War Against a Foreign Country Only Happens When the Moneyed Classes Think They Are Going to Profit From It

George Orwell? Apocryphal?

mon10Dear Quote Investigator: Lately, I have been seeing the following quotation about warfare attributed to the famous political writer George Orwell:

War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it.

I am skeptical of this attribution. Is this a genuine statement from the Orwell?

Quote Investigator: Yes, George Orwell wrote the words above in a book review published in August 1937 in the London journal “The New Statesman and Nation”. In 1937 Orwell believed that Britain and Germany were moving toward war. At that time, he was unhappy because he was sympathetic to pacifism and strongly opposed to war with Germany. The book he examined was written by a former Brigadier-General in the British army named F. P. Crozier who had embraced an anti-war stance. However, Orwell was unimpressed with the arguments presented, and he offered two alternative planks for anti-war activists. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The two facts which even now are not very widely grasped, and which should be made the centre of all anti-war agitation, are quite different from these. General Crozier is aware of them, but only intermittently aware. They are:

1. That war against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it.

2. That every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defence against a homicidal maniac (“militarist” Germany in 1914, “Fascist” Germany next year or the year after).

The essential job is to get people to recognise war propaganda when they see it, especially when it is disguised as peace propaganda.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1984 the journal “Encounter” printed an article titled “Will George Orwell Survive 1984?” by Leopold Labedz which included excerpts from Orwell’s writings which traced his evolving opinions. The passage from 1937 was slightly compressed. The ellipsis was in the quoted text: 2

28 August 1937: “War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it. . . . Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as war but as an act of self-defence against a homicidal maniac (‘militarist’ Germany in 1914, ‘Fascist’ Germany next year or the year after). The essential job is to get people to recognise war propaganda when they see it, especially when it is disguised as peace propaganda.”

The “Encounter” article also included the following excerpt from a later letter showing support for Britain’s war efforts:

ONCE THE WAR STARTED, however, Orwell cleared his mind.

10 January 1940: “It seems to me that now we are in this bloody war we have got to win it and I would like to lend a hand.”

In 2002 “The Seattle Times” in Seattle Washington printed a letter from a reader which included the following: 3

In light of current events, I think the following quote is apropos:

“War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it. Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.”

These words were written in 1937 by George Orwell, better known as the author of the novels “1984” and “Animal Farm.” “The more things change, the more they are the same.” But that’s another quotation.

In conclusion, the quotation can properly be credited to Orwell. He published the statement in “The New Statesman and Nation” in August 1937.

Image Notes: Photo of George Orwell at a BBC microphone circa 1940 via Wikimedia Commons. Briefcase filled with money from PublicDomainPictures at Pixabay. Soldiers near plane from skeeze at Pixabay. Images have been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to Joanne Greenway and Anthony Davis whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Many thanks to Jesse Sheidlower and Jeffrey Graf who accessed scans of the key 1937 citation in the ProQuest database.)

Notes:

  1. 1937 August 28, The New Statesman and Nation, Experientia Docet, (Book Review by George Orwell of “The Men I Killed” by Brigadier-General F. P. Crozier), Start Page 314, Quote Page 314, The Statesman and Nation Publishing Company, London. (ProQuest Periodicals)
  2. 1984 June, Encounter, Volume 63, Number 1, Will George Orwell Survive 1984? by Leopold Labedz, Start Page 11, Quote Page 14, Published by Encounter Ltd., London. (Unz)
  3. 2002 October 11, The Seattle Times, Edition: Fourth, Section: Opinion, Column: Northwest Voices, Northwest Voices – A sampling of readers’ letters, faxes and e-mails, (Letter to the editor from Jean Streinz, Lynnwood), Quote Page B7, Seattle Washington. (NewsBank Access World News)