William Ellery Channing.

The complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction online

. (page 119 of 169)
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an impartial umpire? Is a project of this
nature more extravagant than the idea of
reducing savage hordes to a state of regular
society? The last has been accomplished.
Is the first to be abandoned in despair?

It is said that war sweeps off the idle, dis-
solute, and vicious members of the community.
Monstrous argument 1 If a government may»
for this end. ^unge a nation into war, it may
with equal justice consign to the executioner
any number of its subjects whom it may deem a
burden on the state. The fajci is, that war com-
monly generates as many profligates as it de-
stroys. A disbanded army fills the community
with at least as manyabandoned members as at
first it absorbed. There is another method, not
quite so siunmary as war, of ridding a country
of unprofitable and injurious citizens, but
vastly more effectual; and a method which
will be applied with spirit and success just in
proportion as war shall yield to the light and
spirit of Christianitv. I refer to the exertions
which Christians have commenced for the
reformation and improvement of the ignorant
and poor, and esi>ecially for the instruction
and moral culture of indigent children.
Christians arc entreated to persevere and
abound in these godlike efforts. By difiusine
moral and religious principles, and sober and
industrious habits through the lalx>uring
classes of society, they will dry up one im-
portant source of war. They will destroy in
a considerable degree the materials of armies.
In proportion as these classes become well-
principled and industrious, poverty will dis-
appear, the population of a country will be
more and more proportioned to its resources,
and of course the niunber will be diminished
of those who have no alternative but beggary
or a camp. The moral care which is at the
present day extended to the ]x>or, is one of
the most honourable features of our age.
Christians, remember that your proper war-



Care is with ignorance and vice, and ezhlfait
here the same unwearied and ioTeotive energy
which has marked the wanion of the wodd.

It is sometimes said that a military spirit
favours liberty. But how is it that nations,
after fighting for ages, are so generally en-
slaved? The truth is. that litoty has oo
foundation but in private and public virtue ;
and virtue, as we have seen, is not the caaS*
mon gro^^-th of war.

But the great argument remains to be dis-
cussed. It is said that, without war to excite
and invigorate the human mind, some oC its
noblest energies will slumber, arvi its highest
quaUties. courage, magnanimity, fortitude,
will perish. To this I answer that, if war is
to be encouraged among nations, becanse it
nourishes energy and heroism, on the same
principle war in our families, and war b e t w eeu
neighbourhoods, villages, and cities ought to
be encouraged; for such contests wookl
equally tend to promote heroic daring and
contempt of death. Why shall not difierent
provinces of the same empire annually meet
with the weapons of death, to keep idSve
their courage ? We shrink at this suf^estioia
with horror; but why shall contests of tia«
tions, rather than of provinces or familifs^
find shelter under this barbarous aigument?

I observe again ; if war be a blessii^ be-
cause it awakens energy and cotnage. then
the savage state is peciSiariy privile^ ; for
every savage is a soldier, and his whole
modes of life tend to form him to invincible
resolution. On the same principle, those eailf
periods of society were happy, when men were
called to contend not only with one anochcr
but with beasts of prey ; for to these excite-
ments we owe the heroism of Hercules and
Theseus. On the same principle, the feudal agei
were more favoured than the present ; for then
every baron was a miUtary chief, every castle
frowned defiance, and every va^al was trained
to arms. And do we really wish that the earth
should again be overrun with monsters, cf
abandoned to savage or feudal violence, hi
order that heroes may be multiplied ? If not.
let us cease to vindicate war as affording cs*
citement to energy and courage.

I repeat, what I have observed in the pie-
ceding discourse, we need not war to awaJtsen
human energy. There is at least ecnud soo^
for courage and magnanimity in blessing as
in destroying mankind. The condition ofthe
human race offers inexhaustible objects for
enterprise, and fortitude, and magnaateity.
In relieving the countless wants and sorrows
of the world, in exploring unknown tegkxis^
in carrying the arts and ^rtues of civiliiatioa *
to unimproved commtmities. in extending
the bounds of knowledge, in diffusing tte
spirit of freedom, and especially in spreuXt^
the light and influence of Christianity, bov



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much may be dared, how much endured !
Philanthropy invites us to services which de-
mand the most intense, and elevated, and
resolute, and adventurous activity. Let it
not be ima^ned that, were nations imbued
with the spirit of Christianity, they would
slumber in ignoble ease ; that, instead of the
high-minded murderers, who are formed on
the present system of war, we should have
effeminate and timid slaves. Christian bene-
volence is as active as it is forbearing. Let it
once form the character of a people, and it
will attach them to every important interest
of socie^. It will call forth sympathy in
behalf of the suffering in every region under



heaven. It will give a new extension to the
heart, open a wider sphere to enterprise, in-
spire a courage of exbaustless resource, and
prompt to every sacrifice and exposure for
the improvement and happiness of the human
race. The energy of this principle has been
tried and displayed in the fortitude of the
martyr, and in the patient labours of those
who have carried the Gospel into the dreary
abodes of idolatry. Away, then, with the
argument that war is needed as a nursery
of heroism. The school of the peaceful Re-
deemer is infinitely more adapted to teach
the nobler, as well as the milder virtues,
which adorn htunanity.



ON WAR.

II.

Discourse delivered January 25, 1835.



James v. t : ** Whonce come wars and flshtlncs among
jrout"

I ASK your attention to the subject of public
war. I am aware that to some this topic may
seem to have political bearings, which render
it unfit for the pulpit ; but to me it is emi-
nently a moral and religious subject. In
approaching it, political parties and interest
vanish from my mind. They are forgotten
amidst the numerous miseries and crimes of
war. To bring war to an end was one of the
purposes of Christ, and his ministers are
bound to concur with him in the work. The
great difficulty on the present occasion is, to
select some point of view from the vast field
which opens before us. After some general
remaiiu. I shall confine myself to a single
topic, which at present demands pecuhiar
attention.

Public war is not an evil which stands
alone, or has nothing in common with other
evils. It belongs, as the text intimates, to a
great £amily. It may be said that society,
through its whole extent, is deformed by war.
Even in families we see jarring interests and
passions, invasions of rights, resistance of
authority, violence, force; and in common
life, how continually do we lee men struggling
with one another for proper^ or distinction,
injoriog one another in word or deed, exas-
perated against one another by jodousies.
neglects, and mutual reproach. All this is
essentially war. but war restrained, hemmed
in, disarmed l^ the c^nions and institutions
of society. To Ihnit its ravages, to guard
reputation, property, and life, society has
instituted government, erected the tribunal of
jwtice, clothed the legislator with the power



of enacting equal laws, put the sAvord into
the hand of the magistrate, and pledged its
whole force to his support. Human wisdom
has been manifested in nothing more conspi-
cuously than in civil institutions for repress-
ing war, retaliation, and passionate resort to
force, among the citizens of the same state.
But here it has stopped. Government, which
is ever at work to restrain the citizen at home,
often lets him loose, and arms him with fire
and sword against other communities, sends
out hosts for desolation and slaughter, and con-
centrates the whole energies of a people in the
work of spreading misery and death. Govern-
ment, the peace-officer at home, breathes war
abroad, organizes it into a science, reduces it
to a system, makes it a trade, and applauds
it as if it were the most honourable work of
nations. Strange, that the wisdom which has
so successfully put down the wars of indivi-
duals, has never been inspired and emboldened
to engage in the task of bringing to an end
the more gigantic crimes and miseries of
public war ! But this universal pacification,
until of late, has hardly been thought of; and
in reading history we are almost tempted to
believe that the chief end of government in
promoting internal quiet, has been to accu-
mulate greater resources for foreign hostilities.
Bloodshed is the staple of history, and men
have been butchered and countries ravaged, as
if the human frame had been construct«i with
such exquisite skill only to be mangled, and
the earth covered with fertility only to attract
the spoiler.

These reflections, however, it is not my
intention to pursue. The miseries of war
are not my present subject One remaxic



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will be sufficient to place them in their true
light. What gives these miseries pre-eminence
among human woes, — what should compel
us to look on them with peculiar horror, —
ii, not their awful amount, but their origin,
their source. They are miseries inflicted by
man on man. They spring from depravity
of will, Thejr bear the impress of cruelty,
of hardness of heart. The distorted features,
writhing frames, and shrieks of the wounded
and d>nmg,— these arc not the chief horrors
of war: thev sink into unimportance com-
pared with the infernal passions which work
this woe. Death Is a light evil when not
joined with crime. Had the countless
millions destroyed by war been swallowed
up by floods or yawning earthquakes, we
should look back awe-struck, but submissive,
on the mvsterious providence which had thus
fulfilled the mortal sentence originally passed
on the human race. But that man, bom of
woman, bound by ties of brotherhood to
man. and commanded by on inward law and
the voice of God to love and do good, should,
through selfishness, pride, revenge, inflict
these agonies, shed these torrents of human
blood. — here is an evil which combines with.
ex>3uisite suflering fiendish guilt. All other
evils fade before it.

Such are the dark features of war. I have
spoken of them strongly, because humanity
and religion demand from us all a new and
sterner tone on this master evil. But it is
due to human nature to obser\'e, that whilst
war is, in the main, Qie oflspiing and riot of
the worst passions, better principles often
mix with it and throw a veil over its defor-
mity. Nations fi^ht not merely for revenge
or booty. Glory is often the stirring word;
and glory, though often misinterpreted and
madly pursued by crime, is still an impulse
of great minds, and shows a nature made to
bum with high thoughts, and to pour itself
forth in noble deeds. Many have girded
themselves for battle from pure motives;
and, as if to teach us that unmingled evil
cannot exist in God's creation, the most
ferocious conflicts have been brightened by
examples of magnanimous and patriotic vir-
tue. In almost all wars there is some infusion
of enthusiasm^ and in all enthusiasm there is
a generous element.

Still, war is made up essentially of crime
and misery, and to abolish it is one great
purpose of Christianitv, and should be the
earnest labour of philanthropy ; nor is this
enterprise to be scofled at as hopeless. The
tendencies of civilization are decidedly towards
peace. The influences of progressive know-
ledge, refinement, arts, and national wealth,
are pacific The old motives inx war are
kisinff power; Conouesf, whidi once road-
denea nations, hardily enters now Into the



calculation of statesmen. The dlsastrotiS
and disgraceful termination of the last career
of conquest which the world has known is
reading a lesson not soon to bfr forgotten.
It is now thoroughly imderstood that the
development of a nation's resources in peace
is the only road to prosperity; that even
successful war makes a people poor, crushing
them with taxes, and crippling their progress
in industry and useful arts- We have another
pacific influence, at the present moment, in
the increasing intelligence of the middle and
poorer classes of sodety, who. in proportion
as they learn their' interests and rights, are
unwilling to be used as materials of war, to
suffer and bleed in serving the passions and
glory of a privileged few. Again : science,
commerce, religion, foreign travel, new facili-
ties of intercourse, new exchanges of litera-
ture, new friendships, new interests, are over-
coming the old antipathies of nations, and
are silently spreading the sentiment of human
brotherhood, and the conviction that the wel-
fare of each is the happiness of alL Once
more : public opinion is ooDtinualJy gaining
strength in the civilized and Christian world ;
and to this tribunal all states must in a mea-
sure bow. Here are pacific influences. Here
are encouragements to labour in the cause of
peace.

At the present day, one of the chlrf incite-
ments to war is to be found in false ideas of
honour. Military prowess and military suc-
cess are thought to shed peculiar glory on a
people ; and many, who are too wise to be
intoxicated with these childish delusions, still
imagine that the honour of a nation consists
peculiarly in the spirit which repels injury, in
sensibility to wrongs, and is therefore pecu-
liarly committed to the keeping of the sword.
These opinions I shall now examine, begin-
ning with the glory attached to niiliuiy
achievements.

That the idea of glory should be associated
strongly with military exploits, ought not to
be wondered at. From the earuest agts,
ambitious soverei^s and states have sought
to spread the military spirit by loading it
with rewards. Badges, ornaments, distinc-
tions, the most flattering and intoxicating,
have been the prizes of war. The aristocracy
of Europe, which commenced in barbarons
ages, was founded on military talent and sno-
cess ; and the chief education of the yoao^
noble was. for a long time, little more than a
training for battle, — hence the strong con-
nection between war and honour AJi past
ages have bequeathed us this pngudice, and
the structure of society has given it a feacfol
force. Let us consider it with some pMtioa^
larity.

I'he idea of honour is assodatni ipidi-mv
But to whom does the h^our Mooif ? ft to



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ally, certainly not to the mass of the people,
bat to those who are particularly engagecf in
k. The mass of a people, who stay at home,
and hire others to fight,— who sleep in their
warm beds, and hire others to sleep on the
cold and damp earth,— who sit at their well-
spread board, and hire others to take the
chance of starving,- who nurse the slightest
hurt in their own bodies, and hire others to
expose themselves to mortal ^otmds, and to
linger in comfortless hospitals ; — certainly
this mass reap little honour from war ; the
hoooixr belongs to those immediately engaged
in it. Let me ask. then, what is the chief
business of war ? It is to destroy human
We ; to mangle the limtw ; to gash and hew
the body; to plunge the sword into the heart
of a fellow-creature ; to strew the earth with
bleeding frames, and to trample them under
foot with horses' hoofs. It is to batter down
aad bum cities; to turn fruitful fields into
deserts ; to level the cottage of the peasant,
and the magnificent abode of opulence ; to
scourge nations with famine; to multiply
widows and orphans. Are these honourable
deeds ? Were you called to name exploits
worthy cA demons, would you not naturally
select such as these ? Grant that a necessity
for them may exist ; it is a dreadful necessity,
such as a good man must recoil from with
instinctive horror ; and though it may exempt
them from guilt, it cannot turn them into
glory. We have thought that it was honour-
able to heal, to save, to mitigate pain, to
snatch the sick and sinking from the jaws of
death. We have placed among the revered
benefacton of the human race the discoverers
of arts which alleviate human suiTerings,
which prolong, comfort, adorn, and cheer
human life; and if these arts be honourable,
where is the glory of multiplying and aggra-
vating textures and death ?

It will be replied, that the honourableness
of war consists not in the business which it
performs, but in the motives from which it
springs, and in the qualities which it indi-
csites. It will be asked. Is it not honourat>Ie
to serve one's country, and to expose one's
life in its cause ? Yes, our countiy deserves
love and service; and let her faithful friends,
her loyal sons, who, under the guidance of
duty and disinterested zeal, have poured out
their blood in her cause, live in the hearts of
a grateful posterity. But who does not know
that this moral heroism is a very different
thing from the common military spirit ? Who
is so simple as to believe that this all-sacri-
fwkai patriotism of principle is the motive
which fills the ranks of war, and leads men
io adopt the prc^ssion of arms ? Does this
seminoent reign in the common soldier, who
enlists because driven from all other modes of
•opport, and hires btmself to be ehot at for



a few cents a day? Or does it reign in the
ofl!icer, who, for pay and promotion, from the
sense of reputation or dread of disgnice.
meets the foe with a fearless front? There
is, indeed, a vulgar patriotism nourished by
war; I mean that which bums to humble
other nations, and to purchase for our own
the exultation of triumph and superior force.
But as for true patriotism, which has its root
in benevolence, and which desires the real and
enduring happhiess of our country, nothing
is more adverse to it than war, and no class
of men have less of it than those engaged in
war. Perhaps in no class is the passion for
display and distinction so strong ; and in ac-
cordance with this infirmity, they are apt to
regard as the highest interest of the state, a
career of conquests, which makes a show and
dazzles the multitude, however desolating or
unjust in regard to foreign nations, or how-
ever blighting to the prosperity of their own.
The motives which generally lead to the
choice of a military life, strip it of all claim
to peculiar honour. There are employments
which, from their pecuhar character, should
be undertaken only irom high motives. This
is peculiarly the case with the profession of
arms. Its work is bloodshed, destruction,
the infliction of the most dreaded evils, not
only on wrong-doers, oppressors, usurpers,
but on the innocent, weak, defenceless. From
this task humanity recoils, and nothing should
reconcile us to it but the solemn conviction
of duty to God, to our country, to mankind.
The man who undertakes this work solely or
chiefly to earn money or an epaulette, com-
mits, however unconsciously, a great wrong.
Let it be conceded that he who engages in
military life is bound, as in other professions,
to ensure from his employers the means of
support, and that he may innocently seek the
honour which is awarded to faithful and suc-
cessful service. Still, from the peculiar cha-
racter of the profession, from the solemnity
and terribleness of its agency, no man can
engage in it innocently or honourably, who
does not deplore its necessity, and does not
adopt it fh)m generous motives, firom the
power of moral and public considerations.
That these are not the motives which now fill
armies, is too notorious to need proof. How
common is it for military men to desire war,
as giving rich prizes and as advancing them
in their profession. They are wilhng to
slaughter their fellow-creatures for money
and distinction;— and is the profession of
such men peculiarly glorious? I am not
prepared to denv that human life may some-
times be justly taken ; but it ought to be taken
under the solemn conviction of duty and fof
great pi^lic ends. To destroy our fellow-
creatures for profit or promotion, is to incut
ft guik from wbkh most aien would shrink^



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ON WAR.



could it bt brought distHictly before theirminds.
'ITiat there may be soldiers of principle, men
who abhor the thought of shedding human
blood, and who consent to the painful office
onlv because it seems to them imposed bj
their country and the best interests of roan-
kind, is freely granted. Such men spring up,
especially in periods of revolution, when the
literties of a nation are at stake. But that
this is not the spirit of the military profession,
you know. That men generally enter this
profession from selfish motives, that they hire
Uiemselves to kill for personal remuneration,
you know. That they are ready to slay a
fellow-creature, from inducements not a whit
more disinterested than those which lead other
men to fell an ox, or crush a pernicious insect,
you know ; and, of consequence, the pro-
fession has no peculiar title to respect. It
is particularly degraded by the offer of prize-
money. The power of this inducement is
well understood. But is it honourable to kill
a fellow-creature for a share of his spoils ?
A nation which offers prize-money is charge-
able with the crime ot tainting the mind of
the soldier. It offers him a demoralizing
motive to the destruction of his fellow-
creatures. It saps high principle in the
minds of those who are susceptible of
generous impulses. It establishes the most
inhuman method of getting rich which civi-
lized men can pursue. I know that society
views this subject differently, and more guilt
should be attached to society than to the
soldier; but still the character of the pro-
fession remains degraded by the motives
which most commonly actuate its members ;
and war, as now carried on, is certainly among
the last vocations to be called honourable.

Let not these remarks be misconstrued. I
mean not to deny to military men equal virtue
with other classes of society. All classes are
alike culpable in regard to war, and the bur-
den presses too heavily on all, to allow any to
take up reproaches against others. Society
has not only established and exalted the miU-
tary profession, but studiously allures men
into it by bribes of vanity, cupidity, and am-
bition. They who adopt it have on their side
the suffrage of past ages, the sanction of
opinion and law, and the applauding voice
of nations ; so that justice commands us to
acquit them of peculiar deviations from duty,
or of falling below society in moral worth or
private virtue.

Much of the glare thrown over the militarv
profession is to be ascribed to the false esti-
mate of courage which prevails through the
Christian world. Men are dazzled by this
quality. On no point is popular cminion more
perverted and more hostile to Christianity,
and to this point I woukl therefore solicit
particuUir attenUon. The truth is, that the



delusion on this subject has come down to
us from remote ages, and has been from the
beginning a chief element of the E^uzopean
character. Our northern ancestors, who over-
whelmed the Roman empire, were fonatical ta
the last degree in respect to militaiT courage.
They made it the first of virtues. One of the
chief articles of their creed was, that a man
dying on the field of battle was transported
at once to the hall of their god Odin, a terrible
paradise, where he was to quaff for ever
delicious draughts from the skulls of his
enemies. So rooted was this fanaticism, that
it was thought a calamity to die of disease or
old age ; and death by violeoce, even if in-
flicted by their own hands, was thought mora
honourable than to exi»re by the slow, inglo-
rious processes of nature, 'rbis spirit, aided
bv other causes, broke out at length into
cnivalry, the strangest mixture of i^od and
evil, of mercy and crudty, of insanity and
generous sentiment, to be found in horaan
history. This whole institution breathed oa
extravagant estimation of courage. To be
without fear was the first attribute of a good
knight. Danger was thirsted for, when H



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 119 of 169)