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War and Peace

    ‘You know they always say that newspaper circulation goes up in time of war?’ said the resident Welshman.
         It was a pub question.
         That is, not a question which needs to be answered, but a question which is aimed at attracting people's attention within ten feet of the speaker. Just one person will do.
         It succeeded.
         ‘What about it?’ said the lady with the green hairdo, as she came in.
         This is the woman who changes her hair colour according to her current tipple. Last week it had been brown and she had been drinking coffee. This week . . .
         ‘Yes,’ said our Welshman, ‘apparently people get anxious to know the war news, so they buy papers more often, and sales go up, which leads one to wonder whether any paper has ever started a war to boost circulation.’
         ‘I think Randolph Hearst used to start wars for that purpose,’ I said. ‘Though whether any paper has ever sponsored a war is another matter.’
         ‘Der Sturmer proudly brings you World War Two!’ said the man with the dog, who sometimes fancies himself a bit of a wag. ‘Yachting Monthly is pleased to be associated with the retreat from Dunkirk. The Falklands War, brought to you by Port Stanley News in association with Mrs Thatcher . .'
         ‘Yes, I think we get the point,’ said the Major, who doesn't fancy the man with the dog as a bit of a wag.
         ‘What can I do you for?’ said the landlord to the green lady. ‘Creme de menthe? Horrible stuff made from mango? Don't think we've got anything else made from green. . .'
         ‘Ginger wine, please,’ she said firmly.
         ‘Is that green?’
         ‘It is, if you hold it up to the light.’
         ‘Thing is,’ said the resident Welshman, wresting the conversation back, ‘I was passing that place in Dorset last week, the Tank Museum at Bovington, and I suddenly wondered if the same held true for war museums. Do they get better attendance figures in times of war? Does talk of war make people more war-conscious? Is war good for war museums?’
         ‘I don't know,’ said the man with the dog. ‘Is it?’
         ‘I don't know,’ said the Welshman. ‘I was only asking.’
         ‘Does it work the other way round?’ I said. ‘In times of peace, do people go to peace museums?’
         ‘What's a peace museum?’
         I thought wildly.
         ‘A church? I said.
         ‘Nothing bloody peaceful about a church,’ said the Welshman. ‘Most churches I have been in have been full of battle honours, and trophy flags flying on the wall, and war memorials to people fallen in battle. . . .’
         ‘And stone effigies of crusaders in full armour,’ said the man with the dog.
         ‘Depends how you define war,’ said the Major. ‘People use all sorts of transport in war. Buses, trains, cars, God knows what. But is a transport museum a war museum? I doubt it.’
         ‘That doesn't make it a peace museum,’ said the man with the dog. ‘In fact, I don't think there IS such a thing as a peace museum. People are always more interested in war than peace. Even if they're against it. You don't get peace marches when there's no threat of war.’
         ‘Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,’ said the Welshman. ‘That's not very peace-loving, is it? No, I don't think the church is a peace museum.’
         Sometimes our Welshman gets into a bit of an anti-church tirade. Something to do with his youth and all those hours spent in the chapel, perhaps. At such moments it's best to ignore him.
         ‘The big question,’ said the man with the dog, ‘the BIG question, the VERY big question is this: is war the natural state of mankind, with periods of peace occurring as a natural break between, or are we naturally at peace, with occasional wars breaking the monotony?’
         ‘Only a man could ask that question,’ said the green lady. ‘It's men that start wars and men that fight wars. If it were left to women, there wouldn't be any wars.’
         Just then the vicar came in, and out of deference to his presence, we stopped talking about war and peace and church and religion, and got on to the weather.

The Independent Monday April 14 2003


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© Caroline Kington