly a heroic decision. And one with potentially dangerous ramifications. (All of his service there was “dangerous” of course.) I’ve actually read a couple of biographies over the years of medics and chaplains who elected to remain with wounded troops (some of them the “enemy”) to protect them as the lines were shifting. Ended up as POWs… but saved lives. True heroes… just like your dad.

  4. Pingback: C.S. Lewis on Stupidity « Mere Inkling Press

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