The War and the Future (Masefield, 1918)/The War and the Future
THE WAR AND THE FUTURE
A Lecture Given in America
I have been sent to you, to speak about the war, and about the future, after the war.
You know more than I do about the future. No one can doubt that this country holds the future. I will try to tell you about the war. I've seen it close to, and I've seen its results.
English people who know America, and who have a pride in the fair fame of England, know, that in the old days, we did this country a great wrong. I, here, am very conscious of that. The best thing I can say of that past is that it is the past. We are now associates in a great work which is a forgetting and a putting by of the past, in an effort to make the future.
Whatever this war is, it is a getting rid of the past. The past has gone into the bonfire. We are all in the war now, realizing with more or less surprise and shock and bitterness, that the old delights, the old ideals, the old way of life, with its comfortable loves and hatreds, are gone. We have to remake our lives, forget our old hatreds and learn new ones, and ask ourselves the question: "What kind of a new world am I going to help make?"
This war came gradually to you. You were, as we were, not expecting war, seeing the threat and the preparation of war, but believing, just as we believed, that commonsense, or ordinary human sense, and one-thousandth part of goodwill in human intercourse would make war impossible. War to you, as to us, seemed to be out of date in a century which cut the Panama Canal and discovered Radium and the wireless telegraph. But it came none the less, and all our ten millions of adults had suddenly to put by their old lives and take on new and dangerous and terrible lives. Now the same thing has happened to you.
When the threat of this war came suddenly to Europe we had nothing to gain by war, except our own soul. That is a big exception. Short of that, we risked everything to keep the peace, as our friends complained, and our enemies agreed.
When the war came to us, and the enemy Ambassador was leaving England, a friend of mine went to say good-bye to him. My friend said to him: "I hope you think that we did our best to prevent this war? "The Ambassador said: "You have done everything that mortals could to prevent the war."
Now the years before the war were very anxious years to every one. The threat of war hung over every nation in Europe, and every nation in Europe felt and said and wrote that the threat of war was a German threat. The Germans themselves were frank about it. I often used to see German students and German professors in England. They used to say, quite openly, "Our next war will be with England." After the Hague Conference nine years ago, the English delegate said to me that the attitude of Germany could only be explained on the supposition that she meant to have a war. Germany was like an athlete trained to the minute; she was spoiling for a scrap. When boxers are trained to the minute, it is said that their friends always prefer to walk behind them, for when a boxer who is very fit and spoiling for a scrap sees a nice chin the temptation to hit that chin is sometimes more than he can bear.
In the summer of 1914, the European chins looked too tempting to Germany, and she hit out at them. The results are before us.
This war employs all the strength and all the talent of the nations waging it. One of the weapons used by our enemies has been that of lying. They have spread abroad lies about us, which many repeat and some few, perhaps, believe. I wish here to state and answer some of those lies.
Firstly: that we are a decadent people, intent on sports and money-making, and without ideals or any sense of serving the state.
The answer to that is that in England and Scotland alone five million four hundred thousand of our men enlisted as volunteers to fight for our ideals, without compulsion of any kind, while three million more who tried to enlist were rejected as too old, or physically unfit, or needed in other work. That was before we had conscription.
Secondly: that we are a cowardly people, who let other people fight for us.
The answer to that is that had we been a cowardly people we should not have gone to war; but we did; we came into this war and have lost in this war something like two and one-half millions of our best men killed, wounded and missing, and this without counting the losses of the men of our Colonies.
Thirdly: That we are a mean people, who do not take our fair share in the war.
The answer to that is, that we hold one-third of the line in France, much of the line in Italy, nearly all the line in Serbia, all the line in Palestine and Mesopotamia, and all the line on the vast colonial fronts in Africa. We supply or have supplied France, Italy, Serbia, Belgium, Roumania and Russia with millions of tons of equipment of all sorts, guns, shells, uniforms, boots and machines, in all amounting to 3,000 million dollars worth. We feed and clothe and always have fed and clothed since the war began the greater part of the population of Belgium and practically the whole of the population of Serbia. Besides our contributions of men and guns, we have immense hospital organizations working in Russia, in Italy, in Roumania, and with the French. We have had the greater part of the policing of the seas to do, and practically all the submarine hunting. The sea is not an easy place to patrol, and the submarine is not an easy thing to catch, but not much German trade has been done by sea since the war, and not many raiders have got through our guards and we have sunk (I believe) not less than ten times as many submarines as the enemy had at the beginning of the war. We have built ships to make our navy at least half as strong again as it was before the war. We have caused to be made and transported 25,000,000 tons of shells, and we have conveyed to and from different parts of the globe, as soldiers going and coming, well, sick or wounded, some 13,000,000 men. Our policing of the sea has been so done that we have lost by enemy action 2,700 of these 13,000,000 travelling soldiers.
Then in money, we have spent on this war five billion five hundred million dollars, of which rather more than one-fifth has been loaned or given to our Allies.
People sometimes say a fourth lie about us:—that we are a grasping people who will profit by this war.
Let me say this, that no one will profit from this war. We in Europe will be beggared by it for years to come; only we want the world to profit by it, by a change of heart, by an understanding among the nations, and by the knowledge which we in Europe needed this war to teach us, that human life is the precious thing on this earth, and that we are here truly linked man to man, and not divided up nation by nation. We are one body of humanity.
There is a fifth lie, that we are a greedy people, who ask you Americans to starve, while we feast on white bread and other delicacies. The answer to that is, that no white bread has been made in England for at least eighteen months, and that there is no feasting there. There is no home in all that land that is not the sadder for this war.
There is no need to lie about a nation any more than there is any need to lie about a man. The truth emerges above any lie.
I know my nation's faults as well as I know my own. They are the faults of a set and of a system. They are faults of head, they are not faults of heart. When I think of those faults I think of a long graveyard in France, a hundred miles long, where simple, good, kind, ignorant Englishmen by the thousand and the hundred thousand lie in every attitude of rest and agony, for ever and for ever and for ever. They did not know where Belgium is, nor what Germany is, nor even what England is. They were told that a great country had taken a little country by the throat, and that it was up to them to help, and they went out by the hundred and the hundred thousand, and by the million, on that word alone, and they stayed there, in the mud, to help that little country, till they were killed.
I've been along many miles of that old line, and seen those graves, many of them not even marked, except by a bayonet, or a bit of packing case, and I've thought, as I went along, what epitaph could be put above that unending graveyard, and I could only think of one epitaph, "These men came here of their own free will to help their fellow men in trouble."
There comes the question, what is the war about? Each nation has its answer to that question, an answer that could be put into twenty words. But in each country, for many years before the war, millions of prejudices, and beliefs, and customs, and ignorances, and blindnesses, and memories, went to make the war. The question, what it is about, does not now so deeply matter, as the question, what the struggle is, now that it is in full swing.
It is a struggle between two conceptions of life, the soldier's and the civilian's. Both conceptions have existed ever since the world began. Much may be said for both.
The soldier says, in theory, "Men are not of much account; it is the man who matters. The man must have power over other men and be able to direct them as he chooses and punish them if they disobey; since men need a strong hand. A State can only be strong if it is so organized as to be obedient within and feared without. Every man within the State owes service to the State, he must be trained to defend it and fight for it. All men of a certain wealth and standing must be officers; the rest are and must be cannon fodder. The citizens must have good roads fit for the movement of troops, adequate food and housing, a thorough military training and as much schooling as may be good for soldiers." Punctuality, hard work, and cleanliness are made much of; merit of certain kinds is certain of its reward, the citizens are ticketed, looked after, used and pensioned. They are not encouraged to think for themselves nor permitted to break the regulations. Napoleon in France and T'chaka in Zululand both created soldier states in the last century.
The civilian says, in effect, "It is true, that in case of need every man must be ready to fight for his State, and should be trained so that he may do so, but war is not a normal condition, it is an accident which may not occur, and the direction of the State by soldiers is apt to create a privileged class, who will enslave the remainder of the citizens for their own ends, which may be base and probably will be cruel, and which may and very likely will bring about that state of war which they are created to prevent" So that, in the civilian state, the army is made small, and interferences with personal liberty are bitterly resented and swiftly opposed. The occupation of the civilian state is generally commerce. Its relaxation or amusement is generally the adornment of the individual life, with the arts and sciences which enrich life and make it pleasant. The general feeling is, that men were not meant to be the slaves of other men nor of human systems; but to develop themselves in as loose, easy and pleasant an organization as a nation can be without collapsing.
Those are the two theories and ways of life, both have been tried and both will work, and both have left great marks in history.
But in working, both are open to grave defects. No nation is perfect, and no system of living will suit all the people all the time; and these ways of life, if persisted in by any nation for three or four generations, intensify themselves, till, in the military state there is too much control and in the civilian state too little.
In the civilian state, where much is left to the individual, much is left undone. Many individuals grow up to be highly educated, pleasant and agreeable men, but more grow up with the feeling that there is nothing to stop them from exploiting their fellow citizens, and this they do quite as ruthlessly as any soldier, and with far less recompense. The soldier may drive his men, but he feeds, clothes and pensions them. The civilian may drive his men and scrap them as old tools when he has broken them. Very soon, in the civilian state, individualism comes to a point in which the service of the State is left to those who care for that kind of thing. Those who do care for that kind of thing find that the fear of interference with liberty, which is the main passion in a civilian state, has prevented them from having any power. They can do neither good nor evil, and so they stagnate. They cease to attract the finer and more active kinds of mind. So that in a civilian state though you may find culture, politeness, niceness of feeling, enlightenment, and a wise protection of the individual against certain aggressions by King and State, and a great commerce, strongly protected, you may also find the man of action discountenanced, and the talker in power in his stead.
In the military state, the soldier justifies himself to his subjects by some act which rids the State of a danger or enriches it with a piece of plunder, so that he is able to say, "You see, the Army saved you or enriched you. You see that you must have an Army." When the army is enlarged, he attacks another State and enriches his own State still further; definitely enriches his officers with gifts of other people's property and his surviving men with bits of other people's lands, and at the same time increases his army by conscripting the conquered peoples.
Presently he forgets that the State is anything except himself. He cries out that the State is himself, since he is the head of the Army and the Army is the State. He subordinates everything to the army. He tolerates schools only in so far as they teach military maxims, and women only because they produce cannon fodder. He encourages bad manners in his officers, because he thinks that it teaches them to dominate; he preaches about duty and his own magnificence in his churches and schools, because he thinks that it teaches people to obey. And at last, when his entire State does obey, and all his officers have bad manners, and a desire to dominate everybody, he has in his hands a terrible instrument of destruction which may be launched anywhere at his caprice. He is that irresponsible autocratic power who has been the main cause of war for twenty centuries.
But for the fact that all the power and blind obedience of a nation may be flung anywhere at the caprice of one man, there is much to be said for the military state. But that fact damns it, and the world has never allowed it to continue. The gunman who may be drunk or mad or savage at any minute is too dangerous to be allowed in the house. Rome, who had nobly held the idea of law, became that kind of State and fell. France, who had nobly held the idea of liberty, became that kind of State, and fell; and the savage Zulus, who made themselves a people and then an exterminating scourge also fell; and I feel that a grosser people, who have upheld neither law nor liberty, but have become exterminating scourges, will also fall. We civilian peoples, flouted, insulted, and taken unawares, are banded together to make that conception of life to fall.
Last April I was in a dirty little town in France. On my right there was a ruined factory containing a pile of smashed sewing machines, on my left there was a casualty clearing station, in what had once been a rather nice house. Just outside the hospital there was a little old French woman selling newspapers; and dozens of soldiers were buying newspapers and talking about the news. One of the soldiers shouted out, "Hooray, America has declared war," and another, who was older and more thoughtful, said, "Thank God, now we may have a decent world again."
War in one way is very like Mrs. MacGregor.
The poet Swinburne, when he was a young man, was very fond of impassioned conversation and of whisky. One night he met a friend, and suggested that the friend should come to his lodgings for a talk. On their way Swinburne bought a bottle of whisky and with an air of satanic cunning hid it in his tail pocket, and said, "I must be very careful; my landlady is a very troublesome woman." When they reached the door Swinburne said, "We must go in very quietly; my landlady is a very troublesome woman." They opened the door and crept in on tiptoe, and were just creeping upstairs, when a door opened and a stern voice said, "Is that you, Mr. Swinburrrrrne? "Yes, Mrs. MacGregor," said Swinburne. Then the voice said, "Whattan is yon wee bottle in yeir bit pocket, Mr. Swinburrrne? "O," said Swinburne, "it's my cough-mixture, Mrs. MacGregor; I'm afraid I've caught cold." "Cough-mixture me nae cough-mixture," said Mrs. MacGregor; "yon is a bottle of whuskey. And ye'll give it heer, Mr. Swinburrrne. Didn't I promise yeir father ye shuld na touch the whuskey?" And she grabbed the bottle and disappeared, and Swinburne was left wringing his hands and saying, "She's a very troublesome woman."
That is a light story, but it reminds me of the war. Many and many a gathering of friends has been interrupted by that savage goddess. All over Europe, quiet, gentle, ordinary men, who were going, as they thought, to the enjoyment of delight, have been seized upon and robbed by her, not only of material things, but of love and leisure and of life itself.
There is a story of a young king of India, who became a leper whom no one could cure. An old man told him that if he went to a certain city and ate bread in a house where there was no sorrow, he would be cured. So he went to the city, and went into every house, but there was no house that had no sorrow, so he was not cured. "There was no house that had not one dead."
There is no house, poor or rich, in any of the countries now fighting in Europe that has not one dead, generally some quite young man.
Many great minds have brooded over war; most of the great minds of the world have taken part in war, and some have tried to understand it. No great mind has ever looked upon it as a good thing, though they see that sometimes in life outrageous, devilish evil can be checked in no other way. To most of them,, , , , it is nearly the last, greatest and completest evil that can come into human life.
You all know how a fever comes upon the body. Poison must be introduced into it from outside, some living poison of germs; the body must be predisposed to nurture the poison; it must be a little overstrained, restless, tired, bored, cross, or out of sorts. The natural guards of the body must be unable to help. Then the poison germs take hold and the normal life of the man ceases. He becomes a raging incoherent maniac terrible to himself and a danger to all about him, till the poison is at its height and has worked itself out in death or recovery.
Well, you will agree with me perhaps that war comes into the world, in much such a way. The body of a nation does not want it, though it may think about it often and much, the body of a nation is normally busy with its own life. Then, in times of overstrain, of restlessness, or of excitement, or even of busy and pleasant well-being, the poison is introduced, wilfully, by kings and their ministers, and the nation sickens.
The symptoms are always the same. The infected nation becomes, first of all, arrogant. It gets what we call swelled-head. It thinks itself, possibly with reason, the finest nation in the world. As the poison takes hold and the germs multiply, this arrogance leads to a spiritual blindness to whatever may be good or right in any other nation in the world. This blindness leads to an indifference to whatever any other nation may do or care. This indifference leads to the bloody theory, that it is a duty to subjugate any other nation. And at this point, the poison boils over in the system, the nation involved runs up a temperature, and it passes rapidly from acts of injustice to some culminating act of impiety, such as cannot be permitted, and against which a protest has to be made by the outraged world.
Then comes war, which goes on, like a fever, till the nation is dead or cured.
That may not be how all wars begin, but that is how the greatest and longest and most evil wars have begun, in modern times. A nation has caught a fever, run up a temperature, gone mad and bitten, been a danger and a scourge to the world, and has gradually sickened itself out into exhaustion, peace and wisdom. Spain had such a fever three hundred years ago, when her motto was the proud boast, "The world does not suffice for us." France had such a fever a century later. England had such a fever when she forced this country into the Rebellion.
In all three countries, there was just that same irresponsible autocratic power to cultivate the fever for his own ends. And who held that power? The immense power and wealth of Spain were controlled by Phillip the Second, one old, miserly, stubborn dotard, a sort of a religious mule. The immense and ordered power of France was controlled by Louis Quatorze, one little man who wore high-heeled shoes and an immense wig to give himself some air of greatness. Afterwards it was held by Napoleon, of whom the French now say that he was as great as any man can be without principles. And who held the power of England? The elderly, pear-headed, self-willed German, often mad and always stupid, who wondered how the apple got inside the dumpling. And working with him were the few, corrupt and evil families engaged in the enslavement of the English poor.
Such were the four irresponsible autocrats who caused the greatest, longest and most evil wars of the past. But all the fever of their wars, multiplied ten-fold, would be as nothing to the fever of arrogance, blindness, wild and bloody thinking, and impious dealing, with which another irresponsible autocrat prepared the present war. No former autocrat took such pains to organize armed force, and to make the evil blood in his nation to run so hotly. No former autocrat had such skill or such clever servants to prepare and direct the outburst. And no former autocrat has reaped such a crop of bloodshed, massacre and destruction.
I'm not here to abuse our present enemies. We are against them today, but we have been with them in the past and we shall have to be with them in the future, if there is to be any future. In this life, collections of men behave worse than individuals, and it is the thought, and the way of life and the irresponsible autocrat that make them behave worse, that are the evil things. This war might have been averted, but that that one irresponsible autocrat was afraid of democracy. Consider what he has let loose upon the world. Consider, too, what he has raised against him.
A few minutes ago, I said that the greatest minds among men looked upon war as nearly (but not quite) the last, greatest and completest evil that can come into human life. Nearly, but not quite. There is one completer evil, that of letting proud, bloody and devilish men to rule this world. While proud, bloody and devilish men strike for power here, free men, who had rather die than serve them, will strike against them. And evil as war is, that resolve of the free soul is beautiful. It is in that resolve that we free peoples are banded, and it is in that resolve that we shall fight, till the proud, bloody and devilish idea is gone.
All of you here have read about this war daily for more than three years. All of you know some one who is taking part in it, and all of you have in your minds some picture of what it is like. The population of these States is said to be nearly a hundred millions. Not less than twenty-five millions of men, or the equivalent of the entire adult male population of these States are or have been engaged in the fighting of this war, and not less than another forty millions are engaged in the making the fighting possible, by the making of arms, equipment and munitions. Then besides those millions there are ten million dead, and twenty million maimed, disabled, blinded or lunatic soldiers who will never fight again.
You begin to meet the war many miles from any part of the fighting. You come upon a village of little huts near a railway siding. A month later you find that the village has become a town. A month later you find that the town has become a city. In that city the picked intellect of your country uses the picked knowledge of the universe to make the picked devilry of this war, some gas that will be deadlier than the other man's, some shell that will kill over a bigger area, some bomb that will go off with a louder bang and blast a bigger hole in a town.
You go elsewhere, and you see miles of chimneys spouting fire, where every known force is pressing every known metal into every known kind of engine of death.
You see the nimblest brains and hands and all the finest courage perfecting our control of the air. You see men gathering and packing food, breaking stones for roads and shaping sleepers for railways. You see men by the million about whom nobody cared, in the old days, in peace, suddenly taken up, and fed and clad and taught, and made much of. You see horses and cars by the hundred thousand, and everything that is swift and strong and clever and destructive, suddenly important and desired and of great account. You see the toil of a nation suddenly intensified sevenfold, and made acute, and better paid than it ever was, and intellect, the searching intellect, that light of the mind which brings us out of the mud, suddenly sought for in the street. And you think, "Is man awaking suddenly to his heritage, and to the knowledge of what life may be here?" Then you say to yourself, "No, this is all due to the war."
You see young men giving up their hopes, and mature men their attainments, and women losing their sons, their husbands and their chance of husbands, and children losing their fathers and their chances of life, and you ask, what earthly endeavour can cause all this sacrifice, into what kind of a hopper is it all being fed? It is being fed into the war.
The war is spread over a tract as big as these States. In many places the tide of war has passed and repassed several times, till the dwellers in those places have died of starvation, or been carried away into slavery. In the East, you can walk for miles along roads peopled with mad, starving and dying men and women; there are heaps of little bones all along the roads. They are all little bones. They are the little bones of little children who have died of starvation there. All the bigger bones have been taken by the enemy to make artificial manure.
In the West, there is a strip of land about four hundred and fifty miles long, by from ten to twenty broad. It is called the Army Zone. With the exception of a few poor people who sell little things, such as fruit and tobacco, to the soldiers, all the inhabitants of that zone are gone. The place is inhabited by the armies. The business there is destruction, and rest, after destruction, so that the destroyers may destroy again.
All that strip of France and Flanders was once happily at peace. All of it was rich and prosperous, with corn and wine and industry. Even the mountains were covered with timber. Today, after the manhood of four nations has fought over it for three and a half years it is a sight which no man can describe.
If one could look down upon that strip from above, it would look like a broad ribbon laid across France. The normal colour of a countryside is green, and green country would appear on both sides of the strip. At the edges however the green would lose its brightness, it would look dull and rather mottled; further from the edges it would look still duller, and in the centre of the strip no trace of green would show, it would all be dark except that the darkness would glitter in many places with little flashes of fire.
And if one comes to that strip by any of the roads which lead to it, one sees, at first, simply the normal French landscape, which is tidy, well-cultivated land, on a big scale, with little neat woods and little, compact villages. One notices that many houses are closed, and that very few men are about. Presently one comes to a village, where one or two of the houses are roofless, and perhaps the church tower has a hole in it. And if you ask, you hear, "No, the enemy never got so far as here, but they shelled it." A little further on, you come to a village where every other house is a burnt-out shell, all down the street. And if you ask how this came about, that every other house should be destroyed, you hear, "O, the enemy occupied this place and burnt every other house for punishment." And if you ask, punishment for what? You hear, "O, some of the enemy got drunk here and fired at each other, and they said we did it, so they shot the Maire and burnt every other house."
Then, a little further on, you come to a village where there are no roofs nor any big part of a house, but heaps of brick and stone much blackened with fire, and on both sides of the road you see gashes and heapings of the earth and a great many stakes supporting barbed wire, and a general mess and litter as though there had been a fair there in rather rainy weather. And if you ask about this, they say, "Ah, this is where our old support line ran, just along here, and just under the church in what used to be the charnel-house, we had the snuggest little dug-out that ever was."
Then if you go on, you come to a landscape where there is no visible living thing; nothing but a blasted bedevilled sea of mud, gouged into great holes and gashed into great trenches, and blown into immense pits, and all littered and heaped with broken iron, and broken leather, and rags and boots and jars and tins, and old barbed wire by the ton and unexploded shells and bombs by the hundred ton, and where there is no building and no road, and no tree and no grass, nothing but desolation and mud and death.
And if you ask, "Is this Hell?" They say, "No, this is the market place where we are standing. The church is that lump to the right." Then if you look down you see that the ground, though full of holes, is littered with little bits of brick, and you realize that you are standing in a town.
If you go on a little further, you notice that the mud is a little fresher. You come to a deafening noise, which bursts in a succession of shattering crashes, followed by long wailing shrieks, partly like gigantic cats making love, and partly as though the sky were linen being ripped across. The noise makes you sick and dizzy.
If you go on a little further you come to a place where the ground is being whirled aloft in clods and shards, amid clouds of dust and smoke and powdered brick. Screaming shells pass over you or crash beside you, and you realize then that you are at the front. Like Voltaire, you say, "I am among men, because they are fighting. I am among civilized men because they are doing it so savagely." And when the smoke and dust of the shells clear away, you see no men, civilized or savage, nothing but a vast expanse of mud, with a dead mule or two, and great black and white devils of smoke where shells are bursting.
In parts of that strip of France, especially in the broadest part, you come upon places where the ground is almost unmarked with shell-fire. There are no traces of fighting, no graves, no litter of broken men or broken equipment, the fields are green and there is no noise of war. Yet all the houses are ruined; they have been gutted, their roofs have been blown off or their fronts pulled out, and in their streets you will sometimes see vast collections of pots, pans, desks, tables, chairs, pictures, all smashed, evidently wantonly smashed; men have evidently defaced them, cut, burnt, and banged them. And you notice that for miles of that country all the best of the trees, especially the fruit trees, have been cut down, not for firewood, for they are all there, with their heads in the mud, but for wanton devilry.
And if you ask about this, you will hear—"O, no; there was no fighting here, but this is the ground the enemy couldn't hold. When he lost the ground to the north, he had to retreat from here in a hurry, but he showed his spite first. First he took away the few remaining boys and girls to work for him at making shells or digging trenches. Then they went from house to house and collected all the furniture and property into the central place of the town; then all that was good or valuable or not too bulky was taken by enemy soldiers, officers as well as men, as prize of war, and sent home to their homes. But all the rest, the things too bulky to pack, were deliberately smashed, defiled and broken, and the fruit trees were systematically killed."
I was in one such town in France last March the day after the enemy left it, and I went into one poor man's garden no bigger than this platform. Five or six little flowering plants had been pulled up by the roots. One little plumtree and two currant bushes had been cut through, and the wall parting this garden from its neighbour had been thrown down. All the wells in this district were poisoned by the enemy before he left. He referred to this in his Orders as being "according to modern theories of war."
Over all that area of the Army Zone, the business of the inhabitants is destruction; they rest not day nor night, not even fog nor snow will stop them. I have watched a raging battle in a snowstorm, and one of our neatest successes was made in a fog. And at night the darkness is lit with starshells, beautiful coloured rockets, flares, searchlights and magnesiums, so that the killing may go on.
You may wonder what kind of a life is lived under such conditions.
I can only say that it is a very attractive kind of life, and that most men who leave it want to go back to it, and few men who have lived that kind of life find it easy to settle down to another. And you will see men at their very best under those conditions. You will find them far more thoughtful of each other; far more generous and self-sacrificing than you will ever see them in time of peace. You will be among men who will die for you without a moment's thought or an instant's hesitation, and who will share their last food or drink with you. You will see dying men giving up their last breath to comfort some other wounded man who may be suffering more at the moment. And living among those men, sharing their hardships and their dangers, you will realize to the full the sense of brotherhood and the unity of life which are among the deepest feelings which can come to men. You will realize the gaiety, the courage and the heroism of the mind of man, and you will realize how deeply you love your fellows.
A British officer has defined the life at the front as "damned dull, damned dirty and damned dangerous." It is dull, because you stand in a gash in the earth behind some barbed wire and look through a thing called periscope at some more barbed wire two hundred yards away, beyond which, somewhere, is the enemy, whom you hardly ever see. Then when you have stood in the trench for a time, you are put to do some digging, and when you have done the digging you are put to dig something else, and when you have done that digging you are put to dig something else. And when you have finished digging for the time, you are put to carrying something heavy and awkward, and when you have carried that, you are given something else to carry, and when you have carried that, you are given something else to carry, and the next morning there will be plenty of other things to carry. The work of soldiers today is not so much fighting, as digging trenches and roads and railways and wells. When they have finished digging, they have to carry up the heavy and awkward things needed at the front lines. Marshal Joffre said that this war is a war of carriers. The Battle of the Marne was won by us because the enemy carriers failed, and Verdun was saved to us because the French carriers did not fail. All the things needed in the front line are heavy and awkward to carry, and all have to be carried up, on the shoulders of men. The image left on the minds of most men by this war is not an image of fighting, nor of men standing in the trenches, nor of attacks, nor even of the gunners at the guns; it is the image of little parties of men plodding along in single file through the mud, carrying up the things needed in the front trenches; barbed wire, trench gratings, trench pumps, machine guns, machine gun ammunition, bombs, Stokes shells, tins of bully beef and tins of water. And by the sides of the gratings which make the roads near the front you will see the graves of hundreds of men who have lost their lives in carrying up these things.
And when it rains, as it has rained for weeks together on the Western front during the last three years, that task of carrying becomes infinitely more terrible to the men than standing in the trenches to be killed or wounded. All that shot up field becomes a vast and waveless sea of mud. That mud has to be seen to be believed, it cannot be described. It is more dangerous than any quicksand. I have seen men and horses stuck in it, being pulled out with ropes. I have seen soldiers standing in it up to the waist, fast asleep, and I daresay you have seen that picture of the two soldiers standing in it up to the chin, one of them saying to the other: "If we stay here much longer we shall be submarined." There is nothing like this mud for breaking men's hearts. Any soldier on the Western front will tell you that the mud is the real enemy. The task of carrying up supplies across that mud, becomes by much the most difficult task which soldiers are called upon to do.
In spite of the danger and the occasional mud, the life at the front is lived with cheerfulness. There is much joking, though many of the jokes are about death and the dead. Very strange and romantic things happen continually, and there are strange escapes. I have not seen any escape quite so wonderful as that escape vouched for during your Civil War. The story goes that a soldier was sitting on the ground eating his supper. Between two mouthfuls he suddenly leaped into the air. While he was in the air, so the story goes, a cannon ball struck the ground where he had been sitting. He could not explain afterwards why it was that he jumped. I daresay that story is true. I have not seen anything quite so wonderful as that, but I know of one very wonderful escape, in Gallipoli. A little party of friends sat together at their dugout door, watching the men swimming on the beach under fire. The beach was continually under fire, but it was no more dangerous than the dry land, and as swimming was the only possible relaxation for the troops, they were allowed to swim. While they watched the swimmers, these friends saw a solitary soldier go into a dugout (some distance down the hill) and draw the sacking which served as a door. Evidently he was settling in for his siesta. About ten minutes later a big Turkish shell came over. There were three big Turkish guns which used to shell the beach. They were known as Beachy Bill, Asiatic Annie, and Lousie Liza. A shell from one of these guns pitched (apparently) right onto the dugout into which this man had gone, and burst. The friends waited for a minute to see if another shell were coming near the same place, but the next shell pitched into the sea. They then went down to see if they could be of any service, though they expected to find the man blown to pieces. As they drew near to the wreck of the dugout, a perfectly naked man emerged, swearing. What had happened was this. He had gone into the dugout, had taken off all his clothes because it was very hot, and had lain down on his bed, which was a raised bank of earth, perhaps three feet above the level of the floor. The shell had come through the roof, had gone into the floor of the dugout, had dug a hole ten feet deep and had then burst. The hole and the raised bank of earth together had protected the man from the concussion and from the chunks of shell. He himself was not touched. Everything which he possessed was blown into little flinders, and he was swearing because his afternoon sleep had been disturbed.
In the same place, in Gallipoli, the day after the landing, the 26th of April, 1915, an Australian Captain was with his platoon of men in a trench up the hill. An Australian Major suddenly appeared to this Captain and said: "Don't let your men fire to their front during the next half hour. An Indian working party has just gone up to your front, you will be hitting some of them." The Captain was a little puzzled at this, because he had seen no Indian working party, so he looked at the Major, and noticed that the Major's shoulder strap bore the number 31. That puzzled him, because he knew that only eighteen Australian battalions had landed on the Peninsula—Numbers one to eighteen—and he did not understand what a member of the thirty-first battalion could be doing there. So he looked hard at this Major and said: "Say, are you Fair Dinkum?" That is an Australian slang phrase which means, "Are you the genuine thing? Are you quite all that you pretend to be?" The Major said: "Yes, I'm Major Fair Dinkum."
At the inquest on Major Dinkum, they found that he had taken the uniform from a dead Major of the thirteenth battalion, and had been afraid to wear it just as it was, for fear of being challenged, so he had reversed the numbers on the shoulder straps, and made them thirty-one. The inquest found that he died from lead in the head.
A branch of the service which is very little recognized but exceedingly dangerous is that branch of the messengers who carry messages and carrier pigeons and telephone wires during an attack. One of the most difficult things in modern war is to let your own side know exactly how far an attack has progressed. You send back messengers and the messengers are killed. You run out telephone wires and the wires are cut, as fast as they are laid, by shells or bullets. You send back carrier pigeons and the carrier pigeons are killed. During the Battle of the Somme a friend of mine was up in a tree correcting the fire of his battery. He had a telephone and a telescope. He watched the bursting of the shells and then telephoned back to the guns to correct their fire. While he was doing this, he glanced back at the English lines, and saw a great enemy barrage bursting between himself and his friends, in a kind of wall of explosion. And hopping along through this barrage came one solitary English soldier, who paid no more attention to the shells than if they had been hail. He looked to see this man blown to pieces, but he wasn't blown to pieces; and then he saw that it was his own servant bringing a letter. He wondered what kind of a letter could be brought under such conditions, and what stirring thing made it necessary, so he climbed down the tree and took the letter and read it. The letter ran: "The Veterinary Surgeon-Major begs to report, that your old mare is suffering from a fit of the strangles." The servant saluted and said: "Any answer, sir?" And my friend said: "No, no answer. Acknowledge." The servant saluted and went back with the acknowledgment, hopping through the barrage as though perhaps it were a little wet, but not worth putting on a mackintosh for.
There is another story told of a General (during an attack in the Battle of the Somme) who could not learn how far his division had gone. It was a matter of the most intense anxiety to him. He sent out messengers who never returned, the telephone wires were cut as fast as they were laid, and no pigeons came back. He stood beside the pigeon-loft biting his finger nails. Then at last, out of the battle, came a solitary pigeon, and the General cried: "There she is, there she is. Now we shall know." The pigeon came circling out of the smoke, and came down to the pigeon-loft and went in. The General said, "Go in, man, go in, and get the message!" So the pigeon fancier went into the loft and was gone rather a long time, and the General cried: "Read it out, man, read it out. What do they say?" The man replied, "I'd rather not read it aloud, sir." The General said: "Bring it here, man." The General took the message and read it, and the message ran: "I'm not going to carry this bloody poultry any longer."
I have said something about the dulness and the dirtiness of the life, but there is a kind of dirtiness to which I have not yet alluded. On your way up to the front you are struck by the number of soldiers sitting on the doorsteps of ruined houses studying the tails of their shirts as though they were precious manuscripts. When you are at the front you notice that the men have an uneasy way with their shoulders as though they wished to be scraping along brick walls, and when you have slept one night at the front you realize what the soldier meant when he wrote home to say: "This war isn't a very bloody war, so far as I've seen it, but it does tickle at night." I would like to ask all those who are sending packets of clothing to their friends at the front always to include the strongest insecticide they can find, because, though no insecticide is really strong enough to kill the creatures, a good strong insecticide will take the edge off them. The condition of needing insecticide is known as being "chatty." Not long ago an English actress was playing to the soldiers in a base camp. She was playing a play of Barrie's, in which a lady says of her husband that he was so nice and "chatty." She was interrupted by a burst of joy from the troops. She could not understand what she had said to disturb them.
Next as to the danger at the front. In proportion to the numbers engaged, this war is by much the least dangerous war of which we have any record. The great scourges of ancient armies, typhus fever, typhoid, smallpox and measles, have been practically eliminated from this war. The only outbreak of typhus, so far as I know, was the outbreak in Serbia in 1915, and that was due not to the soldiers, but to the filthy conditions in which the Serbian refugees were forced to live. A friend of mine, a Doctor, was in charge of a hospital during that epidemic. The hospital was a big church which was completely filled with misery of every sort; typhus cases, typhoid cases, smallpox cases, maternity cases and children with measles, all jammed up together, and nobody to look after them but my friend and a few Austrian prisoners. The place was very filthy, crawling with vermin, and pretty nearly every known language was spoken there. One day a strange man appeared on the scene of misery. The orderlies asked my friend what they should do with him. My friend looked at the man, and saw that he was pale and shaggy, so he said, "Just wash him and put him into one of the beds." So they washed him. He protested very vigorously, but they did it, and they put him into one of the beds. He protested very vigorously against that, but they put him in and kept him there. My friend, being very busy, was not able to see him for the rest of the day, and didn't get round to him until the next morning. Then he found that he wasn't sick at all, but had come with a message from some neighbouring hospital.
As to the danger from missiles at the front, it is true, that at any minute of the day or night, in any part of the Army Zone, you may become a casualty, and the thing which makes you a casualty may bury you as well, or blow you into such small fragments that nothing of you may ever be seen again, nor anybody know what has become of you. Even if you are away from the front, on some battlefield where there has been no fighting for months, you are still in danger, because the ground is littered with explosives in a more or less dangerous condition. There are bombs which are going off because their safety pins have rusted through, and shells which go off for no apparent cause. You may jump across an open trench and land on a percussion bomb and kill yourself, or you may be riding along, and your horse may kick a percussion bomb and kill you. Or you may meet a souvenir hunter who will be equally deadly. And then some soldiers love to collect shells which have not exploded and then light fires under them for the pleasure of hearing them go Bang! They love to collect bombs and fling them at targets for their amusement. Last summer a General was walking on the old battlefield, when he heard a noise of cheering. There came a Bang, and bits of shrapnel came flying past. Then there came another cheer, and another Bang and some more shrapnel. So, guessing what was the matter, he jumped up onto the trench parapet and looked down. There he saw a burly soldier who had rigged up a target to represent a German and was bowling Mills bombs at it. At each bomb he shouted out: "Every time you hit you get a good cigar!" The General jumped onto this man and said: "Here, what are you doing? Don't you know that's against orders?" The man turned up the face of an innocent child and said: "No sir." "Well," said the General, "at least you know it's very dangerous, don't you?" The man looked at the General and sized him up, and said, "Yes, General. That's just why I was doing it, sir. You know, sir, I'm a family man, sir. I daresay you are yourself, sir. And I was thinking, in a little while the little children will be coming back to these old battlefields. They won't know what these cruel bombs are, sir, they'll go playing with them, poor little things, sir, and they'll blow off their little arms, sir, and their little legs, sir. Then think of their poor mothers' feelings. So I just collected these few bombs, sir, really in order to save those little children, sir." So he was acquitted as a philanthropist.
While I am on the subject of bombs, I may say what happened to a boy of the Gloucester Battalion in Gallipoli. The boy was an agricultural laborer before the war and rather stronger in the arm than in the head. A friend came to his mother and said: "Oh, Mrs. Brown, what news have you of Bert?" Mrs. Brown beamed all over her face and said: "Oh, our Bert, he have had a narrow escape. He was in Gallipoli and there come a Turk and flung one of they bombs, and the bomb fell just at our Bert's feet, but our Bert he never hesitate, he pick it up, and he flung it right to the other end of the trench, and it burst just as it got there. It killed two of our Bert's best friends, but if our Bert hadn't flung it just when he done, it would have killed our Bert."
During the course of this war some six or seven millions of men have been drawn into the English Army from every rank of society, and have submitted to a pretty rough test. Under that test, thousands of men, who had had no opportunity of showing what was in them in time of peace, have risen to positions of great dignity, trust and authority. And as a result, the Army today is a thoroughly democratic thing. At the beginning of the war it was not so. I know of a case, in which a rich man enlisted with his shepherd. He told the shepherd, when he enlisted, "Of course, I shall pay your wages as my shepherd all the time that we are serving." When they were in the Battalion the shepherd soon proved himself to be the better man. The shepherd became a Sergeant and his master remained a private. Presently, the master did something wrong and the shepherd had him up and got him ten days' fatigue. As he left the court, the master leaned over to the shepherd and said: "Your wages are stopped for these ten days." That was in the early days of the war, when the democratic leaven was not working very well. But it is working very well today. I know of a case of a young man who began life as a stable boy in a racing stable. He didn't like the life, so he became a carpenter; he was a carpenter when the war began. He enlisted in a cavalry regiment, because he was very fond of horses; and as he knew a great deal about the management of horses he was given a commission straightaway. He was always a man of great good temper and charm and tact in dealing with other men. He soon rose to a Captain. He went to France with the battalion, served in the trenches, dismounted, and soon rose to be Colonel of the battalion. He handled the battalion with great distinction and was made a Brigadier-General, and he is a Brigadier-General today.
Last summer I was talking with a General about the war, and he said: "Guess what my best staff officer was before the war?" I couldn't guess. He said he was a barber's assistant. "Now what do you think my second best staff officer was before the war?" Again I couldn't guess. He said, "He was a milkman's assistant and went round with the milk cans in the morning. Now what do you think my third best staff officer was before the war? He's the bravest man I've got." Again I could not guess. He said, "He was a milliner's assistant, and sold ribbons over the counter."
When the war is over and these men are disbanded back into every rank of society, they will carry with them this democratic leaven. I am quite sure that England, after the war, will be as democratic a country as this country or France.
If you turn your back upon the Army Zone and walk into the green and pleasant parts of France, you will notice that every big building in France is flying a Red Cross flag, for every big building now in France is a hospital. The business of the care of the wounded is a bigger business than coal or cotton or steel in time of peace. There are hundreds of thousands of orderlies and nurses and all the picked surgeons of the world looking after the wounded. There are miles of Red Cross trains carrying wounded, and there are more ships carrying wounded than carried passengers between England and America in the time of peace. I should like to tell you of one or two things which have been done to better the lot of the wounded. Firstly, about facial surgery. In this war of high explosives it often happens that men will be brought in with all their faces blown away, with practically no face left beneath their brows, their noses gone, their cheeks gone, their jaws and their tongues gone. In the old days, if those men had survived at all, they could only have survived as objects of pity and horror and disgust. But today the facial surgeon steps in and re-makes their faces. The facial surgeon begins by taking a bone from the man's leg. Out of that bone they model him a new jaw-bone, which they graft onto the stumps of the old. Then cunning artists model him a new palate and a new set of teeth. Then, bit by bit, they begin to make him new cheeks. They get little bits of skin from the man's arm, and other little bits from volunteers, and they graft these on to what was left of the man's cheeks. Though it takes a long time to do, they do at last make complete cheeks. Then they take a part of a sheep's tongue and graft it on to the roots of the man's tongue, so that it grows. Then they add artificial lips, an artificial nose, and whiskers, beard and moustaches, if the man chooses. They turn the man out, oftener handsomer than he ever was before, able to talk, and to earn his own living on equal terms with his fellowmen. In all that work of facial surgery the American surgeons have set a standard for the rest of the world. What they have done is amazing. You can see the men brought in, looking like nothing human, looking like bloody mops on the ends of sticks. Gradually you see them becoming human and at last becoming handsome and at last almost indistinguishable from their fellows. Surgeons not only restore the men fresh from the battlefield, but they remake the faces of those who have been badly patched up in distant parts of this war, such as Mesopotamia, where special treatment has been impossible, and though this re-making takes a very long time, it can still be done.
Another very wonderful treatment is the treatment of the burned men. In this war of high explosives and flame projectors many men are shockingly burned. You may see men brought in with practically no skin on them above their waist, unable to rest, and suffering torments. They apply the new treatment of Ambrene to these sufferers. Ambrene is said to be a by-product of paraffin mixed with resin and with amber. It is applied in a liquid form with a camel's hair brush. Directly it touches the burned surface all pain ceases and the man is able to rest. In a fortnight the man has an entirely new skin, with no scar and practically no discoloration, and he is able to go back to the trenches, often much disgusted at being cured so soon.
When you have seen the wounded you have seen the fruits of this business. And when you have seen the wounded you resolve within yourself that at whatever cost this must be the last war of this kind. This war is being fought today in order that it may be the last war of its kind. If we succeed in this, as we shall, all the bloodshed and horror and misery of this war will have been very well worth while. But even when we have gotten rid of the causes of this war, there will still remain, in all human societies, many potential causes of war. A great deal of cant is talked about war. In all commercial countries there must be some manufacturers who make things that will be of great demand in war, and it is an unfortunate fact that after long periods of peace men begin to think a great deal about war, to read about it, and to brood upon it, and even to long for it, so that they may have that deep experience for themselves. And to many young men war is exceedingly delightful. It gives them adventure, excitement and comradeship. Only the other day a young English soldier said to me: "Do you think this lovely war will ever come to an end?" I said I hoped it would, some day. And he said, "Well, I don't know what I shall do when it comes to an end. It will break my heart. I've had the time of my life." That boy was not quite nineteen. He had been a school-boy six months before. He had been badly wounded three weeks before. He had been at death's door a fortnight before. He had made an amazing recovery and was panting to get back. There are hundreds of thousand of young men like that, who thoroughly enjoy every minute of it. The older men do not view war with quite such enthusiasm. Their attitude, perhaps, is much like that of the Naval Officer who said the other day: "I do wish to God this war would end, so that I could get the men back to battle practice."
Even if we were able to be rid of all these potential causes of war we should not get rid of evil in this world, and as long as men can be evil, evil men will strike for power, and the only way to resist evil men, when they do evil things, is to use force to them. It often needs a very great deal of force.
Yet when people ask me if I think that wars will cease to be, I always say that I do, because the evil things in this world do get knocked on the head. The dragons and basilisks and cockatrices have become extinct, and most murderers get hanged, and most lunatics get locked up; and men are coming more and more to see that certain evils that afflict life are not inevitable, and are not the will of God, but are simply the result of obsolete and stupid ways of thinking and of governing. It ought to be possible for the mind of man, which made the steam engine, the submarine and the aeroplane, and conquered the Black Death and yellow fever and typhus fever, to devise some means of living, nation with nation, without this periodical slaughter known as war. It won't be easy to devise any such means, men being what they are, with the instincts for war deeply rooted in their hearts, or easily put there by their rulers; yet the mind of man can do most things, if he can only get the will to do them.
Even before this war, when most men were either unoccupied or occupied only in the grim and stupid devilry of plotting and preparing war; men tried to limit and prevent war, the Hague Conferences did sit. They didn't limit or prevent war, because they were not meant to. While they sat, one great power was doubling its army, and a second was doubling its strategic railways, and a third was increasing its navy, and all were afraid, each of the other. How could peace come from men under those conditions?
Then, though they made recommendations, the Hague delegates had no power to enforce them. They knew this when they made them. Their recommendations were therefore not forceful. They seemed to say, that war is inevitable, let us temper its horror. They did not say, war has no business in modern life, henceforth those who make war shall be treated as criminals by an international police.
They could not say that, but the Peace Delegates of the future will have to say it, if there is to be any future. And after this war men will listen to them if they do say it, for after this war men will passionately want to limit and prevent war. They know now, that the devil of war, which they fed with their arrogance, their envy, their strength and their stupidity, is an overwhelming monster which eats them wholesale.
Not long ago, I was talking to an American about this ending of war by internationalism. He said: "If two great peoples would agree to it, it could be done; and if your country and mine would agree to it, it would be done." Don't think me a dreamer, an idealist, a pacifist. I am for the common man and woman, whose tears and blood pay for war. And in that matter of payment, the poor German pays, equally with the poor Belgian. He pays with all he has. On the battlefields of this war I have seen the men who paid. I have seen enemy dead, and Turk dead, and French dead, and English dead, and every dead man meant some woman with a broken heart.
Those men had no quarrel with each other. They lie there in the mud, because man, who has conquered the black death and typhus and smallpox, and the yellow fever, has not conquered the war fever. And the war fever takes him in the blood and in the soul and kills him by the hundred thousand.
When the blessed bells ring for peace, this year or next year, in man's time if not in ours, it may be possible to remake the ways of national life more in accordance with man's place in the universe. When that time comes, France, this country, and England, the three countries which have done the most for liberty, will have deciding voices in that remaking. They will be able to declare in what ways of freedom the men and women of the future will walk. I trust that our three great nations may be able to substitute some co-operating system of internationalism for the competing nationalism which led to the present bonfire.
And when that time comes, I hope that one other thing may be possible. I hope that my people, the English, may, as your comrades in this war, do something or be something or become something which will atone in some measure for the wrongs we did to you in the past, and for the misunderstandings which have arisen between us since then. I'm afraid that the memory of those old wrongs may never pass, for nations, like people, do not forget their childhood. Yet I hope for the sake of the world, that it may be set aside, so that your country and mine, which have one great key to understanding, which other nations have not, the same language, may, after this time of war work like friends together, to make wars to cease upon this earth.