The Pacifist at War

“He cannot expect it to be the final war; but it may be the last great war. In this sense, then, it is a war to prevent war.”

How shall one who has in the past proclaimed himself a pacifist justify his enthusiastic support of our government in making war upon Germany and her allies? Is he abandoning his principles when he fails to number himself with the ‘conscientious objectors,’ and refuses to encourage those who are ever ready to urge peace at any price? Is there warrant for the all too common distrust of his honesty of purpose, or, at least, of his whole-hearted sympathy with those who call upon us to fight with all our national power until victory is gained?

Many men of this type among us to-day, whose patriotism would not for an instant be questioned under ordinary conditions, and who feel that all our energies should, for the moment, be given to the arduous task before us in the present national emergency, find their efforts curtailed, or wholly thwarted, by this distrust and suspicion—and strongly resent it.

Nevertheless, it must be granted, I think, that such pacifists are themselves largely responsible for the uncomfortable position in which they do not make clear the grounds for what appears to their bellicose friends to be the pretence of a sudden and complete surrender of their principles since the declaration of war by the United States. They should remember that war arouses passions which render it difficult for the average man to judge fairly those who have opposed chauvinism in the past. They should, with patience, urge their opponents to cast aside prejudice, and to consider the grounds of their present position.

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The consistent pacifist looks upon war as the greatest of all evils; and in this he finds few opponents to-day. The horrors of the present war have converted to this view a large proportion of those who have in past years appeared as apologists for war.

He finds, as he looks back at history, that, apart from the rare cases where the victor has actually crushed his opponent, few if any wars have closed with the full accomplishment by the victors of the ends that their wars were undertaken to attain.

He sees, on the other hand, that wars begun for a given end are likely to lead to other wars which would not otherwise have occurred. The spark that was struck in Servia in 1914 has developed the world-wide conflagration which has at last leaped across the broad Atlantic.

He sees that each war has left seeds in ground which has yielded abundant fruitage when time has become ripe for a new war harvest.

He notes in all this a likeness to the usual reactions of hostile individuals. The individual combatant, even where he completely vanquishes his opponent, seldom gains as the result of his success redress of the supposed wrongs which aroused his anger. His success is likely to create a host of enemies among the friends of the one vanquished. It arouses a spirit of revenge which frequently leads to long successions of new ebullitions of violence.

He notes again that the emotions which lead to war are the same emotions which lead to combat between individuals, but which, appearing coincidently in many individuals of a race, are nationalized, if we may so speak.

All this leads him to ask whether the means man has invented to prevent hostile combat between individuals may not suggest methods by which war can be avoided altogether.

His thought, perhaps not unnaturally, turns to the familiar complex legal and extra-legal social restrictions adopted to control individuals; the result of such considerations appearing in the hopeful propositions, so prominent in our day, looking to the establishment of fully recognized international courts, sustained by national forces. But he too often overlooks the fact that judicial systems, and effective methods of control of the violent individual, are found only in highly socialized communities; that national life is much less fully organized than the life of individual men; that therefore it is scarcely comparable with the life of those who are controlled by social pressure, but is more properly likened to the life of men in a crude community, where legal restrictions are unformulated; as, for instance, among the head hunters of the Philippines.

Or we may come nearer home, if we consider the action of the people of California at the time of the sudden emigration to its gold-ladened mountains. There, in the effort to overcome the evil of violence between individuals, resort was first had to repression of the individual ruffian by extra-legal ‘vigilance committees,’ which aimed to control combat between individuals by organized violence, much as, in national affairs, the great powers joined in their punitive expedition in China after the Boxer movement.

The vigilance committee methods were abandoned finally; but only because certain influential individauls determined that they would take no further part in their proceedings, deeming it better to trust to the imperfectly administered courts, even though this involved great personal risk. They concluded that the way to stop violence between individuals, even under serious provocation, was to stop it.

Arguing thus, the pacifist holds that the way to stop war is to stop it; and that the elimination of war cannot be hoped for until some powerful and influential nation, suffering under very serious provocation from another great power, determines to stop. He acknowledges that such a course involves, in the first instance, risk of aggressive attack; and that it carries with it an implication of national cowardice; but he feels that the risk will be warranted in consideration of the possible gain to civilization; and that the adoption of this course really involves the highest possible degree of national courage.

These are general principles.

But, in every crisis we must face conditions as they exist. War has for ages been, and still is, the natural mode of settlement of deep-seated racial hostilities. Even if one hopes for the eventual realization of the ideal of enduring peace, he must acknowledge that the war habits of man cannot be expected to disappear once for all and suddenly; that there must be an era of transition when the strength of the pacifist will be spent in urging the adoption of means to block impending wars.

We, at best, are living in this transitional time. A great war, the greatest of all wars, is being waged in Europe; a war which has brought to man’s attention as never before the horrible cruelty and loss of war, and the national conceptions which lead to it. We have ourselves stood calm under serious provocation, and have thus stimulated in ourselves a spirit of control that must ever remain an example to other races. But gradually, as matters have shaped themselves, it has become clearer and clearer that the ideals of the Teutonic alliance, if realized, will tend not to eliminate, but to perpetuate war; and that the pacifist’s hope of the early approach of an era of enduring peace will be thwarted if they are victors. And we see that the defeat of this alliance is the only means by which this realization of their barbaric ideals can be prevented. Thus, by joining with the Allies in opposition to the Central Powers, we see ourselves taking our part with a national vigilance committee determined to render powerless the Prussian desperado; the existence of this committee being necessary pending the fuller development of an effective international judiciary.

And our special world position has given our country in this connection very unique advantage, which looks to substantial aid in the realization of the pacifist’s ideal. For in entering this war, we appear as purely disinterested participants so far as the original grounds of contention are concerned; and we are thus enabled to bring to the attention of the world the fact that the main object in view is the final elimination of war. We fight that we may render powerless the arch aggressor ruffian; that we may take from him the weapons with which he threatens the peaceful life of the race; that we may persuade him, and indeed his opponents as well, that, after he has been disarmed, a world-order must be evolved which will tend to displace the national vigilance committee with which, for the time being, we have cast our lot, and substitute for it a national judicial system with such national police power as may be necessary to maintain its authority.

And we have seized our opportunity to make another great step in advance, which would have been utterly impossible had we remained neutral. We, through our President, have enunciated an ideal of governmental aims, and governmental procedure, which never before has been brought clearly before the world; and we have been able to do this at a time, and in a manner, which have led all the great nations with whom we are in alliance to receive it with acclaim.

This last fact is, in itself, a great triumph in the cause the pacifist has at heart; for this approval of our President’s words is certain to be made use of by statesmen in later generations to curb the aggressive tendencies of the jingoes among political leaders, whom we must expect to find from time to time in the future aiming to influence the legislative bodies of their day.

The rational pacifist thus enters this war because it looks toward the realization of his ideal. He cannot expect it to be the final war; but it may be the last great war. In this sense, then, it is a war to prevent war.

And with all this in mind the pacifist, as an idealist, may well give, as many of them are now giving, all the strength that is in them to win this war; realizing that for the moment we must lay aside all thought of peace, devoting all our energies, without stint, to every action that looks to victory. Vast will be the treasure we shall sacrifice; bitter will be the suffering we shall incur in sympathetic coöperation with our allies. But we shall make the sacrifice with enthusiasm, and shall bear the burden of sorrow with courage, assured that in so doing we are helping to take a long step on the road to enduring peace.

We must win this war; and we shall win it.