ON THE back of the Victory Medal awarded to all who served in the British Forces from 1914 to 1918 are the words: “The Great War for
Civilization.” It was for civilization that all those millions whose sacrifice is commemorated by thousands of pathetic memorials throughout the world laid down their lives—not for conquest, not for power, not for glory, but for the assurance that the constant menace of armed force would be destroyed and succeeded by a reign of international justice under which the people of the world would be able to live a normal and peaceable life. That was the promise with which they went to war. That was the hope for which they died.
Soon in cities, towns, villages, and at country crossroads, services will be held throughout the world, and solemn voices will be raised promising that we will remember them.”
But will not the customary prayer and assurances that these men died to end militarism sound strange this year. In Europe the voices will scarcely be heard amid the tramp of millions of marching men, the rattling of gun carriages, the rumble of tanks and the thunder of fighting aircraft.
“For Civilization !” Are all these thousands of beautiful memorials assuring us that “Their Name Liveth For Ever More” nothing but a cynical pretense? Are we at last to tell those who have suffered so much that their loved ones were betrayed by promises that meant nothing? Has the world gone mad? Have we all so soon forgotten the useless slaughter and destruction? Can we no longer see the pitiful human wreckage in our midst, left by a war that was fought for civilization? Have we forgotten the suffering of the unemployed masses throughout the world and the crushing burden of taxation that resulted from the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the war, which have made these years of peace but little better than war itself?
Italy, on the verge of bankruptcy, is stirred to martial ardor by the greatest peace-time manoeuvres in the history of the world carried out in the very area where hundreds of thousands of Italians died “for civilization” only a few years ago. Mussolini promises his people the spoils of conquest and stirs them with the vision of a new Roman Empire. And yet over the heads of the Roman crowd he can see from the balcony where he speaks the white marble tomb of the Unknown Soldier
surrounded by wreaths left there in memory of those who died that war might be no more.
The skies of Europe are red at night as the forges work overtime to supply ixations impoverished by war with newer and costlier instruments of death. The newspapers scream their demands in glaring headlines for “Security” on land, on sea, and in the air. War psychosis is once more apparent. It is no longer “patriotic” to question the wisdom of those who commit their people to the payment of sums for armaments beside which the expenditures prior to the Great War were insignificant.
Disarmament, which was the unqualified promise of Versailles and the basic hope of peace, is all but forgotten. Britain and Germany are engaged in a wild race for leadership in fighting aircraft. The headlines tell the story—“Expansion of the Royal Air Force.” “Aircraft Shares Soar on the Exchange.” “£250,000,000 to be spent on the British Navy.” “Sharp Rise in Vickers’ Shares.”
But we are told that Britain must be secure and that this can only be assured by having a larger navy and air force than any possible enemy. France, too, must have security, but in her case with her army and her air force. Germany insists on security. Mussolini tells Italy that with 1,000,000 men under arms they have security, then screams defiance to the world. And yet we are seeing with increasing vividness every day that as the armies and the navies and the air forces increase security disappears.
Who gains by all this costlv show of force? Only the munition makers and the great money lenders. Surely these headlines, more startling than any which appeared prior to the Great War, must be a bad dream? Surely it is not possible that while veterans of the last war, heroes of a few short years ago, are begging in the streets, billions upon billions are being spent in preparation for a war that every person with any atom of sanity left nxust know will destroy beyond repair the economic structure of the civilization that has been building for nearly 2,000 years.
Unfortunately, it is only too true and it is also true that the press, which is most insistent in demanding increased security, often takes the precaution to make profit certain if their advice is taken.
In the brief and very unsatisfactory session last spring of the Royal Commission appointed to enquire
into the armament industry in Great Britain it was disclosed that one of the popular London dailies, which had been loudest in its demand for an increased British air force, owned 4,000 shares in the Fairey Aviation Co. Ltd. The recent boom in aircraft shares has given them a handsome profit and rewarded their patriotism.
Is the ugly story of the last war to be repeated so soon? On the one hand, death, suffering, heroism and destruction; on the other, colossal profits, selfishness, and increased concentration of wealth.
The world has not long to decide. The soil of discord has been well fertilized by the “Salesmen of Death.” Seeds of hatred, distrust, and national egotism have been well sown. The harvest is very near. Only the concentrated and determined efforts of those who believe that war is man's supreme folly can prevent the appalling consequences which daily threaten us with increasing urgency.
When people smugly assure you that war is in man’s nature, always has been, and always will be, remind them that the last war resulted in greater loss and destruction than all the previous wars since the beginning of time. Remind them that this mechanical and chemical type of war in which the individual has as much opportunity to display personal heroism as an animal being led to the slaughter, is something entirely new. We are collectively creating a Frankenstein for our own destruction and only collectively can we destroy it.
There is no greater duty before each one of us today than to preserve the ideals of those splendid youths who disappeared twenty years ago. Whether it be the League of Nations or any other form of united effort, collective enforcement of peace is the only alternative to world chaos. The armament makers are busy, through newspapers which they control and through hirelings who speak so effectively for them, trying to destroy the belief in its principles. If there is to be peace there is no more urgent need than to prevent the incentive of profit in the production of the instruments of war. The time is short, but it is not yet too late if from pulpits and public platforms men of good will and common sense demand that the lesson of the last war be remembered— that civilization cannot survive unless the forces of destruction are controlled. Then, and then only, may we in truth say that the last war was “The Great War For Civilization.”
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