The Nation's Crime Against the Individual

The possession of power does not necessarily imply its unrighteous or oppressive use, although it generally awakes suspicion. We have no right to assume, therefore, that the nation is oppressing the individual because it is powerful enough to do so. However, if a strong nationalism is not in itself oppressive of individual life, certain conditions of contemporary civilization seem to have conspired to make it so. One of these is the development of individual life and personal values. The individual soul stands for more than it once did, both in its own eyes and in the esteem of its fellows. The German scientist Haeckel contended in a recent article on the war that his nation was bringing greater sacrifices than any other belligerent because the personal life-value of the German soldier was higher than that of the black and yellow fighters in the ranks of the Allies. This claim is based upon a significant truth, though Haeckel's partisan application of it is rather farfetched. Civilization has increased the value of the individual soul. More and more man emerges from the mass and takes a distinctive place among his fellows. Education has given him the independence of his own opinions. His Christian faith has made his happiness the very goal of history and his destiny independent of the future of his race. Science has tamed the hostility of his bitterest enemy, nature. Nature has always favored the race against the individual.

So careful of the type she seems,

So careless of the single life.

But the ingenuity of man has bent many of her forces to his own uses. All of these factors have given the single life a higher value and a more unique worth. When a nation demands these lives it is asking for greater sacrifices and is inflicting more acute pains and agonies than did the primitive state when it summoned its men. The artisans and professional men, the business men and thinkers who are manning the trenches of Europe and whose blood is drenching its battlefields, mean more or meant more to their friends, stood for more in their communities, and added more to the sum total of human values than the soldiers of ancient armies who could follow the standards of their leaders and espouse their country's cause without forsaking any particular task or abandoning any distinctive place in their community. Were modern nationalism no stronger than of old, this development of personal values would make its demands upon them more cruel and painful.

The methods of modern warfare serve to aggravate the pain of sacrificing individual values for racial ends. In the face of the development of individual life modern warfare demands an unprecedented suppression of individuality and sacrifice of personal values. Modern armies still need men, more than ever before, but the very qualities that make their lives worth while in civic life and endow their personalities with a unique distinction are least needed in the modern army. Both the ascendancy of the machine, of modern artillery, in warfare, and the machinelike character of the army itself have caused this state of affairs.

So impersonal is the modern machinery of war that not even the individuality of its manipulators stands out distinctly. The greatest war of all history has produced very few heroes and great personalities. Courage is still an asset in the army of to-day, but not that romantic valor, so celebrated in ancient histories, in which the qualities of personal prowess and initiative predominated. The courage that is needed to-day is the submissive courage that executes strategical plans without understanding them and obeys commands without fathoming their purpose. Thus grimness is overshadowing the romance of war, and machinelike precision has become more necessary than spectacular heroism. This is the reason why modern warfare is so fruitful of mental agony as well as of physical pain. The individual, never more eager for a unique distinction among his fellows, has never been more completely lost in the mass than in the modern army..

The development of military methods that has made this suppression of individuality necessary has proceeded in the face of diametrically opposite tendencies in civil life. There was a time when the trumpets of war were a signal of relief from the benumbing ennui of peace. At that time the pursuits of peace were in the hands of slaves, and it was the business of gentlemen to fight-- for war presented these gentlemen with the largest opportunities to distinguish themselves and gain ‘immortality.’ But since then the hazards and problems that make life interesting and the tasks I that make it worth while have multiplied as rapidly in civil life as they have decreased in military pursuits. Thus to-day the nation at war not only fails to satisfy the desire of man for a ‘place in the sun,’ but actually robs him of the place which he enjoyed in civil life. Modern warfare is cruel, not only because of its extravagant waste of human life, but because of its barbaric indifference to personal values. Not only the Massengrab is symbolical of the tragedy of individual life in war. In one sense the uniform is as truly, though not as vividly, symbolical of that tragedy which consists as much in the suppression of individuality as in the sacrifice of individuals.

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