Can you doubt for a moment what it is? Does not every thoughtful man and woman cry out against war, that hydra-headed monster which has dragged on its hated existence for centuries after other outrages and brutalities have been banished from the earth? War, the suicide of weak nations and the poisoner of strong ones; war the useless, costly incubus for the fattening and training of which hundred of millions of pounds are wasted annually, while the poor and the diseased in every great city in Europe are clamouring, often unavailingly, for food or medical care!
In my day we thought war a romantic thing. Men hastened to don picturesque uniforms, to take sword and march in the wake of their country's banner. We took up arms in defence of other nations, for war to us meant a game, and a game in which there were definite rules to be observed. It was a game that had to be played fairly and, like any other game, it was usually enjoyed by the players.
The rival armies fought in the age-old method, hand to hand. The battle went to the strong, to those who could best endure the physical strain, or who possessed enough cunning to outwit the enemy. Let me recall to your mind the history of the capture of Quebec. It was not bloodshed and slaughter that won that glorious day. It was sheer recklessness and mother wit. Wolfe's men rowed with muffled oars over the wide St. Lawrence, silently they scaled the well-nigh inaccessible Heights of Abraham and, taking the French garrison wholly by surprise, they forced the citadel to surrender.
But modern warfare is a demmed unpleasant thing, my friends, and it is one of the few things in your twentieth-century civilization that I heartily dislike. Private quarrels are no longer settled by poisoned daggers or mailed fists. Why, then, do nations--presumably led by the keenest brains amongst them--rush to blows like quarrelsome navvies whenever their complacency is slightly disturbed?
Wars would cease to be if the man in the street had real control of affairs, such as democratic governments fatuously pretend that he has! Ask any man you meet whether he wants to get into uniform and go out into the muddy, bloody trenches, or patrol the seas, waiting to be blown to pieces by a mine or a torpedo! Not he! He is patriot enough to do it without a murmur when his country calls, but what he wants is peace. Ask any woman what she thinks of war: it is more manifestly cruel to women, perhaps, than it is to men. Watch her agony of mind and heart when she thinks of her husband or sons in hourly danger of death by shell-fire or poison gas, of her young children dying, perhaps, for want of food. Watch the women's agony, and know then the hideous blot of your otherwise wonderful civilization.
It is all so wasteful nowadays! A great battleship is built to-day, champagne wets her bows, she slides down the slipway amid thunderous cheers, and the crowd who the pageant gives a sigh of appreciation at the grandeur and beauty of it all. To-morrow, or in a couple of years, what is she? In peace an out-of-date scrap heap, superseded by vessels of newer design and carrying millions of the nation's money with her to the breaker's yard; in war a shell-torn, twisted, burning Hell, in which wounded and dying cry out in their last agony.
The guns, the tanks, the cases of rifles, the gay or sober uniforms--what happens to them? Progress, unable to sweep away war, ruthlessly casts them from her as she has cast aside the bow and the muzzle-loader and the pike; and once again vast fortunes are dribbled away which might have been used for furthering the welfare of mankind.
You call your ministers by such obsolete titles as 'The Secretary of State for War', the 'Lords of the Admirality', and so on. When will a generation arise that has the sense to elect a Government which will appoint a 'Secretary of State for Peace' and a 'Lord of the Merchant Service'?
You still speak of war as if it were a glorious thing. It is not! The men who saw their friends smashed and poisoned in Flanders mud, diseased in prison cmaps, and freezing in the North Sea--they saw this so-called noble thing at first hand, nad somehow the death's head that it really is, was, for them, stripped of the bunting in which it wraps itself, and stood out in all its horror and bestiality. Civilization has made of the old, clean fighting between man and man a horrible struggle in which millions of men are sacrificed to the monster of mechanical death and mutilation, and that monster is the product of this otherwise wonderful age.
At all times there have been scoffers, and I make no doubt that they would say to-day that a world in which war would never find a place would no doubt be ideal, but that there are at least two objections to permanent compulsory peace. One is that army men who are trained to fighting would have nothing to do; and the second that peace-loving nations would have no protection against aggressive or greedy ones if their armed forces were entirely disbanded. Now I would contend that neither objection is worth a moment's consideration. Could not the same organization now employed for the training of armies and the equipment of navies be turned to civil uses as state organizations for providing work instead of state weapons for purposes of butchery? Millions of money would thus be saved every year which are now spent on battleships, fighting equipment, and all the rest of the arms' departments which would then be no longer needed. As for the insecurity of nations, why not further strengthen the hnads and increase the power of the League of Nations so as to make it really an International clearing court for the settling of International disputes? And this could be easily done by organizing an international police, or gendarmerie, a combined force whose duty would be the same as that of the usual police force in every country, only on a grand scale; namely, to see that the dictates of the clearing court are acted upon and, if necessary, to enforce obedience to the laws.
If this could be done peace would be assured
for all time. And let it be the task of your generation to see
that it comes about now that the world is so heartily sick of
wars. A great statesman said recently that it is a 'far more
difficult thing to make peace than to make war'! Egad! it is.
But civilization must have peace if all your modern progress,
of which you are so justly proud, is not to end in chaos. Emphatically,
the greatest blot on your marvellous advancement towards perfection
is that war is still possible. And yet it means blood, tears,
hatred, murder, robbery, whole-sale destruction and unappeasable