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.
But the final indictment of modern nationalism is not that it demands such great sacrifices. If modern warfare did nothing more than demand greater sacrifices and inflict more cruel pain than before, it might be endured. Mankind has not outgrown its capacity for sacrifice or outlived its need of it. This war has taught us that prosperity has not made men as flabby and complacent, as we thought it had. We see the individual wronged by the nations, not because they demand so much of him, because they demand so much to so little purpose. We are grieved, not because democracy has given the nation so much power, but because it has endowed it with too little conscience. Though democracy may have freed us of the capricious adventures of tyrants, it does not seem to have delivered us from the unrighteous pride and avarice of the race. This does not mean that the moral character of time race has not developed as well as that of the individual, but the former does not seem to have held pace with the latter. At any rate, too many of the purposes involved in national ambitions and of the issues involved in national struggles are of a kind that will not and should not appeal to the conscience of the individual, if he is permitted to regard them sanely and is not blinded by the chauvinistic passion that national crises so easily unloose. Man is not unwilling to make sacrifices, but he has never longed more for issues that will hallow his sacrifices and make them worth while.