The Criminality of War
by Laurence M. Vance article link
April 13, 2011 | LewRockwell
... It is unfortunate that many conservative Christians are also conservative warmongers. To them I offer, and to all other conservative warmongers, the compelling insight of Howard Malcom (1799-1879), former president of Georgetown College, Kentucky. What it especially important about Malcom’s treatise on the "Criminality of War" is that it was reprinted in The Book of Peace: A Collection of Essays on War and Peace – published by the American Peace Society in 1845, long before the horrors of twentieth-century wars were chronicled, and even before images of war were captured on photographs.
CRIMINALITY OF WAR
By Howard Malcom, D. D.
President of Georgetown College, KY
That man is a fallen and depraved creature, is every where apparent in the ferocious dispositions of his nature. Hence, to speak of him as in "a state of nature," has been to speak of him as "a savage." A savage finds in war and bloodshed his only means of honor and fame, and he becomes, both in the chase and the camp, a beast of prey.
In proportion as war prevails among civilized nations, it banishes whatever tends to refine and elevate, suspends the pursuits of industry, destroys the works of art, and sets them back towards barbarism. Wherever it comes, cities smoke in ruins, and fields are trodden under foot. The husband is torn from his wife, the father from his children, the aged lose their prop, and woman is consigned to unwonted toils and perpetual alarms. As it passes, the halls of science grow lonely, improvements pause, benevolence is fettered, violence supersedes law, and even the sanctuary of God is deserted, or becomes a manger, a hospital, or a fortress. In its actual encounters, every movement is immeasurably horrid, with wounds, anguish, and death; while amid the din of wrath and strife, a stream of immortal souls is hurried, unprepared, to their final audit.
That tyrants should lead men into wars of pride and conquest, is not strange. But that the people, in governments comparatively free, should so readily lend themselves to a business in which they bear all the sufferings, can gain nothing, and may lose all, is matter of astonishment indeed.
But the chief wonder is that CHRISTIANS, followers of the Prince of Peace, should have concurred in this mad idolatry of strife, and thus been inconsistent not only with themselves, but with the very genius of their system. Behold a man going from the Lord’s Supper, fantastically robed and plumed, drilling himself into skillful modes of butchery, and studying the tactics of death! Behold him murdering his fellow Christians, and praying to his Divine Master for success in the endeavor! Behold processions marching to the house of God to celebrate bloody victories, and give thanks for having been able to send thousands and tens of thousands to their last account with all their sins upon their heads! Stupendous inconsistency!
Surely this matter should remain no longer unexamined. It cannot. In this age of light, when every form of vice and error is discussed and resisted, this great evil, the prolific parent of unnumbered abominations, must be attacked also. Christians are waking up to see and do their duty to one another, to their neighbors, and to the distant heathen. They cannot continue to overlook war. I persuade myself that there are few, even now, who object to its being discussed.
I propose not to discuss the whole subject of war; – a vast theme. I shall abstain from presenting it in the light of philosophy, politics, or patriotism; in each of which points of light I have studied it, and feel that it demands most serious attention. In the following observations, war will be discussed only as it concerns a Christian.
Happily, there are few who would oppose the prevalence and perpetuity of peace. The need of discussion lies not in the bloodthirsty character of our countrymen, nor in the existence of active efforts to propagate and prolong the miseries of war; but in the apathy that prevails on this subject, and the almost total want of reflection in regard to it. A military spirit is so wrought into the habits of national thinking, and into all our patriotic pomps and festivals, that the occasional occurrence of war is deemed a matter of course. Even the fervent friends of man’s highest welfare seem to regard a general pacification of the world, and the disuse of fleets and armies, as a mere Utopian scheme, and chose to give their money and prayers to objects which seem of more probable attainment. This apathy and incredulity are to be overcome only by discussion.
The following observations will be confined to two points.
I. War is criminal because inconsistent with Christianity.
II. This criminality is enormous.
I. ITS INCONSISTENCY WITH CHRISTIANITY.
1. It contradicts the entire genius and intention of Christianity.
Christianity requires us to seek to amend the condition of man. War always deteriorates and destroys. The world is at this moment not one whit better, in any respect, for all the wars of five thousand years. If here and there some good may be traced to war, the amount of evil, on the whole, is immeasurably greater. Christianity, if it prevailed, would make earth once more a paradise. War makes it a slaughter house, a desert, a den of thieves and murderers, a hell. Christianity cancels and condemns the law of retaliation. War is based upon that very principle. Christianity remedies all human woes. War makes them.
The causes of war are as inconsistent with Christianity as its effects. It originates in the worst passions, and the worst crimes, James iv., 1, 2. We may always trace it to the thirst of revenge, the acquisition of territory, the monopoly of commerce, the quarrels of kings, the coercion of religious opinions, or some such unholy source. There never was a war, devised by man, founded on holy tempers, and Christian principles.
All the features, all the concomitants, all the results of war, are opposed to the features, the concomitants, the results of Christianity. The two systems conflict in every point, irreconcilably and forever.
2. War sets at naught the entire example of Jesus.
"Learn of me," says the Divine Examplar. And can we learn fighting from him? His conduct was always pacific. He became invisible when the Nazarites sought to cast him from their precipice. The troops that came to arrest him in the garden, he struck down, but not dead. His constant declaration was, that he "came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save."
True, he once instructed his disciples to buy swords, telling them that they were going forth as sheep among wolves. But the whole passage shows he was speaking by parable, as he generally did. The disciples answered, "here are two swords." He instantly replies, "it is enough." If he had spoken literally, how could two swords suffice for twelve Apostles? Nay, when Peter used one of these, it was too much. Christ reproved him, and healed the wound. He meant to teach them their danger, not their refuge. His metaphor was misunderstood, just as it was when he said, "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees," and they thought he meant bread.
Once he drove men from the temple. But it was with "a whip of small cords." Moral influence drove them. A crowd of such fellows was not to be overcome by one man with a whip. He expressly declared that his servants should not fight, for his kingdom was not of this world. His whole life was the sublime personification of benevolence. He was the PRINCE OF PEACE.
Do we forget that Christ is our example? Whatever is right for us to do, would in general have been right for him to do. Imagine the Savior robed in the trappings of a man of blood, leading columns to slaughter, setting fire to cities, laying waste the country, storming fortresses, and consigning thousands to wounds, anguish and death, just to define a boundary, settle a point of policy, or decide some kingly quarrel. Could "meekness and lowliness of heart" be learned from him thus engaged?
There is no rank or station in an army that would become the character of Christ. Nor can any man who makes arms a profession find a pattern in Christ our Lord. But he ought to be every man’s pattern.
I need not enlarge on this point. It is conceded; for no warrior thinks of making Christ his pattern. How then can a genuine imitator of Christ, consistently be a warrior?
3. War is inconsistent not only with the NATURE of Christianity, and the EXAMPLE OF JESUS, but it violates all the EXPRESS PRECEPTS of Scripture.
Even the Old Testament does not sanction war as a Custom. In each case, there mentioned, of lawful war, it was entered upon by the express command of God. If such authority were now given, we might worthily resort to arms. But without such authority, how dare we violate the genius of Christianity, and set at naught the example of Christ? The wars mentioned in olden times were not appointed to decide doubtful questions, or to settle quarrels. They were to inflict national punishment, and were intended, as are pestilence and famine, to chastise guilty nations.
As to the New Testament, a multitude of its precepts might be quoted, expressly against all fighting. "Ye have heard, &c., an eye for an eye, but I say unto you resist not evil." "Follow peace with all men." "Love one another." "Do justice, love mercy." "Love your enemies." "Follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace." "Return good for evil." "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, and ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you." "If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight," etc. "If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither," &c. "Be ye not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." "If thine enemy hunger, feed him, if he thirst, give him drink." "Render not evil for evil, but contrariwise blessing." Such passages might be indefinitely multiplied. They abound in the New Testament. How shall they be disposed of? No interpretation can nullify their force, or change their application. Take any sense the words will bear, and they forbid war. They especially forbid retaliation, which is always advanced as the best pretext for war.
Such texts as have been just quoted, relate to the single matter of retaliation and fighting. But belligerent nations violate every precept of the gospel. It enjoins every man to be meek, lowly, peaceable, easy to be entreated, gentle, thinking no evil, merciful, slow to anger, quiet, studious, patient, temperate, &c. Let a man rehearse, one by one, the whole catalogue of Christian graces, and he will see that war repudiates them all.
Examine that superlative epitome of Christianity, our Lord’s sermon on the mount. Its nine benedictions are upon so many classes of persons; the poor in spirit, mourners, the meek, the merciful, the peace-makers, the persecuted, the reviled, those who hunger after righteousness, and the pure in heart. In which of these classes can the professed warrior place himself? Alas, he shuts himself out from all the benedictions of heaven.
The discourse proceeds to teach, not only killing, but anger is murder. It expressly rebukes the law of retaliation; and exploding the traditionary rule of loving our neighbor, and hating our enemy, it requires us to love our enemies, and do good to those that despitefully use us. Afterward, in presenting a form of prayer, it not only teaches us to say, "Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us," but adds, "If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive you." What a peace sermon is here! What modern peace society goes further, or could be more explicit?
But let us take a few of the Christian graces more in detail. The Christian is required to cherish a sense of direct and supreme responsibility to God. The irresponsible feelings of a soldier are a necessary part of his profession, as Lord Wellington said recently, ‘A man who has a nice sense of religion, should not be a soldier.’ The soldier makes war a profession, and must be ready to fight any nation, or any part of his own nation, as he is ordered. He must have no mind of his own. He must march, wheel, load, fire, charge, or retreat, as he is bidden, and because he is bidden. In the language of THOMAS JEFFERSON, "The breaking of men to military discipline, is breaking their spirits to principles of passive obedience." The nearer a soldier comes to a mere machine, the better soldier he makes. Is this right for a Christian? Is it compatible with his duty to "examine all things, and hold fast that which is good?"
The contempt of life which is so necessary in a soldier, is a sin. He must walk up to the deadly breach, and maintain ground before the cannon’s mouth. But life is inestimable, and belongs to God. He who masters the fear of death, does it either by religious influence, or quenching the fear of God, and all concern about a future state. There is not a gospel precept, which he who makes arms a profession, is not at times compelled to violate.
Nor is there a Christian grace which does not tend to diminish the value of a professed soldier. Some graces are, it is true, useful in camp; where a man may be called to act as a servant, or laborer. It is then desirable that he be honest, meek, faithful, that he may properly attend to a horse, or a wardrobe. But such qualities spoil him for the field. He must there cast away meekness, and fight; he must cast away honesty, and forage; he must cast away forgiveness, and revenge his country; he must not return good for evil, but two blows for one.
Survey an army prepared for battle; see a throng, busy with cannons, muskets, mortars, swords, drums, trumpets, and banners. Do these men look like Christians? Do they talk like followers of the meek and lowly Jesus? Do they act like friends and benefactors of the whole human race? Are the lessons they learn in daily drill, such as will help them in a life of faith?
Mark this army in the hour of battle. See attacks and retreats, battalions annihilated, commanders falling, shouts of onset, groans of death, horses trampling the fallen, limbs flying in the air, suffocating smoke, and thousands smarting in the agony of death, without a cup of water to quench their intolerable thirst! Do the principles of Christianity authorize such a scene? Are such horrors its fruits?
Inspect the field when all is over. The fair harvest trampled and destroyed, houses and batteries smoking in ruin, the mangled and suffering strewed among dead comrades, and dead horses, and broken gun-carriages. Prowlers strip the booty even from the warm bodies of the dying, jackals howl around, and disgusting birds are wheeling in the air; while the miserable wife seeks her loved one among the general carnage. Does all this look as if Christians had been there, serving the God of mercy? Could such works grow out of the system, heralded as bringing "Peace on earth"?
Turn your eyes to the ocean. A huge ship, bristling with implements of death, glides quietly along. Presently "a sail!" is called from sentinel to sentinel. All on board catch the sound, and gaze on the dim and distant outline. At length she is discovered to be a ship of war, and all strain their eyes to see her flag. On that little token hangs the important issue; for no feud, no jealousy exists between the crews. They do not even know each other. At length the signal is discerned to be that of a foe. Immediately what a scene ensues! Decks cleared and sanded, ports opened, guns run out, matches lighted, and every preparation made for bloody work. While waiting for the moment to engage, the worst passions of the men are appealed to to make them fight with fury; and they are inspired with all possible pride, hatred, revenge or ambition.
The fight begins! Death flies with every shot. Blood and carnage cover the decks. The rigging is cut to pieces; the hull bored with hot shot. The smoke, the confusion, the orders of officers, the yells of the wounded, the crash of timbers, the horrors of the cockpit, make a scene at which infernal fiends feel their malignity sated. At length one party strikes, and the strife is stayed. The conquered ship, ere her wounded can be removed, sinks into the deep. The victor, herself almost a wreck, throws overboard the slain, washes her decks, and turns toward her port, carrying the crippled, the agonized, and the dying of both ships! What anguish is there in that ship! What empty berths, late filled with the gay-hearted and the profane! What tidings does she carry, to spread lamentation and misery over hundreds of families!
Yet in all this, there was no personal feud or malice, no private wrong or offence. All was the mere result of some cabinet council, some kingly caprice. Could any enormity be more cold blooded and diabolical?
But no where does war wear such horrors as in a siege. The inhabitants are shut up; business, pleasure, education, intercourse are all checked; sorrow, terror, and distress prevail. Bombs fall and explode in the streets; citizens are killed in their houses, and soldiers on the ramparts. Women and children retreat to the cellars, and live there cold, dark, comfortless, terrified. Day after day, and month after month, roll tediously on, while the gloom constantly thickens, and the only news is of houses crushed, acquaintances killed, prices raised, and scarcity increased. Gladly would the citizens surrender, but the governor is inexorable. At length, to all the horrors famine is added. The poor man, out of employ, cannot purchase customary comforts at the increased prices. His poverty becomes deeper, his sacrifices greater. But the siege continues. The middle classes sink to beggary, the poorer class to starvation. Anon, breaches are made in the wall; and all must work amid galling fire to repair them. Mines are sprung, blowing houses and occupants into the air. Still no relief comes. Dead animals, offal, skins, the very carcass of the slain, are eaten. The lone widow, the bereft mother, the disappointed bride, the despairing father, and the tender babe, mourn continually. Then comes pestilence, the necessary consequence of unburied dead, and unwonted hardships, and intolerable woe. At length, the city yields; or is taken by storm, and scenes even more horrid ensue. A brutal soldiery give loose to lust, and rapine, and destruction; and the indescribable scene closes with deserted streets, general ruin, and lasting lamentation.
This picture is far from being overwrought. The history of sieges furnish realities of deeper horror. Take for instance the second siege of Saragossa in 1814, or almost any other.
Now is this Christianity? Is it like it? Christianity cannot alter. If it will necessarily abolish all war, when the millennium shall give it universal influence, then it will abolish war now, so far as it has influence; and every man who receives it fully will be a man of peace. If religious persons may make fighting a trade on earth, they may fight in heaven. If we may lawfully cherish a war spirit here, we may cherish it there!
I close by quoting the words of the great Jeremy Taylor. "As contrary as cruelty is to mercy, and tyranny to charity, so contrary is war to the meekness and gentleness of the Christian religion."
II. WAR IS ONE OF THE MOST AWFUL AND COMPREHENSIVE FORMS OF WICKEDNESS.
What has been said, has gone to show how inconsistent, in principle, are war and Christianity. A few considerations will now be offered, illustrative of the practices of war. We shall be thus led to see, not only that it contradicts the genius, and violates the precepts of Christianity, but that it does so in the most gross and gigantic manner.
1. It is the worst form of robbery.
Common robberies are induced by want: but war commits them by choice, and often robs only to ravage. A man who rushes to the highway to rob, maddened by the sight of a famished family, may plead powerful temptation. But armies rob, burn, and destroy, in the coolest malice. See a file of men, well fed and well clothed by a great and powerful nation, proceed on a foraging party. They enter a retired vale, where a peaceful old man by hard handed toil supports his humble family. The officer points with his sword to the few stacks of hay and grain, laid up for winter. Remonstrances are vain – tears are vain. They bear off his only supply, take his cow, his pet lamb; add insult to oppression, and leave the ruined family to an almshouse or starvation. Aye, but the poor old man was an enemy, as the war phrase is, and the haughty soldiery claim merit for forbearance, because they did not conclude with burning down his house.
The seizure or destruction of public stores, is not less robbery. A nation has no more right to steal from a nation, than an individual has to steal from an individual. In principle, the act is the same; in magnitude, the sin is greater. All the private robberies in a thousand years, are not a tithe of the robberies of one war. Next to killing, it is the very object of each party to burn and destroy by sea, and ravage and lay waste on land. It is a malign and inexcusable barbarity, and constitutes a stupendous mass of theft.
In one of the Punic wars, Carthage, with 100,000 houses, was burnt and destroyed, so that not a house remained. The plunder carried away by the Romans, in precious metals and jewels alone, is reported to have been equal to five millions of pounds of silver. Who can compute the number of similar events, from the destruction of Jerusalem to that of Moscow? Arson, that is, the setting fire to an inhabited dwelling, is, in most countries, punishable by death. But more of this has been done in some single wars, than has been committed privately, since the world began. When some villain sets fire to a house and consumes it, what public indignation! What zeal to bring to justice! If, for a succession of nights, buildings are fired, what general panic! Yet how small the distress, compared to that which follows the burning of an entire city. In one case, the houseless still find shelter, the laborer obtains work, the children have food. But oh, the horrors of a general ruin! Earthquake is no worse.
It should not be overlooked, that a great part of the private robberies in Christendom, may be traced to the deterioration of morals, caused by war. Thousands of pirates, received their infamous education in national ships. Thousands of thieves, were disbanded soldiers. War taught these men to disregard the rights of property, to trample upon justice, and refuse mercy. Even if disposed to honest labor, which a militarv life always tends to render unpalatable, the disbanded soldier often finds himself unable to obtain employment. The industry of his country has been paralysed by the war; and the demand for labor slowly recurs. The discharged veteran therefore is often compelled to steal or starve. Thus war, by its own operations, involves continual and stupendous thefts, and by its unavoidable tendencies, multiplies offenders, who in time of peace prey upon community.
2. It involves the most enormous Sabbath breaking.
The Sabbath cannot be observed by armies. Common camp duty forbids it. Extra duties are assigned to Sunday – such as parades, drill, inspections, and reviews. Seldom is any effort made to avoid marches, or even battles, on Sunday. I have been able to find, in all history, but one battle postponed on account of the Sabbath. In thousands of instances, as in the case of Waterloo, it has been the chosen day for conflict.
War tends to abolish the Sabbath, even when the army is not present. The heavy trains of the commissary must move on. The arsenal and the ship yard must maintain their activity. Innumerable mechanics, watermen, and laborers, must be kept busy. During our late war with England, who did not witness on all our frontiers, even in the States of New England, the general desecration of the holy day? Men swarmed like ants on a mole hill, to throw up entrenchments; the wharves resounded with din of business; and idlers forsook the house of God to gaze upon the scenes of preparation.
Do Christians consider these unavoidable results, when they give their voice for war? No. The calm consideration of such concomitants, would make it impossible for them to advise or sanction the profane and abominable thing.
3. War produces a wicked waste of national wealth.
The disbursements of a belligerent government, drawn of course by taxation from the laboring community, form an incalculable amount. Our last war with England cost us more than a hundred millions of dollars per annum. During the last 175 years, ENGLAND has had twenty-four wars with France, twelve with Scotland, eight with Spain, and two with America, besides all her other wars in India and elsewhere. These have cost her government, according to official returns, three thousand millions of pounds sterling, or FIFTEEN THOUSAND MILLIONS OF DOLLARS! The war which ended at Waterloo, cost France £700,000,000, and Austria £300,000,000, or five thousand millions of dollars! How much it cost Spain, Sweden, Holland, Germany, Prussia and Russia, I have no means of knowing, but at least an equal sum. Thus one long war cost Europe at least forty thousand millions! The annual interest of this sum, at five per cent., is two thousand millions of dol1ars, – enough almost to banish suffering poverty from Europe! For all this, NOTHING has been gained. Nay, the spending of it thus has produced an aggregate of vice and poverty, pain and bereavement, more than, without war, would have come upon the whole human family since the flood! Who then can begin to compute the cost of all the wars even in Europe alone?
We often hear much railing against useless expenditure, and proposals for economy in dress, furniture, &c., and it is well. But those who insist on these modes of frugality should be consistent. Let them remember that all the retrenchments they recommend are but as the dust of the balance compared to the expenditures of a war. But vast as are the expenses of belligerent governments, they do not constitute a tenth of the true expenses of war! We must reckon the destruction of property, private and public – the ruin of trade and commerce – the suspension of manufactories – the loss of the productive labor of soldiers and camp followers. But who can reckon such amounts?
Further, let it be considered that all these items must be doubled and trebled in cases of civil wars, and that such form a large part of the catalogue.
Further still, war causes the great bulk of taxation even in time of peace! Witness the annual appropriations for fleets and standing armies, forts, arsenal, weapons, pensions, &c. Even since our last war with England, we have been paying annually, for the above objects, about ten times us much as for the support of our civil government!! "The war spirit" is taxing our people to the amount of unnumbered millions, now in time of profound peace. A single 74 gun ship, beside all her cost of construction and equipment, costs in time of peace, while afloat, $200,000 per annum – eight times the salary of the President of the United States. Nearly all the taxes paid by civilized nations, go in some form or other to the support of war! All the British debt which is grinding her people into the dust, was created by war. The cost of the wars of Europe alone, in only the last century, would have built all the canals, railroads, and churches, and established all the schools, colleges, and hospitals, wanted on the whole globe!
4. War is the grossest form of murder.
Private murders are atrocious – those of war far more so. But the contrary opinion prevails; and we adduce proofs. War enhances the crime of murder on the following accounts:
(1.) It is more cold-blooded and cruel.
Malice prompts private murder, and the proof of it is necessary to conviction by a jury; and the more cool and calculating, the more guilt. But murder in war is more cool and calculating, than even in a duel. The question of war or peace is calmly debated, deliberately resolved upon, and proclaimed in form. Armies are raised, and drilled, and marched, and engaged, with all coolness and calculation. The contending hosts know not each other, cherish no personal hate, and seldom know the true grounds of the contest. All is done with whatever of aggravation attends deliberate homicide.
(2.) It is more vast in amount.
Computation falters when we estimate the numbers slain in war or by reason of it. Three hundred thousand men fell in one battle, when Attila, king of the Huns, was defeated at Chalons. Nearly the entire army of Xerxes, consisting of four millions of persons, perished. Julius Caesar, in one campaign in Germany, destroyed half a million. More than half a million perished in one campaign of Napoleon, averaging 3000 men a day. Paying no attention to the innumerable wars among Pagans before and since the birth of Christ, nor to all the wasting wars of the past seventeen centuries, it is matter of distinct calculation that about five millions of nominal Christians have been butchered by nominal Christians, within the last half century! What then has been the total of war-murders since creation?
Nor is the number of the slain the real total. Multitudes of "the wounded and missing" die; multitudes perish out of armies and fleets without battle, by hardships, exposure, vice, contagion, and climate. We ought, therefore, at least to double the number slain in engagements, to arrive at true sum; and make ten millions of men destroyed within half a century by Christian nations’ quarrels!
(3.) Deaths caused by war, arc accompanied by horrid aggravations of suffering.
The wretches die, not on beds of down, surrounded by all that can relieve or palliate suffering. No soft hand smooths the couch, or wipes the brow. No skilful physician stands watching every symptom. The silence, the quiet, the cleanliness, the sympathy, the love, the skill, that divest the chamber of death of all its horror, and half its anguish, are not for the poor soldier. Private murder is always done in haste, and the sufferer is often dismissed from life in a moment. Not so in war. Few are killed outright. The victim dies slowly of unmedicated wounds. Prostrate amid the trampling of columns and of horses which have lost their riders, or in a trench, amid heaps of killed and wounded, he dies a hundred deaths. If, mangled and miserable, he finds himself still alive, when the tide of battle has passed, how forlorn his condition! Unable to drag himself from the ghastly scene, his gory limbs chilled with the damps of night, tortured with thirst, and quivering with pain, his heart siekened with the remembrance of home, and his soul dismayed at the approach of eternal retributions, he meets death with all that can make it terrific.
(4.) The multitudes murdered in war, are generally sent to hell.
The thought is too horrible for steady contemplation; but we are bound to consider it. "No murderer hath eternal life." Soldiers are murderers in intent and profession, and die in the act of killing others, and with imp1ements of murder in their hands. Without space for repentance, they are hurried to the bar of God. On what grounds may we affirm their sa1vation? O that those that know the worth of souls, would dwell on this feature of the dreadful custom!
(5.) War first corrupts those whom it destroys, and thus aggravates damnation itself.
Bad as are most men who enlist in standing armies, war makes them worse. They might at any rate be lost, but their vocation sends them to a more dreadful doom. The recruit begins his degradation, even in the rendezvous, ere he has lodged a week within its walls. He grows still worse in camp.
In the army, vice becomes his occupation. His worst passions are fostered. His Sabbaths are necessarily profaned. He becomes ashamed of tender feelings, and conscientious scrup1es. Thus an old soldier is generally a hardened offender; and the shot that terminates his life, consigns him to a death rendered more terrible by his profession. Had the money and time, which has been lavished to equip and drill and support him as a soldier, been spent for his intellectual and moral improvement, he might have been an ornament to society, and a pillar in the church.
Mark his grim corpse as men bear it to the gaping pit into which whole cart-loads of bodies are thrown. The property, nay the liberty of a whole nation is not a price for his soul! How then can Christians with one hand give to the support of missions, and with the other uphold a custom which counteracts every good enterprise?
How strange, how awful, that to such a trade as war, mankind has, in all ages, lifted up its admiration! Poetry lends its fascinations, and philosophy its inventions. Eloquence, in forum and field, has wrought up the war spirit to fanaticism and frenzy. Even the pulpit, whose legitimate and glorious theme is "PEACE ON EARTH," has not withheld its solemn sanctions. The tender sex, with strange infatuation, have admired the tinselled trappings of him whose trade is to make widows and orphans. Their hands have been withdrawn from the distaff, to embroider warrior’s ensigns. T'he young mother has arrayed her proud boy with cap and feather, toyed him with drum and sword, and trained him, unconsciously, to love and admire the profession of a man-killer.
The universal maxim has been, "in peace prepare for war;" and men are all their days contributing and taxing themselves to defray the expenses of killing each other. Scarcely has a voice been lifted up to spread the principles of peace. Every other principle of Christianity has had its apostles. Howard reformed prisons; Sharp, and Clarkson, and Wilberforce arrested the s1ave-trade. Carey carried the gospel to India. Every form of vice has its antagonists, and every class of sufferers find philanthropists. But who stands forth to urge the law of love? Who attacks this monster WAR? We have not waited for the millennium to abolish intemperance, or Sabbath breaking; but we wait for it to abolish war. It is certain that the millennium cannot come, till war expires.
Shall it so remain? Shall this gorgon of pride, corruption, destructiveness, misery and murder, be still admired and fed, while it is turning men’s hearts to stone, and the garden of the Lord into the desolation of death? Let every heart say no. Let Christians shine before men as sons of peace, not less than as sons of justice and truth. If wars and rumors of wars continue, let the church stand aloof. It is time she was purged of this stain. Her brotherhood embraces all nations. Earth1y rulers may tell us we have enemies; but our heavenly King commands us to return them good for evil; if they hunger, to feed them; if they thirst, to give them drink.
Rise then, Christians, to noble resolution and vigorous endeavors! Retire from military trainings, and spurn the thought of being hired by the month to rob and kill. Refuse to study the tactics, or practice the handicraft of death; and with "a hope that maketh not ashamed," proclaim the principles of universal peace, as part and parcel of eternal truth.
A portion of our missionary spirit should be expended in this department. Shall we pour out our money and our prayers, when we hear of a widow burnt on her husband’s funeral pile, or deluded wretches crushed beneath the wheels of Juggernaut, but do nothing to dethrone this Moloch to whom hundreds of millions of Christians have been sacrificed? Among the fifty millions of the Presidency of Bengal, the average number of suttees (widows burned, &c.) has for twenty years been less than 500, or in the proportion of one death in a year for such a population as Philadelphia. What is this to war? Every day of some campaigns has cost more lives!
We must not abstain from effort, because of apparent obstacles. What great reform does not meet obstructions? The overthrow of Papal supremacy by Luther, the temperance movement, and a host of similar historic facts, show that truth is mighty, and when fairly and perseveringly exhibited, will prevail. It can be shown, that in attempting to abolish all war, we encounter fewer impediments than have attended various other great changes. Even if it were not so, we have a duty to discharge whether we prevail or not. Moral obligation does not rest on the chance of success.
Our obstacle are neither numerous nor formidable. No classes of men love war for its own sake. If it were abolished, those who now make it a profession, could all find profitable and pleasanter employment in peaceful pursuits. Men’s interests are not against us; but the contrary. The people are not blood-thirsty. What serious impediment is there to obstruct the diffusion of peace principles? None more than beset even the most popular enterprise of literature or benevolence. Our only obstruction is apathy, and the unfortunate sentiment that the millennium is to do it away, we know not how. But we might as well do nothing against intemperance, or Sabbath-breaking, or heresy; and wait for the millennium to do them away. Nothing will be done in this world without means, even when the millennium shall have come.
Do you ask what you can do? Much, very much, whoever you are. Cherish in yourself the true peace-spirit. Try to diffuse it. Assist in enlightening your neighbors. Talk of the horrors of war, its impolicy, its cost, its depravity, its utter uselessness in adjusting national disputes. Teach children correctly on this point, and show them the true character of war, stripped of its music and mock splendor. Banish drums and swords from among their toys. Proclaim aloud the Divine government, and teach men how vain it is, even in a righteous cause, to trust an arm of flesh. Insist that patriotism, in its common acceptation, is not a virtue; for it limits us to love our country, and allows us to hate and injure other nations. Thus if Canada were annexed to our Union, we must, on that account, love Canadians. But if South Carolina should secede, we must withdraw part of our love, or perhaps go to war and kill as many as possible. O how absurd to act thus, as though God’s immutable law of love was to be obeyed or not as our boundaries may be.
"Lands intersected by a narrow sea,
Abhor each other. Mountains interposed,
Make enemies of nations who had else,
Like kindred drops, been mingled into one."
Let us feel and disseminate the sentiment that true patriotism is shown only by the good. A man may claim to be a patriot, and love "his country," whose feelings are so vague and worthless that he loves no one in it! He loves a mere name! or rather, his patriotism is a mere name. Whole classes of his fellow-citizens may remain in vice, ignorance, slavery, poverty, and yet he feels no sympathy, offers no aid. Sodom would have been saved, had there been in it ten righteous. These then would have been patriots. These would have saved their country. We have in our land many righteous. These are our security. These save the land from a curse. These therefore are the only true patriots.
Let us unite in "showing up" military glory. What is it? Grant that it is all that it has ever passed for, and it still seems superlatively worthless. The wreaths of conquerors fade daily. We give their names to dogs and slaves. The smallest useful volume guides its author a better and more lasting name. And how absurd, too, is it to talk to common soldiers and under officers about military glory! Among the many millions who have toiled and died for love of glory, scarcely a score are remembered among men! Who of our revolutionary heroes but Washington and Lafayette are known in the opposite hemisphere? Who of our own citizens can tell over a half dozen distinguished soldiers in our struggle for independence? Yet that war is of late date. Of the men of former wars we know almost nothing. Essentially stupid then is the love of military renown in petty officers and the common private. They stake their lives in a lottery where there is hardly a prize in five hundred years!
Let us print and propagate peace principles. Public opinion has been changed on many points by a few resolute men. Let us keep the subject before the people till every man forms a deliberate opinion, whether Christianity allows or forbids war. Let us at least do so much that if ever our country engages in another war, we shall feel no share of the guilt. Let us each do so much that if we should ever walk over a battle-field, stunned with the groans and curses of the wounded, and horror-struck at the infernal spectacle, we can feel that we aid all we could to avert such an evil. Let us clear ourselves of blame. No one of us can put a stop to war. But we can help stop it – and combined and persevering effort will stop it.
LewRockwell articles by Laurence M. Vance
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