A Modest Proposal: 'The Readiness Is All'


IT has become a commonplace to say that no very sharp distinction can any longer exist between military and civilian populations in war. Whereas wars were formerly fought out between armies in well-defined local campaigns, and the civilian population went unmolested about its usual business, except as a city might be beleaguered or a district ravaged, the present age has seen a transformation in the practice of war which has done away with most of the difference between the combatant and what used to be called the noncombatant. A nation now goes to battle entire, from president to shopgirl. Indeed the shopgirl is a valuable recruit. In off hours it is her function to fold bandages or to peddle government bonds. The factory worker is even more essential. From him proceeds the supply of munitions and clothing to the armies. And not alone the laboring, but the professional classes, the men and women of wealth, even the boys and girls, throw themselves into the contest. They provide food for the soldiers in the lines by raising community gardens; they nurse or entertain the wounded at home, in hospitals, or abroad; they heap up stores of projectiles and explosives for the troops at the front. ‘The dividing line between soldiers and civilians,’declares a recent writer, ‘which wore perilously thin in the last war, will vanish altogether in the next great war; because from the military standpoint there is no great difference between the soldier who wields the weapon and the woman who makes it. Killing or wounding either is a handicap to the enemy; and to handicap the enemy is one of the immediate ends of war.'

To strike thus at an enemy in his most vital organs, the centres of industry that produce his military supplies, or to break down his resistance by terrorizing helpless cities, will certainly be one of the most ardently pursued objects of future attack. For it will be possible, as military writers have taken pains to inform us, to carry battle far behind and beyond the formal lines. Railroads, ammunition dumps, or densely populated cities may be bombed with high explosives or lethal gases. Where bombing is considered uncertain of success, or after it has prepared the way, the vast flotillas of airplanes which the science of a few more years will put at the service of progressive military states will be able to land at crucial points bodies of troops sufficient to destroy the productiveness of essential industrial areas. The effect of such methods of attack upon what has hitherto been the unarmed population of our cities must be obvious. Major General Sir George Aston, writing in the Nineteenth Century and After several years ago, made the following declaration of faith: —

‘I believe that any great industrial nation acting upon the principles of Clausewitz and the German War Book would be able, within a few hours of the order being given, to devastate whole cities with poison gas and explosives in any foreign country within petrol radius of aircraft. I believe further that there would be no adequate “defense” against such danger. Anti-aircraft guns could not give sufficient protection, and defending aircraft could not always be in the right place.’

In this plight, General Aston can offer the noncombatant small comfort. ‘The whole civilian population,’he declares, ‘is exposed to immediate and direct attack by nations which place no limit upon violence in conducting war.'

In the light of such sentences may we not revise the commonplace with which we began — that in future wars there will be little or no distinction between combatant and noncombatant — and supplant it with a statement more significant? We may say that armed forces, in large or small numbers, and armed, indeed, with the most efficient and destructive weapons of modern warfare, will be brought directly against people ordinarily without arms and without military training. When bombs fall in city streets we must be prepared not to inquire too closely what has become of our children, if they chance to be missed — unless, indeed, we are singularly free from that anxiety for their preservation which parents are supposed to feel; or unless — and here we strike the note of genuine importance — a system of training can be devised which will make such abrupt losses less injurious to the normal emotional balance. It is a system of training which, it is believed, would include this among its other effects that it is the business of this treatise to urge upon the country.

I do not know whether General Aston is right in thinking that no defense can be adequate against attacks from the air as they will be conducted in the future. It would seem at least that the military protection of our cities in the wars that yet lie upon the lap of fate must be extraordinarily subtle and far-reaching. Perhaps in some not too remote conflict city dwellers, from grandmothers to schoolchildren, will all be provided with gas masks and go about armed with hand grenades, lest they might encounter some division of the enemy newly landed from the air.

But I must leave all discussion of purely military defense to the able and unflinching minds of experts. The consideration which I take for my province will suffer much less at the hands of an amateur, and yet its importance must be instantly evident to all seriously minded men. I strongly feel that a new and universal conception of morale must begin to take root in the public consciousness before we can boast anything like intelligent preparation for modern war. It is upon this notion of morale, and the means of arriving at it, that I wish to throw some light. Its high importance, on military grounds alone, not to mention any other, may be derived from good military authority. Let me quote the words of Major General Sir Frederick Maurice, sometime Chief of Field Operations of the Imperial General Staff of Great Britain: —

‘In future wars the prime object of the contending nations will not be the destruction of the opposing forces, but what the Germans call the will to victory of the opposing peoples. The immense extent of the increase of the zone of danger due to the introduction of aircraft has, it is generally admitted, brought the civilian population into a jeopardy almost, if not quite, as great as that which confronts those who bear arms. The morale of the nation is therefore likely to be as important a factor in war as the morale of armies has always been. The defeat of the enemy’s main forces, hitherto held to be the first aim of strategy, becomes only a means to an end which may be obtained without those means. For a people may find the continuance of war to be intolerable.’

General Maurice’s last sentence would of course be obviated by a right system of training, for training and habit are sufficient to inure men to any condition, and even to bring a degree of satisfaction in it. During the years since the World War some, if insufficient, attention has been given to preparing the nation for the struggles of the future by revising and developing its military equipment in the light of the lessons and innovations of recent history. But it is remarkable that neither our own nor any other country seems to have considered how the problem of preparing those who are to fight the next wars has changed with the changing methods and incidence of modern warfare. Indeed the failure to conceive of even the existence of such a problem seems almost complete. Officers of the army, with experience of war and the fresh memory of what must be accomplished to convert a peaceful into a military people, do not spare urging universal service upon us or recommending military camps for students and military courses for colleges throughout the land. But the truth is that universal military training for males of an age to bear arms, even if it were feasible in this country, would not touch the heart of our problem at all. At best it would provide us with a vast body of troops at a time when armies equipped to fight on the battlefield promise to play a subordinate part in military conflicts. And the ablebodied male of an age to bear arms can always, although the task is arduous, be prepared for war.

Our problem is much more serious. It is nothing less than to bring up abreast of the trained military class what has hitherto been the unarmed and unexposed horde of noncombatants. Women, children, workers, old men, and grandmothers — these too must be prepared for the direct acts of combat which will be brought against them in the next war. We cannot, after all, leave them to die in their blood, even if we would. They are necessary to the armies in the field, necessary to the nation’s will to victory. If we are to face the problem of preparation for future warfare they must be trained to bear their full part both in morale and in the actual conflict. And if imagination is beggared by the scope of this task, it had best lose itself in the practical effort to accomplish whatever can be accomplished of such a Cyclopean labor. For, if no effort should be made, it might prove, as General Maurice has threatened, that war will become intolerable.


Obviously the study of means to prepare an entire industrial, professional, and domestic society for the extreme unction of modern warfare is an infinitely subtle and exhaustive inquiry. Such a study would formulate a programme for the fit training of all trades, all classes, all citizens of whatever age or degree of helplessness. For, since military writers have assured us that all classes must expect direct acts of combat, it will be at evident peril that any group of our people should be left unprepared to meet the tests which even now are incubating in the dark womb of the future.

To our children, it will be generally agreed, the first care should be given. If it is considered a crime to send into the trenches troops improperly equipped or too briefly instructed and disciplined in the use and understanding of their weapons, is it not a more surpassing crime to pit children, easily bewildered and frightened by so small a mishap as a bloody head, against the effects of high explosives or of lethal gases such as may be employed in attacks from the air? If practical limits did not forbid, training for war ought to begin during gestation, or, at the latest, in the cradle. Otherwise, merely by bringing babes into the world, we shall be opposing the most unarmed and defenseless of all populations against the most destructive and terrifying weapons of war. Quite literally — and a worse military principle cannot be imagined—we shall be throwing into battle our most precious untrained troops, from whom the country’s future legions must some day be recruited, without so much as a gas mask or a trench helmet for their protection. Consider how we might mollify the shame of launching our babes into the world unable to use so much as a finger in their own defense, if we could only give them military capacity with their milk, or make their rattles and teething rings an initiation into war! But thought pines in vain after such expedients.

What might be done to start our children on the road to preparation for war from the time when they first put their innocent lips to the breast, I have neit her the will nor the space to discuss here. Indeed it will be impossible even to attempt to outline a comprehensive training for what would formerly have been the noncombatant population against the dangers to which the future will expose it. I mean only to suggest one or two measures which seem likely to be of particular importance and value in cultivating the national morale to meet the changing demands of warfare. These measures, in any complete, coherent scheme, might be the last instead of the first stones in the arch. They would certainly be introduced only after many simpler rudimentary exercises and instructions had been mastered by the citizen. But I hope that they may stand as a thoughtful contribution to progress in the national preparation for war, especially in the vital point of morale.

The first of the measures I have to suggest is a direct attempt to strengthen the emotions of the weaker part of our population against what are called the horrors of war. It is this character of frightfulness in warfare which is, of course, the cause of the strain that is put upon morale — the cause, indeed, of the existence of that quality. It is proper, therefore, that frightfulness should be first met in considering the problem of the will to victory.

War differs from sport largely in aiming to produce fatalities as its grand purpose and object. If a cultivated foreigner, who, by some chance, did not know by what means war is carried on among civilized nations, were to watch a battalion of soldiers practising the bayonet exercises or popping at each other with blank cartridges in a sham battle, he might be excused for supposing that some elaborate kind of game was going on, especially if he knew the seriousness with which Americans take what it pleases them to call their relaxation. Of course a military camp where soldiers are being trained for the front simulates as well as it can the actual conditions of the battlefield. Trenches are dug, smoke screens conceal the movements of troops, and gas masks are donned at the appointed signal. This employment of a mise en scène is no doubt of value; but it is a poor substitute for the frank and violent touch of reality. The skin is there, but the entrails are lacking; and a true battle, it must be confessed, is not a little brazen in its unmasking of the entrails. I have not heard that in a military camp the field is left littered with the dead, blackened by mustard gas, or with those even more disturbing corpses that have not yet yielded up the ghost, but lie kicking and writhing with truncated limbs, and screaming for the touch of mercy. It is granted, of course, that men who pass the tests of admission into the army can be trained to meet these scenes without previous experience of them, although even men so selected are not so ready for the horrors of war as to accept them with the efficiency which complete coolness would make possible. But I am thinking of our enormous civilian population, or — to use the obsolete yet convenient word — the noncombatants. Surely the same cannot be expected of this vast division of the people, and we must earnestly fear for the effect of future wars upon their morale unless a way can be found in advance of hardening their sensibilities to the scenes they will be called upon to endure.

The problem at first sight appears a difficult one. It is hard to see how familiarity with frightfulness could be provided for the education of the people without also providing the tragedies to which it is due. It would be foolish, of course, however gladly our people would give their lives to their country, to call upon large numbers of them to make the supreme sacrifice at a time when that sacrifice would not be compensated by a corresponding loss to some enemy. Yet, without risk to the citizen’s life, how can he be trained to regard philosophically the disconcerting spectacle which is caused by the loss of life in great numbers and by revolting means? Thorny the problem seems indeed, at a casual view. Yet I do not believe it incapable of solution. I think that an expedient may be found to inure our people to the horrors of warfare without resorting to the actual practice of them — at least upon the citizens themselves.

My plan owes its force to the fact that shells eviscerate and frightfulness disfigures not only men but animals. Anyone who has seen, in reality, or in representation by photograph or cartoon, a landscape ravaged by artillery fire, in which horses and other live stock have not escaped the destruction which had man for its chief object, must be conscious of the depressing influence which animals of large bulk exert on the mind when they lie about dismembered or disemboweled. Looking at such a spectacle, one could hardly help reflecting that it provides an opportunity to experiment in the emotional effects of war without its dangers. Soldiers indeed have mentioned the inconvenience to the feelings of walking about among bits of animal flesh and hair displayed on walls, barbed wire entanglements, or other lodging places. That they overcome this inconvenience may be guessed from impressions of the campaign of General Sherman in Georgia. We are told that the invading Yankees distressed the citizens of that state by popping their guns all day long at cows, pigs, fowl, or any living thing which had the misfortune to show itself before the sights of the troopers’ guns. If this is true, why may we not suppose that nonchalance in the presence of animals that have been subjected to shell fire is a real, if incomplete, preparation for unconcern in the presence of human beings exposed to the same trial?

The test would be severe, I confess, if our women and children shared in the bombing. The sight could not be accepted easily. Perhaps no expedient could be devised which would adequately prepare the mind for it. But some step ought certainly to be taken to fit a civilian population for its new prominence in the theatre of war, and I am doing the utmost that a citizen can do in recommending the measures which have occurred to me as most efficient and practicable. All things cannot be expected of the best of plans, and there must be a residue of endurance for the occasion itself to call forth. But what can be done to reduce this residue to its lowest terms, and thus enlarge the factor of safety in morale, I have been at utmost pains to discover and urge upon my countrymen.

My plan, then, briefly outlined, is this. The country would be divided by the General Staff into military districts, and in each district a battle area would be designated. At stated periods, each district would provide a number of horses bearing a proportion to the numbers of its population. I choose horses as the animals most fitting to the scene of war, as they are still employed for reconnoitring movements, for drawing gun carriages, and for other honorable military labor to which machines have not yet proved adaptable. The horses would be mobilized at a concentration camp, and on given days the people of the district would be called out according to mobilization orders and would proceed to the designated battle area. The artillery would then be directed against the animals, which would be enclosed in the area. The citizens would march in ranks behind the advancing wave of shell fire, and would observe its effects. They would be furnished with hand grenades to destroy any of the animals who might escape the projectiles hurled by the artillery. Hand grenades are recommended instead of rifles because their effects are more in accordance with the emotional results which it is desired to produce, and because it seems likely that foot troops will be armed more and more exclusively with them in the future rather than with guns alone, the destructive powers of the grenades being greater and more violent. Children could participate in the exercise as far as was thought advisable by the military authorities, and might thus gain their first acquaintance with the phenomena of war in the steadying company of their elders, and perhaps buoyed up by the fine stimulation of martial music.

I am able to see only two objections to this plan, and I should like, if possible, to obviate them, as I am convinced of its usefulness, and believe that it deserves the immediate attention of the country. The first objection is that our stock of horses would be rapidly exhausted if the plan were put into execution, and a noble animal made extinct. In this I do not at all concur. I am not able to see that man is in any danger of extinction from war, and while horses in their present numbers would be put to a disproportionate strain by the conscription which I propose for them, they would soon be raised in vast quantities to meet the annual demand for their consumption. Would the herds of cattle which now thunder on our Western plains ever have come into existence if our expanding population had not caused an economic demand for them? In the same way, if a people has been decimated by war, do the mothers and fathers of the country give up producing population? Rather they at once set about repairing the damage done by the guns and providing material to be consumed by another generation of artillery. Far from destroying the horse as a species, the expedient I suggest would be the very means of encouraging its cultivation in the largest possible numbers. War requires multiplication before there can be destruction. Populations must grow before they can be deflowered by conflict. I believe that if my plan were adopted our wayside farms and highways, which have lost a note of nobility in the gradual disappearance of so fine an animal as the horse, would again rejoice in the full-blooded, nervous life of those admirable creatures, again resound with the gallop of hoofs, and toss with the splendor of careless manes and sensitive, proud heads.

The second objection which might be offered against my proposal is a fancied barbarity in it. But from this I instantly dissent. Shall we forbid the destruction of the horse by organized means and for a well-conceived end, and allow the destruction of that even more delicate animal, man, whom it has taken an infinitely longer and more precarious course of evolution to produce, and for whom the instinctive faith of the ages declares that the earth and its other creatures were created? To state such a conception is at once to absolve my scheme of the charge of barbarity. Yet it should be pointed out that it is precisely the characteristic of war to deprive us of what we hold most precious, and if this conscription of the horse were to awaken us once more to the beauty and value of the animal, we should be additionally prepared by its loss to face even more severe losses in a time of national danger.

Again, conscientious opinion has decided that vivisection for the purpose of medical progress is a humane act. A precise analogy is presented by my scheme for the use of horses to prepare our people for war. A scheme which intensifies the national morale is the exact counterpart of a serum which prevents a devastating epidemic. What nation-wide plague could be comparable in its effects to the loss of the will to victory, which might cost us the staggering price of defeat, or result in the danger threatened by General Maurice, that war may become intolerable? A plan which would serve in any way to prevent such a disaster is justified on the highest ethical grounds.

It might be argued, indeed, that, far from being too barbarous for a civilized state to undertake, the project I suggest is too mild to be of any effect. The Spaniards, it might be said, do as much in sport, pitting the bull instead of the field gun against the horse, and even against man himself, the object being the same as in my plan — that is, to observe the results of tossing and goring. Yet I believe that the feelings of soldiers and the testimony of our common imagination as human beings are sufficient evidence that my proposal would be of real help in preparing an unwarlike population for frightfulness.


We have now found means of inoculation against the horrors of warfare, considered emotionally. But I am of the opinion that the preparation of a democratic people for war will be incomplete and liable to shipwreck when tested by the facts unless it is carried out to the ultimate trial which war can exact. This trial is the hand-to-hand combat.

We have seen the dangers to which cities and industrial centres will be exposed through bombing and through the landing of troops in raiding parties or even in large bodies in the rear of the battle lines by fleets of airplanes used for transport. Not every city can be protected by a garrison sufficient to repel such attacks if men are to be maintained at the front in the usual numbers. But it would be unthinkable to abandon all attempts at resistance, to relinquish our strongholds and sources of supply without so much as a contrary effort! If this is true, the population which will be left in our cities ought to be prepared to oppose the enemy. And in such an event the value of training in hand-to-hand combat, in resistance to the last torn fibre of flesh and nerve, is obvious.

The difficulty appears when we begin to see the difference between direct fighting, man to man, in war, and all other degrees and types of contest of which the public has any experience or can form any idea. Perhaps we can arrive at the matter most simply and immediately by glancing at a few words from a Manual of Military Training, a work designed for the use of young reserve officers, by Colonel Moss and Major Lang of the United States Army. The authors are speaking of bayonet fighting, and of course I must leave the technical education of the people in military exercises and use of their weapons to the experts, who are equipped to deal with the problems offered by such training. I cite the Manual only for the light it may throw on morale, believing that this is a study not yet sufficiently explored by experts to make the tentative investigations of the layman of no avail. Bayonet fighting of course disregards æsthetic and moral restraints, since its object is to dispose of the enemy’s life by the most effective and the promptest means. ‘The principles of sportsmanship and consideration for your opponent,’ say the authors of the Manual, ‘have no place in the practical application of this work. To finish an opponent who hangs on,’ they further advise, ‘or attempts to pull you to the ground, always try to break his hold by driving the knee or foot to his crotch and gouging his eyes with your thumbs.’

A good deal of thoughtless criticism has been visited upon these words, which indeed seem to occur only in a two-volume work of the title given above, and to be absent from other manuals, or forms and editions of the manual, which bear Colonel Moss’s name as author or collaborator. The official book of instructions of the Army, published by the United States, is a model of delicacy on the point in question, and gives no hint that bayonet fighting is other than a formal and rather dull ceremonial of thrusts and parries, carried out according to a sportsmanlike etiquette. But why should reticence be required of a writer on this valuable subject which touches the public interest so nearly? The words of Colonel Moss and Major Lang merely express without affectation, but with a perfect regard for decency, what is necessary to be done in war. It is idle to expect men engaged for their lives to observe too great a nicety in the parts of the body which they find it convenient and effective to attack, or in the means used to attack them. It is well for the country to believe that its general policy obeys the rules of international law, rules which soar far above the range of such practical movements of the foot or the thumbs as the Manual describes; but it is not well for citizens who may be objects of attack to imagine that the fig leaf is any fit symbol for the thick of the fight, or that a ritual of decorum is solemnized in each blow and counter. To allow such ignorance is to encourage weakness and laxity, and a state of supine dullness which could only be regarded as a serious danger to the national morale.

The armies, of course, learn soon enough to knee a crotch or to gouge an eye with the proper degree of efficiency and impersonal skill. But again I wonder about the civilians. What of our old men ? What of our factory workers who have had no experience of trench life or of military discipline? What of our women and children? I am afraid that any course except a real acquaintance with such combat wall leave the inhabitants of our cities defenseless against any vigorous attack to which they may be subjected.

Let us imagine the events of such an attack. The enemy first bombards from the air to hit such of his objectives as he can and to lay a foundation of terror to expedite more detailed work when he descends to the ground. Then the troops enter the streets. The untrained citizens cower helplessly in corners or snatch up weapons as futile as the sword of Priam against Pyrrhus. They are butchered or herded harmlessly out of the way, and the city is lost. Once let the enemy disable the cities which are the nerve centres of industry, and the best armies in the world will throw down their rifles for lack of ammunition or rot miserably in the field from starvation. It behooves us then to consider whether by any device we can prepare our ‘noncombatants’ for the final exigency of personal combat. Failing to solve this problem, we must confess that we have carried the task of preparing the nation for war but little farther than it stood when we took it up. All other progress will be worth the effort only if this greatest need is adequately met.

Again at first sight the problem seems impossible of solution. And it offers, beyond doubt, more serious obstructions than the aspect of frightfulness which we met by suggesting the use of horses to inure our people to the emotional inconveniences of war. It will not do to propose the revival of gladiatorial games. It was not the gladiators who made a conquering nation of the Romans, and if we may judge by the analogy of a contemporary prize fight, many a bawling tradesman watched them who would not have changed his seat in the amphitheatre for their bloody stance before the lions if the throne of the Cæsars had been his reward. No, the problem is not easily solved. But, in a finite and perilous existence, dangers and difficulties which threaten life itself are dissolved — as they are called into being — unexpectedly, and by circumstances or lucky thoughts which change the face of the world in the twinkling of an eye, and seem to accomplish the impossible. If one lesson emerges from the experience of all mankind alike, it is not to despair too early. Even this problem may find an adequate answer; and indeed I am about to suggest one which, after long consideration, seems to me not unsatisfying. If others agree with this conclusion, the country may well congratulate itself on possessing the power to train its citizens for the last test which warfare can exact of them.

When I outlined my plan for the conscription of horses, I was able to propose a scheme which had the great advantage of not wasting human life. And in this instance, too, I hope to avoid wasting human life, according to any farsighted understanding of the term ‘waste.’ I cannot, however, see that injury and suffering for brief periods may be escaped, though they are such as any citizen, especially that class of citizens which I have in mind, would be glad to endure for the country, and would welcome, I feel sure, if he thought that as a result of his fortitude the people would be better prepared to preserve the safety and glory of the nation in war. My scheme, again briefly outlined and left for wiser heads to elaborate in detail, follows.

It must be accepted as axiomatic that no substitute for actual fighting can be adequate to the case. This principle understood, I propose that a retiring age adapted to the purposes of my plan be established for all officers of the regular army except those of the General Staff and such others as may be useful for service at an advanced age. Retired officers automatically become eligible to be called out for service as objects for the practice of the citizens in disposing of the enemy according to the methods described in the Manual of Military Training. The full significance of this scheme may not at once appear; but, let it be adopted, and I promise that our wives and striplings will soon be able to knee a crotch or gouge an eye as effectively as only the privileged veteran can under the present plan.

A word in explanation of my system. I choose officers for two reasons: the first, that they are the instructors in military training and therefore the stronger in self-command and the more expert in defense; the second, that men do not usually enlist for life, and that a man who remains a private at the retiring age, while he may be of use in war, is hardly to be trusted in the difficult and responsible exercise which I propose. Again there would be stated periods for the citizens to present themselves at the battle areas of the various military districts, and, for periods of time which would be agreed upon by the military authorities, they would fight one by one with the officers, doing their utmost to dispatch them, either by weapons, or by gouging and kicking, or by whatever methods occurred to them before the concluding signal brought the bout to an end. The duties of the officer would be to arouse in the citizen the desire to kill,1 and to compel the most furious use of all the citizen’s powers and resources of combat. But no officer would ever injure by more than a casual bruise any citizen with whom he was engaged, as the citizen is the soldier of the future, and his life must be protected. Fighting only on the defense, and inspired by the pride of his profession, which would remove any temptation for the officer to make the citizen’s work easy, and so to expire before he had served his country to the utmost, we might reasonably expect that one officer would last out as many as twenty short bouts with men, and a good many more with women and children, before becoming useless for further practice. In this way we could hope that there would be enough officers to supply most of the population other than the bedridden and the males eligible for service at the front.

It may shock some readers that I should think of including women in this exercise. But I do not see that they should be deprived of any legitimate means of learning to protect themselves, such as this experience would provide. Indeed, it is the problem of the unarmed population, of whom women form the part most in need of military instruction, which we have all along been endeavoring to study. Consider the value of a few such contests as I have described to a woman who wished to defend herself against the attentions which might be offered her by some visiting member of the enemy’s troops. There are always some women to whom the proximity of soldiers offers professional opportunities, whether they wear the uniforms of the enemy or of the native cause. Others, of greater social restraint, but perhaps of similar inclinations, may ask, as did the Turkish ladies in the battle described by Lord Byron,

Wherefore the ravishing did not begin!

But still others would prefer death to such thoughts, and suffer a thousand torments rather than contemplate such acts. These are the women whom, I imagine, most of the masculine sex would consider examples of the first principle of feminine virtue. Why then deny them the right to defend for themselves their title to the respect of society and the approbation of its male members? They are likely to need all possible powers of self-protection if the predictions of experts about the warfare of the future have any meaning.

If I were asked to argue in support of my proposal, its merits would seem so obvious to me that I should stammer out the least evident and the least commendable first. Yet it is a real merit. Since all officers who reached the retiring age would automatically be destroyed, it would not be possible to reward their services with pensions. Most of them would be unlikely to have dependents at the age to which they would have attained; any surviving widows could not be expected to survive long. Thus a small but ponderable item of the vast bill of expense which is one of the chief inconveniences of war would be canceled outright.

For the rest, the officers would be glad, I am sure, to lay upon the altars of their country this last holy sacrifice of their lives, which they stand always ready to give in war, and which there is no reason to suppose they would withhold in peace. And I am not sure that the occasions on which the lives of so many brave men were consummated would be wholly unconnected with the more tender feelings. Fancy can picture some of the appropriate ceremony which the emotions of the people would suggest to close the scene. When the lust of battle had subsided, and the sacred thought that what they had done was for the country’s good had found its way into the minds of the citizens, they would feel the solemn responsibility which their acts entailed. An hour of grief and consecration like that after a great war would ensue. Reverently and gently the bleeding remains would be gathered together (here our stretcher-bearers and fieldhospital units might obtain useful practice) and laid upon catafalques draped with the country’s flags. To the flags would be pinned the medals and decorations for valor which any of the dead officers had received. As the sobbing concourse of people marched behind, a low, keening thrill of military music would usher the faithful soldiers to their last bivouac. The catafalques would move forward to a stadium or open-air theatre near which ground would be dedicated to serve as the last resting place of the dispatched heroes. But before the rows of open graves with their barrows of loose earth were leveled above the dead, the people would take their places on the seats of the stadium to become spectators of the final sacred rites of commemoration and respect. On the stage or field in view of the vast and solemn audience, the next of kin to the dead officers would form a queue, and marching forward in triumphant line, each would receive a pin or decoration recognizing for the country their loss and their loyalty. If the mother of any officer were still alive, how tenderly the hands of willing supporters would guide her to the place where the President of the Republic, the Chief of Staff, or some other notable official stood, that she might hear his words of comfort with a trembling smile, bravely fighting back her tears and shining with a more than earthly pride. Surely some badge of especial distinction would be reserved for such an one!

At last the national anthem would be solemnly sung by all the multitude with bared heads, and some venerable minister of the Gospel, raising his hands in trembling benediction, would offer thanks to God in the name of the people of the country for the lives and examples of the brave men ranged on their biers beneath his outstretched palms.

‘O God, the Father of all mercies,’ he might proclaim, ’we thank thee for thine everlasting beneficence. It has pleased thee to set us in a world where he that comes with a sword comes often in thy name; but, placing us amid war and peril, thou hast given us such men as lie here, who counted death in thy cause better than life in any other. They died lest one of thy little ones or the mothers of thy lambs should be lacking in the preparation meet and necessary for war. They have laid upon their countrymen the obligation of being ready to follow in their footsteps, as all followers of thy son Jesus Christ should not shrink if thy call leads them to the crown of martyrdom. Grant that the lives of these men shall not be wasted. Grant that we may learn the lessons they strove to teach. Continue to bless our glorious land. May our people obey thy laws and carry thy message to all the earth. May they prosper and enjoy thy favor for as long as nations shall endure or peoples bow beneath thy throne. Cease not to bless us with men of such courage and ideals. Comfort the hearts that have sacrificed them to thy glory and their country’s might by the mysterious workings of thy peace. Amen.’

  1. ‘The inherent desire to fight and kill must be carefully watched for and encouraged by the instructor.’ Moss and Lang, Manual of Military Training, Vol. I.