In the 'A Crisis of Brilliance' David Boyd Hancock addressed how a group of British artists had responded to the cultural break, social crisis and human tragedy that was the First World War.
(The artists are subject of a fabulous exhibition at the Dulwich Art Gallery: http://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/exhibitions/coming_soon/a_crisis_of_brilliance.aspx )
In Boyd Hancock's "I am Spain" the focus is on the Spanish Civil War - that rehearsal for the Second World War that the First purportedly was being fought to end - and on the focus is on writers rather than artists.
It is a very compelling account of how people, knowing nothing of Spain, its people, culture and history, were drawn into opposing Franco's rebellion against the legitimate, elected Republican government because it was seen as THE place to resist the advancement of 'Fascism'. The people are both famous (Orwell, pictured here) and unfamiliar (a long list) but all connected by a refusal to allow a country to fall into the hands of 'the enemy'.
As with reading accounts of the Russian revolution, what strikes me is the dammed up violence that a break down in the political order released. The social revolution that accompanied the rebellion against the Republican government was stark in its willingness to punish the oppressor whether rich or bourgeois or religious. Equally, the rebellion's response was to systematically kill or violate its opponents.
Into this chaos stepped the idealism of many who sought to shore up the prospect of a better, more humane, more equal world only to find that idealism is good propaganda but a poor organizer. The organization on the Left slipped towards the Communists who, pragmatic as ever, were willing to use every and any means to try and impose their will. In the end the conflict excluded any prospect of the 'compromising middle' or the 'anarchical journey' and took its course towards the Right's victory and the suppression of any dissent.
What struck me reading this too was what James Hillman would call, 'the terrible love of war'. Many of the volunteers had missed, by youth, serving in the First World War, and whatever their thoughts about the wasteful terrors of that conflict, they felt, as Orwell remarked, left out, less of a 'man' as a result. It is as if our consciousness is made for a greater intensity than the ordinary patterns of life usually afford us and war is a luring compensation. The continuous presence of risk, the idealism of honor and politics and the comradeship of shared danger, reliance on others and intimacy, all drew them on and in.
There is no answer to war that does not find an answering activity to that needed intensity - only a deepening of consciousness and felt communion that can sit on the edges of death and see through can compete for men's affections. If one wants to avoid war, we must intensify the experience of peace and as Gandhi suggested make it a moral and mental struggle every bit as challenging.