The Non-Combatant's Manual of Arms
IN the ‘Character of a Happy Warrior’ Wordsworth made the ultimate answer to his own question, —
That every man in arms should wish to be ?
Though the poem deals quite as much with the warfare of life itself as with that of the battle-field, it stands as the classic statement of the terms on which a warrior may attain to happiness. In these days it is not an entirely simple matter for anyone but a warrior to be happy. Military duty is clear and uncomplicated — ‘to do or die,’ and in a cause, if it be that of the Allies, in which either doing or dying is an enviable fate. Unless the soldier be among the few upon whom rest the responsibilities of supreme decisions, his daily, his hourly task is plainly set before him. None of the distractions of domestic, professional, or business life can draw his attention from the matter in hand. They are all pushed and locked outside the doors of his consciousness. The influences which supplant them are those that go under the general and heartening terms of esprit de corps and morale — the common feeling of a body of men devoted to a single high purpose. So, at least, the happy lot of the warrior appears to the non-combatant, who stands so often where he does, outside the organized, concrete service of his country and of the civilized world, simply because he must.
Think of the vast number of the condemned to non-combatancy — the whole army of women, the multitudes of men who are both beyond the age of military usefulness and within the circle inescapably marked for carrying on the processes of peace, and of all the others rendered inactive through physical disabilities; think, too, of the impatient band of those whose hearts are in the fight on the issues of which all the security and satisfaction of their fulfilled manhood depend, whose souls are at their quickest to respond to the call of great adventure, but whose bodies and judgments are not yet counted ripe for the enterprise! It is a host with powers well-nigh illimitable in scope. They have not gone all unemployed in this country of ours; else there would have been no such records as those of the Liberty Loans, the Red Cross and Y.M.C.A. campaigns, the multifarious work of committees, the far-reaching agencies of mercy, the industrial and administrative achievements wrought by the hands of civilians. But with all credit for their performance, it may still leave one thinking, ‘When ye shall have done all these things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.’
It is not through such things as these, such payment of notes on demand, that a people acquires merit, at least of the highest order. In the manual of arms these things, for the noncombatant, are the counterpart of the setting-up drill for the soldier. They are the preliminaries, the test and exercise of fibre. When it is well hardened, when every muscle makes its instant, instinctive response to the command of the moment, then, your soldier will tell you, the foundations are laid for the morale on which victory is built. For the non-combatant there is no less need for a kindred drill of the spirit, a training of the mind and heart to the end of fortifying them to meet the conditions of a world abruptly torn from its settled courses, and, as it were, beginning life over again.
Of course we are not committed permanently to the present state of affairs. Peace will be restored, perhaps sooner than the wisest can foretell, — stranger things have happened, — perhaps at a far more distant day than even a rational optimist can imagine; and of all men, it should be for him especially to realize that the end is not hastened but deferred by permitting any temporary advantage over the enemy to obscure the necessity of effort, unremitting, cumulative, crescendo, until the victory is won. But whether it come soon or late, the world will not go back at a single jump into its familiar ways: the enemy, at least in the form of the principles he has represented, will still be a force to reckon with; there will still be a government to criticize; the ideas for which the fight is waging will remain to be firmly established among the real and controlling desires of mankind. The manual of arms in which the non-combatant must make himself proficient, will therefore still be needed; and he who gives thought to the purpose and practice of this drill may reasonably feel that his effort is not merely for the immediate day, or month, or year.
What is the true place of the principle of hatred in the non-combatant’s spiritual exercise? In the present death-grapple with such a foe as Germany has proved herself unequivocally to be, the injunction to love your enemies cannot be urged with any approach to literalness. The simplest word in its favor must be surrounded with all the perils of juggling with terms, of dealing in humiliating compromises and accommodations. Instead of discussing the matter at all, it is more profitable for the non-combatant to consider, as honestly as he can, where a whole-hearted — that is to say, a German — acceptance of the ‘hate your enemies’ principle will land him. It is the Germans who have established themselves as the masters of this weapon of warfare. It is they whose children are taught to lift their voices in a hymn of hate. It is the commanders of their submarines who so hate their enemies that, after a mockery of rescue, after extending to them a doubtful sanctuary on the wave-swept decks of their vessels, they do their perfect work by submerging and leaving their victims to the tenderer mercies of the sea.
There are other German victories than those of arms — and their possibilities are legion. There is a deadly victory of the spirit. When American non-combatants are heard, for example, to complain that their government is too lenient to aliens of an enmity quite unproved, and to urge the severest courses toward them by asking in a tone of finality, ‘What would happen to an American in Germany in corresponding circumstances?’ there is grave reason to fear that this victory of the spirit has been won. What would happen in Germany is precisely what should not happen in America, if our purposes in this war are what we know them to be; and the unconquered in spirit must be brave enough to say so.
Is the non-combatant, then, to go his ways in a mollifying mist of benevolence toward the foes of his country, leaving to its soldiers and sailors, whose business it is to slay and slay until the brute force of the enemy is subdued, this practice of the very negation of the gentler principle? A thousand times, no! While the soldier is killing a man, he must not stay his hand by loving him. He can love righteousness, and hate iniquity, with all his heart; and for the sake of establishing the one and overthrowing the other, he can, and must, perform deeds which at any other moment of his life would he impossible for him. But it is not the business of the non-combatant to slay. His good fortune is that he may make some discriminations in his hatreds. He may, and should, separate, in some measure, the personal from the universal, the petty from the immense. With all the intensity of which he is capable, let him hate, with a righteous, ennobling wrath, the evil thing which men of good-will on earth have joined themselves to destroy. Even while the bitter fight is on, we cannot tell ourselves too often, what we know in our hearts, that when it is over we shall look back with less satisfaction on the smaller personal hatreds it has engendered, than on that large and truly righteous indignation which imparts strength to the fighting arm.
If the principle of hatred must be kept in its place, so too must that of generosity. Its exercise is chiefly to be found in direct connection with the exercise of criticism — that function of the non-combatant which may be turned with equal force to the purposes of help and of hindrance. In the combatant it is a function which every military law suppresses. An order is a thing to be carried out, not to be weighed, questioned, and perchance rejected. The voice of authority demands and receives unmurmuring obedience. The non-combatant is under no duress of discipline to hold him from the contrary course. Indeed, in a democracy, the opinion of the people must be sought and heard. When things are clearly going wrong, somebody should say so; and the utterance of a generous criticism has its great and obvious uses. Only let it be generous. The fatally easy thing is to see, and to say, how much better this, that, or the other might have been, if only—the sentence may be completed with any one of a hundred phrases. Seeming to have no comrades-in-arms, no superior officers, the non-combatant is nevertheless surrounded by millions of fellow-citizens for whom the conduct of the war is just as vital a matter as it is for himself, and, more specifically, by those authorities of an elected government who are intrusted with its direction. It is conceivable that the authorities, from the President down, are less high-minded, sagacious, and capable than any single critic of their conduct and motives; it is conceivable, but, in the vast majority of cases, it is highly improbable. It is, on the other hand, a matter of virtual certainty that in any given occasion for deciding upon a course of national policy or conduct, the authorities have an enormous advantage over their critics through the possession of the facts, and some knowledge of all the circumstances, in the light of which a decision must be reached. How can the critics be persuaded to remember this, and, while it is in their minds, perhaps not to suspend judgment, — that would be too much to ask, — but at least to impose a sentence with some recommendation to mercy?
This is the minimum demand of generosity. It is the fashion to separate criticism into two varieties, constructive and destructive. The average citizen is not confronted with frequent opportunities to use either of these in matters of universal moment. There is, however, a third variety — obstructive criticism — which he can practise with palpable effect. Far too many of us are constantly employing it. The homely American adage, ‘Don’t shoot the pianist— he is doing his best,’ expresses the national reprobation of the obstructively critical habit of mind. It is a habit which in time of war leads to consequences peculiarly dangerous. It would so wreck the discipline of an army that the first symptoms of it call for the rigorous measures by which infectious diseases are stamped out. In the host of non-combatants it must be dealt with chiefly through self-discipline; and the civilian can propose no more fruitful drill for his spirit than that which will put in the place of obstructive criticism a genuine desire to give his government credit for seeking and achieving high ends, whenever it does so, and ‘getting behind’ it in this effort at every opportunity. Of course he will not invariably feel that this can be done; but the raker of muck and the pilgrim to a celestial city are, in general, those who find what they are looking for.
What, indeed, are we looking for at the end of the road on which, as a people, we have now been traveling these many toilsome months — the same road of blood and death along which the peoples of Europe whose cause has always been ours have fared so much longer? The true objects of the war as a national enterprise have been stated again and again so clearly and completely that in this place it is needed only to consider the personal relation of the non-combatant to them. Their attainment must include many details of international arrangement; but when all is said and done, the core of the matter lies in the possibility of improving individual human conditions. It is a war for the individual, his rights and aspirations, as against the horrid doctrine that a state and its autocratic rulers aresupreme in human affairs. The soldier understands this with entire clearness, and realizes its importance to his own and subsequent generations, even to the extent of staking his life that his conception of the truth, his certainty of it, may prevail on earth. It is all-important that the non-combatant should exercise his spirit in the same conception, the same certainty. The nation is fighting the war— not only the men at the front, still less exclusively the people at home; but the object toward which they are both striving is precisely one and the same. Each can help the other by keeping the simple outlines of that object unblurred and shining. From the countries that have been longer than we in the active fight comes the message that the original watchwords of the conflict are in danger of losing their potency as incentives after years of currency — just as the image, even of Liberty, on a coin that has passed too long from hand to hand, loses its first distinctness. On the youngest brother in the family of comrades-in-arms there rests peculiarly the obligation to hold the inmost purpose of the war steady and inviolate in all his thoughts. Through so doing, the noncombatant, in a thousand radiations of influence, may feel that he is doing his best toward becoming what the army designates so accurately as ‘an effective.’
This unity of feeling between the fighting force and the helping, animating force behind it is indeed a matter of the utmost consequence. Though it is oneof the things which are spiritual, and are therefore unseen, it must have, like all those things, its outward token, its temporal, or seen, expression. On every hand the opportunity for such expression presents itself. There is the personal pocket-book, standing in the closest possible relation to the national. There are taxes to be paid without complaint. There are, besides, the numberless occasions for thrift arising in the daily life of everybody. Production for the purposes of war must be matched by those individual economies which make their enormous contribution to the resources of a nation. A constant revision of one’s own parallel lists of luxuries and necessities tends to the increase of the one and the reduction of the other — a tendency that favors eliminations from the longer list. (To the vanishing train of physical indulgences, might not the luxury of grumbling at inconveniences, never before so trivial in comparison with the realities of pain in the world, be joined?) Then there are the inhibitions, as of alcohol, to which the soldier and sailor must submit under the pressure of law or necessity, and in which many civilians find themselves wishing to share, if only that they may come a little nearer to standing on a common footing of sacrifice. On any comparison of these matters there seems so pitifully little for the non-combatant to do that none will grudge him his drill of the spirit in seeking and finding his own occasions to go beyond the letter of the sumptuary law.
When the end shall come, it will be in reality a great beginning. It has already been suggested that the manual of arms in which the non-combatant has exercised himself will still have its practical uses. There will be many personal continuations of new adjustments to new conditions. The relation between the civilian population and the millions now engaged in military, naval, and auxiliary activities, who must be reabsorbed into the civil body politic, will raise problems truly revealing the quality of the national character. The facts of this relation are for the present highly, and inevitably, colored with sentiment. The sentiment will not perish, but the facts must yet be dealt with face to face. What we now partially realize in theory must be met in practice — the signal fact that the war is now sifting out and testing the men who, when it is done, are bound to be our leaders in all the more active branches of the national life. The history of the presidency through the decades that followed the Civil War affords a sufficiently clear illustration of what may be expected. This precedent, as we are realizing all too soon, has its tragic corollary of heroic deaths, cutting short many a living leadership, to be carried on, as best it may, through the inspiration of noble memories. With those who return, to become our future leaders, we shall have to deal; and everything that the non-combatant can now do to strengthen the sympathy and enlarge the mutual understanding between him and them will work to the ultimate profit of this our land.
From the present into the future will be carried, also, some of what may be called the bettered utilities of existence. If a war like this one was needed to show us what may be done with a newly utilized hour of daylight, surely we shall not let peace take such a benefit away from us. Nor can we part with the utter discrediting of idleness. The present status of the long school and college vacation provides a notable instance of what has happened in this regard. Our spirited youth, even below the military age, are now ashamed to stand as summer do-nothings. The institutions to which they are attached have commendably employed their resources for redeeming the time of summer, with varied provisions for training that will help, in one way or another, to win the war. It is all so much better than the old practice of long-extended idleness, that it, too, when peace shall bring its new problems, must be cherished as a saved hour of educational daylight.
Still another unrelinquishable gain has come with the proof— for which the non-combatant has been the corpus vile of experiment— that, even short of ‘giving till it hurts,’ there has been hitherto a vast unexercised force of giving which does not hurt at all. This force has lain comparatively idle in the hands of those who are now finding themselves content with a smaller annual surplus, and of that immensely greater number who have learned to extend the area of their own self-denials. The proof has been merely a part of the sorely needed lesson that the individual service of the common good can be immeasurably increased. It is not taught otherwise than by the constant drilling of the civilian population; but through its means ‘the great society,’ ‘ the kingdom of heaven,’ — call it what you will, — may some day be established among men.
This, truly, is a quintessential object of the war. Its attainment has become possible only at the terrific cost the world is now paying for it; but the end is so supremely worth winning that the cost must be paid. There is just one thought, a thought of the cynical noncombatant, and combatant, mind, that quenches the liveliest zeal for a conclusion of the whole prodigious business. It is a thought which finds expression in the sinister phrases: ‘Man always has been and always will be a
fighting animal; this war will be followed by others so long as the race endures.’ If that, beyond question, is the fact, no manual of arms will avail either the fighting or the helping force anything but the satisfaction of exhibition drills. One peace would be nearly as good as another; for, whatever its terms, it would be nothing but a truce. If the toll paid and still payable is exacted without a compensating hope, or faith, that nothing like it will ever again be asked of man, then indeed it is all an infinitely vain thing.
Only omniscience can pronounce the sinister saying positively false; but until it is proved true, — and there again omniscience is needed, — it is for finite minds to reject the ignominy of its acceptance. The horizon of the hopes of man is never quite so clear that the exact moment of sunrise or of sunset may be marked. But a great millennial hope is none the less to be treasured as the goal of all striving. Just when its object will be reached—if that object be an enduring peace, and if the means for securing it be that perpetual alliance of free nations which now appears to embody the most promising plan yet devised for its attainment — none may certainly declare. But whatever methods may be pursued to this end, the hope behind it, and the confidence that it is a reasonable and righteous hope, are the highest justifications for everything that everybody can do to achieve the victory of the Allies with whom our nation is joined. There is no weapon in the spiritual armor of the non-combatant that needs more constantly to be kept bright.