Journey To A War by W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood (1939) // W. H. Auden 'In Time of War' (1939)

Leave Truth to the police and us; we know the Good; 

 We build the Perfect City time shall never alter;

   Our Law shall guard you always like a cirque of mountains... (p 266)   

But ideas can be true although men die,

  And we can watch a thousand faces   

Made active by one lie:

  And maps can really point to places

    Where life is evil now: 

Nanking; Dachau. (p 253)     

From W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood; Journey To A War (1939)   

When we awoke early next morning the train was crossing a wide valley of paddy fields. The rising sun struck its beams across the surfaces of innumerable miniature lakes; in the middle distance farmhouses seemed actually to be floating on water. Here and there a low mound rose a few feet above the level of the plain, with a weed-grown, ruinous pagoda, standing upon it, visible for miles around. Peasants with water-buffaloes were industriously ploughing their arable liquid into a thick, brown soup. From Journey To A War, p.191..  

Collectively, perhaps, we most resemble a group of characters in one of Jules Verne’s stories about lunatic English explorers...p 104

The Sino-Japanese War In July 1937 – exactly a year after the start of the Spanish Civil War – Japan attacked China. It was hardly a surprise. In 1931 the so-called ‘Mukden Incident’ had helped spark the Japanese invasion of Manchuria (the large area to the north east of China, just above Beijing). The Chinese were defeated and Japan created a new puppet state, Manchukuo (setting up the last Qing emperor as its puppet ruler) through which to rule Manchuria. Going further back, in 1894–1895 China, then still under the rule of the Qing dynasty, was defeated by Japan in what came to be called the First Sino-Japanese War. China had been forced to cede Taiwan to Japan and to recognise the independence of Korea which had, in classical times, been under Chinese domination.

In other words, for 40 years the rising power of militaristic, modernising Japan had been slowly nibbling away at rotten China, seizing Taiwan, Korea and Manchuria. Now the military junta in Tokyo decided the time was right to take another bite, engineered an ‘incident’ at the Marco Polo bridge on the trade route to Beijing, and used this as a pretext to attack Beijing in the north and Shanghai in the south…

W. H. Auden from In Time of War (1939)

Yes, we are going to suffer, now; the sky
Throbs like a feverish forehead; pain is real;
The groping searchlights suddenly reveal
The little natures that will make us cry,

Who never quite believed they could exist,
Not where we were. They take us by surprise
Like ugly long-forgotten memories,
And like a conscience all the guns resist.

Behind each sociable home-loving eye
The private massacres are taking place;
All Women, Jews, the Rich, the Human Race.

The mountains cannot judge us when we lie:
We dwell upon the earth; the earth obeys
The intelligent and evil till they die.

Engines bear them through the sky: they’re free
And isolated like the very rich;
Remote like savants, they can only see
The breathing city as a target which

Requires their skill; will never see how flying
Is the creation of ideas they hate,
Nor how their own machines are always trying
To push through into life. They chose a fate

The islands where they live did not compel.
Though earth may teach our proper discipline,
At any time it will be possible

To turn away from freedom and become
Bound like the heiress in her mother’s womb,
And helpless as the poor have always been.

Description: XVI
Here war is simple like a monument:
A telephone is speaking to a man;
Flags on a map assert that troops were sent;
A boy brings milk in bowls. There is a plan

For living men in terror of their lives,
Who thirst at nine who were to thirst at noon,
And can be lost and are, and miss their wives,
And, unlike an idea, can die too soon.

But ideas can be true although men die,
And we can watch a thousand faces
Made active by one lie:

And maps can really point to places
Where life is evil now:
Nanking; Dachau. (p 253)

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