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IN these days, since we have evolved into a fighting nation, our young
men feel within them the instinct of battle, which, like Job's steed,
"when it heareth the trumpet, saith: 'ha, ha'; that smelleth the battle
afar off, the encouraging of the captains, the shouting of the army."
Military trappings are no longer looked upon as stage furniture, good
only for Fourth-of-July parades and sham manoeuvers. War with us has
become a stern reality, and promises to continue such, for people do
not yield up willingly their independence, even to a world-power with a
providential "destiny" to fulfil. And since war is slaughter, it might
be apropos to remark on the morality of such killing as is done on the
field of battle and of war in general.

In every war there is a right side and a wrong side; sometimes,
perhaps, more frequently, there is right and wrong on both sides, due
to bungling diplomacy and the blindness of prejudice. But in every case
justice demands the triumph of one cause and the defeat of the other.
To determine in any particular case the side of right and justice is a
very difficult matter. And perhaps it is just as well that it is so;
for could this be done with truth and accuracy, frightful
responsibilities would have to be placed on the shoulders of somebody;
and we shrink instinctively from the thought of any one individual or
body of individuals standing before God with the crime of war on his or
their souls.

Therefore it is that grave men are of the opinion that such a
tremendous event as war is not wholly of man's making, but rather an
act of God, like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and the like; which
things He uses as flails to chastise His people, or to bring them to a
sense of their own insignificance in His sight. Be this as it may, it
is nevertheless true that a private individual is rarely, if ever,
competent to judge rightly by himself of the morality of any given
cause, until such time at least as history has probed the matter and
brought every evidence to light. In case, therefore, of doubt, every
presumption should favor the cause of one's own country. If, in my
private opinion, the cause of my country is doubtfully wrong, then that
doubt should yield to the weight of higher authoritative opinion.
Official or popular judgment will be authority for me; on that
authority I may form a strong probable opinion, at least; and this will
assure the morality of my taking up my country's cause, even though it
be doubtful from my personal point of view. If this cannot be done and
one's conscience positively reprove such a cause, then that one cannot,
until a contrary conviction is acquired, take any part therein. But he
is in no wise bound to defend with arms the other side, for his
convictions are subjective and general laws do not take these into

Who are bound to serve? That depends on the quality of danger to which
the commonwealth is exposed. First, the obligation is for those who can
do so easily; young men, strong, unmarried, with a taste for such
adventure as war affords. The greater the general peril, the less
private needs should be considered. The situation may be such as to
call forth every able-bodied man, irrespective of family necessities.
To shirk this duty when it is plainly a duty--a rare circumstance,
indeed--is without doubt a sin.

Obedience to orders is the alpha and omega of army discipline; without
it a cause is lost from the beginning. Numbers are nothing compared to
order; a mob is not a fighting machine; it is only a fair target. The
issue of a battle, or even of a whole war, may depend on obedience to
orders. Army men know this so well that death is not infrequently the
penalty of disobedience. Consequently, a violation of discipline is
usually a serious offense; it may easily be a mortal sin.

War being slaughter, the soldier's business is to kill or rather to
disable, as many of the enemy as possible on the field of battle. This
disabling process means, of course, and necessarily, the maiming unto
death of many. Such killing is not only lawful, but obligatory. War,
like the surgeon's knife, must often lop off much in order to save the
whole. The best soldier is he who inflicts most damage on the enemy.

But the desire and intention of the soldier should not be primarily to
kill, but only to put the enemy beyond the possibility of doing further
harm. Death will be the result of his efforts in many cases, and this
he suffers to occur rather than desires and intends. He has no right to
slay outside of battle or without the express command of a superior
officer; if he does so, he is guilty of murder. Neither must there be
hate behind the aim that singles out a foe for destruction; the general
hatred which he bestows on the opposing cause must respect the
individual enemy.

It is not lawful to wantonly torture or maim an enemy, whoever or
whatever he may be, however great his crime. Not even the express
command of a superior officer can justify such doings, because it is
barbarity, pure and unmitigated. In war these things are morally just
what they would be if they were perpetrated in the heart of peace and
civilization by a gang of thugs. These are abominations that, not only
disgrace the flag under which they are committed, but even cry to
Heaven for vengeance.



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