Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, September 3, 2020

What Might WWI Veteran C.S. Lewis Say About Our COVID Situation?

C.S. Lewis as a Student Cadet
(Keble College)

Here’s what C.S. Lewis said in 1948 about the mental shift required by living with the threat of the atomic bomb:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

— “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

Recommended by Donna Wagner

CS Lewis's WWI Service

World War I broke out in 1914, just as Lewis was leaving school to be tutored privately by William Kirkpatrick, a family friend who had tutored Lewis's father. As an Irishman, Lewis was not compelled to serve in the British Army, but nevertheless he chose to volunteer, joining the thousands of men already fighting in France. Lewis completed his military training, and shortly before his 19th birthday he was shipped to the front line near Arras, France.

At first Lewis did enjoy the sense of brotherly love shared by his comrades in arms, and he was proud to be engaged on behalf of a patriotic and glorious cause. However, as he witnessed the death, disease, and destruction all about him, he came to lose a good deal of his idealism. After he was wounded by an exploding shell in April 1918, he was sent home to recover. The signing of the Armistice in November 1918 marked an end to the war and Lewis's military service. Shortly afterward, he returned to Oxford.

Source: Infoplease


  1. Wow. You can see both the deep Christianity ("you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented") and the experience of warfare.

  2. Bravo CS Lewis! The US desperately needs this perspective. No longer the land of the Brave.

    1. With Mr. Knight, I agree that this perspective is one that should guide us -- at all times. And I think that the brave are still with us in the ranks of ordinary people, if not necessarily among those who parade their virtue most prominently.

  3. Substitute "Covid-19" for the Atomic Bomb - and this is good for today!

  4. Christianity is great at marketing itself. Invent the problem (original sin) and then offer the only solution. The gullible are trapped in a life of fear. 'Sensible human things like praying' he says. What use has God been in relieving us from Covid 19 despite all the praying. Science will get us out of not non existent deities.

    Whereas nuclear weapons can destroy the world in hours and have the capacity for control by rougue operatives, pre-nuclear invasions or attacks and endless plagues can be fought against and won as we on this site know.

    CS Lewis despite his intelligence was all dreamy dissonance.

  5. Lewis was a man of great Faith in Christianity, he saw it as the proper method of living life, after much searching. There’s no arguing that Mr. Lewis was a man comforted by Faith and Trust, something that we can all learn from. We don’t have to ridicule, nor dismiss, a man as “dreamy”, just because he has found a true path, that you Mr Murdoch, are still looking for. I admire both Mr Lewis and Mr Tolkien, for their wartime service, for their Christian spirit, for their writings, And for their example.
    I will pray for you Mr Murdoch.