Popular Science Monthly/Volume 78/January 1911/War and Manhood




THE message I shall attempt to-day is a message of peace through the arraignment of war. My attack shall be made from the side of biology, and my text may be found in these words of Sophocles, "War does not of choice destroy bad men, but good men ever."

I shall leave to those who have had far more experience than I, the discussion of the advantages of law, order and arbitration over brute force, which decides nothing. I shall leave to one side all questions of the relations of war to social, ethical and religious development. I shall leave to others all consideration of the horrors of war, its legacies of sin, and suffering, and life-long agony. I shall not consider the costs of wars long since fought, a burden strapped for all time on the backs of the toilers of Europe. I shall not consider the cost of future wars, never to be fought, but provided for in the budget of every nation, again a burden unbearable on those whose chief relation to the life of nations is the burdens nations needlessly impose. I shall not depict the growing strength of the invisible empire of bondholders who are fast becoming the owners of the civilized world, and whose silent nod determines the issue of every great empire in war or peace.

My message concerns solely the relations of war to manhood, as shown in the succession of generations.

Benjamin Franklin once said:

There is one effect of a standing army which must in time be felt so as to bring about the abolition of the system. A standing army not only diminishes the population of a country, but even the size and breed of the human species. For an army is the flower of the nation. All the most vigorous, stout and well-made men in a kingdom are to be found in the army, and these men, in general, can not marry.

What is true of standing armies is still more true of the armies that fight and fall. Those men who perish are lost to the future of civilization, they and their blood forever. For, as Franklin said again, "Wars are not paid for in war time: the bill comes later."

The last thirty years have seen the period of greatest activity in the study of biology. Among other matters, we have seen the rise of definite knowledge of the process of heredity, and its application to the formation and improvement of races of men and animals. From our scientific knowledge, men have developed the fine art of selective breeding. With men, as with animals, "Like the seed is the harvest." In every vicissitude of race of men or of breed of animals, it is always those who are left who determine what the future shall be.

All progress in whatever direction is conditioned on selective breeding. There is no permanent advance not dependent on advance in the type of parenthood. There is no decline except that arising from breeding from the second-best instead of the best. The rise and fall of races of men in history is, in a degree, conditioned on such elements as determine the rise and fall of a breed of cattle or of a strain of horses. As progress in blood is conditioned on normal selection or the choice of the best for parenthood, so racial decline is conditioned on reversal of selection, the choice of the worst for survival.

Always and ever, says Novicow, "war brings about the reversal of selection." These traits of character, physical strength, agility, courage, dash, patriotism, desired in the soldier, are lost in the race which decrees the destruction of the soldierly. The delusion that war in one generation sharpens the edge of warriorhood in the next generation, has no biological foundation. The man who is left determines always the future.

Once, on the flanks of the Apennines, there dwelt a race of free men, fair and strong, self-reliant and confident. They were men of courage and men of action—men "who knew no want they could not fill for themselves." "They knew none on whom they looked down, and none to whom they regarded themselves inferior." And for all things which men could accomplish, these plowmen of the Tiber and the Apennines felt themselves fully competent and adequate. "Vir," they called themselves in their own tongue, and virile, virilis, men like them are called to this day. It was the weakling and the slave who was crowded to the wall; the man of courage begat descendants. In each generation and from generation to generation the human harvest was good. And the great wise king who ruled them; but here my story halts—for there was no king. There could be none. For it was written, men fit to be called men, men who are Viri, "are too self-willed, too independent, too self-centered to be ruled by anybody but themselves." Kings are for weaklings, not for men. Men free-born control their own destinies. "The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." For it was later said of these same days: "There was a Brutus once, who would have brooked the Eternal Devil to take his seat in Rome, as easily as a king." And so there was no king to cherish and control these men his subjects. The spirit of freedom was the only ruler they knew, and this spirit being herself metaphoric called to her aid the four great genii which create and recreate nations. Variation was ever at work, while heredity held fast all that she developed. Segregation in her mountain fastnesses held the world away, and selection chose the best and for the best purposes, casting aside the weakling, and the slave, holding the man for the man's work, and ever the man's work was at home, building the cities, subduing the forests, draining the marshes, adjusting the customs and statutes, preparing for the new generations. So the men begat sons of men after their own fashion, and the men of strength and courage were ever dominant. The Spirit of Freedom is a wise master; he cares wisely for all that he controls.

So in the early days, when Romans were men, when Rome was small, without glory, without riches, without colonies and without slaves, these were the days of Roman greatness.

Then the Spirit of Freedom little by little gave way to the Spirit of Domination. Conscious of power, men sought to exercise it, not on themselves but on one another. Little by little, this meant banding together, aggression, suppression, plunder, struggle, glory and all that goes with the pomp and circumstance of war. The individuality of men was lost in the aggrandizement of the few. Independence was swallowed up in ambition, patriotism came to have a new meaning. It was transferred from the hearth and home to the trail of the army.

It does not matter to us now what were the details of the subsequent history of Rome. We have now to consider only a single factor. In science, this factor is known as "reversal of selection." "Send forth the best ye breed! "That was the word of the Roman war-call. And the spirit of domination took these words literally, and the best were sent forth. In the conquests of Rome, Vir, the real man, went forth to battle and to the work of foreign invasion; Homo, the human being, remained on the farm and in the workshop and begat the new generations. Thus "Vir gave place to Homo." The sons of real men gave places to the sons of scullions, stable-boys, slaves, camp-followers and the riffraff of those the great victorious army did not want.

The fall of Rome was not due to luxury, effeminacy, corruption, the wickedness of Nero and Caligula, the weakness of the train of Constantine's worthless descendants. It was fixed at Philippi, when the spirit of domination was victorious over the spirit of freedom. It was fixed still earlier, in the rise of consuls and triumvirates and the fall of the simple, sturdy, self-sufficient race who would brook no arbitrary ruler. When the real men fell in war, or were left in far-away colonies, the life of Rome still went on. But it was a different type of Roman which continued it, and this new type repeated in Roman history its weakling parentage.

Thus we read in Roman history of the rise of the mob and of the emperor who is the mob's exponent. It is not the presence of the emperor which makes imperialism. It is the absence of the people, the want of men. Babies in their day have been emperors. A wooden image would serve the same purpose. More than once it has served it. The decline of a people can have but one cause, the decline in the type from which it draws its sires. A herd of cattle can degenerate in no other way than this, and a race of men is under the same laws. By the rise in absolute power, as a sort of historical barometer, we may mark the decline in the breed of the people. We see this in the history of Rome. The conditional power of Julius Caesar, resting on his own tremendous personality, showed that the days were past of Cincinnatus and of Junius Brutus. The power of Augustus showed the same. But the decline went on. It is written that "the little finger of Constantine was thicker than the loins of Augustus." The emperor in the time of Claudius and Caligula was not the strong man who held in check all lesser men and organizations. He was the creature of the mob, and the mob, intoxicated with its own work, worshipped him as divine. Doubtless the last emperor, Augustulus Romulus, before he was thrown into the scrap-heap of history, was regarded in the mob's eyes and his own as the most godlike of them all.

What have the historians to say of these matters? Very few have grasped the full significance of their own words, for very few have looked on men as organisms, and on nations as dependent on the specific character of the organisms destined for their reproduction.

So far as I know, Benjamin Franklin was the first to think of man thus as an inhabitant, a species in nature among other species and dependent on nature's forces as other animals and other inhabitants must be.

In Otto Seeck's great history of "The Downfall of the Ancient World" ("Der Untergang der Antiken Welt"), he finds this downfall due solely to the rooting out of the best (" Die Ausrottung der Besten"). The historian of the "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," or any other empire, is engaged solely with the details of the process by which the best men are exterminated. Speaking of Greece, Dr. Seeck says, "A wealth of force of spirit went down in the suicidal wars." "In Rome, Marius and Cinna slew the aristocrats by hundreds and thousands. Sulla destroyed the democrats, and not less thoroughly. Whatever of strong blood survived fell as an offering to the proscription of the Triumvirate." "The Romans had less of spontaneous force to lose than the Greeks. Thus desolation came to them sooner. Whoever was bold enough to rise politically in Rome was almost without exception thrown to the ground. Only cowards remained and from their brood came forward the new generations. Cowardice showed itself in lack of originality and in slavish following of masters and traditions."

The Romans of the Republic could not have made the history of the Roman Empire. In their hands it would have been still a republic. Could they have held aloof from world-conquering schemes, Rome might have remained a republic, enduring even to our own day. The seeds of destruction lie not in the race nor in the form of government, but in the influences by which the best men are cut off from the work of parenthood.

"The Roman Empire," says Seeley, "perished for want of men." The dire scarcity of men is noted even by Julius Cæsar. And at the same time it is noted that there are men enough. Rome was filling up like an overflowing marsh. Men of a certain type were plenty, "people with guano in their composition," to use Emerson's striking phrase, but the self-reliant farmers, the hardy dwellers on the flanks of the Apennines, the Roman men of the early Roman days, these were fast going, and with the change in the breed came the change in Roman history.

"The mainspring of the Roman army for centuries had been the patient strength and courage, capacity for enduring hardships, instinctive submission to military discipline of the population that lined the Apennines."

With the Antonines came "a period of sterility and barrenness in human beings." "The human harvest was bad." Bounties were offered for marriage. Penalties were devised against race-suicide. "Marriage," says Metellus, "is a duty which, however painful, every citizen ought manfully to discharge." Wars were conducted in the face of a declining birth rate, and this decline in quality and quantity of the human harvest engaged very early the attention of the wise men of Rome.

"The effect of the wars was that the ranks of the small farmers were decimated, while the number of slaves who did not serve in the army multiplied" (Bury).

Thus "Vir gave place to Homo" real men to mere human beings. There were always men enough such as they were. "A hencoop will be filled, whatever the (original) number of hens," said Benjamin Franklin. And thus the mob filled Rome. No wonder the mob-leader, the mob-hero, rose in relative importance. No wonder "the little finger of Constantine was thicker than the loins of Augustus." No wonder that "if Tiberius chastised his subjects with whips, Valentinian chastised them with scorpions."

"Government having assumed godhead took at the same time the appurtenances of it. Officials multiplied. Subjects lost their rights. Abject fear paralyzed the people and those that ruled were intoxicated with insolence and cruelty." "The worst government is that which is most worshipped as divine." "The emperor possessed in the army an overwhelming force over which citizens had no influence, which was totally deaf to reason or eloquence, which had no patriotism because it had no country, which had no humanity because it had no domestic ties." "There runs through Roman literature a brigand's and barbarian's's contempt for honest industry." "Roman civilization was not a creative kind, it was military, that is destructive." What was the end of it all? The nation bred real men no more. To cultivate the Roman fields "whole tribes were borrowed." The man of the quick eye and the strong arm gave place to the slave, the scullion, the pariah, the man with the hoe, the man whose lot does not change because in him there lies no power to change it. "Slaves have wrongs, but freemen alone have rights." So at the end the Roman world yielded to the barbaric, because it was weaker in force. "The barbarians settled and peopled the barbaric rather than conquered it." And the process is recorded in history as the fall of Rome.

"Out of every hundred thousand strong men, eighty thousand were slain. Out of every hundred thousand weaklings, ninety to ninety-five thousand were left to survive." This is Dr. Seeck's calculation, and the biological significance of such mathematics must be evident at once. Dr. Seeck speaks with scorn of the idea that Rome fell from the decay of old age, from the corruption of luxury, from neglect of military tactics or from the over-diffusion of culture.

It is inconceivable that the mass of Romans suffered from over-culture. In condemning the sinful luxury of wealthy Romans, we forget that the trade-lords of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were scarcely inferior in this regard to Lucullus and Apicius, their waste and luxury not constituting the slightest check to the advance of the nations to which these men belonged. The people who lived in luxury in Rome were scattered more thinly than in any modern state of Europe. The masses lived at all times more poorly and frugally because they could do nothing else. Can we conceive that a war force of untold millions of people is rendered effeminate by the luxury of a few hundreds?

Too long have historians looked on the rich and noble as making the fate of the world. Half the Roman Empire was made up of rough barbarians untouched by Greek or Roman culture. (Seeck.)

Whatever the remote and ultimate cause may have been, the immediate cause to which the fall of the empire can be traced is a physical not a moral decay. In valor, discipline and science the Roman armies remained what they had always been and the peasant emperors of Illyricum were worthy successors of Cincinnatus and Caius Marius. But the problem was, how to replenish those armies. Men were wanting. The empire perished for want of men. (Seeley.)

Does history ever repeat itself? It always does if it is true history. If it does not we are dealing not with history, but with mere succession of incidents. Like causes produce like effects, just as often as man may choose to test them. Whenever men use a nation for the test, poor seed yields a poor fruition. Where the weakling and the coward survive in human history, there "the human harvest is bad," and it can never be otherwise.

The finest Roman province, a leader in the Roman world, was her colony of Hispania. What of Spain in history? What of Spain to-day? "This is Castile," said a Spanish writer, "she makes men and wastes them." "This sublime and terrible phrase," says another writer, "sums up Spanish history."

In 1630, according to Captain Calkins, the Augustinian friar, La Puente, thus summed up the fate of Spain:

Against the credit for redeemed souls, I set the cost of armadas and the sacrifice of soldiers and friars sent to the Philippines. And this I count the chief loss: for mines give silver and forests give timber, but only Spain gives Spaniards, and she may give so many that she may be left desolate and constrained to bring up strangers' children instead of her own.

Another of the noblest of Roman provinces was Gallia, the favored land, in which the best of the Romans, the Franks and the Northmen, have mingled their blood to produce a nation of men, hopefully leaders in the arts of peace, fatally leaders also in the arts of war.

In that clever volume of his, Demolins asks: "In what constitutes the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon? "Before we answer this, we may ask, "In what constitutes the inferiority of races not Anglo-Saxon?" If we admit that inferiority exists in any degree, may we not find in the background the causes of the fall of Greece, the fall of Rome, the fall of Spain? We find the spirit of domination, the spirit of glory, the spirit of war, the final survival of subserviency, of cowardice and of sterility. The man who is left holds in his grasp the history of the future. The evolution of a race is always selective, never collective. Collective evolution among men or beasts, the movement upward or downward of the whole as a whole, irrespective of training or selection, does not exist. As Lepouge has said, "It exists in rhetoric, not in truth nor in history."

The survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence is the primal moving cause of race progress and of race changes. In the red stress of human history, this natural process of selection is sometimes reversed. A reversal of selection is the beginning of degradation. It is degradation itself. Can we see the fall of Rome in any part of the history of modern Europe? Let us look again at the history. A single short part of it will be enough. It will give us the clue to the rest.

In the Wiertz gallery in Brussels is a wonderful painting, dating from the time of Waterloo, called Napoleon in Hell. It represents the great marshal with folded arms and face unmoved descending slowly to the land of the shades. Before him, filling all the background of the picture with every expression of countenance, are the men sent before him by the unbridled ambition of Napoleon. Three millions and seventy thousand there were in all—so history tells us—more than half of them Frenchmen. They are not all shown in one picture. They are only hinted at. And behind the millions shown or hinted at are the millions on millions of men who might have been and are not—the huge widening human wedge of the possible descendants of the men who fell in battle. These men of Napoleon's armies were the youth without blemish, "the best that the nation could bring," chosen as "food for powder," "ere evening to be trampled like the grass," in the rush of Napoleon's great battles. These men came from the plow, from the work-shop, from the school, the best there were—those from eighteen to thirty-five years of age at first, but afterwards the older and the younger. "A boy will stop a bullet as well as a man "; this maxim is accredited to Napoleon. "The more vigorous and well born a young man is," says Novicow, "the more normally constituted, the greater his chance to be slain by musket or magazine, the rifled cannon and other similar engines of civilization." Among those destroyed by Napoleon were "the elite of Europe." "Napoleon," said Otto Seeck, "in a series of years seized all the young of high stature and left them scattered over many battle fields, so that the French people who followed them are mostly men of smaller stature. More than once in France since Napoleon's time has the military limit been lowered."

Says Le Goyt, "It will take long periods of peace and plenty before France can recover the tall statures mowed down in the wars of the republic and the first empire."

I need not tell again the story of Napoleon's campaigns. It began with the justice and helpfulness of the Code Napoleon, the prowess of the brave lieutenant whose military skill and intrepidity had caused him to deserve well of his nation.

The spirit of freedom gave way to the spirit of domination. The path of glory is one which descends easily. Campaign followed campaign, against enemies, against neutrals, against friends. The trail of glory crossed the Alps to Italy and to Egypt, crossed Switzerland to Austria, crossed Germany to Russia. Conscription followed victory and victory and conscription debased the human species. "The human harvest was bad." The first consul became the emperor. The servant of the people became the founder of the dynasty. Again conscription after conscription. "Let them die with arms in their hands. Their death is glorious, and it will be avenged. You can always fill the places of soldiers." These were Napoleon's words when Dupont surrendered his army in Spain to save the lives of a doomed battalion.

More conscription. After the battle of Wagram, we are told, the French began to feel their weakness, the Grand Army was not the army which fought at Ulm and Jena. "Raw conscripts raised before their time and hurriedly drafted into the line had impaired its steadiness."

On to Moscow,[2] "amidst ever-deepening misery they struggled on, until of the 600,000 men who had proudly crossed the Niemen for the conquest of Russia, only 20,000 famished, frost-bitten, unarmed spectres staggered across the bridge of Korni in the middle of December."

"Despite the loss of the most splendid army marshalled by man, 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 they breed" to the foreign service, while cautious, thrifty mediocrity filled up the ranks at home.

In his charming studies of "Feudal and Modern Japan," Mr. Arthur Knapp, of Yokohama, returns again and again to the great marvel of Japan's military prowess after more than two hundred years of peace. This was shown in the Chinese war. It has been more conclusively shown on the fields of Manchuria since Mr. Knapp's book was written. It is astonishing to him that, after more than six generations in which physical courage has not been demanded, these virile virtues should be found unimpaired. We can readily see that this is just what we should expect. In times of peace there is no slaughter of the strong, no sacrifice of the courageous. In the peaceful struggle for existence there is a premium placed on these virtues. The virile and the brave survive. The idle, weak and dissipated go to the wall. "What won the battles on the Yalu, in Korea or Manchuria," says the Japanese, Nitobe, "was the ghosts of our fathers guiding our hands and beating in our hearts. They are not dead, these ghosts, those spirits of our warlike ancestors. Scratch a Japanese, even one of the most advanced' ideas, and you will find a Samurai." If we translate this from the language of Shintoism to that of science we find it a testimony to the strength of race-heredity, the survival of the ways of the strong in the lives of the self-reliant.

If after two hundred years of incessant battle Japan still remained virile and warlike, that would indeed be the marvel. But that marvel no nation has ever seen. It is doubtless true that warlike traditions are most persistent with nations most frequently engaged in war. But the traditions of war and the physical strength to gain victories are very different things. Other things being equal, the nation which has known least of war is the one most likely to develop the "strong battalions" with whom victory must rest.

As Americans we are more deeply interested in the fate of our mother country than in that of the other nations of Europe.

What shall we say of England and of her relation to the reversed selection of war?

Statistics we have none, and no evidence of tangible decline that Englishmen will not indignantly repudiate. When the London press in the vacation season fills its columns with editorials on English degeneration, it is something else to which these journalists refer. Their problem is that of the London slums, of sweat-shops and child-labor, of wasting overwork and of lack of nutrition, of premature old age and of' sodden drunkenness—influences which bring about the degeneration of the individual, the inefficiency of the social group, but which for the most part leave no trace in heredity and are therefore no factor in the degeneration of the race. Such degradation is at once cause, effect and symptom—a sign of racial inadequacy, a cause of further enfeeblement and an effect of unjust and injurious social, political and industrial conditions in the past.

But the problem before us is not the problem of the slums. What mark has been left on England by her great struggles for freedom and by the thousand petty struggles to impose on the world the semblance of order called "Pax Britannica," the British peace?

To one who travels widely through the counties of England some part of the cost is plain.

There's a widow in sleepy Chester
Who mourns for her only son;
There's a grave by the Pabeng River—
A grave which the Burmans shun.

This is a condition repeated in every village of England, and its history is recorded on the walls of every parish church. Everywhere can be seen tablets in memory of young men—gentlemen's sons from Eton and Rugby and Winchester and Harrow, scholars from Oxford and Cambridge, who have given up their lives in some far-off petty war. Their bodies rest in Zululand, in Cambodia, in the Gold Coast, in the Transvaal. In England only they are remembered. In the parish churches these records are numbered by the score. In the cathedrals they are recorded by the thousand. Go from one cathedral town to another—Canterbury, Winchester, Chichester, Exeter, Salisbury, Wells, Ely, York, Lincoln, Durham, Litchfield, Chester (what a wonderful series of pictures this list of names calls up!), and you will find always the same story, the same sad array of memorials to young men. What would be the effect on England if all of these "unreturning brave" and all that should have been their descendants could be numbered among her sons to-day? Doubtless not all of these were young men of character. Doubtless not all are worthy even of the scant glory of a memorial tablet. But most of them were worthy. Most of them were brave and true, and most of them looked out on life with "frank blue Briton eyes."

This too we may admit, that war is not the only destructive agency in modern society, and that in the struggle for existence the England of to-day has had many advantages which must hide or neutralize the waste of war.

It suggests the inevitable end of all empire, of all dominion of man over man by force of arms. More than all who fall in battle or are wasted in the camps, the nation misses the "fair women and brave men" who should have been the descendants of the strong and the manly. If we may personify the spirit of the nation, it grieves most not over its "unreturning brave," but over those who might have been but never were, and who, so long as history lasts, can never be. It is claimed that by the law of probabilities as developed by Quetelet, there will appear in each generation the same number of potential poets; artists, investigators, patriots, athletes and superior men of each degree. But this law has no real validity. Its pertinence involves the theory of continuity of paternity, that in each generation a percentage, practically equal of men of superior force or superior mentality should survive to take the responsibilities of parenthood. Otherwise Quetelef s law becomes subject to the operation of another law, the operation of reversed selection, or the biological "law of diminishing returns." In other words, breeding from an inferior stock is the sole agency in race degeneration, as selection natural or artificial along one line or another is the sole agency in race progress.

And all laws of probabilities and of averages are subject to a still higher law, the primal law of biology, which no cross-current of life can overrule or modify: Like the seed is the harvest.

And because this is true, arises the final and bitter truth: "Wars are not paid for in war time. The bill comes later!"

  1. Address (given in German) before the Weltcongress von Freien Christenturn, Berlin, August 7, 1910.
  2. These quotations are from the "History of Napoleon," I., by J. H. Rose.