Why Defend the Nation?/Peace and Pacifism

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4315083Why Defend the Nation? — Chapter 5: Peace and Pacifism1924Frank David Ely


Peace and Pacifism

THE pacifist would have the world believe that peace, like a ripe apple hanging low, can be plucked by any passerby who desires delectable fruit. But one of analytical mind who will exercise it mildly will soon convince himself otherwise.

Peace, like character, is the effect gained by right living. Peace is national character, sought always by nations who hold right above wrong, and is never lightly relinquished even when the Hun is knocking down the door. And then, as soon as the intruder is evicted, properly chastised, and the fray terminated, there is the desire, due to this national character, to immediately clean house, tidy up the ruins of war, and resume with the least possible delay those conditions of life which are commended by the Creator and loved by all right-thinking men and women.

Peace and war are opposites; when one enters, the other departs. Both are direct effects of adopted lines of conduct, productive of definite and sure but opposite results. Honorable dealings; adherence to high ideals of freedom, liberty, justice, and truth; Christianity, and respect for the rights of others will produce and maintain peace, just as aggrandizement, unfairness in commerce, lack of principle, greed, untruth, falsity, and disrespect for the progress and teachings of a Christian civilization will as surely produce the effect called war.

In peace as in war, the essential factor, basically unchanged since the beginning of time, is man. The emotion, the sentiment, the spirit of man is what determines the character of every nation, and the same qualities determine progress toward peace or war.

Civilization, employing a thin veneer, dresses man so that his savage and bestial instincts are indiscernible; but touch a sore spot—cut through the veneer—and like an enraged lion the primitive being emerges, lashed to a fury. Man’s innate passions remain unchanged. They are roused by the same causes that have always roused them, and they are soothed by the same anodynes.

Man always was, is now, and probably ever will be largely the creature of his environment. With his body clothed and his stomach filled, given a soft bed and lulled by sweet music, man is a docile brute. Plunge him into adversity, and immediately discontent, dissatisfaction, resentment, anger, even viciousness, rise in him, in degree dependent on his training and education; but even these are not long proof in average man against those innate forces with which Nature has endowed him. Many a Christian martyr has died on the cross; but for every one who has so died there have been dozens, scores, hundreds—aye, thousands—in the jeering, unbelieving throngs who were guilty of sharing in the atrocity. Martyrs and murderers, all were men in the image of the Creator, and each was actuated and governed by his own strongest instincts. In the few, brute instincts had yielded to the hope of Christianity; but in the many the course of action was dictated solely by primitive instincts. It does not make a pretty picture, but it is not a pretty subject, and no picture is good which does not portray the truth.

Of all the factors useful in bringing primitive man to curb or control his instincts, the most compelling are Christianity and fear. And fear, too, of physical violence legally visited upon his person. Just as brutality is a primitive instinct in man, so is fear. One is a counter for the other. Fear is therefore the resort of law in controlling its criminal classes, in whom sentiment has little hold.

Various forms and degrees of physical punishment for crime are of necessity employed, from short restraint of personal liberty to imprisonment for the entire period of natural life, and up to the maximum penalty that can be imposed, that of forfeiture of life itself. This last punishment is never adjudged except for the willful taking of human life or of that which is esteemed even more precious.

In civilization man rises to great heights, and as surely sinks to bottomless depths. Every community has its schools and churches, marks of civilization and of the good instincts in man; and all but a few have their jails, their criminal courts, their houses of correction, and their segregated undesirable classes—segregated because these persons shun the haunts of real men, even as they themselves are shunned. In darkness do they live and find their solace. As the churches and schools and other evidence of right instincts are positive signs of the good that is in man, cheering our minds and our hearts and filling us with hope for the future, so the jails, courts, etc., are evidence of the world’s recognition of the inherence of the primitive instincts and passions and the uncertainty of their yielding to any “gentling” process yet known to Christian teaching.

Man’s primitive instincts being what they are, there will always be good men and bad men wherever men are congregated in numbers, as surely as there have always been both classes since the days of Cain and Abel.

Education and training serve to accentuate both the good and the evil in men—the good becoming better and the evil often degeneracy. Some of the greatest scoundrels the world has ever known have been lettered men and women. This fact negatives any hope that education alone can suffice to remove crime, much as it unquestionably lessens it. Sentiment and fear are far more potent agents, and teachings of Christianity often effect what all else combined cannot accomplish. Surgery is of increasing application in the cure of crime; but it is feared that the only surgery effective with the majority of hardened criminals would be little short of decapitation.

If the percentage of our population that is criminal is not alarming, what would it become were we to add the percentage figures covering the really undesirable citizens? Take these in the sense of persons filled with unfairness, dishonesty, untruthfulness, lying and deceitfulness—terms applicable to many rather than to a few. And these persons—these men and women, all have voice in the affairs of the Nation, even as you and I. In all nations they are the factors of unrest, provocative of disturbance, friction and lawlessness, if not legally guilty of crime.

The pacifist blindly demands a condition which can only result through difficult, sustained, and highly intelligent effort. Unwilling to pay the price, he nevertheless demands the highest quality of goods. This is pure effrontery. In business, he would be shown the door, and in politics he should be conducted to a well marked exit from the national stage.

The pacifist starts wrong, and stubbornly or ignorantly stays wrong. We prefer to believe the latter. If he justified the definition given of him by Webster it would be one thing; but he states his wishes and desires as a postulate, and therein he is wrong. No more can the Nation secure the effect called peace without righteousness in the people than we can stay the floods of the lower Mississippi when all of its great tributaries pour into it the cumulative floods of those vast regions to the north which stretch from the Alleghenies to the Rockies. To effect this we must stay the rainfall or the melting of the winter snows, or find means to turn the tributary waters aside, to flow elsewhere. And to insure peace we must find means to better control the passions and inherent nature of man and to soften their manifestations. We have the means to accomplish this, in education and Christianity; but these are not being sufficiently or always intelligently employed. As stated above, education, sentiment, Christianity, and fear play the leading roles in shaping the lives of men and the destinies of nations. Education provides the essential “know how” to success; sentiment and religion inspire men and cause selection and elimination of methods and acts; fear controls abuse. Education is the motor; sentiment and Christianity the selective gear lever; and fear is the brake. With such equipment we should welcome the signal “full speed ahead!”

Experience teaches that even minor desirable changes in long established customs demand heroic effort to bring those changes about. The twelve-hour working day in the steel industries is a recent example of the tenacity of established practice, as its final relinquishment was a marked proof of the power dormant in public opinion. Gain its favorable expression, and the world is yours—but be sure you champion a worthy cause.

The English are noted for declining the most innocent proposals simply because “it isn’t done;” and that reason, more often than otherwise, is the best that could possibly be given, for it denotes a respect for precedent which is the direct result of deep-seated regard for established law and institutions.

The peace-at-all-costs advocate is invariably of narrow mind. We prefer that simple statement of truth to any vilification of his motives. Besides being more dignified, it will be more certain to get home. In former days many a man, fond of over-imbibing and adamant to the accusation that he was wicked, was brought up standing when some close friend brutally told him that he was a fool; that no really good business man would willfully suffer himself to be incapacitated during business hours. So long as he thought people looked upon him as more or less of a devil he took a fiendish glee in his inebriety and his ability to shock sensitive natures; but with even that doubtful regard shattered, and himself classed merely as lacking in brains, there remained to his vanity no solace in drunkenness.

If peace-at-all-costs were ever a ruling motive for a nation, it would be a plain invitation to diplomacy the world over to take advantage. Like a sign of “Help yourself” it would upset competitive effort and would ruin business and commerce instanter, for all would rush to share in the spoils just as miners rush to newly discovered gold diggings of reputed richness. It has been well said that “no man is so innocently employed as the man who is busy at legitimately making money.” For he is constantly faced with problems the solution of which develops and improves his brain and his will-power, and he is meanwhile assisting in providing employment for others who are in need of work. And employment—honest, lucrative toil—is the absolute essential to contentment among the masses of the people. Through it a man provides for himself and for those dependent upon him, develops independence and personal pride, and learns to regard the rights and opinions of others.

The following extracts from a speech delivered by the Rev. John W. Day, pastor of the Church of the Messiah, St. Louis, commend themselves to all Americans who have the good of the Nation at heart:

“Militarism is exercise of war for its own sake or for unworthy ends; pacifism is the exercise of peace in disregard of its worth.”

“Two strong tendencies exist which are likely to be misunderstood; one is the revulsion against war, and the other is the wish to forget the four years of the Great War. That revulsion is natural; it arises from the memory of terrible things and the wish not to go through them again, and it is shared by people who fought as well as by the people who did not. No one hates war more than those who know most about it. The wish to forget the past is shared also by all alike. What is dangerous in those tendencies is that thinking shall be confused and dreams cherished which not only cannot be realized, but will mislead, delude, and defeat efforts to establish peace. The revulsion against war will have no good effect unless it is something clearer than mere revulsion.”

“Now is the time to state things as they are. War can never be abolished by objecting to it, by requesting the abolition, or by resolutions of any body or associates of bodies whatever. We might as well pass resolutions to abolish fire and flood and call on nations to join in doing away with them. War, like fire and floods, is not a cause, but an effect. Its likelihood can only be lessened when its causes are lessened. Adequate preparation against those causes is not itself a cause, but a prevention; not a provocation, but a restraint.”

“The causes of war are far back in the dispositions and desires of human nature. It must be restrained there if your services and sacrifices are never again to be required.”

“So, also, peace is not a cause, but an effect. It exists where it is produced. It does not exist in quiescence; it will not be produced merely by being declared.  *  *  *  It is the effect of righteousness and can never continue where righteousness is disregarded or violated.”

“We want the man whom we can trust
To lead us where Thy purpose leads;
Who dares not lie, but dares be just—
Give us the dangerous man of deeds.”

So it is clear that we can only have peace if we earn it by righteous living; and even then we may be denied it because of our interests being bound up with those of other nations, less righteous, who may decide on war. Any belief that the conditions of peace, as against those called war, are a free choice regardless of all else and based merely on the wishes of the majority at any moment, is unwarranted and mistaken.

Peace is a treasure, a sparkling jewel which comes to us only as a deserved reward. Take heed, then, what political issues we espouse, what economic courses we pursue, and that our Christian purposes be clear and well defined. Our faith being well founded; our dealings with the world and with each other highly honorable; our devotion to duty a sacred ideal; generous to the poor and needy; opposed to greed and selfishness, and filled with a love for truth and justice, our consciences will be clear and we shall be worthy of that peace we so desire. But should the enemy come upon us in the darkness of night, let us know that our doors are securely bolted, that there is strength in our good right arm, that our brains are neither muddled nor weak, and that the will to maintain the right and to secure to posterity the full heritage which has been given through the blood shed by our sires is clear, determined, and purposeful, to the end that this Nation shall forever endure.

Emerson said that “the true test of its civilization is the kind of a man a country turns out.” What the efficiency and righteousness of our breed has established let the breed maintain!

“FOUR SCORE and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place of those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause here for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we highly resolve that these shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”—Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, delivered at the dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery, Nov. 19, 1863.

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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