X. THE ETHICAL ASPECT OF WAR
Religion, World, Life, Moral, Country, Church
An idealism such as that which substantially identifies religion with morality, is suitably occupied, as occasion offers, in the discussion of those questions of public interest which have an immediate bearing on the well-being of communities. In this respect it departs markedly from the attitude taken up by those Churches, which afford little or no guidance on such matters, probably because it is felt by priests and prelates that their functions are rather of an ultra-mundane character, and that their most important duty is to prepare humanity for the enjoyment of another life after this unsatisfactory stage has passed. Hence the sharp line of distinction they draw between the Church and the world, the one the kingdom of saints, the other "lying" hopelessly "in wickedness". Hence, again, their distinction of "holy days" and secular days, Sunday being devoted to religious exercises, while the remaining six days are presumably to be occupied in wholly secular enterprise. The distinction affects our very attire. Religious rites being of a totally different character from the duties we accomplish during the week, there is nothing for it but to don "our blacks," to quote the language of a current popular play, and enact subsequently the ceremonial described as the church parade. It is the same feeling which causes the average Englishman to lapse into a sort of funereal solemnity at the very mention of the word religion, or of anything allied to it. The divorce of religion from ordinary life could not be more plainly indicated than by such phenomena as we have noticed.
It is, of course, one of the main objects of our movement to show the falsity of this distinction between the Church and the world, between religion and morality. We submit that it is not the institution of the founder of Christianity, but of his later followers. The Church of Christ meant the assemblage of men as men, as citizens. The entry thereto was not by the magical washing away of an imaginary birth-sin, but through the natural and beautiful sacrament of human birth. The world is the Church, and the Church is the world, and the "living stones" out of which "the kingdom of heaven" is built here on earth are precisely the stones out of which the civil commonwealth arises. There is nothing secular, nothing profane, but from first to last the life of every man, from the miraculous moment of his conception to the closing of his eyes in bodily death, and beyond death, through the perfecting of him by an ever-increasing approximation to the standard of all moral perfection, everything is religious, sacred, divine. The Church is nothing but an ethical society, co-extensive with the race, and it is for the realisation of this ideal that the ethical movement is working, to show men that religion is morality, is life.
This preamble, then, may serve as a justification for introducing here such a subject as war. The Christian Churches, with one single exception, that of the Quakers, vouchsafe no guidance whatsoever on the moral aspects of this question. On the contrary, they rather suggest that it is a highly moral proceeding, for their ministers pray to their Deity for the success of their country's arms, and sing their Te Deums over the mangled corpses of the vanquished. An archbishop in Spain offered to guarantee the harmlessness of every American bullet, and unctuous prayers were reported in the newspapers of last spring as emanating from Transatlantic pulpits. Indeed, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine what the supreme court of their heaven must be, the perplexities of patron saints and angels, and ultimately of their Deity himself, in face of the immoral mingling of bloodshed and religion which went on during the recent Spanish-American war. But the Churches, Catholic and Protestant alike, see none of the impiety which is so revolting to moral men and women, who to their lasting advantage have emancipated themselves from ecclesiastical guidance. On the contrary, the public in America which looks for moral inspiration to clergymen, is fed upon this sort of doggerel:—
Strike for the Anglo-Saxon! Strike for the newer day! O strike for heart and strike for brain, And sweep the beast away.
And let no feeble pity Your sacred arms restrain; This is God's mighty moment To make an end of Spain!
It is our purpose to endeavour to make an end of the immoral inspiration behind this profane piffle by speaking out our mind on the subject of war as viewed from the standpoint of ethics.
By war we understand the appeal to might to decide a question of right between two or more civilised peoples, and of war thus defined I say that it is the great surviving infamy of our unmoral past, the persistence in us of animal instincts, of the ape and tiger which should long since have died out. That man, in the childhood of the world, should have decided questions of justice by an appeal to brute force is only what we should expect. The laws of life, which are laws of development, necessarily presuppose the imperfect before the perfect, the animal as a preparation for the human. As Immanuel Kant puts it in a sentence which flashes the light over the whole panorama of existence, "the cosmic evolution of Nature is continued in the historic development of humanity and completed in the moral perfection of the individual". This is the synthesis of the greatest of the masters of modern philosophy. The non-moral cosmos makes way for a process of moral human development, which is consummated in the perfection of each individual man. Here is the Alpha and Omega of all existence.
Now, warfare, or the invocation of might to settle right, was as natural an accompaniment of earlier conditions as theft or cannibalism. But is it not obvious that with the disappearance of other unmoral ideals of the past, we have a right to expect, and to demand, that the last and crowning infamy of wholesale and systematised manslaughter, called war, should cease also? The humanity which has got rid of slavery in all civilised countries, which has now through England's instrumentality succeeded in destroying its last strongholds on the Upper Nile, will also ultimately get rid of war. The manhood of the race, which in this country has long since put down the immorality of duelling as a means of settling private differences, will indubitably assert itself elsewhere to the final overthrow of warfare as a means of deciding public disputes. The great reform is in the air. It is everywhere except in the pulpits of Christendom and the "yellow press"—the jingo journalism of the world. We all experienced the growing sense of the unsuitability of war to our modern ideals during the earlier months of this year while matters were reaching the acute stage between Spain and the United States. The best Press in this country reflected the common sentiment, that the whole proceeding is savage, barbarous, inhuman, and therefore utterly unworthy of rational men. I believe it is this growing horror of legalised carnage which prevented the late President of the United States' ill-judged message leading to any rupture between our two countries. It was felt that Englishmen and Americans deliberately setting about the destruction of each other's property and taking one another's lives would amount to a scandal positively unthinkable—a fratricidal horror to be prevented at all and any costs. I am not sure that the same opinion was so universal on the other side, though undoubtedly it existed amongst the best men of the country.
America has at present two difficulties to contend with. First, she is a young nation, and young people are fond of trying experiments. And, next, they are burdened, perhaps I should say cursed, with the most violent, anti-cosmopolitan Press anywhere existent. A set of fire-eaters appear to control the New York section, of it, and in the judgment of many sober-minded Americans, with some of whom I have myself spoken, the late war was wholly due to their ceaseless, incessant clamour, and that, given a few months' patience, the Cuban people might have by plebiscite been able to settle their own destiny. The starving peasants concentrated in the towns were the alleged object of the hurry. Long months passed before any succour reached them. If they were veritably starving, surely every man of them must have died long before an American army of liberation could have been effectually landed for their relief. The sympathies of this country were not with Spain, for it is by her misrule, her acknowledged misgovernment of her colonists, that all the mischief has been brought about. One regrets to have to say it, but Spain has been strangled in the coils of her own superstition, and progress for her ceased to be when she elected to live by the light of ideals and principles which are henceforth impossible. It is the frantic endeavour of France and Italy to escape Spain's doom which explains their incessant strife between Church and State. The enlightened Frenchman or Italian has a horror of sacerdotalism as the beginning of the end, always and everywhere, and as the only religion in those countries is sacerdotal, they are, alas, in their national capacity, bereft of any religious guidance or inspiration. We are, therefore, unable to see anything in Spain's present position, but the working of the inevitable law of Compensation, which is sovereign over States as over individuals, though there are many of us who believe that the avowed humanitarian objects of the American Government might have been attained by peaceful methods, had not the country been goaded into a fever of restlessness and impatience by that deplorable phenomenon of democratic institutions known as the "yellow press".
At all events, the feeling universal in this country in the early spring of this year, showed how far and fast we are travelling along the road which will lead us to the final abandonment of warfare as unworthy of rational men. Doubtless we are in advance of other nations in this respect. But that is only what history leads us to expect. We were the first to free slaves, abandon duelling, reform prisons and criminal law, and erect humanitarianism into a veritable religion. And have we not taught representative institutions to the world? We are evidently destined, I believe, to lead the way towards the final surrender of war. We keep no standing army. We shall never again enter on a war of conquest or aggression. Our naval armaments and such military power as we possess are notoriously created and maintained for defensive purposes only. Brigandage and pillage we have most certainly been guilty of in past times, but such a policy could not now survive the day it was mooted. We are in the last trenches, preparatory to finally abandoning the field.
But here it will be urged that there are circumstances which render war absolutely inevitable, such for instance as an unjust aggression upon the territory we own, or even live upon; an attack on the national honour, or a reckless disregard of rights sanctioned by treaty or international usage. Were arbitration in such cases even admissible, we may conceive the would-be aggressor unwilling to have recourse to it, or possibly to abide by its award. What is a government to do then?
Now, arguments and pleas such as these are valid enough against a proposal of universal disarmament to be compulsorily carried out in six months or a year's time, but they in no wise, I submit, constitute an inseparable bar to the realisation of "that sweet dream," as Immanuel Kant called it, of a "perpetual peace". The ideal is none the less real because it cannot be at once put into practice; and had we to wait another whole century, it would still be the duty of our movement to stand by Kant and boldly set up the grand conception of an universal peace as the goal for which all that is best among men is inevitably making. Still, I trust that in our enthusiasm for ethic and for the ideal of its master, we have not lost our heads and betaken ourselves to Utopian impracticabilities. No ethical man could think of fixing a limit within which a national disarmament must take place, and the swords of the world beaten into ploughshares, any more than he could name the date at which the millennium is to be introduced. But this implies no insuperable, or rather, no serious, obstacle to our belief that the ideal of universal arbitration, through the medium of a congress of all nations, must in the future, near or distant, be realised, because it is an ideal which is alone worthy of rational men. And, moreover, the essential rationality of the ideal gives us a right to demand that it should be recognised by all public men, by our legislators who represent us, the Press which aims at reflecting the life and thought of the age, the professors and masters who have the care of our youth, and above all by fathers and mothers to whom tender children are confided, and those men who assume the responsibility of speaking to their generation in the sacred name of religion.
I say the ideal gives us the right to demand its recognition by men in such positions of responsibility, and implies a corresponding obligation on their part, no less than on our own, to labour seriously for its speedy realisation. We are, every one of us, agreed that war is essentially a cruel, barbarous, horribly vindictive and degrading method of serving the interests of the sublimest thing known to man, namely, justice. Wanton warfare, merely for the sake of fighting or killing, or openly avowed oppression, can scarcely be acknowledged now even by the most cynical of statesmen. The public conscience is become too sensitive for that, so that some question of justice, or the semblance of it, must be invoked in order to justify its unspeakable barbarities. But what an outrage, the deliberate destruction of hundreds of thousands of innocent men—men who in their simplicity or ignorance are positively unable to even dimly comprehend why they are being lashed into a blind fury and goaded to the madness of steeping their hands in each other's blood—what barbarity, what savagery to invoke as the minister, as the vindicator of justice! Let us keep our eyes steadily fixed on this central, essential wickedness of the whole business, that it dares to offer its polluted services in the interests of justice and thereby to profane the holiest thing we know.
Remembering this, therefore, let us ask ourselves what help we get in our endeavours to effect its overthrow from the recognised ministers of religion. Why, it is notorious that what has long been clear to philosophers like Immanuel Kant, and philanthropists among humble laymen, has not yet dawned upon the imagination or touched the consciences of bishops or priests. Popes, themselves, have created military orders, "knights and commanders of Christ and the Cross," whose profession it was to destroy life in the name of the most merciful, pitiful man known to us Western people. Popes have led military expeditions, conducted campaigns and crossed swords with the most daring, though the impetuous fisherman, founder of their line, was bidden by Christ to put up his sword into its scabbard, "for all they that take up the sword shall perish by it". Can any man point to one single condemnation of war as immoral, irrational, opposed to the law of their Deity or of Christ, in all the collection of councils, bulls and canonical legislation? And can any man quote to us the charge of an archbishop or bishop in the Anglican Communion or the Greek Communion wherein he has raised his voice against the barbaric survival of war and condemned it in the name of his Saviour Jesus, who spoke of the meek, the mourners, the merciful, the pure in heart, the hungerers and thirsters after righteousness, or, as we say, the ethical enthusiasts, as his followers?
Why, religion, in the hands of bishops and priests, has allowed a trail of blood to be drawn across the path of the ages. I say nothing of religious persecution and the millions who have gone to torture and to doom for erroneous beliefs. I confine myself entirely, to field warfare. During a period of 674 years, from 1141-1815, it is an historical fact that this country and France were at war for no less than 266 years, or considerably more than one-third, and we must remember that up to the Reformation both countries were under the direct guidance, one might almost say the exclusive inspiration, of the Catholic Christianity of the day. But where does history record the act of any religious leaders of those times denouncing war as contrary to the gospel of Christ and of reason alike? We are able to quote numbers of despised heretics who had grasped the truth and emphatically condemned the brutal institution. Thus Erasmus: "They who defend war must defend the dispositions which lead to war, and these dispositions are absolutely forbidden by the gospel". Wickliffe, "the morning star of the Reformation in England," thought it "utterly unlawful," according to Priestley; and as Southey writes in his History of Brazil: "There is but one community of Christians in the world, and that unhappily of all communities one of the smallest, enlightened enough to understand the prohibition of war by the Divine Master in its plain literal and undeniable sense and conscientious enough to obey it, subduing the very instinct of nature to obedience".
These facts are noteworthy because they show that had the official churches—the Roman, Greek and Anglican—been true to their charge and commission from their founder; had they been unworldly enough to defy the world and denounce its barbarous practices, we might have been far nearer Kant's "sweet dream" of universal peace. But the churches, as churches, have done very little for the cause of the "Prince of peace," and now the world itself has outgrown their moral standard and looks to them for guidance and inspiration no more. By the light of reason alone, by the inspiration we gather from the grands esprits of the race, above all by the teaching of Immanuel Kant in his beautiful treatise on "Perpetual Peace," we intend to do what in us lies to put down this surviving, crowning infamy of war, the very thought of which brutalises the mind, outrages its humanitarian instincts, and degrades the ideals whereby we desire to live.
But, surely, it will be urged, we cannot refuse to acknowledge undoubted benefits, both public and individual, which war has conferred in the past. It has welded nomad peoples into nations, bred courage, devotion, loyalty, unselfishness, self-sacrifice even to death in the hearts of those who have nobly borne their part therein. Is not the soldier hero, the military chieftain, the idol of all mankind?
Doubtless he is, and unquestionably through the instrumentality of war great services have been rendered to the communities of peoples in the past and noble individual traits of character created. It is an axiom with us that the universe is so wondrously ordered that out of the worst things a soul of good may and does emerge, and so goodly is creation that its very evils become a source wherefrom good may arise.
What was good shall be good with for evil so much good more.
Thus, for example, the young lieutenant ordered to sink a hulk across the bay of Santiago, and his handful of companions have, by exposing themselves to imminent risk of an awful death, deeply stirred the feelings of their fellow-countrymen and filled us all with a sense of admiration at the heroism which can contemn danger and death in the execution of duty or the quest of glory. But we must ask whether humanity is in need of such exhibitions of bravery, whether there are not other fields of danger which offer tasks equally arduous and difficult of accomplishment? We are not insensible to the claims of military or naval heroism, but I confess I see much more to admire in Father Damien voluntarily surrendering himself to the slow and loathsome martyrdom of Molokai, more in the self-devotion of our "white slaves," as they must, alas! be called, who toil all the day and a deal of the night in a heavy, noisome, almost disease-laden atmosphere in the disgracefully crowded slums of our great cities, and all to earn a few pence wherewith to buy just enough bread to keep body and soul together in themselves and their children. Think of the matchbox-makers, who turn out a gross for a few halfpence, out of which they must supply some of their own materials. Think of the seamstresses, the shirt-makers and tailors' assistants in the veritable dens of East London, who by slaving for fifteen hours out of twenty-four can earn eighteenpence a day, out of which four or five shillings must be paid weekly for rent. Think of these mean, squalid surroundings in which a life of positively ceaseless toil must be lived, the patience and long-suffering with which it is endured, the silent martyrdom of monotonous, unrelieved existence prolonged over long years. Think of it, I say, and compare it with the intoxication of the battle-field, the cavalry charge, the roar of cannon and musketry, the rapid movements and counter-movements, the exultation which the sight of numberless men produces, grim, deadly determination on their faces, the thought of glory, the hope of renown, the dash of a few minutes, the stroke perhaps of a few seconds, the wild burst of untamed, savage human nature temporarily released from the restraint of reason! What cannot, what shall not man under such circumstances accomplish? Yes, we are not insensible to deeds of immortal daring, of courage, that must live for ever; nor to the memory of Leonidas and his Spartans, of the deathless glories of Thermopylae, of the unbroken chain of chivalric deeds from the days of ancient Greece to "the thin red line" that broke the fiercest charge, and the handful of Englishmen that shot away their last cartridge and then stood to die with their country's anthem on their lips—we are not insensible to all this, but we say the day for it is past and gone, and the heroism of the battle-field must be consecrated anew to the service of peace and the poor. The millions on millions we are spending on those majestic engines of destruction, those ships of ours that bastion the brine for England, what could they not do for the moralisation of the poor and outcast at our very doors in this city! Why, in three years that inferno of the East End, that foul, reeking, pestilential nest of tenements, unfit for even animal habitation, could be swept clean away and human homes erected which, to put it on the lowest grounds, would positively pay a dividend on the capital outlay, as has been convincingly proved over and over again.
"How long, O Lord, how long," we exclaim with the prophet of old, shall men be consumed with this ignoble fever, this war-madness which degrades the combatants far more than it exalts them, which senselessly destroys valuable property, scatters ruin broadcast, paralyses industry, robs the poor of all the bread of life, fills the land with mourning and desolation, with widows and orphans?—war, which we learnt from wild beasts, our ancestors, which cannot therefore determine a question of justice, which makes the wrong triumph as often as the right, which degrades all that touch it by isolating them for months, for years perhaps, from civilised life, which demoralises the victors, embitters the vanquished, and, by creating strife, perpetuates the possibilities of renewed strife—war, which at this moment keeps Europe in the condition of an armed camp, millions of men leading comparatively idle lives, with long hours on their hands which they cannot fill, with the inevitable results, the nauseating record of filth, disease and abominations too utterly loathsome even to think about—war, which is the curse of the poor and unfortunate, consuming the energies of men and the material means whereby their unhappy lot might be alleviated—war, the hard, cruel, relentless, inexorable monster of unregenerate man's creation—we, since no pope, bishop or priest will do it—we execrate it in the name of all we hold holiest, in the name of reason, morality and religion, and we pledge ourselves so to act, privately and politically, as to promote such measures—a federation of all English-speaking nations of the earth, if that will serve the purpose, or any other method equally or more serviceable—as will finally exorcise this last of the besetting demons of humanity, and fulfil thereby the "sweet dream" of our master and inspirer, Immanuel Kant.
Ring out the old, ring in the new; * * * * * Ring out the false, ring in the true; Ring out old shapes of foul disease; Ring out the narrowing lust of gold; Ring out the thousand wars of old; Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Since these words were written the Daily Chronicle of 10th September, 1898, quotes them as having been used by a distinguished living English general.
|Written By W. R. Washington Sullivan|
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