Gilbert Murray.

Faith, war, and policy; addresses and essays on the European War online

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soldiers are men, and very brave men, and that they
have seen with their eyes and touched with the hands
realities of which we scarcely dare to think. They have
learned many things that we shall never know. And one
thing they have learned is the nature of war. The gen-
eral may possibly be a lover of war; while war lasts he is
a very great man, indeed, and when peace comes he may
have to retire upon half-pay to Brighton. But the men
in the firing line are not lovers of war; hardly more so
than the ravaged and tortured peasants of the invaded

The women and old men at home may hate the enemy.
Hate is an emotion which grows when you cannot give
vent to normal anger. But the soldier has given more
vent to his anger than he ever needed. He has often
more sympathy than hate for the man in the trenches
opposite, labouring miserably in the same mud and snow
as himself, caught in the same bewildering net, deafened
by the same monstrous noises and torn by the same
shreds of iron.

Mercy has not passed out of the world, nor yet justice.

We are driven back to a sort of mysticism. Mankind
knows that suffering itself is evil, but the wish to cause
suffering is incalculably and disproportionately worse.
All the cruel deeds, all the killing and maiming that is
done day by day, night by night, over most of Europe,
are not the real will, not the real free actions of any man.
It is all a thing that has happened. Who among men
ever wished for this war? We know that our own states-


men strained every nerve to prevent it. The soldiers
fighting never wished it, nor yet the nations behind the
soldiers. The world itself, the great, suffering world,
never wished it. No one wished it. Not the great crim-
inals and semi-maniacs in Germany and Austria who
brought it about; not even they wished for this. What
they wished was wicked enough, Heaven help them;
when they dreamed of their triumphal march on Paris
and the rest of the frischer frohlicher Krieg, the "fresh
and joyous war." But they never wished for this that
has come. They thought it would be quite different.
They are staring aghast, like Frankenstein, at the mon-
ster they have created.

It makes some difference in one's ultimate judgement,
it saves one from a wild reaction against all organized
human society as an accursed thing, if we realize that
the war is not really the work of man's will. It is more
a calamity to pity than a crime to curse.

The man who would prolong the war one day longer
than is necessary for the establishment of the Right, if
there is such a man, is if possible more wicked than the
wretches who caused the war. Because he will know
what he is doing, and they did not. Yet neither must we
wish to end it a day sooner.

One is sometimes bewildered by this drag in two con-
trary directions, bewildered till it is hard to see clear.
Then the right thing is to go back to August, 1914, and
remember how we first faced the question of war, and
how the great leaders of the nation then guided us. We
knew the war was horrible, and we faced it as the al-
ternative to something worse. I believe that, among the
statesmen and others whom I knew personally, almosj
every thoughtful and honest man who then made up his


mind to support the war, faced it very much as he would
face his own death. We made our choice, and we are
paying, and for many months still shall go on paying,
the price that we agreed to pay. All these deaths, all
these broken hearts — we agreed to them beforehand.
But we agreed to them as the price to be paid for a
certain result, the only result in the range of human
practice which could justify so ghastly a traffic. We
agreed to pay this price in part, perhaps, for the saving
of our national existence, but beyond that, not for the
aggrandizement of ourselves or our country, not for ter-
ritory or trade or profit, most certainly not for the sake of
injuring our rivals or taking revenge upon our enemies,
or stealing advantages over our political opponents. We
agreed to pay this price in order that the idea of Public
Right should not be swept out of existence; that the free
peoples of Europe should remain free, and some at least
of her ancient sores be cleansed ; and that the issue of our
great ordeal should not be fixed by the mere tug of war
between opposing national ambitions, but be perma-
nently based, so far as we can attain it, on the organized
conscience of Europe and the free judgement of the
civilized world. In some such cause as that we will en-
dure to any limit. For a baser cause the war would be


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Online LibraryGilbert MurrayFaith, war, and policy; addresses and essays on the European War → online text (page 19 of 19)