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

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the leaders of the Congress of Vienna — of Castlereagh,
Metternich, Talleyrand, Alexander of Russia, and
Frederick William of Prussia. . . . They are not names
to rouse enthusiasm nowadays. All except Talleyrand


were confessed enemies of freedom and enlightenment
and almost everything that we regard as progressive; and
Talleyrand, though occasionally on the right side in such
matters, was not a person to inspire confidence. Yet,
after all, they were more or less reasonable human beings,
and a bitter experience had educated them. Doubtless
they blundered; they went on all kinds of wrong princi-
ples; they based their partition of Europe on what they
called " legitimacy," a perfectly artificial and false
legitimacy, rather than nationality; they loathed and
dreaded popular movements; they could not quite keep
their hands from a certain amount of picking and steal-
ing. Yet, on the whole, we find these men at the end of
the Great War fixing their minds not on glory and pres-
tige and revenge, not on conventions and shams, but on
ideals so great and true and humane and simple that
most Englishmen in ordinary life are ashamed of men-
tioning them; trying hard to make peace permanent on
the basis of what was recognized as " legitimate" or fair;
and, amid many differences, agreeing at least in the uni-
versal abolition of the slave trade.


Our next conference of Europe ought to do far better
if only we can be sure that it will meet in the same high
spirit. Instead of Castlereagh, we shall send from Eng-
land some one like Mr. Asquith or Sir Edward Grey, with
ten times more progressive and liberal feeling and ten
times more insight and understanding. Even suppose we
send a Conservative, Mr. Balfour or Lord Lansdowne,
the advance upon Castlereagh will be almost as great.
Instead of Talleyrand, France will send one of her many


able republican leaders, from Clemenceau to Delcasse*,
certainly more honest and humane than Talleyrand.
And Germany — who can say? Except that it may be
some one very different from these militarist schemers
who have brought their country to ruin. In any case it
is likely to be a wiser man than Frederick William, just
as Russia is bound to send a wiser man than Alexander.

And behind these representatives there will be a
deeper and far more intelligent feeling in the various
peoples. In 1815 the nations were sick of war after
long fighting. I doubt if there was any widespread
conviction that war was in itself an abomination and
an outrage on humanity. Philosophers felt it, some
inarticulate women and peasants and workmen felt it.
But now such a feeling is amost universal. It commands
a majority in any third-class railway carriage; it is ex-
pressed almost as a matter of course in the average

Between Waterloo and the present day there has
passed one of the greatest and most swiftly progressive
centuries of all human history, and the heart of Europe
is really changed. I do not say we shall not have Jingo
crowds or that our own hearts will not thrill with the
various emotions of war, whether base or noble. But
there is a change. Ideas that once belonged to a few
philosophers have sunk into common men's minds; Tol-
stoy has taught us, the intimate records of modern wars
have taught us, free intercourse with foreigners has edu-
cated us, even the illustrated papers have made us real-
ize things. In 1914 it is not that we happen to be sick of
war; it is that we mean to extirpate war out of the nor-
mal possibilities of civilized life, as we have extirpated
leprosy and typhus.



What kind of settlement can we hope to attain at the
end of it all?

The question is still far off, and may have assumed
astonishingly different shapes by the time we reach it,
but it is perhaps well to try, now while we are calm and
unhurt, to think out what we would most desire.

First of all, no revenge, no deliberate humiliation of
any enemy, no picking and stealing.

Next, a drastic resettlement of all those burning
problems which carry in them the seeds of European
war, especially the problems of territory. Many of the
details will be very difficult; some may prove insoluble.
But in general we must try to arrange, even at consid-
erable cost, that territory goes with nationality. The
annexation of Alsace-Lorraine has disturbed the west
of Europe for forty years; the wrong distributions of
territory in the Balkan peninsula have kept the spark
of war constantly alive in the East, and have not been
fully corrected by the last Balkan settlement. Every
nation which sees a slice of itself cut off and held under
foreign rule is a danger to peace, and so is every nation
that holds by force or fraud an alien province. At this
moment, if Austria had not annexed some millions of
Serbians in Bosnia and Herzegovina she would have no
mortal quarrel with Serbia. Any drastic rearrangement
of this sort will probably involve the break-up of Austria,
a larger Italy, a larger Serbia, a larger Germany — for
the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, of Danish Schleswig, and
the Polish provinces would be more than compensated
by the accession of the Germanic parts of Austria —
and a larger Russia. But it is not big nations that are


a menace to peace; it is nations with a grievance or na-
tions who know that others have a grievance against

And shall we try again to achieve Castlereagh's and
Alexander's ideal of a permanent Concert, pledged to
make collective war upon the peace-breaker? Surely we
must. We must at all costs and in spite of all difficul-
ties, because the alternative means such unspeakable
failure. We must learn to agree, we civilized nations of
Europe, or else we must perish. I believe that the chief
counsel of wisdom here is to be sure to go far enough.
We need a permanent Concert, perhaps a permanent
Common Council, in which every awkward problem can
be dealt with before it has time to grow dangerous, and
in which outvoted minorities must accustom themselves
to giving way. If we examine the failures of the Euro-
pean Concert in recent years we shall find them generally
due to two large causes. Either some Powers came into
the council with unclean hands, determined to grab
alien territory or fatally compromised because they had
grabbed it in the past; or else they met too late, when
the air was full of mistrust, and not to yield had become
a point of honour. Once make certain of good faith and
a clean start, and surely there is in the great Powers of
Europe sufficient unity of view and feeling about funda-
mental matters to make it possible for them to work
honestly together — at any rate, when the alternative
is stark ruin. ... It is well to remember that in this
matter, from Alexander I onward, Russia has steadily
done her best to lead the way.

And the abolition of the slave trade! It is wonder-
ful to think that that was not only talked about but
really achieved ; the greatest abomination in the world .


definitely killed, finished and buried, never to return,
as a result of the meeting of the Powers at the end of
the Great War. What can we hope for to equal that?
The limitation of armaments seems almost small in

We saw in the first week of the war what a nation
and a government can do when the need or the oppor-
tunity comes. Armies and fleets mobilized, war risks
assured, railways taken over, prices fixed . . . things that
seemed almost impossible accomplished successfully in
a few days. One sentence in Mr. Lloyd George's speech
on the financial situation ran thus, if I remember the
words: "This part of the subject presents some peculiar
difficulties, but I have no doubt they will be surmounted
with the utmost ease." That is the spirit in which our
Government has risen to its crisis, a spirit not of shallow
optimism, but of that active and hard-thinking confi-
dence which creates its own fulfilment. The power of
man over circumstance is now — even now in the midst
of this one terrific failure — immeasurably greater than
it has ever yet been in history. Every year that passes
has shown its increase. When the next settling day
comes the real will of reasonable man should be able to
assert itself and achieve its end with a completeness not
conceivable in 1815.


This is not the time to make any definite proposals.
Civilization has still many slave trades to abolish. The
trade in armaments is perhaps the most oppressive of
all, but there are others also, slave trades social and in-
timate and international ; no one can tell yet which ones


and how many it may be possible to overthrow. But
there is one thing that we must see. This war and the
national aspiration behind the war must not be allowed
to fall into the hands of the militarists. I do not say that
we must not be ready for some form of universal service :
that will depend on the circumstances in which the war
leaves us. But we must not be militarized in mind and
feeling; we must keep our politics British and not Prus-
sian. That is the danger. It is the danger in every war.
In time of war every interest, every passion, tends to be
concentrated on the mere fighting, the gaining of ad-
vantages, the persistent use of cunning and force. An
atmosphere tends to grow up in which the militarist and
the schemer are at home and the liberal and democrat

There are many thousands of social reformers and
radicals in this country who instinctively loathe war,
and have been convinced only with the utmost reluc-
tance, if at all, of the necessity of our fighting. The
danger is that these people, containing among them
some of our best guides and most helpful political think-
ers, may from disgust and discouragement fall into the
background and leave public opinion to the mercy of our
own Von Tirpitzes and Bernhardis. That would be the
last culminating disaster. It would mean that the war
had ceased to be a war for free Europe against militarism,
and had become merely one of the ordinary sordid and
bloody struggles of nation against nation, one link in the
insane chain of wrongs that lead ever to worse wrongs.

One may well be thankful that the strongest of the
neutral Powers is guided by a leader so wise and upright
and temperate as President Wilson. One may be thank-
ful, too, that both here and in France we have in power


not only a very able Ministry, but a strongly Liberal and
peace-loving Ministry. In the first place, it unites the
country far more effectively than any Ministry which
could be suspected of Jingoism. In the second place, it
gives us a chance of a permanent settlement, based on
wisdom and not on ambition. It is fortunate also that
in Russia the more liberal elements in the Government
seem to be predominant. Some English Liberals seem
to be sorry and half ashamed that we have Russia as an
ally; for my own part I am glad and proud. Not only be-
cause of her splendid military achievements, but because,
so far as I can read the signs of such things, there is in
Russia, more than in other nations, a vast untapped
reservoir of spiritual power, of idealism, of striving for
a nobler life. And that is what Europe will most need at
the end of this bitter material struggle. I am proud to
think that the liberal and progressive elements in Russia
are looking towards England and feeling strengthened
by English friendship. "This is for us," said a great
Russian Liberal to me some days ago, — "this is for us
a Befreiungskrieg (war of liberation). After this, re-
action is impossible." We are fighting not only to de-
fend Russian governors and Russian peasants against
German invasion, but also, and perhaps even more pro-
foundly, to enable the Russia of Turgenieff and Tolstoy,
the Russia of many artists and many martyrs, to work
out its destiny and its freedom. If the true Russia has
a powerful voice in the final settlement it will be a great
thing for humanity.

Of course, all these hopes may be shattered and made
ridiculous before the settlement comes. They would be
shattered, probably, by a German victory; not because
Germans are wicked, but because a German victory at


the present time would mean a victory for blood-and-
iron. They would be shattered, certainly, if in each sep-
arate country the liberal forces abandoned the situation
to the reactionaries, and stood aside while the nation fell
into that embitterment and brutalization of feeling
which is the natural consequence of a long war.

To prevent the first of these perils is the work of our
armies and navies; to prevent the second should be the
work of all thoughtful non-combatants. It may be a
difficult task, but at least it is not hideous; and some of
the work that we must do is. So hideous, indeed, that
at times it seems strange that we can carry it out at all
— this war of civilized men against civilized men, against
our intellectual teachers, our brothers in art and science
and healing medicine, and so large a part of all that
makes life beautiful. When we remember all this it
makes us feel lost and heavy-hearted, like men struggling
and unable to move in an evil dream. . . . So, it seems,
for the time being we must forget it. We modern men
are accustomed by the needs of life to this division of
feelings. In every war, in every competition almost,
there is something of the same difficulty, and we have
learned to keep the two sides of our mind apart. We
must fight our hardest, indomitably, gallantly, even
joyously, forgetting all else while we have to fight. WTien
the fight is over we must remember.

II '


(September, 1914)

I have all my life been an advocate of Peace. I hate
war, not merely for its own cruelty and folly, but because
it is the enemy of all the causes that I care for most, of
social progress and good government and all friendliness
and gentleness of life, as well as of art and learning and
literature. I have spoken and presided at more meetings
than I can remember for peace and arbitration and the
promotion of international friendship. I opposed the
policy of war in South Africa with all my energies, and
have been either outspokenly hostile or inwardly un-
sympathetic towards almost every war that Great
Britain has waged in my lifetime. If I may speak more
personally, there is none of my own work into which I
have put more intense feeling than into my translation
of Euripides' "Trojan Women," the first great denuncia-
tion of war in European literature. I do not regret any
word that I have spoken or written in the cause of Peace,
nor have I changed, so far as I know, any opinion that

1 1 have previously held on this subject. Yet I believe
firmly that we were right to declare war against Ger-
many on August 4, 1914, and that to have remained
neutral in that crisis would have been a failure in public

. duty.

A heavy responsibility — there is no doubt of it —

. lies upon Great Britain. Our allies, France and Russia,


•Belgium and Serbia, had no choice; the war was, in
various degrees, forced on all of them. We only, after
deliberately surveying the situation, when Germany
would have preferred for the moment not to fight us, of

■ our free will declared war. And we were right.

• How can such a thing be? It is easy enough to see
that our cause is right, and the German cause, by all
ordinary human standards, desperately wrong. It is
hardly possible to study the official papers issued by the
British, the German, and the Russian Governments,
without seeing that Germany — or some party in Ger-
many — had plotted this war beforehand; that she chose
a moment when she thought her neighbours were at a
disadvantage; that she prevented Austria from making
a settlement even at the last moment; that in order to
get more quickly at France she violated her treaty with
Belgium. Evidence too strong to resist seems to show
that she has carried out the violation with a purposeful
cruelty that has no parallel in the wars of modern and

• civilized nations. Yet some people may still feel gravely
doubtful. Germany's ill-doing is no reason for us to do
likewise. We did our best to keep the general peace;
there we were right. We failed; the German Govern-
ment made war in spite of us. There we were unfortu-
nate. It was a war already on an enormous scale, a vast
network of calamity ranging over five nations; and we
decided to make it larger still. There we were wrong.
Could we not have stood aside, as the United States
stand, ready to help refugees and sufferers, anxious to
heal wounds and not make them, watchful for the first
chance of putting an end to this time of horror?

"Try for a moment," an objector to our policy might


say, "to realize the extent of suffering involved in one
small corner of a battlefield. You have seen a man here
and there badly hurt in an accident; you have seen
perhaps a horse with its back broken, and you can re-
member how dreadful it seemed to you. In that one
corner how many men, how many horses, will be lying,
hurt far worse and just waiting to die? Indescribable
wounds, extreme torment; and all, far further than any
eye can see, multiplied and multiplied! And, for all
your righteous indignation against Germany, what have
these done? The horses are not to blame for anybody's
foreign policy. They have only come where their
masters took them. And the masters themselves . . .
admitting that certain highly placed Germans, whose
names we are not sure of, are as wicked as ever you like,
these soldiers — peasants and working-men and shop-
keepers and schoolmasters — have really done nothing
in particular; at least, perhaps they have now, but they
had not up to the time when you, seeing they were in-
volved in war and misery already, decided to make war
on them also and increase their sufferings. You say
that justice must be done on conspirators and public
malefactors. But so far as the rights and wrongs of the
war go, you are simply condemning innocent men, by
thousands and thousands, to death, or even to mutilation
and torture; is that the best way to satisfy your sense of
justice? These innocent people, you will say, are fight-
ing to protect the guilty parties whom you are deter-
mined to reach. Well, perhaps, at the end of the war,
after millions of innocent people have suffered, you may
at last, if all goes well with your arms, get at the 'guilty
parties.' You will hold an inquiry, with imperfect evi-
dence and biased judges; you will decide — in all likeli-

;how can war ever be right? 23

hood wrongly — that a dozen very stupid and obstinate
Prussians with long titles are the guilty parties, and even
then you will not know what to do with them. You will
probably try, and almost certainly fail, to make them
somehow feel ashamed or humiliated. It is likely enough
that you will merely make them into national heroes.

"And after all, this is assuming quite the best sort of
war: a war in which one party is wrong and the other
right, and the right wins. Suppose both are wrong;
or suppose the wrong party wins? It is as likely as not;
for, if the right party is helped by his good conscience,
the wrong has probably taken pains to have the odds
on his side before he began quarrelling. In that case all
the wild expenditure of blood and treasure, all the im-
measurable suffering of innocent individuals and dumb
animals, all the tears of women and children in the back-
ground, have taken place not to vindicate the right, but
to establish the wrong. To do a little evil that great or
certain good may come is all very well; but to do almost
infinite evil for a doubtful chance of attaining something
which half the people concerned may think good and the
other half think bad, and which in no imaginable case
can ever be attained in fullness or purity . . . that is
neither good morals nor good sense. Anybody not in a
passion must see that it is insanity.' '

I sympathize with every step of this argument; yet
I think it is wrong. It is judging of the war as a profit-
and-loss account, and reckoning, moreover, only the im-
mediate material consequences. It leaves out of sight
the cardinal fact that in some causes it is better to fight
and be broken than to yield peacefully; that sometimes
the mere act of resisting to the death is in itself a victory.


Let us try to understand this. The Greeks who fought
and died at Thermopylae had no manner of doubt that
they were right so to fight and die, and all posterity
has agreed with them. They probably knew they would
be defeated. They probably expected that, after their
defeat, the Persians would proceed easily to conquer the
rest of Greece, and would treat it much more harshly
because it had resisted. But such considerations did not
affect them. They would not consent to their country's

Take again a very clear modern case : the fine story
of the French tourist who was captured, together with a
priest and some other white people, by Moorish robbers.
The Moors gave their prisoners the choice either to
trample on the Cross or to be killed. The Frenchman
happened to be a Freethinker and an anti-clerical. He
disliked Christianity. But he was not going to trample
on the Cross at the orders of a robber. He stuck to his
companions and died.

This sense of honour and the respect for this sense
of honour are very deep instincts in the average man.
In the United States there is a rather specially strong
feeling against mixture of blood, not only with the blood
of coloured people, but with that of the large masses of
mankind who are lumped together as " dagoes" or
"hunkies." Yet I have noticed that persons with a dash
of Red Indian blood are not ashamed but rather proud
of it. And if you look for the reason, I suspect it lies
in the special reputation which the Indian has acquired,
that he would never consent to be a slave. He preferred
to fight till he was dead.

A deal of nonsense, no doubt, is talked about " hon-
our" and "dishonour." They are feelings based on sen-


• timent, not on reason; the standards by which they are
judged are often conventional or shallow, and some-
times utterly false. Yet honour and dishonour are real
things. I will not try to define them; but will only notice
that, like religion, their characteristic is that they ad-
mit of no bargaining. Indeed, we can almost think of
honour as being simply that which a free man values
more than life, and dishonour as that which he avoids
more than suffering or death. And the important point

» for us is that there are such things.

There are some people, followers of Tolstoy, who ac-
cept this position so far as dying is concerned, but will
have nothing to do with killing. Passive resistance, they
say, is right; martyrdom is right; but to resist violence
by violence is sin.

I was once walking with a friend and disciple of
Tolstoy's in a country lane, and a little girl was running
in front of us. I put to him the well-known question:
"Suppose you saw a man, wicked or drunk or mad,
run out and attack that child. You are a big man and
carry a big stick: would you not stop him and, if neces-
sary, knock him down?" "No," he said, "why should
I commit a sin? I would try to persuade him, I would
stand in his way, I would let him kill me, but I would
not strike him." Some few people will always be found,
less than one in a thousand, to take this view. They will
say: "Let the little girl be killed or carried off; let the
wicked man commit another wickedness; I, at any rate,
will not add to the mass of useless violence that I see
all round me."

With such persons one cannot reason, though one can
often respect them. Nearly every normal man will feel


that the real sin, the real dishonour, lies in allowing an
abominable act to be committed under your eyes while
you have the strength to prevent it. And the stronger
you are, the greater your chance of success, by so much
the more are you bound to intervene. If the robbers are
overpoweringly strong and there is no chance of beating
or baffling them, then and only then should you think of
martyrdom. Martyrdom is not the best possibility. It
is almost the worst. It is a counsel of despair, the last
resort when there is no hope of successful resistance.

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Online LibraryGilbert MurrayFaith, war, and policy; addresses and essays on the European War → online text (page 2 of 19)