Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/78

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74
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

protect its territory against possible foreign aggression. Some—so-called “Militarists”—would advocate a huge standing army; others, actuated by motives of Christian principle, find in complete disarmament, the surest defense. As to our duty—having due regard to both practicality and spirituality—perhaps a few homely illustrations may not be out of place.

Imagine a devoted missionary left alone in a land peopled by cannibal savages. Doubtless Christ-like peaceableness, gentleness, and good will, together with self-possession, and perhaps a trifle of this world’s craft and subtlety, might avert assault, and secure a hearing for sound doctrine. And yet (as even the most amiable “peace-at-any-price” person will admit) immunity would depend largely upon other factors, say, the degree of hunger of the cannibals and the edibleness of the missionary.

The situation is not dissimilar when an ordinary citizen finds himself in the midst of a gang of toughs in a “boom town” or in a slum of a city. Good intentions alone can hardly be reckoned upon for protection. Let such a man beware that his dress does not violate local conventions; let him beware of any “swagger,” or a hint of superiority. If he has no real errand or “call” to that neighborhood, he had better simulate one, for there is nothing a barbarian so resents as unwarranted curiosity and intrusion.

As to armament, it may be admitted that often (under circumstances above instanced) defenselessness might be the best defense; even the barbarian possesses an intuitive chivalry. Certainly the display of a weapon would irritate, as much, but no more, than a truculent manner. But it must be remembered that there is a kind of armament that no one thinks of resenting, the natural kind, undoubted fine muscular development, a carriage of body and glance of eye, denoting neither timidity nor a challenge. If in addition the citizen can call to his aid a reputation for force and courage, if he is known as “bruiser,” he may be said to be invincible.

As with the individual, so is it with the nation. We talk glibly of “International Law,” as if such a thing existed. There is a body of precepts, practises, and precedents, which have won a general toleration and partial acceptance, but this is custom, not legality. Law (to be worth anything) is a rule of action with a penalty for violation—a penalty enforceable. In establishing the Hague tribunal an attempt was made to legalize the peaceful consensus of opinion of civilization. In Germany’s violation of Belgium’s neutrality, the total failure of pacific contracts is found and the futility of a covenant not backed by overwhelming force. That Germany asserts a vital necessity serves only to emphasize the truth that “necessity knows no law.”

It is for our military men, for the peace-lovers, legislators, and all