Some more antiquarianism

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From Clarence Darrow’s closing summation in the 1924 Leopold-Loeb murder trial:

Now, your Honor, I have spoken about the war… For four long years the civilized world was engaged in killing men… It was taught in every school, aye in the Sunday schools. The little children played at war…

We read of killing one hundred thousand men in a day. We read about it and rejoiced in it – if it was the other fellows who were killed. We were fed on flesh and drank blood. Even down to the prattling babe.  I need not tell your honour this, because you know; I need not tell you how many upright, honourable young boys have come into this court charged with murder, some saved and some sent to their death, boys who fought in this war and learned to place a cheap value on human life. You know it and I know it. These boys were brought up in it. The tales of death were in their homes, their playgrounds, their schools; they were in the newspapers that they read; it was a part of the common frenzy – what was a life? It was nothing. It was the least sacred thing in existence and these boys were trained to this cruelty.

It will take fifty years to wipe it out of the human heart, if ever…

Your Honor knows that in this very court crimes of violence have increased growing out of the war. Not necessarily by those who fought but by those that learned that blood was cheap, and human life was cheap, and if the State could take it lightly why not the boy?

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One Response to “Some more antiquarianism”

  1. Nick Says:

    Acknowledging the ghastly media frenzy surrounding the murder trial, Darrow noted that ‘you cannot enjoy human suffering without being affected for the worse':

    If these two boys die on the scaffold, which I can never bring myself to imagine, if they do die on the scaffold, the details of this will be spread over the world. Every newspaper in the United States will carry a full account. Every newspaper of Chicago will be filled with the gruesome details. It will enter every home and every family.

    Will it make men better or make men worse? How many will be colder and cruder for it? How many will enjoy the details? And you cannot enjoy human suffering without being affected for the worse.

    What influence will it have upon the millions of men who will read it? What influence will it have upon the millions of women who will read it, more sensitive, more impressionable, more imaginative than men? What influence will it have upon the infinite number of children who will devour its details as Dickie Loeb has enjoyed reading detective stories?

    We might recall George Orwell’s remarks about the ‘bully-worship and the cult of violence’ that appeared in papers and magazines aimed at teenage boys during the interwar wars:

    Instead of identifying with a schoolboy of more or less his own age, the reader of the Skipper, Hotspur, etc., is led to identify with a G-man, with a Foreign Legionary, with some variant of Tarzan, with an air ace, a master spy, an explorer, a pugilist — at any rate with some single all-powerful character who dominates everyone about him and whose usual method of solving any problem is a sock on the jaw. This character is intended as a superman, and as physical strength is the form of power that boys can best understand, he is usually a sort of human gorilla…

    When hatred of Hitler became a major emotion in America, it was interesting to see how promptly ‘anti-Fascism’ was adapted to pornographic purposes by the editors of the Yank Mags… There is the frankest appeal to sadism…

    This ‘bloodshed’ and ‘leader-worship’ had its effect, Orwell declared:

    To what extent people draw their ideas from fiction is disputable. Personally I believe that most people are influenced far more than they would care to admit by novels, serial stories, films and so forth, and that from this point of view the worst books are often the most important, because they are usually the ones that are read earliest in life. It is probable that many people who would consider themselves extremely sophisticated and ‘advanced’ are actually carrying through life an imaginative background which they acquired in childhood from (for instance) Sapper and Ian Hay.

    If that is so, the boys’ twopenny weeklies are of the deepest importance.

    Here is the stuff that is read somewhere between the ages of twelve and eighteen by a very large proportion, perhaps an actual majority, of English boys, including many who will never read anything else except newspapers; and along with it they are absorbing a set of beliefs which would be regarded as hopelessly out of date in the Central Office of the Conservative Party. All the better because it is done indirectly, there is being pumped into them the conviction that the major problems of our time do not exist, that there is nothing wrong with laissez-faire capitalism, that foreigners are unimportant comics and that the British Empire is a sort of charity-concern which will last for ever.

    Considering who owns these papers, it is difficult to believe that this is un-intentional. Of the twelve papers I have been discussing (i.e. twelve including the Thriller and Detective Weekly) seven are the property of the Amalgamated Press, which is one of the biggest press-combines in the world and controls more than a hundred different papers. The Gem and Magnet, therefore, are closely linked up with the Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times.

    This in itself would be enough to rouse certain suspicions, even if it were not obvious that the stories in the boys’ weeklies are politically vetted.

    So it appears that if you feel the need of a fantasy-life in which you travel to Mars and fight lions bare-handed (and what boy doesn’t?), you can only have it by delivering yourself over, mentally, to people like Lord Camrose. For there is no competition. Throughout the whole of this run of papers the differences are negligible, and on this level no others exist…

    All fiction from the novels in the mushroom libraries downwards is censored in the interests of the ruling class. And boys’ fiction above all, the blood-and-thunder stuff which nearly every boy devours at some time or other, is sodden in the worst illusions of 1910. The fact is only unimportant if one believes that what is read in childhood leaves no impression behind. Lord Camrose and his colleagues evidently believe nothing of the kind, and, after all, Lord Camrose ought to know.

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