Page:War Prisoners (Darrow).djvu/21

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

to me. Of course a man cannot help being a coward, although physical courage is very common; it is moral courage that is rare. Most all men fight well, with guns and with their fists. A person who has the courage of his convictions, well, he is an idiot, and cannot be afraid.

Take a coward. What is the physical process? I said I am a mechanist. A man is a machine; he gets an impression of something in front of him; it sends an impression from the eye to the brain and from the brain to certain nerve centers and various organs of the body, secretions are emptied into the blood and nervous system and he acts mechanically. Take a cross section of a man's blood who is afraid and the man who is normal. They do not look alike. Take the cross section of a man's blood when he is in anger and when he is normal. They are not the same. Nobody does anything except from mechanical reasons. Being afraid to fight is simply a reaction; nothing else. Certain secretions from the spleen and other organs of the body are emptied into the blood in fear, which cause a reaction, so that a man cannot help running. It is out of the question to go forward; he has to go back. He is no more responsible for it than a manikin is for its actions; the manikin and the man move when the strings are pulled, and that is all there is to it.

The coward's case is better even than any of the rest; but take the conscientious objector. In the first place, they were conscientious. Assume they were conscientious. All of them were either conscientious or afraid to fight. Assume they are conscientious. They do what they think they ought to do, whether their notions are right or wrong; no man can act from a higher motive than to follow his conscience, such as it is. It is a vey poor guide to the truth, of course. About the poorest guide to truth there is, because conscience is made up of thousands of inherited traditions, that come from the Lord kows where; some of them from the apes and some of them from much less intelligent ancestors; but it is the best we have, and none can do better.

The man who conscientiously believed that we should not have been in the war and believed it was wrong to kill—there are people outside of the insane asylum who think that—the man who conscientiously believes that it is always wrong to kill and refuses to kill, is following the highest law that is given to man to obey. And, while the law might have been right, in my opinion it was right, that there was no reason for excepting conscientious objectors, still their action lacks the