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

ecome 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.