IF there is one way more than another in which the twentieth century has gone mad, it is in this, that it has transferred the tests of good and evil from judgment of the moral actions of personal beings to judgment of physical and impersonal things. Time was when an act was esteemed good if it furthered some good end. It was bad if it hindered that good end. Nowadays, however, we have got ourselves twisted up into such a sorry state that we esteem things good in themselves or bad in themselves, entirely apart from their use by moral agents. There was a time when people said that using alcohol properly was good, and misusing alcohol was bad. Now we discover a considerable portion of the people of the earth declaring that alcohol is in itself bad. Once, ambition employed to the furtherance of a noble end was considered a good; ambition merely selfishly to succeed, an evil. Now we teach our children that, ambition itself is a good thing. When our boys and girls read Shakespeare, they are commonly at a loss to discover why Brutus justified his killing of Cæsar by stating that Cæsar had been ambitious. Once upon a time actions were said to be good or evil according as they helped or hindered the good of men and the glory of God. Nowadays impersonal things are said to be in themselves good or bad, no matter how they may be used.
This confusion of thought is the parent of much of the moral and intellectual confusion of our time. For instance: once men knew that dancing could be either good or bad, according as it was of a sort that spiritualized men or of a sort that brutalized them. Then along came those blind and practical business men, the Puritans. The Puritans boasted that externalities were nothing to them, but that they lived on spiritual truths. As a matter of fact, of course, there never was a sort of people who so thoroughly destroyed the interior spirit of everything they touched or who clung so persistently to external husks. Dancing to Puritans was a merely external t hing. The poetry in it they could never perceive. The external husk of dancing they esteemed, rightly, an imbecile thing. — David’s wife, sitting in the window, was an early Puritan. — They therefore called dancing a thing in itself evil. Of late years Puritanism has begun to die, for which the world of poets should render thanks. But people still retain their bad habits of moral thought, and conclude that, since Puritanism declared dancing in itself utterly bad, therefore dancing in itself must be utterly good, The logical outgrowth of this position is the spectacle of our young men and women falling victims to modern reVivals of the most degenerating dances the world has ever seen. Possibly at some time men may come to the conclusion that dancing is neither good nor bad, being a non-personal and therefore a non-moral thing, but that the use of it may be either good or bad. This profound discovery will be simply a return to a point of view everywhere accepted in the despised Middle Ages.
But all this somewhat lengthy dissertation is but to prepare the way for the presentation of a thought about war. The wise ancients always danced before they fought, so that possibly to talk of dancing is not an improper way to preface a talk on war.
This modern tendency which we have mentioned is nowhere more evident than in the serious utterances which are printed, preached, and talked by presumably intelligent and careful thinkers on the subject of war. This talk may all be summed up in the dictum, uttered as if it were the most self-evident of truths, that ‘War is wrong.’
Here, again, we have the ascription of a moral quality to a non-personal and therefore non-moral thing. It is plain to any person who thinks with any degree of accuracy, and who speaks the English language, that war is not wrong at all. Neither is war right. The goodness or badness of war cannot be rightly spoken of, any more than the hardness of black or the sootiness of space. The use of war may be very good, if it tends toward the good of man and the glory of God; or the use of war may be very bad, if it tends to the hindrance of these things. But war is neither moral nor immoral; it is merely non-moral.
As one glances over the pages of history, one finds wars, it is true, which are blots upon the records of man; but one also finds wars without which the world would have been so incomparably the poorer that we could never have done without them. And one also perceives, to his astonishment if he is a ‘practical man,’ that the wars which have been gigantic blunders and crimes have all been wars for the attainment of practical ends, like territory, or markets, or wealth, while the wars which the world could not have done without have all been wars for abstract principles, for beliefs, for religions, for mad dreams and seemingly impossible hopes. The world could well spare the conquests of Napoleon, because they were all wars merely for Napoleon; but the world could not spare the martial conflicts surrounding and realizing the French Revolution, because it was a war for those abstract and sensible absurdities, liberty, equality, and fraternity. We could well spare the Mexican War, which was a fight for territory, but we could not at all get along without the Civil War, which was a war for man.
This idea that all war is bad is due to the fact that men have lost their belief in principles, ideals, mad dreams, impossible hopes, as the most real things in life; while they have retained their belief in the very great reality and importance of material welfare. A religion is apt to be an unreal thing to most of us. But getting hurt or killed is still a very real thing to all of us. That a man should be killed in a war is plainly deplorable even to a man who has no dreams at all; but that it is glorious for a man to get killed for a cause which possesses him, is something which no puny materialist can ever understand. The difference between a murder and a martyrdom is comprehensible only to people with souls. In the back of its mind, our age has a generally unavowed but nevertheless real sympathy for Christ upon the Cross, just because He was killed. We pity Him Crucified; our fathers adored Him.
And the greatest of all these dreams and ideals which the world has lost, the thing which has been at the back of every good war since time began, is love. If you ask nine out of ten people to define love to-day, they will say it is the absence of hate. This is the definition of a man intellectually and morally standing on his head. Love is no negation. Love is no pale, sentimental mist. Love is a great, burning fire which flames so fiercely in the breast that one rushes, like what the world would call a madman, to throw one’s life away for what one loves, to defend it, to slay its enemies, to champion it, to let one’s death for it bear witness to one’s passion.
How completely extravagant such a definition sounds to us who have emasculated love until it is but the negation of hate! How absurd it seems to us of the very practical, and very drab, twentieth century! We love our wives and husbands so mildly that we let them divorce us rather than fight with and for them. We love our country by politely putting a flag up on the Fourth of July and by insisting on her protecting us in our personal affairs. We love our Church so mildly that we cannot bear to see her enter upon social and industrial battles, into which she may drag us. We love God, goodhumoredly patronizing Him by not opposing Him. And we think we are in charity with all men because we do not quarrel with them even when they take the high-road to Hell. We think we love people because we have stopped fighting them.
If we really loved them, we should have to fight them often, for their good. And if we really loved God we should have to fight for his truth. The fact that men quarrel no more about religion is a sign that their religion has become formal and perfunctory. The fact that men have ceased to war for their ideals is a sure sign that they have not any ideals worth fighting for. If a man really has a dream before him, a dream not yet realized upon the earth, he will have to fight, — shed blood, kill, and die if necessary, —to embody that dream.
Even the dream of universal peace produces wars. This explains the paradox that the Prince of Peace has been the patron of innumerable struggles wrought in blood. There can be no cessation of struggle until every ideal is realized. There can be no end to war this side of Heaven. The mystic battle of Armageddon goes on. He is either a coward or one without wits who has no enemies whom he must fight to the death, and fight, possibly, with bloody tools.
To determine the morality of any struggle one must discover the motive of that struggle. A fight conducted for some one’s else benefit is a good fight. A fight for one’s own selfish benefit is an evil fight. Wars for territory or markets or that sort of thing, these are evil. Wars for religions, wars for theories, wars for mad dreams, these are right. What if in them men are killed and injured, wives left widows, children made fatherless? These things are not always unmixed disasters. Is not the heritage left a child by him who has lost his life for a noble cause of more value than either the caresses or the material wealth that the father might otherwise have given it? Is not the widow of a martyred hero made rich in the knowledge that she helped to make that hero? Was it not Calvary which really made the Virgin blessed among women ? There are things worse than death and better than life, and in our hearts, if not in our minds, we know it.
The records of Christ show that He knew all this, despite all the emasculating criticism of the Tolstoyans and near-Tolstoyans. He said, indeed, that the ultimate purpose of his coming was to establish peace. His hearers, with their usual denseness, supposed that He meant that all wars should forthwith cease. Wherefore He was careful to say these words: ‘Think not that I came to send peace upon the earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughterin-law against the mother-in-law, and a man’s foes shall be those of his own household. ... He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.’
Would it not be just as well for Christians to stop singing indiscriminately the praises of that pale negation which moderns falsely call peace? Would it not be just as well to cease shouting unmixed anathemas at war? Would it not be just as well to admit that often toleration and a desire for peace are but other names for spiritual bankruptcy? It is perfectly possible to damn mightily those who would use war and fighting for their own selfish ends,—personal, party, or national, — and at the same time to continue to honor with all devotion those who have laid down, are laying down, or shall lay down their lives battling for the fraternity of men and the love of God. Professor James has said that what we need to-day is a ‘moral equivalent of war.’ The records of the ages have shown us that there is only one moral equivalent of war, and that one is war itself.