Home > Uncategorized > Charles A. Blanchard: What is war? Is peace possible?

Charles A. Blanchard: What is war? Is peace possible?

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

American writers on peace and against war

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Charles A. Blanchard, D. D.
The Kingdom of Peace – A Peace Sermon

“And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor,
Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”
Isa. 9: 6.

Today throughout a large part of the civilized world men are giving themselves to thought concerning the folly and sin of war. It is well that we join with them in this meditation, for war has been from the beginning and until now one of the results of sin and one of the most fearful curses which have afflicted the human race.

If we did not know what we know we could not believe that human beings would spend their energies in butchering one another, as throughout so many centuries they have done. I do not believe that even now one man in a thousand, one woman in a thousand, knows what war actually is. We read in books of war; most of us do not see it. If we see armies, the rule is that it is in time of peace that we see them. The martial music, the uniforms, the thunder of the cavalry and artillery, and the tramp of the marching feet of thousands of men – all this impresses the imagination pleasantly. How few get beyond it, or think of war as the horrible thing it actually is.

A soldier told me that his first experience in field hospital work was at Harpers Ferry when Lee was invading the North. He said that the sight of streaming blood; of pale, drawn faces; of gaping, ghastly wounds; of arms and legs cut off and thrown into a corner until there was a wagonful, and then carried off and thrown into a pit and covered with quicklime and earth, and another load sawed off and hurried away, was so unspeakably horrible that these scenes haunted him, waking and sleeping, for days ; and yet, he said that in a few short months on the battlefield he could sit down on the dead body of a fellow-soldier, drink from his canteen, eat from his haversack, and rise up to kill again. If this were all, it would be quite sufficient; but it is not all. These men who were thus made meat for the cannon and rifle were, every one of them, from homes; and mothers, and wives, and sisters, and baby brothers, and little children watched for their return, watched for the return of thousands who never came back, and for the return of other thousands who, crippled and maimed, came back to die. No eye but God’s has ever seen the tears that war has caused. No heart but His has ever heard the sobs and cries of wives and little children which have burst forth when news has come from the field of battle or from the hospital wards.

How can people understand war! It is so inexpressibly horrible that the human race would rise en masse and blot from the earth the men who should propose it, but that we are so ignorant of what a foul and loathsome thing it actually is.

What is War?

War is an attempt to settle, by killing men, questions about which nations differ. The side which kills the largest number of people, or is most easily able to stand the frightful cost, becomes the victor in the strife, and the victor may be the one which has righteousness on its side or the one which has grossly and shamelessly trampled on the rights of the sister nation. In former days personal differences were settled in the same manner. Two men disagreed respecting some matter of personal interest, and in place of settling the difference by conferences, or by reference to third parties or by the law, one assaulted the other with his fists or with a club or with a knife or with a gun, and in this way they decided their dispute.

It is, I believe, generally agreed-at this time that the duel was a system fit only for savage and barbarous people. Except in belated regions, where it yet lingers, it has been abandoned by the whole civilized world; but the principle which is involved in the duel is, so far as I can understand, identical with that which is involved in war. The difference is that war involves the slaughter of hundreds of thousands, where the duel costs the death of one or two.

The Call to Peace.

We have witnessed in our time a most remarkable movement. I speak of The Hague Conferences and the results which have already been attained by them. When the Czar of Russia first proposed this conference a smile of incredulity or a laugh of unbelief seemed to fill the world. The most absolute despot in the world, with the largest and most formidable army at his command, was calling for a conference in the interests of peace. It seemed a grim and terrible joke. I am not settled in my own mind at present as to what his thought really was, but whatever it was it is certain that the result has been a long step in advance in the interests of world peace. The road to this end is so short that it seems incredible that the nations should wander in the wilderness of national bankruptcy before they take it. All that the nations of the world need to do to secure peace is to stop preparations for war. Is not this so obvious as to seem superfluous when mentioned? Probably with the disarmament of the nations there would be created an international police, a dozen or twenty great warships, with a compact body of armed men who would be subject to the call of the international court for the suppression, sudden and complete,of an uprising if any nation should dare to disturb the harmony of the world.

Of course, with disarmament and the creation of the international police, there would naturally be an international court, to which would be referred matters of disagreement between nations, just as civil courts now deal with differences between individuals.

All this would not cost money. It would save money. It would save thousands of millions of dollars, not once or twice, but every year, for the nations of the world. Why cannot steps in this direction be taken at once? Why should there be today five millions of men in armed camps, set apart from the industrial world, parasites on the labor of the world, while at the same time an army of men is housed in ships of war, not carrying from shore to shore food for the hungry, clothing for the naked, or comforts for those who need, but at best going from port to port for foolish display; at worst going from port to port to hurl men into untimely graves.

I think it one of the marvels of human history that such an assembly as met in the last Peace Conference at The Hague should have been unable to agree on this simple proposition, that the nations of the world should disarm. The pulpit and the press of every civilized nation ought to speak in thunder tones from day to day and from year to year.until the curse and ignominy of war is blotted from the world.

Vignette of the War System.

I was going to a train one rainy morning in the ancient city of Munich. As I paused on the curb to allow an ox-team drawing a load of wood to pass, I noticed that it was driven by a woman. She was gray-haired and was dressed in the short, heavy skirt of the peasants of Bohemia, and had a man’s hat pushed down over her gray locks, from which on every side the rain was dripping. As she plodded along through the mud, guiding her load of wood, I saw a cab with a fine horse, evidently just from the stable. Above was seated the driver in his raincoat and with his long whip, and within sat a young army officer dressed in a beautiful uniform, drawing the rain-shield up to prevent the rain from soiling his uniform. I stood like one riveted to the pavement while I remembered that that peasant woman, with her gray hairs and poor clothing, was driving that ox-cart through the street so that that young man might be riding in that cab; that she. and others like her were paying for the uniform he wore and the food he ate, and paying his expenses when he traveled on the train. It was an expression of the miseries which are driving millions to leave Europe for America each year.

Young men, strong and stalwart, with hearts full of patriotic feeling, flee from the lands where they were born because unwilling to endure the degradation of military service. No private soldier dare resent an insult from an officer. How could he? His very life is in the hands of the officer and others like him. He is made a slave; scarcely even a slave, rather a machine. His conscience is destroyed. If he is ordered to shoot his mother or his father or his brother, he must shoot or be shot. He has no right to inquire whether the war in which his nation engages is right or wrong. All he has to do is to obey his officers. When they say drill, he must drill; when they say eat, he must eat; when they say sleep, he must sleep; when they say march, he must march; when they say kill, he must kill. It makes no difference whether the contention is right or wrong, whether the people he is to kill be guilty or not, whether the nation he is required to assault is wrong Or wronged. It makes no difference; he must do the work he is ordered to do.

The Fate of the Deserter.

I was reading recently in one of the stories of our own Civil War respecting the execution of a deserter. The writer said it was the purpose of the commanding officers to make executions for desertion as impressive as possible, and so the whole army was mustered on three sides of a hollow square. On the fourth side was a grave for the man or men who were to be shot by their comrades in arms. The men were driven clear around the three sides of the hollow square, that they might be seen by all their comrades. Each man, sitting on his coffin, finally reached the grave which had been prepared for him. He got out of his wagon, the coffin was lifted down to the ground, and at the word of command these young men, full of life and hope, were sent in a moment, by the bullets of possibly their friends, into eternity. Executions for desertion, for sleeping at post, and for other military offenses were so common in the army at one time that there came to be a regular appointment for these executions week by week. The stories which are told of Lincoln and his unwillingness to consent to these slaughter-house practices are familiar to all; but Lincoln was not a common ruler, and his practices have never been the practices of the Government.

In this day we may hope that such bloody transactions as have been the familiar history, the whole history, of war are not to be seen- may never return. But war has written its own history, and we know it to be the bloody, horrible thing that it actually is, and the children and the school, and the mothers and the fathers of the boys who must fight the battles of the future, if battles are to be fought, ought never to cease from efforts to reveal the cruel character of this godless and wretched system.

The Universal Curse.

I have dealt with you thus largely on the brutalities of war as revealed in the lives and work of the armed men. But this is only one side of this miserable subject. I recently heard an address in which a thoughtful man said: “Every one who has read the history of war knows that an army of fighting men involves also an army of fallen women.” How could it be otherwise? Here are millions of young men taken out of homes at the time when they should be establishing homes of their own, or when their homes are recently established, and these men are refused marriage. Not one of the sanctifying home influences may they know until their term of enlistment is expired. In times of peace these men are almost necessarily condemned to practice vice, and if they practice vice, that involves the ruin of others than themselves. Governments all know this, and all consent to it, and when they deny that they consent to it, as for example the English government respecting its army in India, witnesses, have arisen by hundreds and proved them liars. Can you people who sit in these pews imagine how statesmen and generals who have wives whom they honor and daughters they love and sons of whom they are proud, can consent to the havoc caused by war? Would they be willing that their own sons should thus be destroyed, their own daughters become the victims of camps? You say: “No; they would be horrified at the thought.” But if so, how can they consent to the death of others who must die? Why is it worse for the daughter of a cabinet minister to be ruined by camp life than for the daughter of a peasant who toils in the fields while the cabinet minister sits in the parliament house? The whole war system is based on the theory that the poor and inconspicuous may properly be made the victims of those who are more fortunate. Why would it not settle matters of difference between England and Germany as well if five hundred men, including all generals and civil officers, should meet five hundred from the other nation and should fight until one side or the other was whipped, and then make peace? Why would not this be just as rational and as just a settlement as to call the poor lads from their business and the girls from their homes and destroy the one for the vices of men and shoot the other to pieces on the field of battle, and after a while make peace? The answer is not far to seek. The generals do not wish to be killed, do not expect to be killed. They know they may be killed, but they hope to return from fields of battle. They hope that the poor bodies heaped in the trenches and covered with quicklime and earth will be the bodies of the common soldiers, and from experience they know that this is the way the thing works out. If they come home they expect, or their friends demand, great sums of money, civil offices, and all sorts of services, and the men who have decreed the strife are the men who sit in council houses.

Is Peace Possible?

I imagine that in most efforts for improving the world discouragement has been a greater obstacle than indisposition. Men are always saying they would fight against the liquor business or any other curse if their fellows would. This fall, when fifteen millions of Americans will vote to continue the trade in strong drink, probably at least ten millions of them would say this: “If the rest would consent to the abolition we would consent, but the others will not consent, and so we will vote for our parties.” It is so, I imagine, as to the war system. One nation says: “We do not wish to fight, but the others want to fight and are getting ready to fight, and we must be ready to meet them,” and the other nation says exactly the same, and so the awful game goes on. Warship after warship is wrung from the scanty means of the suffering people ; improved warships are turned out; ammunition of new and different sorts is discovered; chemists are busy in their laboratories laboring to invent explosives which will do the work more completely; drill masters are showing men how to use explosives or arms in a way to be most effective in killing, and this burden is continued because each nation says, whether it believes it or not, that the other nations are plotting its overthrow. If they could only accept the truth of our text they would be saved from this insanity.

The world largely calls itself Christian at this time. It is a strange and terrible fact that the wars of the world have been so largely inaugurated and carried forward by nations which wished to be called Christian. It was a prophetic note that was sounded by the Chinese government recently when one of their ministers said: “We have always considered it unworthy of a civilized people to settle disputes by war, but the war systems of the western nations are such that we are compelled to enter on preparations for national defense. What a fearful caricature of Christian civilization is found in the war attitude of the so-called Christian nations to day! The Prince of Peace is the One who is to bring peace to the troubled nations of the world as well as to the hearts of men; and yet war and preparations for war are on every side, and Sabbath after Sabbath in hundreds of thousands of churches people are singing and preaching about the Prince of Peace.

But He Must Reign.

It is a comfort to one who knows the awful annals of the past and who reads the stories of the thirty years’ war, or of any war, and hears what untold miseries and burdens are heaped by it on human hearts and homes, to reflect that there is a growing longing for the coming of the kingdom of our Lord. He must reign. Why must He reign? Because He is the Creator of the world; because He has made these bodies which are to be torn and mangled, these hearts which are to suffer until they break; because He cannot consent that the fields which He has made for joy and comfort of men should become stained and fattened by the blood and bodies of those who should till them; because men were created in His image and for His glory, and because He cannot be denied His rights in the perfection of His creation. And He will reign, not as a Prince of War; before Him will not go trumpets sounding battle; after Him will not go men crazed and eager for the blood of their fellow-men, but a host of the armies of Peace. His kingdom is not to be built on the mangled forms of men, but upon the happiness and prosperity of the creatures whom He has made. And His kingdom is as sure to come as tomorrow’s sun to rise.

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