Napoleon abated no whit of his resolve to dominate Germany and discipline Russia. . . . He strained every effort to call the youth of the empire to arms.,. and 350,000 conscripts were promised by the Senate. The mighty swirl of the Moscow campaign sucked in 150,000 lads of under twenty years of age into the devouring vortex." "The peasantry gave up their sons as food for cannon." But "many were appalled at the frightful drain on the nation's strength." "In less than half a year after the loss of half a million men a new army nearly as numerous was marshalled under the imperial eagles. But the majority were young, untrained troops, and it was remarked that the conscripts born in the year of Terror had not the stamina of the earlier levies. Brave they were, superbly brave, and the emperor sought by every means to breathe into them his indomitable spirit." "Truly the emperor could make boys heroes, but he could never repair the losses of 1812." "Soldiers were wanting, youths were dragged forth." The human harvest was at its very worst.
The unfailing result of this must be the failure in the nation of those qualities most sought in the soldier. The result is a crippled nation, "Une nation blessée," to use the words of an honored professor in the University of Paris. The effect would not appear in the effacement of art or science, or creative imagination. Men who lead in these regards are not drawn by preference or by conscription to the life of the soldier. If we cut the roots of a tree, we shall not affect, for a time at least, the quality of its flowers or its fruits. We are limiting its future, rather than changing its present. In like manner does war affect the life of nations. It limits the future, rather than checks the present.
Those who fall in war are the young men of the nations, the men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, without blemish so far as may be—the men of courage, alertness, dash and recklessness, the men who value their lives as nought in the service of the nation. The man who is left is for better and for worse the reverse of all this, and it is he who determines what the future of the nation shall be.
However noble, encouraging, inspiring, the history of modern Europe may be, it is not the history we should have the right to expect from the development of its racial elements. It is not the history that would have been made by these same elements released from the shadow of the reversed selection of fratricidal war. And the angle of divergence between what might have been and what has been, will be determined by the percentage of strong men slain on the field of glory.
And all this applies, not to one nation nor to one group of nations alone, but in like degree to all nations, which have sent forth their young men to the field of slaughter. As with Greece and Rome, as with France and Spain, as with Mauritania and Turkestan, so with Germany and England, so with all nations who have sent forth "the best