A neglected factor in the question of national security

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

These two apparently contradictory souls lie deeply rooted in the subsoil of man’s original constitution. The sense organs like waiting funnels form gateways for environmental stimuli which, seeping through the interstices of acquired behavior, nourish the roots below.

All roots of human action, whether that of parental love or pugnacity, grow according to the degree and mode of exercise until the entire human organism is completely moulded. A nation under the drill of incessant discipline becomes a completely fashioned fighting machine.

Which of these souls, these inborn propensities, have civilized nations through all forms of educational agencies elected to nourish and preserve? Consider the space given to man's brutal activities in the histories of all nations, the melodramatic movies, the devotion of the daily press to executions, thuggery, thievery (all modifications of the Jesse James stimuli); consider, too, the content of pictorial weeklies and certain other periodicals and fictional publications dealing with deep-laid plots of “Man’s inhumanity to man.” These forces constitute a fair sample of environmental stimuli which arouse, keep alive and feed fat man’s original glut to rapine and to plunder, to hate and fear. These are among the forces which determine the self which dominates human behavior. The wave of fear sweeping over the states to-day like a prairie fire is the expected expression of a native protective response to a very real situation. Report from the blood-stained fields of Europe, of the new and dreadful devices for the annihilation of time and space, flashes through the thin veneer of idealism and conventionalities, lays hold on the original springs of human action, brushes aside acquired behavior and strikes quick to the Faustion Self of pugnacity, fear, hatred and antagonism. Like a slow-consuming fire, civilized nations have nursed the demon of destruction which, loosened, rocks the temple of international justice, outrages the peaceful in utter disregard of solemn obligations. And this because fine words and unsupported threats are powerless in the face of deadly impulses armed with refined tools and directed with terrible sincerity to crush and kill. The role of these original impulsive forces of man has been recognized by the laymen. In a remarkable address recently delivered in Carnegie Hall, Elihu Root portrays man and civilization in these significant words:

We have learned that civilization is but a veneer thinly covering the savage nature of man; that conventions, courtesies, respect for law, regard for justice and humanity, are acquired habits, feebly constraining the elemental forces man’s nature developed through countless centuries of struggle against wild beasts and savage foes.

The Teutonic war machine is a product of careful nurture from the cradle of many generations. It is not an accident that military toys are given to children during the most plastic and favorably formative period of life. Inflammable youth is fed upon an inflammable diet morning, noon and night; at no time can his ears, eyes or touch escape those environmental stimuli which fall upon and make permanent his native tendency to combat, to resent, to hate. Out of this stuff European nations wove and are continuing to weave the ideational web of war. The gory field of Europe is the inevitable consequence. So sure as martial ideas are fabricated, so sure as these ideas are persistently entertained, so sure will war result, for it is the very essence of ideas to issue into action.

If it is true that environmental stimuli quicken and actualize latent tendencies and if it is equally true that failure to feed such tendencies during the ripening period tends to weaken, if not eradicate, them, then, the good John Galsworthy’s statement that “this war is an operation to excise the trampling instinct” is surely open to serious question. According to the laws of instinctive development, fixation of the trampling instinct rather than excision is the inevitable consequence of the war. The iron heel of the treading, trampling instinct thrives least through inaction and is quickened, sharpened and enthroned by action in a favorable environment. War is such an environment; it unlocks the trampling heel of the dominating, professional Junker aa a key loosens the lock. Junkerism resides within the breast of every man in every land and differs from mortal to mortal only in the degree of its original vigor. Excision through opportunity is a myth born of flimsier stuff than paper dreams.

Again let it be said that the question of national security can not fail to consider man’s dual and original endowments. Peel off the thin veneer of conventionality, and tap him at his foundation, and one side of him stands revealed as a fighter, full of original pugnacity, anger, resentment and, under provocation, may become the most ruthlessly ferocious of beasts. These “Original Movers” fitted man to survive and are operative to-day under one guise or another. As Rochefoucauld says,

There is something in the misfortunes of our very friends that does not altogether displease us; and an apostle of peace will feel a certain vicious thrill run through him, and enjoy a vicarious brutality, as he turns to the column in his newspaper at the top of which “Shocking Atrocity” stands printed in large letters. See how the crowds flock round a street brawl! Consider the enormous annual sale of revolvers to persons, not one in a thousand of whom has any serious intention of using them, but of whom each one has his carnivorous self-consciousness agreeably tickled by the notion, as he clutches the handle of his weapon, that he will be rather a dangerous customer to meet![1] That man is essentially of pacific virtues rests on an assumption not sustained by his eyolutionary or political history.

If it is true that powerful nations systematically nurture the demon of antagonism through all forms of educational agencies, if we rightly interpret the genesis and dynamics of ideas, and if, lastly, the human race is still in the condition of bellum omnium contra omnes, then, national preparedness, it seems, becomes a plain matter of duty. There is no alternative, regrettable as it is, so long as nations insist on so organizing from earliest infancy to maturity the brains of their citizens in such a way that any wholly irrelevant stimulus may pull the trigger and let loose the engines of war. Pacific nations, unprepared, but potentially powerful, must submit, under certain circumstances, to indignities which may often amount to nothing short of complete abnegation of self-respect. Who is there who does not wish it might be otherwise? But wishes and sentimental longings go down like chaff before the wintery blasts of energetic action. The present world disturbance demands intelligence, cold calculation, action; this is no time for any nation to swim about in a weltering sea of sensibility and emotion, no time for spineless fulminations and dreams. Nor will it be maintained that similar situations will not recur. In view of recent events, in view of what man is and what he has shown himself to be on every page of his bloody history, it would be folly, and in the long run suicidal, for any vigorous people to close deliberately their eyes to the simplest laws of human behavior.

Imperative as preparation now appears, it will be even more so after the war by reason of untold increment of economic stresses which strain immeasurably man’s native good will. Future economic struggles and practises may inaugurate a low grade of trade ethics far removed from the altruistic soothing-syrup variety. The blamelessly enriched onlooker, with almost fatal surety, acts as a salve which heals the wounds, buries the differences of fierce antagonists and, under economic stresses, this onlooker incurs the unrighteous, united envy and secret, if not open, hatred of the combatants. The best is not even to be hoped for; the worst may be expected. 502 THE SCIENTIFIC MONTHLY





The Evolution of the Vertebrata

Chromatin evolution. Errors and truths in the Lamarekian and Darwinian explanations. Individualitj in character origin, velocitj and cooperation. Origin of the vertebrate type. The laws of convergence, divergence and of adaptive radiation in fishes and amphibians.

SIMON NEWCOMB* considered the concept of the rapid moyement of the solar system toward Lyra as the greatest which has ever entered the human mind. The history of the vertebrates as the visible expression of the evolution of the microscopic chromatin presents a contrasting concept of the potentialities of matter in the infinitely mi- nute state.

The peculiar significance of vertebrate chromatin is its stability in combination with incessant plasticity and adaptability to varying en- vironmental conditions and new forms of bodily action; throughout constant changes of proportion^ gain and loss of characters, genesis of new characters, there is always preserved a large part of the history of antecedent form and function, for chromatin is far more stable than xne surface of the earth. In the vertebrates chromatin evolution is mirrored in the many continuous series of forms which have been dis- covered, also in the perfection of mechanical detail in organisms of titanic size and inconceivable complexity, like the dinosaurs among reptiles and the whales among* mammals which rank with the Sequoia among plants.

There are two historic explanations of the causes of this wonderful process of chromatin evolution, each adumbrated in the Greek period of inquiry. The older, known as the Lamarekian, expressed in modem terms is that the beginning of new form and new function is to be sought in the body cells (soma), on the supposition that cellular actions,

  • Fourth course of lectures on the William Ellery Hale Foundation, National

Academy of Sciences, delivered at the meeting of the Academy at Washington, on April 17 and 19, 1916.

The author desires to express his 8x>ecial acknowledgments to Professor William K. Gregory of Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History for notes and suggestions in the preparation of this section.

1 Newcomb, Simon, * ' Astronomy for Everybody, ' ' Doubleday, Page & Co. November, 1902, 12mo, pp. 333.

�� �

  1. James: “Principles of Psychology.”

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1939, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.