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What Will World War III Be About?

LETTER FROM ENGLAND

By Christopher Derrick | July-August 1984

Last summer, when on holiday in Ruritania, I happened to get into conversation with two mem­bers of the old European nobility. One of them was German and the other French. The castle and estates of Baron Otto von Undsoweiter (while his family still possessed them) were in Bavaria: the castle and estates of M. le Comte de Quelquechose (while his family still possessed them) were in the Dordogne. Both were devout Roman Catholics, highly educated and well read and widely traveled: both spoke good English, and each was a breathtakingly extreme Conservative.

Our conversation got around to world affairs, and I happened to mention the deployment of nu­clear weapons in Western Europe. The Baron startl­ed me with the vehemence of his reaction. He made me feel as though I had uttered a gross ob­scenity in polite company, and I hastened to make amends.

“I quite understand your feelings,” I said. “If there’s any kind of World War III, Germany is go­ing to be the primary battlefield and will suffer ter­ribly: you obviously don’t want it to be a nuclear battlefield!”

“Ach, no,” he replied. “Who could desire such a thing? But that is not the point: there is something further, and it touches the honor of a gentleman, though that is what you might call an outmoded concept.”

The Count nodded. I was intrigued. “Please explain,” I said.

“You must understand, I am not a pacifist,” said the Baron. “Like all men of my class, I come from a line of warriors: since the early Middle Ages we have devoted ourselves to the honorable profes­sion of arms. But now we have to ask a question: at what point does that profession cease to be hon­orable? — by our standards, that is, which are not quite the standards of the Modern World.” He ut­tered those last two words as though they were the name of a disease or a devil.

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