War, like every other human phenomenon, may be studied from a variety of points of view, thereby revealing unlike aspects. We may survey it from the patriotic, ethical, social, humanitarian, religious or economic standpoint, and as a result reach one-sided and even misleading conclusions. But the evolutionary significance of war subtly permeates or rather underlies them all. The things which are revealed by the conventional studies enumerated are in the nature of surface indications, while only a deeper penetration into the constitution of man can lay bare the causative roots and essence of wholesale human conflict.
The same war may be holy or unholy, necessary or unnecessary, humanitarian or barbarous, as logically interpreted from the premises of the observer. But the true significance of every great human activity is only determinable in the light of a philosophy which is both metaphysical and evolutionary. But even under such an examination there are two sides of the subject which seem unlike and even in opposition. On one hand it is not easy to look at war specifically and relatively without some feeling and appearance of pessimism. But as the optimistic conclusion is the only true and final one, we suggest that if the first pages of this chapter carry any tinge of the former, judgment be held in abeyance until the final summing up is reached. In the closing synthesis we shall find that war is only an educational incident in an eternal economy which is wholly beneficent and optimistic. This larger encloses and swallows up the smaller, for the circumference of the Good is boundless.
Beginning, then, with the more specific and limited investigation, we may definitely state the foundation principle, that the sole cause of war is found in the evolutionary survival of brutehood in man, while objective questions or international differences, which are commonly regarded as causes, are really but occasions. The almost universal popular obliviousness to this vital distinction is responsible for a large part of the misery of the world. Occasions, being comparatively superficial, should be entirely under human control. Real causative forces are too deeply imbedded in the nature of things for the average man to grasp, much less to truly weigh and measure.
While the phenomenon of war is visible and objective, war itself is entirely within the mind of man. The action of armies and navies commonly called war is only war's outward expression. The latter is secondary. When collective passion arises to such a pressure as to find embodiment in fitting instruments, the visible signs are named war. But the term is applied to a symptom rather than to the disease. The real culprit hides himself beneath a great pile of rubbish. While the idealistic philosophy inculcates only a recognition of the good, war is the dominant recognition of evil.
We are now prepared to take what may seem a bold step, and affirm that the greatest harmfulness of war does not consist in its material desolating touch, the bitterness of pain, the tragedy of wounds, the carnage of battle, nor the accompanying harvest of disease. Terrible and revolting as these concomitants appear to us, the monster which overtops them all is the great tidal wave of collective hatred. This is behind all bullets and shells, and all fuses are ignited by its heat. Among the millions of a great nation which is in the throes of strife, not one in a thousand loses life or limb in battle, while the deadly spirit of destructive antagonism rankles in the national heart, to its utmost territorial limits. Consciously or unconsciously, all are immersed in a great psychical sea of hatred, and, aside from actual combatants, the one and absorbing impulse towards the other millions is destruction. The more complete such destruction the greater the rejoicing. The passion becomes so general and consuming that it might truly be diagnosed as a sweeping and collective monomania. Any normal and true sanity must include a measure of love and sympathy towards every human brother, of whatever race or name. Any so-called patriotism or religion which limits this outflow to national boundaries is a sham and a deception. A true evolutionary or even humanitarian view shows that nationality is but artificial. The race is nothing less than a solidarity.
Hatred is more disintegrating to its subjective possessor than to its assumed objective. Its blight begins at the core. It glories in the destruction of thousands of innocent men when they happen to be on the "other side." From its very nature, enmity dwarfs the soul and stunts every normal and wholesome impulse towards growth in virtue and Godlikeness. The judgment of wholesale brute force is blind, and has no guaranty of justice. Even if war seems to have a righteous excuse, its corrupting character is inherent and indelible. Human brotherhood, love and unity are so deeply engraven as normal in the constitution or man, that a reversal of them is not only abnormal but positively deadly. The Sermon on the Mount, with its injunction, "Love your enemies," is so vitally a part of man's life that its violation, so long as it continues, constitutes "the unpardonable sin." The very nature of the case determines it. That peculiar "sin" is not an act, but a condition. "God is Love," and his nature is the economy of the cosmos. Even the "stars in their courses" turn against him who tramples upon universal law. War is often more dangerous to the victorious than to the defeated nation. Its "flaming sword" turns every way. To violate the basic principles of one's being is to invite subjective penalty, until amid the bitter dregs of an unnecessary and dearly-bought object-lesson one in the last, desperate extremity "comes to himself."
While we will not aver, as someone has vividly depicted, that the invisible forms, or astral bodies, of those who pass out amid the strife of the battlefield continue the destruction in which they are so absorbed—hardly aware of the loss of their cruder shapes—yet what a boundless contrast between such a removal and a transition which is in any degree ideal. What confusion! What darkness! What a psychical obsession by the demon of destruction!
But the war system is drawing near its end. Moral, ethical and even political differences among nations are soon to be adjusted by ideals of right rather than by brute force. Through the merciful and beneficent progress of spiritual evolution, the countless multitude of souls which in the past have been ushered into the unseen, quivering with convulsive struggles, and fresh from the fields of conflict, is not to be duplicated in the future.
The keynote of the great Christian ideal as expressed by the "Heavenly Host" was, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good-will towards men.'' However we may differ regarding the degree of literalism or symbolism involved in the song Celestial, there can be no difference of opinion as to the principle declared, or that it enunciates the rule through which man's highest development is to be worked out. The final touchstone by which every objective institution, system or phenomenon must be judged may be summed up in the question, is it based upon love and goodwill? These form the all-inclusive, human ideal. Whether on this or the next plane of existence, it is the only possible creator of that condition of harmony called heaven. It is progress upward and onward. Every war is an evolutionary turning backward, a bringing of the brute again to the front.
All differences of less than an international magnitude have been legally and constitutionally provided for, and vengeance, even so-called righteous vengeance has been outlawed and constituted a crime. When the evolutionary step from the brute to man was taken, a large residuum of the former was brought over. The new veneer, though very apparent was yet very thin. The working unit was the individual, and there was belligerency toward everything beyond. Slowly the limit extended so as to include the family, and, step by step, to take in the clan and the tribe, and it has now reached the nation. Here we are still lodged. Patriotism is yet construed to be regard for those within the national limit, with an inferred and ill concealed jealousy and antagonism towards all outside. Politics, ethics, poetry, fiction and literature, with practical unanimity are here encamped. When will they move on? When will all humanity be practically included? So soon as the whole family of man is seen to be an organism. In the past it has seemed to be but a mass of disconnected and even antagonistic elements. The highest good of each was supposed to be included only in itself. But the dawn of the great truth, that Humanity Is One cannot much longer be postponed.
What an utter inversion of all logic to give relatively small crimes repulsive names, while that on the most gigantic scale is counted, not only as excusable, but laudably patriotic and even glorious. The rising of the war spirit into overt activity is rarely the result of any deliberate and well-reasoned purpose, but rather of a general cumulative and contagious passion. The principles of the Sermon on the Mount not only are designed for practical use, but are positively scientific. William Penn and his associates put them into actual demonstration. They lived in the midst of ten powerful and barbarous Indian tribes, with no military defense whatever. They were armed, though without visible weapons, and were strong with unseen strength. But as the brute still depends, both for defense and aggression, upon its horns, claws or beak, so men put their trust in armies and navies, giving little heed to the compelling force of moral ideals. Nearly all wars have come, not from a dispute as to any vital principle, but from racial or religious prejudice, personal or party ambition, selfish hunger for territory or a lawless antagonism falsely labeled patriotism. There are plenty of plausible excuses, but it is mainly through such incidents or weaknesses that passion assumes the character of a tidal wave, and a nation is swept into that wholesale destructive spirit whose outward manifestation is called war.
Millions who would scorn to play the bully in any lesser relations will applaud themselves for doing it on an international scale. If at the outset of a conflict there are misgivings or objections among the more thoughtful majority, they are swept away by a loud and aggressive minority, and by a well-known psychological process the movement soon carries all before it. While there has been no ethical change in reality, that which seemed unnecessary and unholy becomes righteous. On the surface every war is undertaken for some justifiable and beneficent purpose. But were it possible to eliminate all the elements of selfishness, personal and collective ambition and military glory subtly present in multiform combination, what would be left?
But as a wholesome optimism shows that good comes out of evil, may not war be justified upon such a principle? It is really a question of how dearly good shall be purchased. So long as men insist upon paying a very high price for what may be had for the asking, war will have a negative utility. There are some things which each generation insists upon learning through bitter experience. One advantage in this is that the knowledge gained is very thorough. To drive out a lesser evil by means of the sum of all evils is revolutionary rather than evolutionary; nevertheless the purpose is often accomplished. If "war is hell," it can never be desirable until, in a dire emergency, hell is needed as a medicament.
During the prevalence of war the whole psychical atmosphere is surcharged with ideas of destruction. Weapons, armaments, murderous inventions, sieges, charges and conquests are the staple mental pabulum. Every mind is filled with pictures of strife and carnage, and everything not pertaining to war is at a discount. Unless of the warlike variety, literature is flat, fiction dull, art insipid, history lifeless and science tame. The enginery of war is all important. There is no glory but military glory, and no heroism but that of the sword. The glamor of the pomp and pageantry of war alone is brilliant. The white-winged fleets of commerce are transmuted into gigantic vehicles of death and destruction. The peaceful uprearing of decades is leveled in a day, and the slowly accumulated savings of a nation are squandered with a prodigal rapidity. Human life in all its phases is overshadowed by the dark cloud of wholesale slaughter. The gospel doctrine of non-resistance is unrecognized and dependence is still centered upon carnal weapons.
The future political ideal among nations is federation, but this can come only through a previous federation of heart and soul. We are members one of another, whether in smaller or larger combination. The world is materially tied together in many ways unknown in the past, but good-will is the strongest and only normal bond. The weal of each is more and more the weal of all. Profoundly viewed, there are no "diverse interests." Universal good-will would usher in a veritable millennium—a kingdom of heaven upon earth.
Having outlined a few of the psychical aspects of war, it may be in order to enumerate and trace out a few of the roots which subtly nourish the spirit of militarism. We may note:
First, through Fiction. Its glory and glitter, its pomp and pageantry are delineated in the action and plot of novels, where the spirit of antagonism often runs through the whole warp and woof. Military grandeur and heroism are made the vital center around which all circumstance and interest revolve.
Second, through the Drama. War struts upon the stage, and is deftly interwoven with charming scenery, environment, incident, love-making, rescue, sentiment, freedom and even peace itself. Its cruelty and demoralization are hidden and its intrinsic character outwardly painted and gilded.
Third, through Art. The ideal mission of the artist is to cultivate, through the eye, the spirit of beauty, harmony, symmetry and spirituality; but his talent is often degraded to the representation of battle-scenes, impossible charges, the clash of arms, savagery and mortal combat. No matter how technically correct such creations may be, for the more perfectly done the more harmful, they intoxicate the mind with a mock grandeur and photograph mental pictures which are lastingly demoralizing.
Fourth, through Poetry. Even poets, whose privilege it is to be the prophets and inspirers of mankind, often forget their grand mission, and glorify the scenes of human strife, through the charm of rhythm, versification and literary art.
Fifth, through History. Historians unwittingly lend their aid to dignify the insatiate Moloch. A very large and unnecessary proportion of the records of the past is especially devoted to human conflict, intrigue, ambition and conquest; and thus the student of history lives and breathes the atmosphere of destruction, which not only surrounds but permeates him.
Sixth, through Tradition. Folklore and legend paint highly-colored incidents, and present surface details of the monster with his great mass of terrible realism forgotten or hidden.
Seventh, through Music. The divine art of music is invoked to divert the attention of men from the inner spirit of enmity. It confers a sentimental charm upon the deadly intent. What would an army be without the roll of the drum, the shriek of the fife, and the inspiring melody of the march? The Marseillaise has hypnotized its countless thousands. Without the impelling power of martial music, the poetic mask of the wholesale destruction of life and limb would be stripped off and its true nature laid bare. Its inspiring strains upon the battlefield yield a collective mental intoxication, so that carnage and cruelty are forgotten.
Eighth, through caparisonment and decoration. Why should men adorn themselves with feathers when they are bent upon mutual destruction? To make them forget, so far as possible, the nature of the business in which they are engaged.
Ninth, through the magnitude of military operations. The colossal scale of imposing evolutions and the rhythm of marches, cause men to lose their individuality and become simply part of a vast destructive machine. An army is a despotic unit. A single will is imperious, so that the authority of a czar is freedom itself in comparison.
Tenth, through early education. Ferocity in the child is stimulated and cultivated by stories, precepts, playthings, and especially by military drills. The "boys' brigades" of the present day undoubtedly have a harmful tendency. In passing let us express the hope that they may soon be replaced by something like the "George junior republics," where discipline, industry, judgment and self-control are stimulated, without any admixture of the belligerent sentiment.
May we also add a kindly hint regarding the subtle influence of military and even patriotic associations? While rightfully glorifying the heroic virtues of our honored ancestors, there is an insidious possibility of apotheosizing this same deceitful passion. The light of the opening decade of the 20th century is far brighter than that which shone upon our worthy forefathers.
The reformation of educational histories may also be noted as of vital importance in the dethronement of the tyrant of mutual destruction! A sentimental hatred towards other nations is imbibed by millions of childish minds, and innumerable impressions of antagonism are made which hardly can be effaced. The determining influence which comes from such seed-sowing in the fertile soil of youthful mentality is beyond computation.
How can each one of us, as individuals, lend a hand in the advancement of this great reform which already has received some impetus?
Let every pulpit which is occupied by an ambassador or the Prince of Peace proclaim anew the very foundation principle of Christianity.
Let the hundreds of thousands of noble women who belong to the great temperance, charitable, humanitarian and other reformatory and benevolent organizations agitate for the removal of this colossal relic or barbarism! In no other way can they so effectively relieve the woes of humanity which they are trying to heal. Let those numerous societies which have been formed to perpetuate patriotic sentiments, and to keep in mind the heroic achievements of noble ancestors, have a care that in their well-meant enthusiasm they do not unwittingly stimulate the subtle spirit of militarism.
Let every philanthropist and economist who is conscientiously striving to stop one or two small leaks in the ship of state, give some heed to the great reefs in its course upon which it may be dashed.
Let every wife and mother who has a husband or son, who, in the course of events, may become food for the insatiate monster, add her voice to the swelling chorus which shall demand its abolition.
Let every scientist and evolutionist, who is anxiously waiting for the time when the animalism in man shall be overcome, urge a higher moral and spiritual unfoldment; for only this can still a selfish antagonism.
Let the daily press, now so largely devoted to the details of a degrading sensationalism, rise to the occasion in an educational work important beyond all precedent.
Let teachers, who are shaping and guiding plastic minds, show the beauty of peace; let them teach the power of higher ideals, and how to win real victories; let them exhibit moral heroism as manly and honorable when compared with brute force; let them remind their pupils that "he that ruleth his own spirit is greater than he that taketh a city."
Let fathers seek to guide that youthful exuberance in their sons, which finds expression in militarism, into higher channels and toward more worthy ideals.
Let the sovereign people, in the elections of members of congress and senators, choose such men as will not misrepresent them, and longer sustain the reign of brute force in the place of law, reason and right.
Let the great truth go out to the world that so soon as men overcome the animalism within them they virtually conquer enemies without. Let them put away suspicion, envy and revenge, and rise to a manhood which shall be characterized by justice, mercy, love and peace.
It now remains to sum up the subject in the light of the broadest evolutionary and metaphysical philosophy. If in the absolute and ultimate the foregoing pages seem to involve any degree of pessimism, we shall endeavor to set at rest such an impression. So far war has been considered relatively and specifically, and such a view brings out its ugly features. But in the broader study of human progress in the whole divine economy, it is only incidental and educational. Evolutionary advancement is not uniformly steady. It often takes a bound forward or seemingly backward, which, in a way, is revolutionary. The smaller revolution is enclosed in the larger evolution. Even an apparent retrograde through educational influence may store up added momentum for an accelerated progress toward the ideal of universal love and peace. If, as before quoted, "war is hell," some taste of hell may reveal its quality as no amount of precept could do. Contrast may render a most important aid as a true interpreter. "Evil" finally blossoms into good because within it are contained purifying fires which in due season reduce falsity to ashes and bring into full view the great normal reality of eternal Good.
The unending march of human development is never by measured step, for vibration is universal. Every rounded action contains an element of reaction, and there is some natural recoil to every forward impulse. As the surplus steam in a boiler finds vent through the safety valve, so the residuum of brutehood in man will seek occasional outlet until it finally disappears. Such outbursts are both indexes and object lessons. War, therefore, while ideally bad, is provisionally good. So long as it exists it has a utilitarian mission. Its black background helps to give strength and tone to the high light and color of the great panorama of human ascent. It aids man to interpret himself. By its rough measuring-rod he computes distances and maps out ascents. If we stood upon the metaphysical vantage ground, war would be absurd and meaningless; but it is the necessary accompaniment of the material plane and outlook.
The incident of war does not in the least invalidate the unbounded beneficence of law, nor the absoluteness of the All Good. It is one of the great "growing pains" of the transition from the Adamic to the Christly consciousness. Among its passing lessons are vicariousness, human interdependence and racial solidarity. In the eternal climb towards the Kingdom of the Real, the road is thorny only so long as thorns have a use. War, though hellish as an ideal, may be a means and furnish an impetus toward a more refined realism. It will survive only so long as materialism needs a testing ground.