« PreviousContinue »
When the thing was first proposed, it probably appeared to the majority of the people, as an unavailing and chimerical project; but God raised up powerful advocates, gave them the spirit of perseverance, and finally crowned their efforts with glorious success. Now, it is probable, thousands of people are wondering how such an abominable traffic ever had existence in a nation which had the least pretensions to Christianity or civilization. In a similar manner God can put an end to war, and fill the world with astonishment, that rational beings ever thought of such a mode of settling national controversies.
As to waiting for the millennium to put an end to war without any exertions on our own part, it is like the sinner's waiting God's time for conversion, while he pursues his course of vice and impiety. If ever there shall be a millennium in which the sword will cease to devour, it will probably be effected by the blessing of God on the benevolent exertions of enlightened men. Perhaps no one thing is now a greater obstacle in the way of this wished for state of the church, than the spirit and custom of war which is maintained by Christians themselves. Is it not then time, that efforts should be made to enlighten the minds of Christians on a subject of such infinite importance to the happiness of the human race? That such a state of things is desirable, no enlightened Christian can deny. That it can be produced without expensive and persevering efforts, is not imagined. But are not such efforts to exclude the miseries of war from the world, as laudable as those which have for their object the support of such a malignant and desolating custom?
The whole amount of property in the United States is probably of far less value than what has been expended and destroyed within two centuries by wars in Christendom. Suppose, then, that onefifth of this amount had been judiciously laid out by peace associations in the different states and nations, in cultivating the spirit and arts of peace, and in exciting a just abhorrence of war, would not the other four-fifths have been in a great measure saved, besides many millions of lives, and an immense portion of misery? Had the whole value of what has been expended in wars, been appropriated to the promotion of peace, how laudable would have been the appropriation, and how blessed the consequences !
Let us glance at the pleas in favor of war. "The Israelites were permitted, and even commanded to make war on the inhabitants of Canaan.'-To this it may be answered, that the Giver and Arbiter of life had a right, if he pleased, to make use of the savage customs of the age for punishing guilty nations. If any government of the present day should receive a commission to make war as the Israelites did, let the order be obeyed; but until they have such a commission, let it not be imagined that they can innocently make war. God has, moreover, given encouragement, that under the reign of the Messiah, there shall be such a time of peace,
" that nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war
If this prediction shall ever be fulfilled, the present delusion in favor of war must be done away. How is it to be fulfilled? Probably not by miraculous agency, but by the blessing of God on the benevolent exertions of individuals to open the eyes of their fellow-mortals in respect to the evils and delusions of war, and the blessings of peace..
A second plea may be this, that war is an advantage to a nation, as it usually takes off many vicious and dangerous characters.-But does not war make two such characters for every one it removes ? Is it not in fact the greatest school of depravity, and the greatest source of mischievous and dangerous characters that ever existed among men? Does not a state of war lower down the standard of morality in a nation, so that a vast portion of common vice is scarcely observed as evil? Besides, is it not awful to think of sending vicious men beyond the means of reformation and the hope of repentance? When they are sent into the army, what is this but consigning them to a state where they will rapidly fill up the measure of their iniquity, and become “fitted to destruction ? "
It will be pleaded, thirdly, that no substitute for war can be devised, which will insure to a nation a redress of wrongs.-But is it common for a nation to obtain a redress of wrongs by war? As to redress, do not the wars of nations resemble boxing at a tavern, when both the combatants receive a terrible bruising, then drink together, and make peace, each, however, bearing for a long time the marks of his folly and madness? A redress of wrongs by war is so uncommon, that unless revenge is redress, and multiplied injuries satisfaction, we should suppose that none but madmen would run the hazard.
But if the eyes of people could be opened in regard to the evils and delusions of war, would it not be easy to form a confederacy of nations, and organize a high court of equity to decide national controversies? Why might not such a court be composed of some of the most eminent characters from each nation, and a compliance with its decisions be made a point of national honor, to prevent the effusion of blood, and to preserve the blessings of peace? Can any considerate person say, that the probability of obtaining right in such a court, would be less than by an appeal to arms? When an individual appeals to a court of justice for the redress of wrongs, it is not always the case that he obtains his right. Still such an appeal is more honorable, more safe, and more certain, as well as more benevolent, than for the individual to attempt to obtain redress by his pistol, or his sword. And are not the reasons for avoiding an appeal to the sword for the redress of wrongs, always great in proportion to the calamities which such an appeal must naturally involve? If this be a fact, then there is infinitely greater reason, why two nations should avoid an appeal to arms, than usually exists against a bloody combat between two contending individuals.
It may be urged, also, that a spirit of forbearance on the part of a national government, would operate as an invitation to repeated
insult and aggression.—But is this plea founded on facts and experience? Does it accord with what is well known of human nature? Who are the persons in society that most frequently receive insult and abuse? Are they the meek, the benevolent, and the forbearing? Do these more commonly have reason to complain, than persons of quick resentment, who are ready to fight on the least provocation? There are two sects of professed Christians in this country, peculiar in their opinions respecting the lawfulness of war, and the right of repelling injury by violence, the Quakers and the Shakers. Now, does it appear from experience, that their forbearing spirit brings on them a greater portion of injury and insult than is experienced by people of other sects? Is not the reverse of this true in fact? There may indeed be some instances of such gross depravity, as a person's taking advantage of their pacific character to do them injury with the hope of impunity; but in general, their pacific principles and spirit command the esteem even of the vicious, and operate as a shield from insult and abuse. How seldom, too, do children of a mild, forbearing temper experience insult or injury, compared with the waspish who will sting if touched? The same inquiry may be made in respect to persons of these opposite descriptions of every age, and in every situation of life; and the result will be favorable to the point in question.
Should any deny the applicability of these examples to national rulers, we will produce one example undeniably applicable. When William Penn took the government of Pennsylvania, he distinctly avowed to the Indians his forbearing and pacific principles, and his benevolent wishes for uninterrupted peace with them. On these principles the government was administered, while it remained in the hands of the Quakers. What then was the effect? Did this pacific character in government invite aggression and insult ? Let the answer be given in the language of the Edinburgh Review of the Life of William Penn. Speaking of the treaty made by Penn with the Indians, the Reviewer says:-“Such indeed was the spirit in which the negotiation was entered into, and the corresponding settlement conducted, that for the space of more than seventy years, so long indeed as the Quakers retained the chief power in the government, the peace and amity which had been thus solemnly promised and concluded, never was violated; and a large though solitary example afforded, of the facility with which they who are really sincere and friendly in their views, may live in harmony with those who are supposed to be peculiarly fierce and faithless."
Some of the evils of wars have already been mentioned; but the field is almost boundless. The demoralizing and depraving effects of war cannot be too seriously considered. We have heard much of the corrupting tendency of some of the rites and customs of the heathen; but what custom of the heathen nations had a greater effect in depraving the human character, than the custom
of war? What is that feeling usually called a war-spirit, but a deleterious compound of enthusiastic ardor, ambition, malignity and revenge, a compound which as really endangers the soul of the possessor, as the life of his enemy! Who, but a person deranged or deluded, would think it safe to rush into the presence of his Judge with his heart boiling with enmity, and his brother's blood dripping from his hands! Yet in time of war, how much pains is taken to excite and maintain this blood-thirsty disposition as essential to success!
The profession of a soldier exposes him to sudden and untimely death, and at the same time hardens his heart, and renders him regardless of his final account. When a person goes into the army, it is expected of him that he will rise above the fear of death. In doing this, he too coinmonly rises above the fear of God, and all serious concern for his soul. It is not denied that some men sustain virtuous characters amidst the contaminating vapors of a camp, and some may be reformed by a sense of the dangers to which they are exposed; but these are uncommon oc
The depravity occasioned by war, is not confined to the army, Every species of vice gains ground in a nation during war. And when a war is brought to a close, seldom, perhaps, does a community return to its former standard of morals. In time of
peace, vice and irreligion generally retain the ground they acquired by a war. As every war augments the amount of national depravity, so it proportionably increases the dangers and miseries of society.
Among the evils of war, a wanton undervaluing of human life ought to be mentioned. This effect may appear in various forms. When a war is declared for the redress of some wrong in regard to property, if nothing but property be taken into consideration, the result is not commonly better than spending five hundred dollars in a law-suit to recover a debt of ten. But when we come to estimate human lives against dollars and cents, how are we confounded! “ All that a man hath will he give for his life.”
If by the custom of war rulers learn to undervalue the lives of their own subjects, how much more do they undervalue the lives of their enemies! As they learn to hear of the loss of five hundred or a thousand of their own men with perhaps less feeling than they would hear of the death of a favorite horse or dog ; so they learn to hear of the death of thousands after thousands on the side of the enemy, with joy and exultation. If their own men have succeeded in taking an unimportant fortress, or a frigate, with the loss of fifty lives on their own side, and fifty-one on the other, this is a matter of joy and triumph. This time they have got the game. But, alas! at what expense to others! This expense, however, does not interrupt the joy of war-makers. They leave it to the wounded, and the friends of the dead, to feel and to
This dreadful depravity of feeling is not confined to rulers in time of war. The army becomes abandoned to such depravity.
They learn to undervalue not only the lives of their enemies, but even their own, and will often wantonly rush into the arms of death, for the sake of military glory. And more or less of the same want of feeling, and the same undervaluing of human life, extend through the nation in proportion to the frequency of battles, and the duration of war.
If any thing be done by the army of one nation, which is deemed by the other as contrary to the modern usages in war, how soon do we hear the exclamation of Goths and Vandals! Yet what are Christians at war, better than those barbarous tribes? And what is the war-spirit in them, better than the spirit of Goths and Vandals? When the war-spirit is excited, it is not always to be circumscribed in its operations by the refinements of civilization. It is at best a bloody and desolating spirit. What is our boast of civilization, or Christianization, while we tolerate, as popular and justifiable, the most horrid custom which ever resulted from human wickedness? Should a period arrive when the nations “shall learn war no more," what will posterity think of our claims, as Christians and civilized men? The custom of sacrificing men by war, may appear to them as the blackest of all heathen superstitions. Its present popularity may appear as wonderful to ages to come, as the past popularity of any ancient custom now does to us. What! they may exclaim, could those be Christians, who could sacrifice men by thousands to a point of honor, falsely so called, or to obtain a redress of a trifling wrong in regard to property? If such were the customs of Christians, what were they better than the heathens of their own time?
Perhaps some apologist may rise up in that day, and plead, that it appears from the history of our times, that it was supposed necessary to the safety of a nation, that its government should be quick to assume a warlike tone and attitude, upon every infringement of their rights; that magnanimous forbearance was considered as pusillanimity, and that Christian meekness was thought intolerable in the character of a ruler.
To this others may reply-Could these professed Christians imagine, that their safety depended on displaying a spirit the reverse of their Master's? Could they suppose such a temper best calculated to insure the protection of Him who held their destiny in his hands ? Did they not know, that wars were of a demoralizing tendency, and that the greatest danger of a nation resulted from its corruption and depravity? Did they not also know, that a haughty spirit of resentment in one government, was very sure to provoke a similar spirit in another? That one war usually paved the way for a repetition of similar calamities, by depraving each of the contending parties, and by fixing enmities and jealousies wirich would be ready to break forth on the most frivolous occasions ?
That we may obtain a still clearer view of the delusions of war, let us look back to the origin of society. Suppose a family, like that of Noah, to commence the settlement of a country. They multiply into a number of distinct families. Then in the