Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 14.djvu/837

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.



HOW the art of war, by the powerful stimulus it has given to the investigation of the properties of projectiles and numerous kindred researches, has been an efficient promoter of progress in physical science, is well understood. The strife among engineers to construct guns that shall be able to pierce any barrier, and to construct barriers that shall resist all guns, has led to results in improving the quality of metals which could hardly have been gained in any other way.

It is not, however, this aspect of the science of war that here interests us; but rather its ethical side, or the excuses that can be offered for it as a part of the policy of Nature. An English writer[1] has recently gone into the subject, and attempted a scientific defense of the general and permanent habit of war which it is important to notice, in order that science may not be perverted to false and injurious ends.

The writer with whose views we are now concerned points out in an interesting manner in what way science has operated to alleviate the horrors of war, to shorten its duration, and temper its effects. He remarks that in the days of the old smooth-bore, when it was a maxim not to fire till the whites of the opponents' eyes were visible, it was said to take a man's weight in lead and iron to kill him, so many bullets and cannon-balls were fired ineffectually; but now, owing to the increased distance at which firing takes place and to the general use of earthworks, it is still more difficult to do execution. The statistics given by the writer strongly corroborate this view. He says the average number of killed and wounded on both sides in the great Napoleonic battles taken collectively was a little over one fourth of the whole forces engaged; while the average in the great European battles fought within the last thirty years, since the general introduction of arms of precision, gives a little less than one twelfth. We are also reminded that the more improved modern warfare engenders less hatred between the conflicting parties. "Before the invention of gunpowder, when fighting was conducted at comparatively close quarters, soldiers fought with an animosity which is now rarely seen. The man who was to take your life unless you took his, projected himself before you dangerous and hateful, but under the present system wounds seem to come from some impersonal agency; a man is less vividly impressed with the personality of his foe, who, like the Ethiopians, is blameless because he is far away, and whose individuality is lost at the distance of a quarter of a mile, where he is taking shots at you from behind a hedge. But in ancient times great bodies of men once interlocked in conflict could not be drawn off till utterly exhausted with mutual slaughter, and hence we read of such battles as Cannæ, where on the Roman side alone, according to Polybius, out of 86,000 men not much more than 15,000 prisoners or fugitives came off unhurt; and Cressy, where there perished of the French on the field or in the pursuit between 30,000 and 40,000 men—battles in which the wounded and disabled experienced in butchery that cruelty to which in brave minds the frenzied fears attending close conflict can alone give rise."

Our new philosopher of war is quite ready to concede its evils, its calamities, and its horrors—its terrible waste of

  1. "The Philosophy of War," by James Ram.