The War Spirit in the World

The Human Spirit is Still in the Shadow of War—Is Suffering From Causes That the War Spirit Will Not Right.

SISLEY HUDDLESTON December 15 1920

The War Spirit in the World

The Human Spirit is Still in the Shadow of War—Is Suffering From Causes That the War Spirit Will Not Right.

SISLEY HUDDLESTON December 15 1920

“WHAT is wrong with the world?” asks Sisley Huddleston in an article on “The Human Spirit in Shadow,” in the Atlantic Monthly. He finds that the answer is to be found in the failure of the spiritual forces of the world to revert from the impetus of war.

It certainly seems to me better worth while, he says, to record the debacle of spiritual forces than the economic debacle which cannot be made to interest, precisely because perceptions are blunted, and the meaning of the facts in terms of humanity is not appreciated

I recently read the gruesome speech, of Mr. H. P. Davison, in which he relates the physical facts concerning tremendous tracts of Europe. Wholesale starvation, misery unimaginable, from the Baltic to the Black Sea; and yet America remains apathetic, disinterested, passing by, like the Levite in Scripture, on the other side. But let no American reader suppose that this is a particular reproach to him: Europe no more realizes the intolerable state of many countries in her midst than does America, in spite of the hundreds of reports that have been made, and in spite of the tangible effects which touch everybody. We read these things. They make not the smallest impression on us. Why? How is it that we are not horrified, and do not resolve that not for a single day shall any preventable evil exist? How is it that, on the contrary, for two years we have been cheerfully engaged in intensifying the sum of human suffering? Why are we so heedless? Why are we so callous?

There have been crimes perpetrated by the politicians—by all the politicians—which no condemnation could fitly characterize. But the peoples must be blamed. The peoples support the war-making politicians. I am appalled at the blundering or the wickedness of the leaders of the world. Without party prejudices or personal predilections, an impartial observer, I cannot conceive how it is possible to be always blind to the truth, the glaring truth, that since the Armistice we have never sought to make peace, but have sought only some pretext and method for prolonging the war.

Hate exudes from every journal in speaking of certain peoples—a weary hate, a conventional hate, a hate which is always whipping itself into a passion. It is perhaps, more strictly, apathy masquerading as hate—which is worst of all. The people are blase: they seek only bread and circuses for themselves. They regard no bread for others as a rather boring circus for themselves. Every morning there is another war, though the news has almost lost its power to excite; every evening there is a fresh revelation of some warlike menace about which the jaded fancy may play. The key of all the folly and all the unhappiness in Europe is the fact that we cannot do without wars any more than a drug-maniac can do without cocaine or morphine.

It is incredible that not yet have we even tried to cast off the war-spirit and to put on the peace-spirit. We regard everybody and everything through the distorting spectacles which were made for our wear from 1914 to 1918. We demand that those who govern us should serve up somebody’s head on a charger from time to time. When I went to Spa, for example, believing that we were at last to hear conciliatory words spoken, were at last going to discuss methods of co-operation for the restoration of a shattered civilization, I quickly found that the old war Adam was too strong, and saw that coercion was still the only conception of men who should surely be able to place themselves above the passions of the crowd and guide the passions of the crowd. I am certainly neither pre-German nor pro-Russian: I am by temperament and by training wedded to another culture. But it seemed to me—and surely to many others—indisputably clear that, whatever was our duty in war, it is now our duty to pursue peace as ardently as we ever pursued war. The fighting has come to an end, and now mutual aid is indispensable. There is no doubt about the chaos in many lands, and there can be little doubt that the chaos will reach our own. Where is our instinct of self-preservation? Where is our pity? Both the one and the other attributes are lost. Reason and all sweet virtues have been devoured by Moloch.

Of the treaty making in Paris it is only necessary to say that, apart from Mr. Wilson’s abortive effort to preach peace, it was simply a gathering of cynical diplomatists quarreling over the spoils, and determined to kill, even in the name of the League of Nations, the nascent sentiments of justice and of mercy. After one interlude of hope, during which Peace fluttered timidly over the world, the war regained its empire. Peace conferences were in reality war conferences: when it was not a question of sending troops or asking others to send troops, the peace documents and decisions were only declarations of war in another form. The Versailles Treaty is blamed as a Wilsonian document. It is certainly not that, in the sense in which we had understood Wilsonism. It put a sword on the council-table. It suspended a sword over Europe. Marshal Foch, who is a capable soldier, became the chief of the diplomatists, always ready to threaten, always ready, in his own words, to act as the “interpreter” of Allied thought. Now he is right as a soldier to believe in force; but if peace is wanted, the last man to call in is the soldier. I saw the sinister smiles in the Salle de l'Horloge when a League to Establish Universal Peace was spoken of; and it quickly became clear that the world was turning back, after the first fine flush of generous rapture, to the dismal conceptions of eternal war.

I am convinced that, if some great figure had then appeared, the course of history would have been changed, and mankind would have taken a different path. But cynicism soon became naked. In the East all pretence of righteousness was abandoned. Every successive treaty was more frankly the expression of shameful appetites. There was no pretence of conscience in politics. Force ruled without disguise.

Time after time I saw excellent opportunities of universal peace deliberately rejected. There was somebody to wreck every Prinkipo, every Spa. It was almost with dismay that all Europeans who had kept their intelligence unclouded saw the frustration of peace, and heard the peoples applaud the men who frustrated peace. I care not whether they still enjoy esteem: history will judge them harshly and will judge harshly the turbulence which men plumed themselves on creating two years after the war.

The war-spirit dominated the world in the so-called years of peace, and it is this war-spirit which explains all the unpleasant phenomena which may be seen, and in particular this shocking indifference to the most terrible events and situations.

There is now a hopeless territorial tangle in Europe, instead of a durable ethnographic and economic settlement.

There is such a criss-cross of principles, such a complicated pattern of interests, such an arbitrary set of solutions which are no solutions, that in any event the scheme of things would come collapsing down—if indeed it has ever been even momentarily built up. To attempt to put together the shattered world while leaving out the corner-stone of Russia, while not making sure that America was safely in the foundation; proceeding at haphazard without architectural plans; fitting in Germany anyhow; angrily breaking up Austria into jig-saw bits; carving Turkey into rough-edged chunks, was to betray a total ignorance of the immanent justice, or at least the immanent logic, of the universe. Water is not made to run uphill, and sledgehammer diplomacy, which avails itself of the hatreds of races rather than of their affinities; which pits army against army, faction against faction; which encourages a score of little struggles; which eggs on other nations to attack nations which it cannot directly reach by its own military means; which keeps Europe in a ferment, keeps Asia in a whirl, is a childish pastime which unfortunately is big with disastrous consequences.

I think that the political management of Europe, based on the diplomatic doctrine of the inevitability of conflict, is largely responsible for the spiritual state of things. Frontier problems are comparatively trivial beside the all important temper in which they are tackled. That temper has always been the war-temper. The peace-temper, I repeat, has never been recovered.

If it is certain that France must force another fight with Germany in a short span of years, if she pursues her present policy of implacable antagonism; if it is certain that England is already carefully seeking the European equilibrium, and that a responsible minister has already written of the possibility of a military accord with Germany; if there has been seen, owing to the foolish belief of the Allies in force—a belief which increases in inverse ratio to the Allied possession of effective force—the rebirth of Russian militarism, as there will assuredly be seen the rebirth of German militarism; if there are quarrels between Greece and Italy, between Italy and the Jugo-Slavs, between Hungary and Austria, between every tiny nation and its neighbor, even between England and France, it is because, when war has once been invoked, it cannot be easily exorcised. It will linger long in Europe: the straw will smoulder and at any moment may break into flame.

It might have been expected that, whatever the politicians, did or did not do to lead the peoples into the Promised Land, the writers of the world would have fought against the the three forces of Militarism, Materialism, and Egotism which are rampant to-day. For my part, I anticipated, in sheer reaction to what is usually called Reaction, a great movement which would show itself in the post-war literature. Perhaps it is yet too early to pronounce a definite judgment. Perhaps a little more grace must be given.

The journals offer a striking commentary on this observation. Look at them day by day; look at the gloss they put upon events, the specious interpretation of political facts, which is obviously wrong and which can have been arrived at only through the training of the war in the art of twisting or suppressing awkward truths.

Just because I am myself a journalist, I deplore the more this unconscious dishonesty of the press. That it is unconscious in large part, I am sure. It is simply that we were all obliged to put on special spectacles for five years, and to examine even the most unimportant fact through these spectacles. We are no longer forced to wear them, but we do. How long shall we continue to do so?

It is not only ruinous to the intelligence of nations and disastrous to their morality to feed them upon lies—it is in a definite and demonstrable manner fatal to them in a strictly material sense. One instance. It was considered necessary, rightly or wrongly, to keep up the spirits of France by a series of illusions, the chief of which was that Germany would pay. France believed this oft-repeated fallacy implicitly.

It could not be expected that the man in the café should realize the impossibility of complete reparations. He was actually persuaded that France would be no worse off through the war. The result was the wave of idleness which we saw in France following the Armistice. Why work when Germany would perform all irksome tasks? Why reconstruct the ravaged regions? Was not that Germany’s job? Were not all Frenchmen rentiers for the rest of their lives?

That this political lie had a baneful effect, morally and materially, upon France, no one who lived there during a certain period can doubt. The happy period was followed by another period of blank despair, of national chagrin, as France gradually became disillusioned. It was then that she began to blame all her friends. It was America who had robbed her of the fruits of victory. It was hypocritical England who had been too astute for her. The newspapers let themselves go in a vivid fury, turning savagely on anybody and everybody. Not only did this grotesque reliance upon an obvious inexactitude—as if Germany were occupied by a race of supermen who can not only achieve economic reconstruction quicker than everyone else, but can aid everyone else!—lull France into a perilous state of false security and hinder her in her efforts at restoration, but it nearly cost her the best of her allies and associates, nearly placed her in a position of isolation in Europe, deserted by all. When will rulers learn that lies always come home to roost? They may be convenient, for a moment, but they are fatal to the State in the long run.

It is, I know, popularly believed that we are perpetually menaced by revolution.

Nowhere do I find these signs of an uprising. It might be more hopeful if there were such signs! Myself, I am altogether opposed to the stupid love of a few fanatics for confusion. Nothing could be more deplorable than the setting of the mass in movement. The extremists who suppose that disorder will cure all ills, that terrorism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the abolition of parliaments, are desirable in themselves, can only be charitably regarded as mad.

I am persuaded that nowhere does a real revolutionary tendency exist; and greatly as I should detest its existence, I consider it is a tremendous indictment of mankind that we should have become so submissive.

For the governments are provocative. They have done their best to produce the conditions in which crowds may fly into unreasoning fury. There was never so much despotism as to-day, and there is practically no protest. The fact that there have been revolutions in Russia and in Germany does not invalidate my conclusion. The Russian revolution was not a popular push: it was rather the total and spontaneous collapse of a régime which was unequal to its task, which pulled down the pillars of its own institutions and perished in the débris. The Russian revolution was made by the Tsar; the régime fell apart because of its own rottenness. In the confusion anyone with will and energy could have come to power. The people had no will. That it was Lenin rather than another who possessed the will was a pure accident. Had Kerensky been strong enough, he would have been the new Napoleon. Had a grand duke displayed enough character and organizing ability, he would have been welcomed. No, the Russian Revolution, if it proves anything, does not prove that the people are critical, vigilant, and difficult to control: it proves the contrary as any student of Bolshevism will acknowledge.

That serf-spirit is not confined to Russia. It distinguishes certainly all European nations, although perhaps other peoples have not sunk so low in this respect. There never was in Europe, since the Roman days, such despotism; and in America, too, Mr. Wilson made the tremendous mistake of placing himself above all other powers.

What I have written may seem to be sheer pessimism. But in truth I think that progress is certain—from the baboon to the barbarian, and from the barbarian to the modern man with his development of mechanical resources, of intelligence, and of the idea of co-operation, there is an undoubted upward drive. But though we have built the edifice high, it is nevertheless in danger of a catastrophic collapse. Civilization has made vast material strides: but morally the whole earth is now darkened and we grope in that darkness to our own destruction. Everything depends upon our return to peace.

The politicians, as I have shown, have their responsibility. The journalists who have given their pens over to Beelzebub, the Prince of Lies, must be blamed. But the churches cannot escape condemnation. Where has been the clear denunciation of the manifold iniquities perpetrated even, for the sake of a righteous cause? What great ecclesiastical authority has made an unmistakable pronouncement? The Pope remained silent. Perhaps he could do no other. His ministers were on both sides, and they proclaimed the justice of their own country. (Bear in mind that for me Germany is the arch-criminal; but there is a higher plane than the national plane, on which war itself should be treated as something from which the world must be rid—something which will rid us of the world if the world does not rid us of it)