War Has Its Compensations

War Has Its Compensations  (1917) 
by Henry Watterson

Awarded the 1918 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing, first published in Louisville, Kentucky on April 10, 1917.

The man who is for peace at any price—who will fight on no provocation—for no cause—is apt to be either what men call "a poor creature," or an impostor set on by ulterior considerations. He may have an unworthy motive, or a selfish interest, or he may be the victim of the coward's fear of battle, or be obsessed by the doctrinaire's theory of universal brotherhood. But, craven or crank, or scheming rogue, he dishonors the noble heritage of manhood which, being common to us all, is only prized and extolled in conspicuous cases of sacrifice or prowess.

Pacifism as it has shown itself in these times of emergency has been compounded of each of these ingredients. But it would not have shown itself so strong if it had not been definitely organized, nor definitely organized if it had not been sufficiently financed. The Hague Arbitration movement, backed in this country by the Carnegie Foundation—actually started by the dethroned Czar of Russia—proposed a benefaction to humankind which few if any were disposed to question. It built itself upon a generally accepted truth. The gospel of "peace on earth, goodwill to men," was preached as never before. Professional warriors arrayed themselves in its behalf. Civilized nations flocked to the new religion and raised the benign standard. Many treaties embodying its aims were negotiated. One, and one alone, of the great Powers held out. That was Germany. Why, we now see clearly what we then did not see at all.

How much, if any, of the Carnegie Foundation money has been applied to the recent agitations against war with Germany, we know not. The activities of Mr. Bryan and of Dr. Jordan would lead to the conclusion that it has not been idle, or grudging, since neither of them works for nothing. But it is quite certain that it has been cunningly supplemented and enormously increased by money sent from Berlin to maintain a propaganda to divide our people and paralyze our Government. The prosecution of this now becomes treason and the pacifist who adheres to it is a traitor.

The conspirator who, claiming to be a pacifist, engaged in the nefarious business will be at no loss to save his skin. If he be a German emissary sent over for the purpose he has only to slip away. If he be a Kaiser reservist masquerading as an American citizen he can shift his foot and change his coat. If he be a selfish politician of the Stone-La Follette variety, with an eye to the Hyphenated Vote, he can wink his other eye, hoist the flag and sing "The Star Spangled Banner" as lustily as the rest.

Those who are most in danger and only in danger are the honest simpletons who stick to it that war is crime; that we have no case against Germany, but, if we have, that it will keep; who go around mouthing socialistic and infidelistic platitudes about a paradisaic dreamland which exists nowhere outside their muddled brains. They cannot see that we have pursued peace to the limit and that peace longer pursued will prove more costly than war. Perverse and egotistical, prompted by the half truths of defective education, uninspired by ideals having any relation to the state of the country, or the spiritual needs of existence, they will not stop their vain chatter until, obstructing enlistments, or menacing public works, they land in jail.

It is grievous that this should be so. Yet it were not occasion for serious comment except that there is a middle class of nondescripts who are more numerous than an earnest and luminous patriotism would have them; men, who were born without enthusiasm and have lived to make money; men, with whom "business is business;" men who are indifferent to what happens so it does not happen to them, in short, men who recall the citation from "The Cricket On the Hearth," put into the mouth of Caleb Plummer:

"There was a jolly miller and he lived upon the Dee.
He sang to himself, 'I care for nobody and nobody cares for me,'"

"A most equivocal jollity," as Dickens does not fail to remark.

These people have sprung from the over-commercialism of fifty years of a kind of uncanny prosperity. Their example has affected injuriously the nation's reputation and has trenched perilously upon the character and habits of the people. It needs to be checked. They need a lesson. Nothing short of the dire exigencies which have come upon us would reach a mass so dense and stoic, so paltry and sordid, so unworthy of the blessings which the heroism of the fathers have secured them. That check and lesson they are about to receive. War is not wholly without its compensations.


The woman who is for peace at any price—whose imagination is filled with the horror of war—who, true to her nature, shrinks from bloodshed—is not as the man who skulks from the line and lowers alike the flag of his country and his manhood. Ah, no! Peace is the glory of woman. Not upon the soul-stirring field of battle—the rather in the dread field hospital after the battle—are her trophies to be found.

Well may she stand out against the strife of nations—yet equally with brave men she has her place in the orbit of duty and valor—and, when there is no peace, when war has come, the woman who whines "I did not raise my boy to be a soldier" forfeits her right and claim to be considered only a little lower than the angels, dishonors the genius of Womanhood and removes herself from the company and category of the heroic mothers of the world.

War, horrible as war is—"Hell," as a great warrior said it was—is not without its compensations. No man has more than one time to die. In bringing the realization of death nearer to us war throws a new light upon life. The soldier is a picked man. Whether he be a soldier in arms, or a soldier of the cross, his courage, his loyalty, his love and faith challenge the confidence of men and the adoration of women. If he falls he has paid his mortal debt with honor. If he survives, though crippled, he is not disabled. His crutch tells its own story and carries its mute appeal, and there is an eloquence, though silent, resistless, in the empty sleeve.

Christendom stands face to face with the dispersion of some of its cherished ideals. There is much in its Bible that must needs be retranslated and readjusted. Although this will arouse the theologians, they will have to meet it.

Where this present cataclysm will leave us no man can foresee. Our world is, and will still remain, a world of sin, disease and death. This no man can deny. Science is minimizing disease. Death being certain, can creeds or statutes extirpate sin? Can they change the nature of man?

Before all else they must chasten it. For two thousand years theologic controversy has not only kept the world at war, but has driven its inhabitants further apart. It may be that this world war has come to cleanse the earth and to bring all tribes and races to a better understanding of what Christendom is, since there is no reason to doubt that the essential principles of Christianity will continue to dominate the universe. 'Tis a long way, we are told, to the Tipperary of Hibernia, but yet a longer to the Millennial Tipperary of Scriptural mythology. The Christ-child must be born again in the heart of man. At this moment it is not the star of Bethlehem that shines. It is the luminary of the war god. The drums beat as for the men of old. "To your tents, O Israel comes the word out of the deeps of the far away, and from highway and byway, as if in answer, the refrain "Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching."

Yet the Associated Press dispatches carry the following:

"Washington, April 7—Continuation of the pacifist fight on President Wilson's war programme was forecast to-day when the fifty Representatives who voted against the war resolution received the following identic telegram from Lelia Fay Secor, secretary of the Emergency Peace Federation:
'On behalf of the Emergency Peace Federation I thank you for your patriotic stand in opposition to war. May I request that you communicate at once with Representative Kitchin, to whom I have written a letter suggesting co-operation between ourselves and the pacifists in congress.'
"Mr. Kitchin is at his home in North Carolina and details of the scheme outlined in the letter to him could not be learned. He announced before leaving Washington that his opposition to the War programme would end with his vote against the resolution."

"Scissors!" shrieks Lelia Fay.

"Scissors!" cries good Mrs. Garrison Villard.

And away off yonder from the limb of a tree the Dickey bird, impersonated by Claude Kitchin, responds, "Not on your life, ladies!"


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.

The author died in 1921, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 99 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.