Is Permanent Peace Possible?

STEPHEN LEACOCK August 1 1916

Is Permanent Peace Possible?

STEPHEN LEACOCK August 1 1916

Is Permanent Peace Possible?

STEPHEN LEACOCK

MACLEAN’S

MAGAZ I N EL

Volume XXIX___AUGUST, 1916 Number 10

PART I.—THE PAST. _

THERE is a very beautiful prayer in the service of the Church of England, which even a sinful layman may quote, which runs, “Give Peace in our Time, O

It was written by men who could not ask—who dared not ask—for more. In the scheme of things, as they saw it, ordained on earth, war seemed, from time to time, a necessary part. It was God’s will. The most that they could ask was that in their own time, they and theirs might be spared its horrors.

We are living in a time when the same cry is uttered with an anguish never felt before. Western civilization stands appalled at the catastrophe that has overtaken it. Its whole proud edifice lies littered at its feet. A war with twenty million combatants, grappled in unending slaughter — battlefronts that extend beyond two thousand miles — a list of losses that has already passed ten million —the forges and the furnaces of the world glowing day and night with the red light of destruction—the weapons of civilization turned against itself—our every art and science distorted into means of death —this is the world that we have lived to

How different from the pleasant place of grass and flowers, and humming industry, that once we knew! The by-gone world with its dull newspapers, and its prosy sermons, its mimic politics and its militia parade on Thanksgiving Day (four blank cartridges to a man)—how completely it has vanished! And in place of it we have the lurid and awsome world of to-day, loud with the marching feet of the regiments and the tumult of the fight, glorious with the heroism of the brave,

and defiled with the unspeakable corruption of the wanton greed that fattens on the slaughter.

ONE asks—one cannot help but ask— whither are we going? Is the present conflict, dreadful though it is, to prove to be the end of war and the opening of the Age of Peace, or does it mean the shattering of an idle hope?

One looks back to the past for light reflected on the future. In the earliest age of the world’s known history, war and fighting man against man, and tribe against tribe, appeared inevitable destiny. The savage knew no other lot. A stranger was an enemy. One and the same word in primitive speech sufficed for both. To be ever wary and alert, to be prepared to fight, to kill without pity and to die without complaint—such was the common destiny of early man. Nor could the rude wisdom of an early age apply a better buttress against misfortune than to inculcate a stern indifference to pain, a contempt for the terrors of death, and the assured hope of a “better world” to follow. This was not the spiritual world' of later belief, but an existence patterned on our world itself, but so improved that a speedy and honorable transit to it might be welcomed in the death chant of the warrior. Such was the resounding Valhalla of the Vikings, loud with the shouts about wassail bowl; or such the dreamy paradise of the Followers of the Prophet, where the waving poppy and the purple grape and the soft arm of Oriental beauty lulled the warrior in unending sleep. Thus did the Esquimo dream of his warm “heaven” underground where the brave might be kept in luxurious heat for ever, while the coward, transported to the sky,

shivered in the cold lieht of the Aurora and the polar sun.

Thus war and fighting, inevitable as death itself, was glorified. It was the true way out of life. The Viking had no fear, save of the “death of cows,” stricken with disease upon his bed and denied the death of a man. The Dervish, when the fight was lost, spread his poor rag of praying carpet on the ground and bared his breast to the advancing spears. Of the possibility that war might cease, there was no thought.

UNDER such circumstances and in such a twilight, civilization as we know it slowly struggled ipto life. Tribes became nations. Union and organization appeared. The conflict of individual against individual, the primitive struggle that had once attended each moment of greed or lust or covetousness was lessened and restrained by law and by the compelling sanction of religion. The thing* that we call the “state” came somehow into existence, with its recognition of “property” and “rights” guaranteed by the collective force of all against each. Yet for long centuries, all through the period of what we called ancient history, and through the Dark and Middle Ages, war and fighting in the larger sense, state against state, remained recurrent and inevitable. For a time, indeed, the Roman Empire seemed to spread over the world the cover of an iron peace. But it involved no plan. It was but the peace of an imposed force, such as the Germans might aspire to make upon a conquered world. As it came, so it passed. It left behind it nothing but a thin theory of a possible world sovereignty and world religion—itself a source of centuries of discord.

Then came, let us say about the fifteenth century, the beginning of modern science and invention—children of the dark, born

of astrology and linked with the powers of evil, but pregnant with meaning for the future. Side by side, gunpowder and printing came into the world—the means of destruction and of enlightenment, as if in irony of man’s fate. Together they effected profound changes. The area of conquest widened. The feudal castle fell before the cannon. There appeared in the world the professional “soldier”—a man trained in the technical art of war and drawing his “pay” or “soldus” for his service. It was no longer true that every man could fight. The ancient militia— or call to arms of all the men of the country— was forgotten. The “peaceful” classes appeared—traders, drapers, artisans, laborers, bankers, and “undertakers” — the latter to be distinguished later into undertakers proper and business men in general. With the help of the hired soldiers, aspiring princes built up broad kingdoms — in the existence of which the peaceful classes acquiesced, glad of the shelter and preferring orderly oppression to anarchy.

Yet still throughout there was no thought of the abolition or end of war. Indeed, as the course of discovery advanced and the Eldorado of a new world was open, war and commerce became, or were thought to be, the allied handmaids of prosperity and progress. Noisy nations, proud of their achievements, shouted a loud defiance to one another. There is no thought of peace in “Rule Britannia.”

"y ET in a certain sense the continuance of war and the progress of civilization ran counter to one another. As humanity in the sense of human kindliness, advanced, the aspect of what one commonly thinks of the “horrors” of war became more and more repellent. The slaughter of prisoners, the sacking of towns, the ruthless butchery of the innocent and helpless revolted the rising sense. The cry of Vae Victis—“woe to the conquered”—became an echo not of triumph but of pity. The hideous suffering of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) may be taken as indicating a land mark in the development of human feeling.

To the people of the seventeenth century, war still seemed, no doubt, noble, glorious and profitable—the true sport of kings. But pity intervened to stay its ravages.

LJ ERE enters into the story of the modern world the beginning of the thing called International Law. It began, as it has ended, in “Scraps of Paper.” It was in its origin an attempt in the name of common humanity to formulate a rational code of war. It had but little basis to build upon, since there were neither statutes, customs nor authority behind it. But it spun its theories as best it might out of the thin cobwebs of a supposed “law of nature,” that was presumed to be so fundamental and so selfevident that even the kings and princes of warring nations must bow to it. What it lacked in definiteness was concealed behind the majesty of the Latin tongue. Such for example was the world-famous book of Hugo Grotius, De Jure Pacis ac Belli, (On the Law of Peace and War), printed in the latter part of the seventeenth century, and destined to be one

of the landmarks of the progress of thought. After Grotius followed others— Puffendorf and such, for the most part Dutch writers. Holland, wedged in among the warlike nations, threatened by land and by sea, and with no last resort before it except to open its dykes and drown itself, was from the very first profoundly interested in the maintenance of peace.

*TpHE new science or theory of peace and war spread apace. It suited also the ■ military needs of the kings and princes themselves. It is easier to make war with a code than without it. Flags of truce and cartels, exchanges of prisoners, paroles of gallant officers and so forth, all these are pretty and showy things, enhancing the personal safety of generals and princes and lending to the art of war a sort of new chivalry that recalled the glittering pomp and the waving pennants of the tournament.

Thus in the eighteenth century the art of war took to itself a sort of regularity and courtesy. It underwent the same. kind of change as was brought into private conduct by the duel and by the regularization of personal fighting into a set and decorous form. Our present code of “good manners” is in reality the survival and the outcome of personal fighting. It represents various forms of conciliation and apology, as when we “beg pardon” for venturing to disagree, or remove our hat in passing a gentleman walking with a lady, as a means of indicating to him that we do not intend to steal the woman from him. Our lifted hat meaning that our helmet is removed and that our naked head lies at his mercy should he care to strike us.

f I 'HUS “good manners” came into war, and was elaborated in the eighteenth century in very pretty form indeed. Everybody has heard the story of the French and English officers at Dettingen — or was it Fontenoy — exchanging compliments as to which side should shoot first. “Gentlemen of the guard,” said an officer with a wave of his plumed hat, “pray fire at us first.” I know nothing to place on a par with it except only the story of the New Zealand Maori’s (cannibals, these, by the way) sending in to a besieged garrison of Englishmen whose fire seemed to be slackening for lack of ammunition, a fresh supply of powder and shot.

f i 'HE new code of war brought undoubted advantages. It mitigated suffering. It confined the conflict to actual combatants and rendered it relatively easy for millions of peasants to be traded to and fro as the prize of victory gained by a few thousand professionals. It made the game of war kingly and cheap. There was no stubborn fighting to be encountered as when the Saxon invaders fought the Britons for a hundred years in the south of England—man for man till all were down, or driven to the mountains and forests beyond the Severn. Under the new code of war one nation beat another on much the same terms as one college beats another at hockey or football. At Waterloo, France—a na-

tion of 25,000,000 people—was said to be overwhelmed because an army of eighty thousand professionals had been driven off a field in Belgium by a similar army, with a loss of a few thousand lives. In other words, the rest of the 25,000,000 people, having neither arms to fight nor inclination, did not count in the matter. To the eye of reason when war had been reduced to this narrow compass, it might have seemed easy to effect peace without conflict, by the spinning of a coin, or with the mere fighting of two champions. But it was not to be. Professional armies, as the eighteenth century turned into the nineteenth, ranged over the length and breadth of Europe from Lisbon to Moscow; while the rest of the people, including nine men of every ten, went about their business, gathering corn and tending flocks as best they might. Universal peace only ensued at length from universal weariness.

' I 'HEN came the nineteenth century— —the most notable period of all history, except only one—the twentieth. Here every influence seemed to make more and more strongly for the permanence of peace. There began the age of machinery, of the factory, of modern science, of democratic government and of universal education. The whole world seemed turning into a vast workshop surrounded by gigantic fields. The railroad, the steamship and the telegraph seemed to break down the barriers of the nations. There were no frontiers. Tunnels pierced the mountains. The ocean became a familiar highway. The new gospel of free trade summoned the nations to beat their swords into pruning hooks, or if they lacked the skill for that, to buy a pruning hook in Birmingham. It was thought, in the days of the Cobdens and the Brights that permanent peace had come, by the sheer force of things—without effort, as a plain consequence of the laws of political economy. The Great Exhibition of 1851, with its Crystal Palace, and its products of all the world—was intended as an outward and visible sign of the new area. Commerce had abolished war. There was nothing to fight for. Colonies were not worth quarreling over: let them swim away on the ocean of brotherly love finding what anchorage they might, and buying still their anchor chains from Birmingham, where anchor chains are best and cheap-

UNHAPPILY the nations still fought at intervals. The first dream of peace was shattered rudely by the Crimean War and the epoch that followed it. But such wars could be explained. The Crimean War could be explained away, however, as a diplomatic tangle, due to the folly of Russia, a sort of scuffle in the dark. The Indian mutiny was the mere outcome of Hindu ignorance. It needed only freer trade and more missionaries to cure it. The American Civil War—awful as a struggle of democracy within itself, kingless and grappling handto-hand to the last man—even this could be called a legacy of the past, or the removal of a hideous social disease, terribly as the surgeon’s knife, but salutary. Thej

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Is Permanent Peace Possible ?

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rise of Prussia, the institution of what we now call conscription, whereby a whole nation is trained in arms and can be flung this way or that at the wave of a royal hand, was misunderstood and misinterpreted. There were signs of the times in plenty, as we see them now, but few to read them.

' I 'HUS the century drifted towards its

close. Its closing years were marked with mingled portents pointing towards war and peace. On the side of war there were seen the new movement of conqust and exploitation whereby Europe fell upon Africa, in the name of civilization and progress, and tore it into pieces. The last portions of the outer world were divided up, except where here and there a woolly Abyssinian or a wild tribesman of Morocco met Christian Europe with its own weapons and struck it down. On the side of war, too, was the spread of the system of universal service—a reversion to primitive times—whereby every man became a soldier—with a uniform with his number on it, hanging ready beside a rifle. On the side of war, too, were other and deeper influences, plain enough now, yet hidden from us till yesterday. Such were the commercial greed and the prospective gains of the armament makers, organized into great companies, ramified into international trusts, supplying the means of death for the means of pay, heedless of the morals of the cause, the servant of the strong, the oppressors of the humble, and spreading over the face of the world, loathsome and slimy as an octopus.*

O less an influence for evil, though ^ noble in appearance and gay with scarlet and brass, was the power in Europe of Personal Kingship—a thing that should have gone to its grave centuries ago, when the virtue died out of it, leaving nothing but the glittering helmet clapped on the fool’s head. The old Kingship, that once was, had at least this in it, that the King must fight and die as other men. He led the van and his adherents were, in the old and real sense, his followers. A William or a Harold of the old time when the day was lost, swung high his battleaxe and staggered, blinded with his wounds, on to his death, still striking. Think of it, as beside a William of to-day, skulking in safety, and signing, with a hand that dare not strike, the war decree that sends a nation to the shambles.

In England and its colonies we have developed into a democracy. Our King no longer rules us nor ever shall again, but remains only as the visible sign of the rule of the nation. But in Central Europe, Kingship has lost its virtues and retained only its vices—its greed of rule,

•Readers may turn for enightenmeut to a recent book by the celebrated English economist, F. W. Hirst. The Political Economy of War, chap. XI.

its hunger for territory, its blasphemous exaltation of one man above his fellows— and till Kingship in Europe has been abolished, or purified, there can be no peace. The republic—either under its own name, or as we have it under the headship of a King—the republic, with all its sins and shortcomings is the only gateway of Pro-

TV LL these things I say, pointed towards war. They are evident enough now. But there were, or seemed to be, larger portents pointing towards peace. Of these not the least conspicuous was the further shaping and fashioning of International Law into International Arbitration. This seemed the very coming of peace itself. There is no need to recall here the plaudits that greeted the Alabama Settlement, or the establishment of the World’s Peace Tribunal at the Hague. They have been celebrated time and enough in noisy congresses of Pacifists, quarreling without end. Nor is it necessary to recall the arbitration treaties, that ran into the hundreds and that multiplied with each succeeding year. The whole content of them now looks empty enough—a mere agreement not to fight over things not worth fighting for—that is all.

But at least the Pacifists and the peace congress had gone far enough to prove that, logically and rationally there is no need for war, that the ordinary machinery of the court and the law, the judge and the jury would suffice in the reason of things for the settlement of disputes. True, one item had been overlooked. It was not seen that the whole virtue of the court and the law depends on the presence of the quiet and unobtrusive figure of the policeman, standing in the corner, with the dark shadow of the jail beyond. The lawyer by sheer size of wig and gown had so filled the foreground that the background was forgotten.

BUT in addition to international arbitration and all that went with it, another factor had appeared in the situation and seemed to grow with every year. This was the phenomenon called Big Business, and spelled with capital letters. Big Business having grown too big for the limits of any single country, had begun to sprawl over the entire map of the world. Stocks and shares were internationalized. Canadian railways could be bought and sold in Constantinople. All the stock markets were becoming one. Each depended on the other. The world market for money had become as simple and unified as an auction sale. Hence it became clear —and was proved so—that war was no longer profitable since the commercial collapse of any one great nation would bring down the others. Indeed, war could only pay if any nation were found so lacking in civilization as actually to conquer in the oid sense—by taking property and enslaving people and so offsetting its loss by a greater gain. This seemed (to people who had not yet known the Belgium of 1916) a thing beyond the pale of civilization, that need not be contemplated. So runs in summary the familiar argument of Mr. Norman Angell in his Great Illusion, a book that at the very brink of the

war had sold perhaps to beyond a million copies. Hence it was understood that Big Business would no longer tolerate war—in fact might definitely forbid it at any moment by a new ruling of the Stock Exchange.

/'A NE other factor was added—the new development of International Solidarity. This was the bond of union sideways as between classes, and running through the nations and out again like the crosswise thread of a cloth. There were German Socialists, French Socialits. ar.d Italian Socialists! How could they fight? Locomotive engineers proclaimed their brotherhood right and left across the seas. Amalgamated carpenters grasped hands over the mountains and exchanged fraternal greetings in Esperanto. While at the apex of the pyramid, the learned and professional classes held geological congresses, and philosophical reunions in all quarters of the globe, from Mexico to Buda Pesth.

In such a world transformed and transforming so rapidly under the influence of Big Business, and Modern Science, and Class Solidarity, how could war come?

'■p'HEN the catastrophe broke. Big Business lasted but one day or less, closed its exchangee, went broke and after a short sleep came to life again as War Business, more terrible than ever—Social Solidarity vanished with the smoke of the first cannon. Its feeble clasp was loosened to give place to the handgrip of men of same race and blood, standing side by side, fighting for life.

Across the dawn of the peace that was to be, war drew its darkening curtain..

And after it, what is to come? Can peace be built upon the fragments that it will leave, or must the future, through the dim vista of decades that fade beyond the view, remain an age of war?

(In the next issue Professor Leacock deals with the future and the possibilities that it holds for permanent peace.)

Wants a Hint

A subscriber writes: “I can hardly wait for the next issue of MacLean’s to come along, so that I can get the next instalment of that Bolted Door story. I think the husband was mixed up in the case somehow, but 1 can’t give any logical reasons. It’s just a guess on my part. Can’t you give us a tip?”

This is typical of many letters we have received. “Behind the Bolted Door?” has set MacLean’s readers guessing hard. But no hints can be given as to the outcome. That would spoil the story.