8th August

If No Death

‘If there was no death, would there be war?’ a small boy asked.

The teacher turned and looked along the rows of desks to see which small boy had spoken. The room was full of small boys, twenty-four of them. The one who had posed the question should have raised his hand before speaking, but nobody’s hand was raised. At the moment the question was asked the teacher had had his back to the class as he wrote names and dates on the board. Although he knew his pupils well, he had not recognised the voice.

‘Who asked that question?’

Nobody admitted responsibility.

‘It is an interesting question,’ the teacher said. ‘Let us examine it.’

He wrote on the board: IF NO DEATH, WOULD THERE BE WAR? The small boys stared blankly. They are so young, he thought.

Could any one of them have asked such a question? Had he really heard it?

‘What is war for?’ he prompted. ‘Is it not to gain something? Land, or wealth, or power over others? How do you succeed in gaining power over others?’

A hand went up.


‘By killing them.’

‘But if you kill someone, you can no longer have power over them.’ ‘But you have power over their friends. You can make them think you will kill them too, if they don’t surrender.’

Another hand went up.


‘But if people couldn’t die, then why try to kill them?’

Another hand, another voice: ‘You could put them in prison and never let them out. That would be the next worst thing to killing them.’ Another voice: ‘But how would you keep them in prison? If they couldn’t be killed they would find a way out and you couldn’t stop them.’

Another voice: ‘If you weren’t afraid of death then there’d be nothing to be afraid of. Not hunger, disease, cold, danger. Nothing.’

‘You could do anything you liked and nobody could stop you.’

The teacher saw the excitement in their young faces. For a moment they had forgotten reality. He felt almost that they might rush from the classroom, intoxicated by this new sense of liberation.

It was his sad job to destroy their delusions.

Reader: Jack McCreadie
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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