phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at


Posted by Smokey Stover on January 27, 2004

In Reply to: Qs posted by Lewis on January 26, 2004

: : 1.These things happen. (so it doesn't matter)
: : Accidents will happen. (so it is an inevitable fact)
: : These are 2 common sayings. But could we say:
: : These things will happen;
: : Accidents happen?

: : 2.Morality is contraband in war.(Mohandas K. Gandhi)
: : What does he mean?
: : Thanks!

: some people do say 'accidents happen' or 'things just happen'

: there are many wise sayings about the way war alters 'normal' behaviour. one of the most famous is that 'the first casualty of war is truth'. that is because knowledge of the enemy whether of military or economic/trade details allows the enemy to judge and exploit weaknesses.

: also war involves killing, which means that people must put aside their normal modes of behaviour and do that thing that is normally considered most wrong - killing another person.

: 'contraband' is the word used for things not allowed and which have to be hidden. in war, the person's usual morality has to be subordinated or hidden under the imperative of doing 'whatever it takes' to survive. it does not mean that morality has been abandoned, but that it must remain hidden, but valued whilst the survival imperative dominates.

We can say accidents happen; and sometimes we can say these things will happen. But in the latter case it depends on what things we are talking about. Some "things" (that is, presumably untoward events) are very likely to happen again, but some are not so likely. To say "These things happen" implies only that untoward events happen, as evidenced by whatever brought forth the remark. You could say, of course, "Things like this are bound to happen," or some paraphrase thereof. But personally I would shy away from saying "These things will happen" unless I'm pretty sure that that is the case.

Morality is contraband in war. While Lewis is, as usual, correct, at least in general, I think he is a bit too optimistic. I think the Mahatma was primarily expressing a kind of cynicism, as many of us feel when relating morality to a particular arena, like war, politics, or journalism. When you join any hierarchical organization--and what is more hierarchical than the army, with its "chain of command"?--you leave your personal morality at the door. And when the shooting starts you may find yourself leaving ALL morality at the door. You may, if you wish, claim necessity. I don't think Gandhi had "necessity" uppermost in his mind when making the statement. But there are many contributors out there who know infinitely more about Gandhi than I. SS

  • Qs Lewis 30/January/04