Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/516

This page has been validated.

It is, unfortunately, only too easy to cultivate the military spirit in almost any nation, and the military spirit, it need hardly be said, is the spirit that seeks quarrels. To the military man war means excitement, emulation, reputation, promotion, subject of course to the possibility of injury or death. No one denies that deeds of heroism and self-devotion are done on the battlefield; but that men should acquit themselves nobly in the field is no compensation for the horrors of a war brought on by the predominance of the military spirit.

"'Great fame the Duke of Marlborough won,
And our good Prince Eugene.'—
'Oh, 'twas a very wicked thing,'
Said little Wilhelmine."

And every war is wicked and detestable that could consistently with national honor be avoided. When we say "honor" we do not mean "reputation." Reputation depends on the canons of judgment prevailing among those who presume to award it. In a dueling community a man's reputation might suffer by declining a challenge, but his honor would be intact if he declined from sincere unwillingness to do a wrong act. There is much honor sometimes in sacrificing reputation, particularly the "bubble reputation" that is won "in the cannon's mouth." Every appeal to the sword weakens the reliance placed upon principles of justice, and thus undoes a vast amount of the work of peace. When war is once set on foot, the national judgment is more or less blinded. True, it is the action of a majority of the people only—admitting that a majority wanted it—but who is uncompromising enough, when his country's armies are in the field, to proclaim that they are fighting in a wrong cause? A few may do it, but they do it at their peril. In all other matters a minority may censure with any degree of severity the policy of the majority, but not in the matter of a war once entered on. Yet how perverting such a situation is to right judgment, and how injurious an effect it must have on the rising generation, are only too apparent.

These reflections may not at first sight seem to have a very direct bearing on the interests for which this magazine is supposed to stand, but to our mind science, in the broad sense, has no function so important as that of settling the education of the young upon a right moral basis. No system of education deserves to be called scientific that does not place the idea of justice at the very foundation of human life. You can not do this, however, without making it a working principle, and without inculcating a belief in it as such. Applying the principle to national affairs, we see at once that a strong nation which desires to be just will take no advantage of its strength in its dealings with other nations. If it has a demand to make, it will make it simply in the name of justice, and cast no sidelong glances at its up-to-date battle ships or its well-equipped battalions. It will have unbounded patience with weaker communities, which, rightly or wrongly, may seem to think they have right on their side. It will not be ashamed to shrink from the shedding of blood. The "young barbarians" of our public schools are always only too ready to exalt might above right; but the judicious teacher into whom the true spirit of science has entered will seize every favorable opportunity for inculcating the great lesson that the moral law has a way of vindicating itself in the end, and that the inheritance of the earth has been promised not to the quarrelsome or the overweening, but to the meek. A generation brought up on these principles would be slow to make war, and