Popular Science Monthly/Volume 28/February 1886/The Increasing Curse of European Militancy

950788Popular Science Monthly Volume 28 February 1886 — The Increasing Curse of European Militancy1886Alfred Russel Wallace



SINCE the year 1870, but more especially since 1874, the general war expenditure of Europe has increased enormously. This is partly a consequence of the Franco-German War which so greatly enhanced the military power of united Germany and led other nations to aim at a corresponding increase in their forces, and in part to the enormously increased cost of iron-clad ships, monster guns, torpedoes, and all the scientific appliances of modern warfare.

Up to the year 1875 our own army and navy had increased but little for many years, the total expenditure in 1874 being £24,604,000, which was somewhat less than that of 1864. But since the former date our outlay on the two services has risen greatly, and now amounts to £28,004,000, an increase of more than four millions. The number of men has increased from 189,000 in 1874 to 197,000 in 1884, exclusive of the Indian army.

In most of the great states of Europe the increase both of men and of war expenditure has been far greater than ours. Austria up to 1874 spent less than seven millions on her army; she now spends £13,433,000, with an increase of about fifteen thousand men. France has increased her forces by fifty thousand men in the last ten years; while her military and naval expenditure has nearly doubled since the war, and now reaches the enormous sum of £35,500,000. Germany during the same period has raised her war expenditure by more than three millions, the present amount being £20,050,000. Italy has doubled her war expenses since 1873. In that year they were a little over nine millions, now they are £18,900,000. Russia has followed the same course, having increased her war expenditure from less than twenty millions in 1870 to £33,000,000 in 1884.

The loss involved in these huge armaments is of three distinct kinds: 1, by the number of men, mostly in the prime of life and of the very best physique, who are kept idle or unproductively employed; 2, by the burden of increased taxation which the rest of the community have to bear; and, 3, by the actual destruction of life and property in war, which, wherever it occurs, inevitably diminishes for a time the productive and purchasing powers of that country. Let us endeavor to form some conception of the amount of loss due to each of these causes.

From information given in successive issues of the "Statesman's Year-Book," it appears that, since 1870, the armies and navies of Europe have been increased by about 630,000 men on the peace establishments. This number of men, therefore, has been wholly withdrawn from productive labor; but during periods of war a much larger number is thus withdrawn, and the country is, to that extent, still further impoverished. But the total number thus withdrawn, though very large—the standing armies and navies of Europe being estimated at 3,683,700 men—represents only a portion, and perhaps even a small portion, of the mischief done, since the numbers employed in the equipment of this force and in the production of the vast and complex war-material now used are, not improbably, very much greater, and these are all equally lost for productive purposes. If we think of the hundreds of huge iron-clad ships which have recently been built, and try to form a conception of the number of men employed upon them directly and indirectly—from those who dug out the iron-ore, and the coal used to smelt the ore, to those who construct the huge and beautifully finished marine engines—from the men who felled the trees in Canadian and Indian forests to the skilled workmen who design and frame and finish with elaborate care the whole of the internal fittings—we shall be convinced that to build one of these monster vessels requires from first to last a small army of men, all of whose labor, so far as any benefit to mankind is concerned, might as well have been employed in pumping water out of the sea and allowing it to flow back again. Then consider the equipment, clothes, arms, and ammunition of all these great European armies; the manufactories of powder and explosives, the monster guns and projectiles, the rockets and torpedoes, the horses and horse accoutrements, and all the innumerable variety of stores that arc required to supply a modern army in the field—and then follow back every one of these things to the raw material brought from various parts of the world, and to the numerous processes of manufacture through which it has to pass—and further consider the amount of purely intellectual power required, the origination and improvement and detailed designs for the rifles and cannons, the projectiles and explosives, the pontoons, the fortifications, the torpedo-boats, and the iron-clads—and we shall probably think it not an extravagant estimate that for every ten thousand men in a modern army and navy at least another ten thousand are wholly employed in making the necessary equipment and war-material, the labor of the whole twenty thousand being utterly wasted, inasmuch as all that they produce is consumed, not merely unproductively and uselessly, but destructively. We may fairly estimate, then, that the military preparedness of modern Europe involves a total loss to the community of the labor of about seven million men, and a corresponding amount of animal and mechanical power and of labor-saving machinery. If, now, we consider that the weight of guns, the thickness of armor-plating, the size and engine-power of ships, and the complex requirements of an army in the field, have all been rapidly increasing during the last ten or fifteen years, we may fairly estimate that one fourth or one fifth of this number of men have been abstracted from the productive workers of Europe during the last ten years, the period over which the commercial depression has extended.

Let us next consider the heavy burden of taxation upon all the chief European peoples, the increase of which during recent years has been almost wholly caused by increased military expenditure and the interest on debts incurred for wars or preparations for war, for fortifications, or for military railways. This increase may be best estimated by comparing the expenditure of 1870, the year before the Franco-German War, with that of 1884. During this period of fourteen years our own expenditure has increased from £75,000,000 to £87,000,000; that of Austria from £55,000,000 to £94,000,000; that of France from £85,000,000 to £142,500,000; that of Germany from £54,000,000 to £112,500,000; that of Italy from £40,000,000 to £01,500,000; and that of Russia from £00,000,000 to £114,500,000. Altogether the expenditure of the six great powers of Europe has increased from £345,000,000 to £612,000,000, an additional burden of £200,500,000 a year. The population of these six states is now a little over 200,000,000, so that they have to bear, on the average, an addition of taxation amounting to nearly a pound a head, or about five pounds for each family, a most oppressive amount when we consider the extreme poverty of the masses in all these states, and that even before this period of inflated war expenditure they had already to support a heavy and often an almost unbearable load of taxation. We must, therefore, admit that this great addition to their fiscal burdens in the last fourteen years must have seriously diminished the purchasing power of more than two hundred millions of people, and this alone is calculated to produce, and must actually produce, a depression of trade in all the countries which supply their wants, and therefore in none more seriously than in our own.

There remains yet to be considered the injury done by the actual destruction of life and property which occurs whenever this elaborate and costly war-machinery is put to its destined use. Owing to the wide extent and endless ramifications of modern commerce, wherever life and property are destroyed by war all nations with an extensive foreign trade must feel some of the consequences. When villages and towns are burned or bombarded, crops devastated, and domestic animals taken by invading armies, troops quartered on the inhabitants and forced contributions made, the result must be the impoverishment of the population for several years. For a long time they have a severe struggle even to exist. Their houses have to be rebuilt, their lands to be again cultivated, seed and domestic animals to be procured, fresh capital to be accumulated; and till all this is done they have no means of purchasing foreign goods or of indulging in anything beyond the barest necessaries of life. And, when the war is long and destructive, there is, in addition, the loss of human life, not merely by slaughter in battle, but by the distress and exposure, the disease and famine which are the inevitable consequences of war, a loss often to be counted, not merely by thousands and tens of thousands, but even by millions. And all these lost lives are, from our present point of view, lost customers, and thus still further increase the sum total of injury to commerce which war produces.

Now, during the last twenty years there have been a continued series of wars which have all, more or less, tended to produce these injurious effects. Beginning with the New Zealand war in 1865, we have in succession the Abyssinian war of 1867, the great Franco-German war of 1871-72, the Ashantee war in 1875, the terrible Russo-Turkish war of 1878, the Transvaal, Zooloo, and other South African wars of 1879-'80, the Afghan war of 1881, the Egyptian war of 1883, and the Soudan war perhaps not yet concluded. Who can calculate the amount of life and property destroyed, and the consequent misery and impoverishment of large populations during these twenty years? Traders have, unfortunately, often considered war to be advantageous to them, on account of the rapid and reckless expenditure of public money on war-materials and stores, and the opportunity of making large profits by war-contracts. But this is a very partial effect and limited to but few departments of trade, while the depressing effect of war, in the increased taxation it always involves and in the impoverishment of our customers which it always produces, is certain, widespread, and often enduring. The recent wars in Egypt and the Soudan, whatever other results they may have, will assuredly have the effect of tending still further to prolong and intensify our commercial depression.

If our manufacturers and merchants as a body would consider this question in all its bearings they would surely arrive at the conclusion that all war, wherever or by whomsoever waged, is bad for trade, since it impoverishes alike the winner and the loser, the invader and the invaded, while it inevitably destroys a number of actual or possible customers. The moral arguments against war would doubtless be more generally effective if it were clearly seen that, always and everywhere, its direct and necessary effect is to produce more or less of depression of trade.

But if war injures the capitalist, the manufacturer, and the trader, still more docs it injure the worker, and on this point I can not do better than quote the forcible words of Mr. Mongredien.[2] After describing the various destructive agencies and methods of war, he says: "As wealth dwindles somebody must suffer, and the suffering mainly falls on the poor and weak. The capitalist is mulcted of part of his wealth, but he can wait. The labor-seller is mulcted of the necessaries of life, and he and his dear ones can not wait. The less there is to produce the less there is to distribute. Need we say which class it is that will run short? It is on you, labor-sellers of the world, that the burden chiefly falls. It is you who are the slayers and the slain. You form the rank and file who deal the blows and on whom the blows are dealt. To your chiefs belong the honor and the rewards. As for you, you are under contract to suffer and to cause suffering; to inflict and to endure death; to destroy instead of creating wealth; and to use every effort to suppress the fund out of which labor is paid. The war-system, pernicious to every class, is a special curse to yours. Are you content to view it as a necessity? In this our protest against it, we look for your special assistance by thought, word, and pen. Public opinion is made up of assenting units." Since these words were written the working-men of England have obtained the means not only of verbally protesting, but of actually deciding against war, if it so pleases them. If they will vote for no representatives but such as will pledge themselves to oppose all but strictly defensive wars, and never to begin a war until we are actually attacked, then war will rarely occur, war expenditure will be reduced, and, so soon as other nations follow our example and that of the United States, one of the chief causes of depression of trade will cease to exist.

  1. Chapter V of "Bad Times," by Alfred Russel Wallace, LL.D. Macmillan & Co., 1885.
  2. "Wealth Creation," by Augustus Mongrieden, p. 115.