Page images

spiritual mechanism of errors and myths which the vastness, the identity, of this war's dangers and sacrifices automatically set up in the minds of all the warring peoples, interposing the same veil of passionate or expedient delusion between them and what had really happened, what was really happening and what, unless they recognized their common mistakes, must really happen in that future which is now already becoming the ruined and dangerous present. Foremost among those realities unrecognized during the war is what was happening among all those peoples before they were in. I mean in the years when war, instead of overwhelming and transforming all their thoughts with its immediate risks and agonies, was still a mere vague and distant abstraction, unable to compete for men's attention against all their present and concrete interests; and therefore allowed to steal nearer and nearer without calling forth such continuous feeling and concentrated effort as were required to keep it at bay. For whatever the precise incidents of the eleventh hour; whatever the shares which history will assign to the various governments, this much is certain: that for ten or more years the representatives of every nation had been laying their hands or keeping their eye upon mutually exclusive overseas annexations or spheres of influence; entangling themselves in diplomatic and military engagements; enlarging their armies and navies in avowed competition ; in short, increasing expenditure and other causes of domestic discontent, as well as of international unrest, in such a manner that actual war, even if it should not result unintentionally from all these dangerous proceedings, might be deliberately chosen by one or other of the rival oligarchies in order to forestall financial ruin or social revolution. These things were happening in every one of the great European States, either on the surface or so close beneath it that the smallest public attention would have detected, challenged, and sufficed to stop them. But no attention was paid because they were taking place according to immemorial usage and precedent. Besides, there was no immediate threat of suffering and sacrifice to the individuals composing those nations, hence nothing which could divert them from their private interests and feelings. Everybody agreed in the abstract that war was the common enemy of all mankind; but it needed a concrete enemy, a threat of invasion, to unite the members of any nation in unanimous emotion and effort, in war against one another, rather than in resistance against war as such. So it came about that, although everyone had vaguely expected that war might come, when war did come it came unexpected to the immense majority, one might say, to the whole of every nation. Now when war suddenly bursts out among people who are thinking of other matters, the first thing they become aware of is that, in the Kaiser’s symbolic words, they did not want it. And feeling certain that it was not of their willing, they inevitably lay hold of the belief that the other party must have wanted and willed it. For when men and women are suddenly called on to brace their wills to self-defence, they unlearn whatever slight habit they may have had of thinking in terms other than those of human volition. With an armed adversary advancing to destroy them, they cannot possibly believe or even suspect that both parties to this frightful and unthought-of encounter are victims of a long, unnoticed, concatenation of causes and effects. Or rather: looking in dismay and anger for a cause of the horror which is befalling them, they cannot but seek that cause, and therefore find it, in the adversary against whom they must sacrifice everything in supreme self-defence. Add to this psychological necessity the essential requirement that, whenever possible, the war be carried into the enemy’s country, turning defence into offence; and you get the appearance that each people is attacked, or threatened with an attack which seems the more monstrous that every people has, up to that moment, been thinking of something else. Thus we get an apparently wanton attack on Serbia by Austria, on Germany by Russia, on France and Belgium by Germany, and, but for the Channel and the fleet, on England no less. Even the Italians persuaded themselves, during their months of neutrality, that unless they joined with one or other of the belligerent groups, they also would be attacked, or at all events starved by blockade; indeed, the actual invasion of Venetia three years later has probably persuaded them that they required to avert by war the very catastrophe to which their participation in war had laid them open. Thus from the very beginning, each belligerent people, aware that it did not want war, was naturally convinced that this war was a criminal attack from the other side. This is, however, only the basis of the fabric of war delusion, only the initial step of a logic of the emotions which is more cogent, more irrefutable, than the logic of facts, for the excellent reason that facts are outside us and can be overlooked or distorted, whereas feeling being in us, being the dominant part of us, cannot. To the modern conscience in time of peace, war is a monstrosity complicated by an absurdity; hence no one can believe himself to have had a hand in bringing it about. Moreover, the whole procedure of modern war, its initial suddenness, its instant wholesale terrorism and devastation, is a doing of deeds which those who are, or may become, its victims feel to be the work of devils ; while whatsoever similar deeds are done by their own side are felt to be part of self-defence; felt to be an unwilling sacrifice of civilized man's supreme repugnances, which they add on to the atrocious account of those who seem to force them to it. Thus, war being in the eyes of all the belligerents alike, a matter of warding off immediate or threatened aggression, there comes to be, for each group of combatants, a perfectly innocent victim, namely, itself, and an entirely guilty monster, namely, the adversary; there is only black and white; and each party is all white and each party all black, each in its own and the other's eyes. That much is the primary, the direct mutual delusion of such a war as this present one. Then follow the secondary, though not less inevitable psychological results. The need for the greatest possible output of defensive effort brings the need for the most complete national unanimity. You cannot get people to fight merely to extricate themselves out of a calamity common to both sides, for the essence of the fighting attitude is that there ceases to be anything in common between you and the adversary. Still less can you get people to fight for what may be the result, or partially the result, of a mistake on their own side. Hence it becomes dangerous to suggest a divided responsibility, or anything short of complete innocence on the part of one's own country and one’s own allies. And the most sceptical men, those most disinclined to admit the necessity of joining in, therefore accept the accomplished fact without reservation; often shrinking, just in proportion to their previous detestation of the war, from any argument, any data, which might diminish their country’s fighting unanimity. Had each of these prewar pacifists stood alone, with only his own safety to weigh against his opinions, he might conceivably have felt it his duty to proclaim them in everybody’s teeth. But has he a right to prefer what may, after all, be mere personal crotchets, to the possible safety of countless other men and women, to the future welfare and liberty, as they tell him, of his whole country : The taking of such a risk for what he and so few others suspect to be the truth may, rather than far-seeing scrupulousness, be no better than a tampering with what belongs to others; perhaps with their very life, or what makes their life endurable. Where so many are risking wounds and death, or sending their dearest forth to possible destruction, may an honest man cling to mere opinion because it happens to be his Besides, can he be absolutely sure that his own unwillingness to take part may not be secretly determined by selfish motives Can a level-headed man, brought up on classic and mediaeval traditions of military virtue and glory, and on Christian contempt for the mere natural instincts, believe with certainty that he is a martyr rather than a shirker? So he desists from saying, and then from believing, and then from seeing or hearing, anything which, if it impaired his country’s faith in its entire righteousness and in the entire villainy of its enemies, might be a subtraction from its energy of self-defence, an addition, moreover, to the infatuation, the credit, the staying power, nay, the aggressiveness of the adversary. In this country, a few thousand men have refused from conscientious scruples to take part in the war. It is probable that in every country unsuspected legions of men have, from equally conscientious scruples, taken part in or abetted it. And having thrown in their lot with the war, the war's fearful realities, the war’s passions, have speedily turned such acquiescence into active conviction. But belief in one's country’s complete righteousness has other sources besides dread of assuming responsibility in such terrible odds. There is the decent shame of marring the selfsacrifice of others by the least suggestion of its being misplaced. There is, more potent still, that strange human instinct of meeting any inexorable demand for sacrifice—sacrifice of self, of beloved ones, sacrifice no less of all civilized man’s repugnances—with a conviction of that sacrifice being not necessary only, but meritorious; not merely legitimate, but holy; loss, sorrow, and self-defilement being compensated by religious exaltation. If logic is that which corroborates, coerces, nay, produces opinion, then, as was taught by my master Ribot,” the feelings possess a logic of their own, separate from, often opposed to, the logic of fact and reason, but far more cogent. Now among the unexpressed, irresistible formulae of that logic of the feelings is that of judging of an opinion by what is suffered for it. Heroism and sanctity are received

* In his Logique des Sentiments and elsewhere.

« PreviousContinue »