Home > Uncategorized > William James: At the least temptation all the old military passions rise and sweep everything before them

William James: At the least temptation all the old military passions rise and sweep everything before them


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

American writers on peace and against war

William James: Selections on war


William James
From his correspondence


The actual declaration of war by Congress, however, was a case of psychologie des foules, a genuine hysteric stampede at the last moment, which shows how unfortunate that provision of our written constitution is which takes the power of declaring war from the Executive and places it in Congress….The European nations of the Continent cannot believe that our pretense of humanity, and our disclaiming of all ideas of conquest, is sincere….And when, in its ultimatum to Spain, Congress denied any project of conquest in Cuba, it genuinely meant every word it said. But here comes in the psychologic factor: once the excitement of action gets loose, the taxes levied, the victories achieved, etc., the old human instincts will get into play with all their old strength, and the ambition and sense of mastery which our nation has will set up new demands. We shall never take Cuba; I imagine that to be very certain – unless indeed after years of unsuccessful police duty there, for that is what we have made ourselves responsible for. But Porto Rico, and even the Philippines, are not so sure. We had supposed ourselves (with all our crudity and barbarity in certain ways) a better nation morally than the rest, safe at home, and without the old savage ambition, destined to exert great international influence by throwing in our “moral weight,” etc. Dreams! Human Nature is everywhere the same; and at the least temptation all the old military passions rise, and sweep everything before them. It will be interesting to see how it will end.

…I am going to a great popular meeting in Boston today where a lot of my friends are to protest against the new “Imperialism.”


I should “admire” to see the Kiplings again, but it is no go. Now that by his song-making power he is the mightiest force in the formation of the “Anglo-Saxon” character, I wish he would hearken a bit more to his deeper human self and a bit less to his shallower jingo self. If the Anglo-Saxon race would drop its sniveling cant it would have a good deal less of a “burden” to carry. We’re the most loathsomely canting crew that God ever made. Kipling knows perfectly well that our camps in the tropics are not college settlements or our armies bands of philanthropists, slumming it; and I think it a shame that he should represent us to ourselves in that light. I wish he would try a bit interpreting the savage soul to us, as he could, instead of using such official and conventional phrases as “half-devil and half-child,” which leaves the whole insides out.

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