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THE CHIEF EVIL OF WAR.
BY W. E. CHANNING, D. D.
Let us, then, consider the chief evil of war. What is it? What induces us to place war at the head of human calamities? In replying to these questions, I shall not direct you to the physical sufferings of war, however terrible. Death in its worst forms; the overthrow of proud cities; the devastation of fruitful fields; the empoverishing of nations; famine; pestilence; these form the train of victorious war. But these are not the distinguishing evils of war. Other causes are wasting human life and joy. Cities are overthrown by earthquakes as well as by armies, and more frequently swept by accidental conflagrations than by the flames of war. Hostile bands ravage the fields ; but how much oftener do whirlwinds, storms, hurricanes rush over land and sea, prostrating harvests, and destroying the labors of years on a scale so vast, as to reduce human devastations to a narrow extent. The truth is, that man is surrounded with mighty powers of nature which he cannot comprehend or withstand; and, amidst their beneficent operations, all of them inflict much suffering. What distinguishes war is, not that man is slain, but that he is slain, spoiled, crushed by the cruelty, the injustice, the treachery, the murderous hand of man. The evil is moral evil. War is the concentration of all human crimes. Here is its distinguishing, accursed brand. Under its standard gather violence, malignity, rage, fraud, perfidy, rapacity and lust. If it only slew man, it would do little. It turns man into a beast of prey. Here is the evil of war, that man, made to be the brother, becomes the deadly foe of his kind ; that man, whose duty it is to mitigate suffering, makes the infliction of suffering his study and end; that man, whose office it is to avert and heal the wounds which come from nature's powers, makes researches into nature's laws, and arms himself with her most awful forces, that he may become the destroyer of his race. Nor is this all. There is also found in war a cold-hearted indifference to human miseries and wrongs, perhaps more shocking than the bad passions it calls forth. To my mind, this contempt of human nature is singularly offensive. To hate, expresses something like respect. But
P. T. NO, XIX.
in war, man treats his brother as nothing worth ; sweeps away human multitudes as insects; tramples them down as grass; mocks at their rights; and does not deign a thought to their woes.
These remarks show us the great evil of war. It is moral evil. The field of battle is a theatre, got up at immense cost, for the exhibition of crime on a grand scale. There the hell within the human breast blazes out fiercely and without disguise. A more fearful hell in any region of the universe cannot well be conceived. There the fiends hold their revels, and spread their fury.
Suppose two multitudes of men, each composed of thousands, meeting from different countries, but meeting not to destroy but to consult and labor for the good of the race; and suppose them, in the midst of their deliberations, to be smitten suddenly by some mysterious visitation of God, and their labors to be terminated by immediate death. We should be awe-struck by this strange, sudden, wide-spread ruin. But reflection would teach us, that this simultaneous extinction of life in so many of our race, was but an anticipation or peculiar fulfilment of the sentence passed on all mankind; and a tender reverence would spring up, as we should think of so many generous men coming together from so many different regions, in the spirit of human brotherhood, to be wrapt in one pall, to sleep in one grave. We should erect a monument on the solemn spot; but chiefly to commemorate the holy purpose which had gathered them from their scattered abodes; and we should write on it, “To the memory of a glorious company, suddenly taken from God's ministry on earth, to enter again, a blessed brotherhood, on a higher ministry in heaven.” Here you have death sweeping away hosts in a moment; but how different from death in a field of battle, where man meets man as a foe, where the countenance flashes rage, and the arm is nerved for slaughter, where brother hews down brother, and where thousands are sent unprepared, in the moment of crime, to give their account. When nature's laws, fulfilling the mysterious will of God, inflict death on the good, we bow, we adore, we give thanks. How different is death from the murderous hand of man!
Allow me to make another supposition, which may bring out still more strongly the truth on which I now insist, that the great evil of war is inward, moral; that its physical woes, terrible as they may be, are light by the side of this.
Suppose then, that in travelling through a solitary region, you should catch the glimpse of a distant dwelling. You approach it eagerly in the hope of hearing a welcome after your weary journey. As you draw nigh, an ominous stillness damps your hope; and on entering, you see the inmates of the house, a numerous family, stretched out motionless, and without life.' A wasting pestilence has, in one day, made their dwelling a common tomb. . At first you are thrilled with horror by the sight; but as you survey the silent forms, you see on all their countenances, amidst traces of suffering, an expression of benignity. You see some of the dead lying side by side, with hands mutually entwined, showing that the last action of life was a grasp of affection; whilst some lie locked in one another's arms. The mother's cold lips are still pressed to the cheek of the child, and the child's arms still wind round the neck of the mother. In the forms of others you see no ambiguous proof, that the spirit took its flight in the act of prayer. As you look on these signs of love and faith, stronger than the last agony, what a new feeling steals over you! Your horror subsides. Your eyes are suffused with tears, not of anguish, but of sympathy, affection, tender reverence. You feel the spot to be consecrated. Death becomes lovely like the sleep of infancy. You say, Blessed family, death hath not divided you !
With soothed and respectful sorrow, you leave this resting place of the good, and another dwelling, dimly described in the horizon, invites your steps. As you approach it, the same stillness is an augury of a like desolation, and you enter it, expecting to see another family laid low by the same mysterious disease. But you open the door, and the spectacle freezes your blood, and chains your steps to the threshold. On every face you see the distortion of rage. Every man's hand grasps a deadly weapon; every breast is gored with wounds. Here lies one, rived asunder by a sword. There, two are locked together, but in the deathgrapple of hatred, not the embrace of love. Here lies woman trampled on and polluted, and there the child, weltering in his own blood. You recoil with horror, as soon as the sickness of the heart will suffer you to move. The deadly steam of the apartment oppresses, overpowers you, as if it were the suffocating air of hell. You are terrorstruck, as if through the opening earth you had sunk into the abode of fiends; and when the time for reflection comes, and you recall the blessed habitation you had just before left,
what a conviction rushes on you, that nothing deserves the name of wo, but that which crime inflicts. You feel, that there is a sweetness, loveliness, sacredness in suffering and death, when pervaded by holy affections; and that infinite wretchedness and despair gather over these, when springing from unholy passion, when bearing the brand of crime.
I do not mean to deny, that the physical sufferings of war are great, and should incite us to labor for its abolition. But sufferings, separate from crime, coming not through man's wickedness, but from the laws of nature, are not unmixed evils. They have a ministry of love. God has ordained them, that they should bind men to one another, that they should touch and soften the human heart, that they should call forth mutual aid, solace, gratitude, and self-forgetting love. Sorrow is the chief cement of souls. Death, coming in the order of nature, gathers round the sufferer sympathizing, anxious friends, who watch day and night, with sulfused eyes and heart-breathed prayer, to avert or mitigate the last agonies. It calls up tender recollections, inspires solemn thought, rebukes human pride, obscures the world's glories, and speaks of immortality. From the still death-bed, what softening, subduing, chastening, exalting influences proceed. But death in war, death from the hand of man, sears the heart and conscience, kills human sympathies, and scatters the thought of judgment to come. Man dying in battle, unsolaced, unpitied, and a victim to hatred, rapacity, and insatiable ambition, leaves behind him wrongs to be revenged. His blood does not speak peace or speak of heaven; but sends forth a maddening cry, and exasperates survivors to new struggles.
Thus war adds to suffering the unutterable weight of crime, and defeats the holy and blessed ministry which all suffering is intended to fulfil. When I look back on the ages of conflict through which the race has passed, what most moves me is not the awful amount of suffering which war has inflicted. This may be borne. The terrible thought is, that this has been the work of crime; that men, whose great law is love, have been one another's butchers; that God's children have stained his beautiful earth, made beautiful for their home, with one another's blood; that the shriek, which comes to us from all regions and ages, has been extorted by human cruelty; that man has been a demon, and has turned earth into hell.
AMERICAN PEACE SOCIETY, BOSTON, MASS.
LOSS OF LIFE BY WAR.
LIFE is man's chief earthly boon. It is essential to all his other blessings; and without it he can neither do, nor enjoy, nor be any thing. It is the means of all his acquisitions ; it is the medium of all his enjoyments; it is the pivot of his destiny for two worlds, the seed-time of his whole immortal being, the period of his preparation for a blissful or a miserable immortality !
Such is life, the destruction of which is the grand aim of war. For what else are its engines constructed, its science and its skill taught, its arts and stratagems practised, all its daring and desperate deeds undertaken? For what purpose its swords and bayonets, its muskets and cannon, its bombs and rockets, and other instruments of death? Are they not made and used almost solely for the butchery of mankind? Is it not for this as her grand object, that Christendom still maintains her two thousand war-ships, still keeps her millions of human blood-hounds ready for their prey, and loads her toiling, struggling, starving myriads with debts and taxes? Have not the chief energies of our race for nearly six thousand years, been absorbed, all over the earth, in the work of mutual butchery ?
Surely, then, the result must be a fearful sacrifice of life. The sum total we cannot ascertain; but let us consider first how war obstructs the increase of mankind, and next how it actually destroys them; its work of prevention, and its work of destruction, both of which conspire to swell the incalculable amount of its havoc.
We cannot dwell on the thousand ways in which war prevents the legitimate and salutary growth of our species. The general poverty which it creates, must tend to hold back the mass of the community from marriage. Virtue is the chief nurse of population ; but this custom is a hot-bed of vice and crime. It reeks with licentiousness; and every one knows that such habits in a community are fatal to the increase of its numbers, and often suffice alone to insure, as in the South-Sea Islands, a steady and rapid diminution, Its laws, its stern exigencies, forbid in most cases the marriage of its agents; and the great body of
P. T. NO. xx.