There was no word in this appeal to indicate that any nobler—and humbler—sentiment than unbridled ambition (which, after all, is for the very few) animates the soldier’s heart. There was no distinction drawn between aggressive and defensive warfare. There was no hint that men bear their full share of the sufferings caused by war. The assumption that women endure all the pain is in accordance with the assumption that men enjoy all the pleasure. To write as though battle were a game, played by men at the expense of women, is childish and irrational. We Americans are happily spared the sight of mangled soldiers lying in undreamed-of agony on the frozen field. We do not see the ghastly ambulance trains jolting along with their load of broken, tortured men; or the hospitals where these wrecks are nursed back to some poor remnant of life, or escape through the merciful gates of death. But we might read of these things; we might visualize them in moments of comfortable leisure, and take shame to our souls at the platform eloquence which so readily assumes that the sorrows of war are hidden in women’s hearts, that the burdens of war are laid upon women’s shoulders, that women are sacrificed in their helplessness to the hatred and the ambitions, the greed and the glory of men.
If by any chance a word of regret is expressed for the soldier who dies for his country, it is always because he is the son of his mother, or the husband of his wife, or the father of his child. He is never permitted an entity of his own. It is curious that the same women who clamor for a recognition of their individual freedom should assume these property rights in men. Dr. Anna Shaw has commented sarcastically upon a habit (one of many bad habits) which she has observed in the unregenerate sex. They speak of their women-kind in terms of relationship; they use the possessive case. They say, ‘my wife,’ ‘my sister,’ ‘my daughter,’ ‘my mother,’ ‘my aunt,’ instead of ‘Jane,’ ‘Susan,’ ‘Mary Ann,’ ‘Mrs. Smith,’ ‘Miss Jones.’ Apparently Dr. Shaw does not hear women say, ‘my husband,’ ‘my brother,’ ‘my son,’ ‘my father,’ ‘my uncle’; or, if she does, this sounds less feudal in her ears. Advanced feminists have protested against the custom of ‘branding a woman at marriage with her husband’s name.’ Even the convenience of such an arrangement fails to excuse its arrogance.
Yet we are bidden to protest against the wickedness of all war, not because men die, but because wives are widowed; not because men slay, but because mothers are childless; not because men do evil, or suffer wrong, but because, in either case, women must share the consequences. For the sake of these women war must be stopped, is the popular clamor, — not unsuggestive of Mr. Winkle imploring the submerged Mr. Pickwick to ‘keep up’ for his sake. After all, the vast majority of men would be only too glad to escape war for their own sakes. They do not covet loss of income and destruction of property. They do not gladly aspire to an armless or legless future. Not one of them really wants a shattered thigh, or a bullet in his abdomen. And, in addition to these (perhaps selfish) considerations, we might do them the justice to remember that they are not destitute of natural affection for their wives and children; but that, on the contrary, the protection of the family is, and has always been, a factor in war. It lent a desperate courage to the Belgian soldier who saw his home destroyed; it nerved the arm of the French soldier who knew his home in peril. The killing of women and children at Scarborough sent a host of tardy volunteers into the British army. It is about the only thing on earth which the least valiant man cannot stomach.
The Turk, not squeamish as a rule,
No special glee betrayed,
And even Mr. Bernard Shaw
Failed to commend the raid.
The outbreak of the war was seized upon as a strong argument for diametrically opposite views. A small and hardy minority kicked up its heels and shouted, ‘Women cannot fight. Why should they control a land they are powerless to defend?’ A large and sentimental majority lifted up its eyes to Heaven, and answered, ‘If women had possessed their rights, all would now be smiling and at peace.’ And neither of these contending factions took any trouble to ascertain and understand the rights and wrongs of the conflict. People who pin their faith to a catchword never feel the necessity of understanding anything.