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

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with future bones, you might persuade the man that the
medicine was just what his health needed; but their
swallowing muscles would refuse to act. Doubtless, in
the scheme of nature, the disgust is a provision which
saves the race. Now I cannot help suspecting that,
much more faintly and more fallibly, the vehement and
invincible refusal with which man's sense of honour or
religion meets certain classes of proposal, which look
profitable enough on the surface, is just such another
warning of nature against poison. In all these cases dis-
cussed above, the Christian's martyrdom, the honour-
able man's refusal to desert his companions, it was not
true to say, as we seemed to say, that advantage was
on one side and honour on the other. Dishonour would
have brought with it a subtler and more lasting disad-
vantage, greater in its sum than immediate death. If
the Christian had sacrificed to the idol, what would his
life have been afterwards? Perhaps his friends would
have rejected his example and been martyred; he would
be alone in his shame. Perhaps they would have followed
his example, and through him the whole band of the
"faithful" have betrayed Christ. Not a very enviable
choice either way. Without any tall talk or high pro-


fessions, would it not quite certainly be better for the
whole Church and probably for the man himself that
he should defy his persecutors and die? And does not
the same now hold for any patriotic Belgian or Serbian
who has had a voice in his country's action? The choice
was not on the one hand honour and misery, on the
other dishonour and a happy life. It was on the one
hand honour and great physical suffering, on the other
hand dishonour and a life subtly affected by that dis-
honour in a thousand unforeseen ways. I do not under-
rate the tremendous importance of mere physical suffer-
ing; I do not underrate the advantage of living as long
a life as is conveniently possible. But men must die
some time, and, if we dare really to confess the truth,
the thing that most of us in our hearts long for, the thing
which either means ultimate happiness or else is greater
and dearer to men than happiness, is the power to do our
duty and, when we die, to have done it. The behaviour
of our soldiers and sailors proves it. " The last I saw of
him was on the after bridge, doing well." The words come
in the official report made by the captain of one of our
lost cruisers. But that is the kind of epitaph nearly all
men crave for themselves, and the wisest men, I think,
even for their nation.

And if we accept this there will follow further conse-
quences. War is not all evil. It is a true tragedy, which
must have nobleness and triumph in it as well as dis-
aster. . . . This is dangerous ground. The subject lends
itself to foolish bombast, especially when accompanied
by a lack of true imagination. We must not begin to
praise war without stopping to reflect on the hundreds
of thousands of human beings involved in such horrors


of pain and indignity that, if here in our ordinary hours
we saw one man so treated, the memory would sicken us
to the end of our lives; we must remember the horses,
remember the gentle natures brutalized by hardship and
filth, and the once decent persons transformed by rage
and fear into devils of cruelty. But, when we have real-
ized that, we may venture to see in this wilderness of
evil some oases of extraordinary good.

These men who are engaged in what seems like a vast
public crime ought, one would think, to fall to something
below their average selves, below the ordinary standard
of common folk. But do they? Day after day come
streams of letters from the front, odd stories, fragments
of diaries, and the like, full of the small, intimate facts
which reveal character; and almost with one accord they
show that these men have not fallen, but risen. No
doubt there has been some selection in the letters; to
some extent the writers repeat what they wish to have
remembered, and say nothing of what they wish to for-
get. But, when all allowances are made, one cannot read
the letters and the dispatches without a feeling of al-
most passionate admiration for the men about whom
they tell. They were not originally a set of men chosen
for their peculiar qualities. They were just our ordinary
fellow citizens, the men you meet on a crowded pave-
ment. There was nothing to suggest that their conduct
in common life was better than that of their neighbours.
Yet now, under the stress of war, having a duty before
them that is clear and unquestioned and terrible, they
are daily doing nobler things than we most of us have
ever had the chance of doing, things which we hardly
dare hope that we might be able to do. I am not think-
ing of the rare achievements that win a V.C. or a Cross


of the Legion of Honour, but of the common necessary
heroism of the average men : the long endurance, the de-
voted obedience, the close-banded life in which self-
sacrifice is the normal rule, and all men may be forgiven
except the man who saves himself at the expense of his
comrade. I think of the men who share their last bis-
cuits with a starving peasant, who help wounded com-
rades through days and nights of horrible retreat, who
give their lives to save mates or officers. l Or I think again

1 For example, to take two stories out of a score: —

1. Relating his experiences to a pressman, Lance-Corporal Edmond-
son, of the Royal Irish Lancers, said: "There is absolutely no doubt
that our men are still animated by the spirit of old. I came on a couple
of men of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who had been cut
off at Mons. One was badly wounded, but his companion had stuck
by him all the time in a country swarming with Germans, and though
they had only a few biscuits between them they managed to pull
through until we picked them up. I pressed the unwounded man to
tell me how they managed to get through the four days on six biscuits,
but he always got angry and told me to shut up. I fancy he went
without anything, and gave the biscuits to the wounded man. They
were offered shelter many times by French peasants, but they were so
afraid of bringing trouble on these kind folk that they would never
accept shelter. One night they lay out in the open all through a heavy
downpour, though there was a house at hand where they could have
had shelter. Uhlans were on the prowl, and they would not think of
compromising the French people, who would have been glad to help

2. The following story of an unidentified private of the Royal Irish
Regiment, who deliberately threw away his life in order to warn his
comrades of an ambush, is told by a wounded corporal of the West
Yorkshire Regiment now in hospital in Woolwich : —

"The fight in which I got hit was in a little village near to Rheims.
We were working in touch with the French corps on our left, and early
one morning we were sent ahead to this village, which we had reason
to believe was clear of the enemy. On the outskirts we questioned a
French lad, but he seemed scared and ran away. We went on through
the long, narrow street, and just as we were in sight of the end the
figure of a man dashed out from a farmhouse on the right. Imme-
diately the rifles began to crack in front, and the poor chap fell dead
before he reached us.

"He was one of our men, a private of the Royal Irish Regiment.
We learned that he had been captured the previous day by a maraud-
ing party of German cavalry, and had been held a prisoner at the


of the expressions on faces that I have seen or read
about, something alert and glad and self-respecting in
the eyes of those who are going to the front, and even of
the wounded who are returning. "Never once," writes
one correspondent, "not once since I came to France
have I seen among the soldiers an angry face or heard
an angry word. . . . They are always quiet, orderly, and
wonderfully cheerful." And no one who has followed
the war need be told of their heroism. I do not forget
the thousands left on the battlefield to die, or the groan-
ing of the wounded sounding all day between the crashes
of the guns. But there is a strange deep gladness as
well. "One feels an extraordinary freedom," says a
young Russian officer, "in the midst of death, with the
bullets whistling round. The same with all the soldiers.
The wounded all want to get well and return to the fight.
They fight with tears of joy in their eyes."

Human nature is a mysterious thing, and man finds
his weal and woe not in the obvious places. To have
something before you, clearly seen, which you know
you must do, and can do, and will spend your utmost
strength and perhaps your life in doing, that is one form
at least of very high happiness, and one that appeals —
the facts prove it — not only to saints arTd heroes, but
to average men. Doubtless the few who are wise enough

farm where the Germans were in ambush for us. He tumbled to their
game, and though he knew that if he made the slightest sound they
would kill him, he decided to make a dash to warn us of what was in
store. He had more than a dozen bullets in him, and there was not the
slightest hope for him. We carried him into a house until the fight was
over, and then we buried him next day with military honours. His
identification disk and everything else was missing, so that we could
only put over his grave the tribute that was paid to a greater: 'He
saved others; himself he could not save.' There wasn't a dry eye
among us when we laid him to rest in that little village."


and have enough imagination may find opportunity for
that same happiness in everyday life, but in war ordi-
nary men find it. This is the inward triumph which lies
at the heart of the great tragedy.



(February, 1915)

At the Natural History Museum, South Kensington,
close to the entrance, you can buy for the sum of four-
pence a most fascinating little book on "The Fossil Re-
mains of Man." It is official and, I presume, authorita-
tive. And it tells how, in very remote times, before there
was any South Kensington Museum, or any England,
or, I believe, in the strict sense, any Europe, there lived
in swampy forests in various parts of the world, troops
of little lemur-like tree-dwellers. They were, I suppose,
rather like small monkeys, but much prettier. They had
nice fur, good prehensile tails, and effective teeth. Then
there fell upon them, or some of them, a momentous
change, a hypertrophy or overdevelopment of one part
of the body. This kind of special increase, the author
tells us, seldom stop's till it becomes excessive. With the
lemurs it was the brain which began to grow. It grew
and grew, both in size and in complexity. The rest of
the body suffered in consequence. The fur became
mangy and disappeared. The prehensile tails wasted
away. The teeth ceased to be useful as weapons. And
in the end, ladies and gentlemen, after incalculable ages,
here we are !

Now these lemurs had certain instincts and habits of
life. Let us define our terms. By an instinct I mean,

1 Lecture at Bedford College.


following the exposition of Dr. McDougall, an innate
psycho-physical disposition to notice objects of a certain
class, to feel about them in certain ways and to act corre-
spondingly. They would notice an enemy, hate him, and
spit at him; notice an object that was good to eat, desire
it, and eat it. They made love, they protected their
young, they defended their group against other groups.
And primitive man inherited, with modifications, their
instincts, and we have similarly inherited his. Some of
them were generally desirable, and are consequently
admitted and encouraged; others were generally un-
desirable, and have been habitually denied and sup-
pressed in our conscious life, only to break out in dreams,
in fits of insanity or passion, or more subtly in self-
deception. But, suppressed or unsuppressed, man's in-
stincts form the normal motive force in his life, though
the direction of that force may from time to time be
controlled by conscious reason.

From this point of view I wish to consider what has
happened to us in England since August 4, 1914. For
that something has happened is quite clear. There is an
inward change, which some people praise and some
blame. There is a greater seriousness in life, less com-
plaining, less obvious selfishness, and more hardihood.
There is a universal power of self-sacrifice whose exist-
ence we never suspected before: on every side young
men are ready to go and face death for their country,
and parents are ready to let them go. There is more
brotherhood and more real democracy; and at the same
time, a quality of which we stood in much need, far
more discipline and obedience.

This makes a very strong case on the good side. Yet,


on the other, you will find generally that reformers and
idealists are disheartened. Friends of peace, of women's
causes, of legal reform, of the mitigation of cruelty to
animals, are all reduced to something like impotence.
One hears the statement that " there is no Christianity
left." The very increase of power and devotion which
has occurred is directed, so some say, to the service of
evil. The same process has taken place in Germany, and
has there apparently reached a higher degree of inten-
sity. To leave aside its more insane manifestations, a
Danish friend sends me the following quotation from
a German religious poet, much admired in evangelical
circles: "We have become the nation of wrath. . . . We
accomplish the almighty will of God, and will vengefully
wreak the demands of His righteousness on the godless,
filled with sacred fury. . . . We are bound together like a
scourge of punishment whose name is War. We flame
like lightning. Our wounds blossom like rose-gardens at
the gate of heaven. Thanks be to Thee, God Almighty!
Thy wrathful awakening does away with our sins. As the
iron in Thy hand we smite all our enemies on the cheek-
bone." Another poet, a clergyman, prays that the Ger-
mans may not fall into the temptation of carrying out
the judgements of God's wrath with too great mildness.
Now the state of mind which these poems reveal — and
I dare say they could be paralleled or nearly paralleled
in England — is compatible with great self-sacrifice and
heroism, but it is certainly not what one would call

In order to understand this change as a whole, it is
necessary to analyze it; and I would venture to suggest
that, in the main, it consists simply in an immense stimu-
lation of the herd or group instincts, though, of course,


other instincts are also involved. For the present, let us
neither praise nor blame, but simply analyze. At the
end we may have some conclusion to draw.

Man is by nature a gregarious animal and is swayed
by herd instincts, as a gregarious animal must be; but of
course they are greatly modified. Outside mankind we
find these instincts in various grades of development.
They show strongest in ants and bees, with their com-
munal life of utter self-sacrifice, utter ruthlessness. I see
that Professor Julian Huxley, in his book on "The
Individual in the Animal Kingdom/' doubts whether
among ants the single ant or the whole ant-heap is really
the individual. I remember a traveller in northern Aus-
tralia narrating how he once saw a procession of white
ants making towards his camp, and to head them off
sprinkled across their line of advance a train of blue-
stone, or sulphate of copper. And instead of turning
aside, each ant as he came up threw himself on the
horribly corrosive stuff and devoured it till he fell
dead; and presently the main army marched on over a
line consisting no longer of bluestone, but of dead

The instinct is less overpowering in cattle, horses,
wolves, etc. Certain wild cattle in South Africa are
taken by Galton as types of it. In ordinary herd life they
show no interest in one another, much less any mutual
affection. But if one is taken out of the herd and put by
himself he pines, and when he is taken back to the herd
he shoves and nozzles to the very centre of it. Wolves,
again, will fight for their pack, but not from mutual
affection. If the pack is not threatened, they will readily
fight and kill one another. A dog in domesticated condi-
tions is especially interesting. He has been taken away


from his pack, but he retains his fundamental habits.
He barks to call his mates on every emergency, even if
barking frightens his prey away. He sniffs at every-
thing when he is out walking, because he has wanted so
long to find his way home to the lost pack. His real pack
is now artificial, grouped round his master. It will take
in his master's friends and house-companions, including
quite possibly various animals such as cats and rabbits.
Meantime he rejects the strange man and cheerfully kills
the strange cat or rabbit. His delightful friendliness and
sympathy are of course due to his herd habits. A cat
has no herd. She has always " walked alone."

Now man satisfies his herd instinct by many groups,
mainly artificial. Like the dog, he may take in other
animals. In ordinary life the group of which he is most
conscious is his social class, especially if it is threatened in
any way. Clergymen, landowners, teachers, coal-miners
tend, as the phrase is, to hang together. They have the
same material interests and the same habits of life.
Again, there may be local groups, counties or villages,
or groups dependent on ideas and beliefs, a church, a
party in politics, a clique in art. But of all groups, far
the strongest when it is once roused is the nation, and it
is the nation that is roused now.

Normally men of science form a group, so do theolo-
gians. But now they feel no longer as men of science or
theologians, they feel as Englishmen or Germans. I see
that the Archbishop of Munich has expressed a doubt
whether "any appreciable number of Belgian priests"
have been "irregularly killed" by German soldiers.
There is an absence of class feeling about this remark
which few clergymen could attain in peace time. I see
that even the German Jesuits are sharply differing from


the rest of the Jesuits, an order famous throughout his-
tory for its extreme cohesion and discipline. The only
bodies that have at all asserted themselves against the
main current of feeling in the various nations have been
a few isolated Intellectuals and some small groups of
International Socialists. It was easier for these last, since
with them Internationalism was not only a principle, but
a habit, and, besides, they were accustomed in ordinary
life to be against their own government and to differ
from their neighbours.

In the main, what has happened is very simple. In all
wild herds we find that the strength of this instinct de-
pends upon the need for it. As soon as the herd is in
danger, the herd instinct flames up in passion to defend
it. The members of the herd first gather together, and
then fight or fly. This is what has happened to us. Our
herd is in danger, and our natural herd instinct is
aflame. Let us notice certain different ways in which it

First, the herd unites. Wolves who are quarrelling
cease when menaced by a common enemy. Cattle and
horses draw together. We in England find ourselves
a band of brothers; and the same of course occurs
in Germany. Indeed, it probably occurs even more
strongly there, since all herd emotions there tend to be
passionately expressed and officially encouraged. Those
who are ordinarily separate have drawn together. Can-
ada, Australia, India, even Crown colonies like Fiji,
seem to be feeling a common emotion. A year or so ago
one might see in the advertisements of employment in
Canadian newspapers the words, "No English need
apply." You would not find them now. Even the
United States have drawn close to us. Of course in part


this is due to the goodness of our cause, to sympathy
with the wrongs of Belgium, and the like. Most neutrals
are somewhat on our side. But herd instinct is clearly
present; or why do the German- Americans side with the

Even those who are ordinarily at strife have drawn
together. Before the war our whole people seemed at
strife with itself, how far from natural causes and how
far from definite intrigue on the part of Germany history
will doubtless show. We had the Militant Suffragists, we
had an utterly extraordinary number of strikes and a
great deal of rebellion against trade-union leaders, we
had trouble in India, terrific threats in Ireland. And on
the whole, now these various enemies have " made it up."
Of course it was much harder for them than for those
who were merely separated by distance. There were
serious obstacles in the way; habits of anger, habits of
suspicion ; often the mere routine of party attack which
comes natural to small groups in strong opposition to a
government. As a journalist said to me : " I mostly keep
the truce all right ; but sometimes, when one is tired and
has nothing particular to say, one drops into abusing

The chief problem that arises in this general drawing
together is the problem of fidelity to the lesser herd.
Sometimes there is no clash between the lesser and the
greater. A man's emotion towards his family, his asso-
ciates, his native district, causes as a rule no clash. On
the contrary, it is usually kindled and strengthened by
some sort of analogy or some emotional infection. The
emotions of loyalty, of love to one's neighbours and sur-
roundings, are all stirred; and the family emotions in
particular, being themselves very ancient and deep-


rooted in our instinctive nature, have grown stronger
together with those of the herd.

But often there is a clash. For instance, an individual
who has recently been in Germany and made close friends
there will, out of loyalty to this friendship, rebel against
the current anti-German passion, and so become ''pro-
German." I mean by " pro-German/' not one who wishes
the Germans to win, — I know of none such, — but one
who habitually interprets doubtful questions in a way
sympathetic to Germany. Again, there are a few people
who, on one ground or another, disapproved of the
declaration of war. They are attacked and maligned:
their friends naturally stand by them. The whole group
hits back angrily and becomes, in the same sense, pro-
German. Then there are people who are influenced by
a peculiar form of pugnacity which is often miscalled
"love of justice." It is really a habit of irritation at ex-
cess which finds vent not in justice, but in counter-excess.
"So-and-so is overpraised; for Heaven's sake, let us
bring him down a peg ! Every fool I meet is emotional-
ized about the German treatment of Belgium; can we
not somehow — somehow — show that no harm was
done, or that Belgium deserved it, or at least that it was
all the fault of the Russians? " People of these types and
others form, some generous and some perverse, both
here and in Germany, a protesting small herd in reaction
against the great herd. Thus the herd draws together,
though lesser and protesting herds within it may do the

Secondly, in time of danger the individual subordi-
nates himself to the herd. He ceases to make claims upon
it, he desires passionately" to serve it. He is miserable


and unsatisfied if there is no public work found for him.
Discipline consequently becomes easy and automatic. I
know of one case where a number of recruits in a certain
new regiment were drawn from a local trade union of
pugnacious traditions. One of them was punished for
something or other. The rest instinctively proposed to
strike, but even as they proposed it found themselves in
the grip of a stronger instinct. They hesitated for an
instant and then obeyed orders. Again, I seem to have
noticed that there is in most people an active desire to
be ordered about. We like a drill-sergeant to speak to us
severely, much as you speak to a dog which has not yet
been naughty but looks as if he meant to be. In ordi-
nary life, when a man has to obey and submit, he feels
small. The action is accompanied by what Mr. Mc-
Dougall calls "negative self -feeling." But now, it seems,

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Online LibraryGilbert MurrayFaith, war, and policy; addresses and essays on the European War → online text (page 4 of 19)