Lt. Cmdr. Charles E. Madison: I’m not sentimental about war. I see nothing noble in widows. I discovered I was a coward. That’s my new religion. I’m a big believer in it. Cowardice will save the world. War isn’t hell at all. It’s man at his best; the highest morality he’s capable of. It’s not war that’s insane, you see. It’s the morality of it. It’s not greed or ambition that makes war: it’s goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons: for liberation or manifest destiny. Always against tyranny and always in the interest of humanity. So far this war, we’ve managed to butcher some ten million humans in the interest of humanity. Next war it seems we’ll have to destroy all of man in order to preserve his damn dignity. It’s not war that’s unnatural to us, it’s virtue. As long as valor remains a virtue, we shall have soldiers. So, I preach cowardice. Through cowardice, we shall all be saved.
Mrs. Barham: And after this, I’m sure all the generals will dash off and write books about the blunders made by other generals and statesmen will publish their secret diaries and it’ll show beyond any shadow of doubt that war could easily have been avoided in the first place. And the rest of us, of course, will be left with the job of bandaging the wounded and burying the dead.
Lt. Cmdr. Charles E. Madison: I don’t trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It’s always the general with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a hell it is. It’s always the war widows who lead the Memorial Day parades.
Emily Barham: That was unkind, Charlie, and very rude.
Lt. Cmdr. Charles E. Madison: We shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on the ministers and generals, or warmongering imperialists, or all the other banal bogeys. It’s the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers. The rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widow’s weeds like nuns, Mrs. Barham, and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices. My brother died at Anzio.
Emily Barham: I didn’t know that Charlie.
Lt. Cmdr. Charles E. Madison: Yes. An everyday soldier’s death, no special heroism involved. They buried what pieces they found of him. But my mother insists he died a brave death and pretends to be very proud.
Mrs. Barham: You’re very hard on your mother. Seems a harmless enough pretense to me.
Lt. Cmdr. Charles E. Madison: No, Mrs. Barham. No, you see my other brother can’t wait to reach enlistment age. That’ll be in September.
Mrs. Barham: Oh lord.
Lt. Cmdr. Charles E. Madison: Maybe ministers and generals who blunder us into wars, Mrs. Barham, the least the rest of us can do is to resist honoring the institution. What has my mother got for pretending bravery was admirable? She’s under constant sedation and terrified she may wake up one morning and find her last son has run off to be brave.