SHAW, GEORGE BERNARD. (1856-1950). Irish playwright and critic known for his plays Saint Joan and Pygmalion. AMs. Unsigned. ½p. 4to. [London, December 4, 1929.] [To Henry Losti Russell.] Shaw’s autograph response to a typed question inquiring: “In your opinion, if the forthcoming Five-Power Disarmament Conference terminates in an agreement, will this alter materially the attitude of the people toward war or contribute in any concrete way to the cause of peace? If, on the other hand, the Conference fails, do you think that this fact is likely to increase the possibility of future wars, harm the cause of peace generally or embitter the relations between nations? Why, or why not?”
The Irish Playwright’s Comments on Peace and War: “Signor Mussolini, who openly promises glory to the Italians without remonstrance, is franker and less alarming”
Signed by George Bernard Shaw
“No. The thing will be called a Disarmament Conference; but it will really be an Armament Conference playing Beggar my Neighbor. Since Russia called our pacifist bluff at Geneva by offering to disarm in earnest if the others would, and they all instantly refused to speak to her, even when Mr. Kellogg promptly called it again and was humbugged by the Self Defence reservation, our Pacifists are only crying Peace where there is no peace. Signor Mussolini, who openly promises glory to the Italians without remonstrance, is franker and less alarming.”
Shaw began his writing career on April 21, 1894, when his play Arms and the Man, which explores the futility of war, opened to great acclaim in London. His foremost international success, it represented “the true beginning of [his] recognition as a popular dramatist,” (Encyclopedia Britannica). Likened by some to Shakespeare, Shaw combined satire, comedy and social criticism in his more than 50 plays. His famous stage works include Saint Joan (for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1925), Man and Superman and Pygmalion, the inspiration for the popular musical My Fair Lady.
World War I prompted Shaw to abandon the creation of socially critical drama, and instead write criticism about the horrors of the period. During the war Shaw published a controversial pamphlet, Common Sense about the War, suggesting that both Great Britain and the Allies were as responsible as the Germans committing atrocities, and argued for negotiation and peace. He also gave numerous anti-war speeches that provoked much domestic criticism. In 1928, Shaw authored The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, and by the 1930s he had self-identified as a communist. Shaw’s strong opinions on the Treaty of Versailles signed at the end of World War I and his published comments on these matters likely led to the frequent soliciting of his opinion.
In 1922, the United States, Japan, France, and Italy signed the Five Powers Treaty at the Washington Conference, which limited future naval growth. President Calvin Coolidge invited the signatories to revisit the subject in 1927, however, France and Italy declined, leaving Japan, Great Britain and the United States to meet at the Geneva Naval Conference and discuss naval limitations. However, the parties failed to reach an agreement, which led to a third meeting, the London Naval Conference of 1930, at which time Great Britain, the United States, Japan, France, and Italy attempted to discuss disarmament and revise the terms of the Five Power Treaty of 1922.
Penned more than seven months after the effective date of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, co-named for American Secretary of State Frank Billings Kellogg (1856-1937), which called for peaceful settlement of future disputes between its original signatories, France, the United States and Germany, and later the United Kingdom, Soviet Union and other countries who agreed to adhere to its principles.
Our manuscript, in which Shaw mentions Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) by name, illustrates the playwright’s unabashed cynicism regarding international affairs, but also his misguided support for Mussolini and other dictators like Lenin, Stalin and Hitler. Beggar-my-Neighbour is a British card game which is sometimes used to describe the mutually destructive nature of protectionist policies.
Folded and in very fine condition.