The Great Adventure: The Way to Peace, January 1915



"Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good."

PRICE -- TWOPENCE [page 2]



What is the way of the Christian in War time? Can War ever be right? To ask these questions -- and we have all been asking them -- is perhaps to make too large an assumption. It is to assume that, in itself, war is not a good thing; and there are people who argue that it is good, absolutely good, good in itself. But the number of these people in our own country is, I believe, small, and of that small number fewer still are found who have so truly the courage of their opinion as to propose the making of war for its own sake, and to refrain from satisfaction because at the beginning of August, 1914, Sir Edward Grey exhausted every means open to him to secure peace. I shall not, therefore, discuss here the view that war is an absolute good, though it is a perfectly logical and comprehensible view. It is more to the purpose in addressing Christian people, to ask whether war may not sometimes be a necessary evil, or even in comparison with some other alternative, relatively good.

The alternative must certainly be a terrible one; for war, even within the rules of warfare, means the shattering of human bodies, the torturing of human nerves. It means bombarded cities, wrecked industries, and devastated countrysides. It means unmeasured and immeasurable loss to the race in child-life, as well as the lives of the strongest and bravest of its grown men. There is a good deal of rather glib talk at present about the negligible quality of material losses; but to Christians conscious of [page 3] the intense sensitiveness of their Master to human suffering, and the readiness with which He gave Himself to its alleviation, such pain as war inflicts can never be a little thing. There is further the inevitable anger, hatred, and desire for revenge, which the infliction of suffering and the attempt to coerce evokes.

War then is evil. In the words of a soldier, "war is hell." And many Christian people look for the time, however far distant, when we shall make no more wars, and when we shall have found other and less disastrous methods for settling international disputes. After all we have found other means for settling our private quarrels than the duel. It is not too much to hope that war may die a like death, at last. But it will not be without sacrifice and struggle that such an end will come, and it should surely be the hope of every Christian that to the end desired his own country may be ready to sacrifice something.

To everyone, perhaps, it seems that his own nation is a "chosen race." And in a sense too, everyone is right. Each nation, like each individual, has its appointed work, its gift to make to the world. To some of us it seems that England had one of the noblest of all gifts to give, and that this gave her a peculiar responsibility. As -- to take a familiar example -- the Jewish race by its religious genius and its long education was formed to give the religion of Christ to the world, and by its failure made -- we Christians think -- the great refusal; so we English people seemed destined to give the world a new and nobler ideal of international relations. We had already begun to [realize] this ideal. The British Empire, whatever its mistakes and its crimes, is based now on a conception which would have seemed to other empire builders the most fantastic of dreams. No empire has been, before, like the empire whose subjects we are. None has ever so rested on liberty and mutual trust and loyalty. None has been a federation of free and self-governing peoples. We are supposed to be a [page 4] dull and unimaginative race, but, after all, what race has dreamed of such an empire as we have realized? Whether it is because we tried first to exploit and compel -- and so lost America, and brought about the Indian Mutiny, -- or whether through some instinct for freedom, some racial aptitude for government, it is at least a fact that the greatest of all empires rests not on force, but on freedom. And in these last few months we have seen what such an empire has meant to the peoples who make it up.

We then have known in our own experience, what other nations have to take on trust. And because of this peculiar genius of our race, a great responsibility lay with us to give to the world a nobler ideal, not only of empire, but of all international relations. We had nothing to avenge, no injury we could not forgive. We might have taken the great risk, accepted the great adventure -- disarmed.

"If England, in the plenitude of her power, should lay down every weapon of carnal warfare, disband her armies, call her fleets from the sea, throw open her ports, and trust for her continual existence only to the service she would render to the world, and the testimony she would bear to Christ, what would happen? It might be that Christ, Whose 'finished work' is the trust of His people, would declare that the purpose of such a sacrifice is sufficient, and that the example would be enough, and that the nation would continue to be, living and strong in the gratitude of all peoples."*

So Dr. Mackennal wrote in 1904. But we did not heed him. And when 1914 came, and August of 1914, even those who had desired disarmament felt that now it was too late. We were pledged to the [defense] of Belgium, and Belgium was attacked by Germany.  We had arms, and we must use them. To refuse meant national [dishonor], and [dishonor] [page 5] is worse than the worst of wars. And so it followed that in going to war Sir Edward Grey had behind him the whole weight of the nation, not only his own party, not only the war-lovers -- if any love war -- but those who hate and loathe war, those who have toiled for peace, those who are the best Christians as well as the wisest statesmen, and the bravest soldiers among us.

Nevertheless, there are still those who hold that war is always wrong -- for Christians. It is for them that I try to speak.

We were bound indeed to defend Belgium by every means in our power. And I think we were bound, as Christians, to defend her, and to defend France also, when they were threatened, even had we not been further bound by treaties or understandings. To defend the weak is always our duty, when [defense] is any way possible. And I for one agree that to have remained neutral last August would have been worse than to go to war. To stand out, to seek our own safety, to remain spectators only of the agony of Belgium, would have been the basest of all betrayals.

War was better than neutrality, if these were the only alternatives. But is it not tragic that, nineteen hundred years after the Crucifixion, we Christians should still conceive of peace in terms of neutrality? Was Christ, then, "neutral" on the Cross? Or was His life one long act of "non-resistance"? Was it not rather a perpetual resistance to evil, and in spite of apparent failure, a triumphant resistance? Christ was not neutral between God and man, but neither did He make war. He chose another alternative -- He made peace.

What then could we have done? How could we have "made peace"? What we did do will be easily remembered. We invited Germany to a conference in London, submitting to her that we could not stand by and see treaty obligations trampled on, and little nations oppressed. How must that [page 6] have sounded in German ears? "You," they might have retorted, "have defied all your treaty obligations in Egypt, and you are defying them now. You have practically given up even the [pretense] that you are going to observe them. You are the ally of Russia, whose record with regard to 'little nations' is blood-stained. And your own last war was concerned with the annexation of two little Dutch Republics in South Africa. But at the moment -- at the exact moment -- at which treaty obligations become important to your own safety, and the people attacked those whose neutrality is from a military point of view essential to you -- then you rush into the arena as the champion of treaties and the defender of little nations!"

That there is much to be said for us and for Russia in all these matters is not denied. Nor do I at all agree with those who deny the sincerity of the nation's sympathy with Belgium. I see much of "the man in the street," and I am certain that on this point his feeling is wholly sincere, and therefore noble. The one thing that made nearly all of us waver about the war was Belgium, and I shall not deny to others a motive that so strongly moved myself. But I am thinking of the matter as it presented itself to Germany, and I confess I can easily understand that to the Germans we must have seemed to be playing not a comedy merely, but a farce. They refused our invitation. They did not believe in us.

It will be said that the German Government wanted war. Probably that is true. The evidence of war long and carefully prepared for, is strong, though to claim that this means a desire for war comes with ill grace from those who have perpetually urged us on to similar preparations, on the ground that this is the only way in which to secure peace. But I who believe that those prepare for war who expect war, must and do give due weight to the extraordinary condition of preparedness in which Germany has been found. Yet in these days, Governments cannot make wars without [page 7] the support of peoples. The feverish anxiety of every government to get public opinion behind it, is very significant. And in this war, we find to our stupefaction, that every one of the seven nations now at each other's throats in Europe is immovably persuaded that it is acting in self-[defense]! Only by periodic scares has the German Government (and indeed the British one) got its armament votes carried. Only by presenting this war as essentially a defensive one, has the German government been able to range the whole German people behind it.

The fact, therefore, that we were not trusted was crucial. It was useless to argue and to protest. The facts were against us. Had we -- not by words that would have been disbelieved, or protests on which our own record cast a doubt, but by acts -- proved that we, at least, intended no attack, I do not believe the German Foreign Office could have refused to confer with us. I do not believe that the Socialists would have supported the war votes in the Reichstag, or that the Socialist soldiers (estimated to be two-fifths of the German army) would have marched. Had they done so, we could have called, not on our allies only, but on the world to support us in our demand for peace. We could have called on every neutral nation to refuse aid of any kind to the war-maker, and on our allies to make no preparation for war, leaving to the first aggressor the appalling responsibility of marching against an absolutely non-resistant people. We could have called forth the peace-lovers in the world to fling themselves -- if need be -- in front of the troop trains. If millions of men will go out to offer their lives up in war, surely there are those who would die for peace! And if not men, we could have called out women! It would not be for the first time, nor would they have been slow to respond. There are those who are as ready to die for peace as any of the millions who with such generous courage go to war. And had they been organized and ready, there would have been no war. [page 8]

I am aware as I write it that the proposal to disarm, and appeal to the love and pity of humanity sounds strange [today].

Yet not stranger surely than the Sermon on the Mount, still read aloud in our churches, by apparently serious priests, to seemingly receptive congregations. And as certainly as I believe that if we lived after the pattern there set forth, we should [realize] the kingdom of Heaven on earth, so certain am I that if we had disarmed in the first week of last August -- not by an arbitrary decision of the Foreign Office, but on a demand from the people -- there would have been no war. So great a moral miracle would have had its effect. The world would have been changed. No nation would have rushed into war "in self-[defense]." There would have been no war.

In this way only, could we really have saved Belgium. For who, looking at that unhappy country now, will claim that with all our efforts and all our sacrifices, we have "saved" her? "At least we have done our best," says one; "at least we are not [dishonored]." I contend that we did not do our best, and that we are [dishonored]. Look at Belgium now. When we have driven her violators out, what a country shall we hand back to her people! Can we give back her sons and daughters, or build again her ruined industries? No indemnity we can exact or pay can restore the shattered beauty of her cities, and an industry wrecked takes decades to recover -- perhaps it will not recover again. Nor does the case of Belgium stand alone. We great nations stand around the little nations of Europe -- Poland, Finland, Demark, Belgium, the Balkan States -- and behold the best that we have done for them! And now, isolating a single glaring iniquity, we point at Germany, and, like a lot of school-boys in disgrace, cry "He began it!" Began it? Who began it? Which of us is free of blame? What country among us all has broken no treaty and oppressed no weaker member? Every sin against public right has its [page 9] effect in corrupting public morals, and not one of us has hands that are clean. The best we have done is bad. Indeed, there is no safety for the little nations but in peace. Ask them if they would rather have us all armed for their protection, or all disarmed. There would not be a dissentient voice raised on behalf of this sinister protection. The little nations know too well that where force is conceived the only possible basis of international relations, the weak are never safe.

It seems to me then that we are [dishonured], for, though we did not do the worst thing, neither did we do the best. It is true that disarmament meant taking a great risk, for though I believe it would have prevented war, I must also admit that it might have failed. This admitted risk seems a conclusive argument against it to some who ignore the risks of war. But war also is a great adventure. Those who go to war risk defeat, and they rightly glory in their willingness to take that risk in a good cause. When people advocate neutrality, they are met with the boast that England was prepared to risk something in [defense] of her word, and surely they are answered? I, too, would have risked something -- everything indeed -- to win, not a devastated and a ruined Belgium, but Belgium unscathed, untouched. How do we stand as things are? It is actually possible -- God forbid that it should happen, but it is possible -- that we might be unable to drive the German forces out of Belgium. Suppose the French and Russian armies were crushed, it would be a physical impossibility for ours alone to recover Belgium. Yet we might ourselves remain safe, behind the mighty protection of our fleet! Had we disarmed, we should have at least saved Belgium intact, or suffered with her. Is this a [dishonoring] alternative? Or can this be called a failure to redeem our pledges? To me it seems the only way in which we could indeed redeem them, and my complaint is not that we risked too much for that end, but that we risked too little. [page 10]

Nor can it be said that a nation has no right to risk its own destruction. Nations have always claimed that right, and we have applauded them for it. Nations again and again have risked all for freedom. They have been ready to be exterminated rather than yield. The Netherlands in the sixteenth century -- Belgium [today] -- have earned the admiration of the world, because they dared everything for freedom and for [honor]. Will no nation be found ready to die for peace? Or is peace too small a thing to die for? Truly if the nations do not desire peace, none will be found to die for it; only do not let us deceive ourselves by pretending that a nation must not dare all for an ideal, when only [today] we pay our homage to the heroism of little Belgium. Had we been willing, for the peace of the world, to risk all, and had we suffered for it, our suffering would, like the Crucifixion, have been redemptive, and outward failure truest victory. For such a nation could not die, though for nations as for individuals, it is true that they must sometimes lose their lives to save them.

Here, however, we come to a new problem. Behind the question of our pledge to Belgium comes the threat of Germany. Thousands of our soldiers have gone out to give up their lives in order to destroy a false ideal -- militarism. For militarism is an ideal. It is not armies and navies, but the worship of armies and navies -- the belief that might is right, and that the strongest nation has the right to force its government and its ideals on the less powerful. Against this idea we are now fighting, and I also desire to fight.

But is it not time that we abandoned the hope of exterminating heresies by killing heretics? The history of the Christian Church is stained with blood shed in this belief. And it is true that, though very rarely, "heresies" have sometimes been for a time crushed out in blood. But to do this is to fall into a worse heresy -- it is to believe that such cruelty is justifiable. We no longer torture those who disagree with us theologically; but we seek to put a nation [page 11] to the torture still. For war is nothing less than this. It is not a matter only of those who fight, though that is bad enough. It is a matter also of economic pressure, of slow exhaustion, of the inconspicuous unheroic deaths of those who never come near the field of battle. It is children unborn, and babies who die because their mothers are pressed to death with anxiety and fear and overwork. The infant death-rate in Great Britain has gone up with a leap since the war began. What it is in Germany we do not know. But it makes our rules for the protection of non-combatants seem farcical when we face the fact that the desired exhaustion of Germany means -- and must inevitably mean -- the deaths of women and children. "The economic pressure on Germany," said Mr. Lloyd George, in the House of Commons, "is developing satisfactorily." And the applause broke out at once. Economic pressure! It is a graceful phrase for torture; and thinking of the women I know in England whose babies are born dead, from "economic pressure" on their mothers, I ask myself if these are indeed the means by which we shall convert the German people from a false idea.

After all, if and when we have succeeded to the limit of our hopes, when we have Germany beaten, what shall we have proved? That we were stronger than Germany! That we have larger armies and more powerful navies, and greater financial resources! Is that the way to persuade anyone that armies and navies are not above all desirable and necessary things? Lord Haldane counts up the population of Germany and her allies; of England and hers; and points triumphantly to our greater numbers. Mr. Lloyd George reckons up our revenues, and boasts that we can go on raising another hundred million when Germany is drained. And when we have done it, shall we have proved that we are right? By no means; only that we are more numerous and more rich.

It is arguable, I admit, that the failure of Prussia may have its effect in weakening the trust of Germany in Prussian [page 12] ideals. They may conceivably [realize] that the same desire to domineer which has created the [marvelous] mechanism of their army has brought against it almost a world in arms. I do not expect it, for it seems to me almost more clear-sightedness than one can expect of broken and humiliated nations. It seems to me far more likely that a defeated country will merely wish it had sacrificed yet more to a still mightier army, or blame its diplomatists (rather than its soldiers) for their stupidity in trying to fight everybody at once. Still, defeat is sometimes -- if it is not a vindictive or shameful defeat -- good for a nation, and it may conceivably be good for Germany. But while this remains a very disputable point, it is at least equally questionable whether victory may not establish the heresy of militarism in the heart of our own country. I have not, I confess, observed much growth of pacifism in Germany, but I have seen much growth of militarism at home. Once more we seek to destroy a heresy by violence, and we enthrone that very heresy in our own hearts. The desire to "avenge Scarborough," the determination to crush the enemy altogether, the hatred of individual "alien enemies," the belief that war is after all a good thing, as well as an inevitable thing -- all this, which is the very opposite of Christianity, is openly professed by people who are quite unaware that they are not Christians. We seek to convert the Prussian from his heresy, but we ourselves know not what spirit we are of.

There is only one way to kill a wrong idea. It is to set forth a right idea. You cannot kill hatred and violence by violence and hatred. You cannot make men out of love with war by making more effective war. Satan will not cast out Satan, though he will certainly seek to persuade us that he will, since of all his devices this has been throughout the ages the most successful. To make war in order to make peace! How beguiling an idea! To make Germans peaceable by killing them with torpedoes and machine-guns [page 13] -- that does not sound quite so well. Yet this is what we set out to do when we "fight German militarism" with the weapons of militarism.

You cannot kill a wrong idea except with a right idea. This warfare is the most heroic of all, and heroism will always move mankind. It is the heroism of war, not its cruelty, that leads all the world after it. Whose heart is not stirred, whose breath does not come faster, when the soldiers pass us in the street? Look at their faces, and [realize] how much they are prepared to sacrifice. [Every one] of them faces death, and there are things worse than death, and they go gaily to face all these things. Is it not heroic? Well, I tell you that there is a mightier heroism still -- the heroism not of the battle, but the cross; the adventure not of war, but of peace. For which is the braver man when all is said -- the man who believes in armaments, or the man who stakes everything on an idea? Who is the great adventurer -- he who goes against the enemy with swords and guns, or he who goes with naked hands? Who is the mighty hunter -- he who seeks the quarry with stones and slings, or he who, with St. Francis, goes to tame a wolf with nothing but the gospel? We peace people have made of peace a dull, drab, sordid, selfish thing. We have made it that ambiguous, dreary thing -- "neutrality." But Peace is the great adventure, the glorious romance. And only when the world conceives it so, will the world be drawn after it again. "I, when I am lifted up, will draw all men unto Me."

But after all, our nation is now at war. And for this we are all responsible. The temper which makes war possible is created by us all, and no one can say he had no part in it. Now, therefore, it seems, we should be silent about peace. To speak against the war we all have made seems a kind of disclaimer of responsibility, a treachery to those who are fighting and dying in France. We ought -- so think many of the best and truest of my fellow-Christians -- now, for very shame, to "stand in with the nation," and [page 14] to help them do the best they can. "If we are to be damned for this war," said one disputant to me, "let us all suffer together. I am not going to stand out, and try to save my own soul."

There is a noble recklessness in this attitude which makes an almost irresistible appeal. For in all the teaching of Christ this glorious recklessness is present, and no quality is more truly Christian than the willingness to lose even one's soul for others. The New Testament itself could not, in a sense, rise higher than the Old, which said -- "Blot me, I pray Thee, out of the Book of Life."

Those who go to war in such a spirit will assuredly do -- what indeed they are careless whether they do or not -- they will save their souls. But they will not, I think, serve their generation as they might have served it. For if it is true that Christian ethics can never rise higher than the level once reached in the Old Testament, it is also true that in the light of Christ's life we can see further into the truth. No teacher ever set so great a value on the love and loyalty of man to man, or more sternly rebuked those who sought to stand apart from humanity. Those who in Christ's parable are found fit for the Kingdom are not those who believed rightly or prayed well, or kept themselves without blame, but those who, in corporal works of mercy, served their fellow-men. "If a man love not his brother whom he hath seen, how shall he love God, Whom he hath not seen?" There is no evading such a challenge.

And yet beside it stands that other tremendous claim of Christ. "Whosoever loveth his father or mother more than Me, he is not worthy of Me. . . . If a man hate not his father and mother, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." Can we evade this challenge either? Or how shall we be true to both?

I think we shall be true to men when we are true to Christ, and that by no conceivable tragedy shall we ever find that to do less than the best we can see, is the best that [page 15] we can do for our fellow-men. Not less strange, if we [realized] it, than the paradox of Christ's teaching is the paradox of Christ Himself. For it is not a paradox that He, who alone among men was sinless, should be to us the eternal type of humanity itself? "Ecce Homo" -- Behold the Man! The Son of Man, no less than Son of God, because so do we crave after perfection that only in a perfect man do we, imperfect, sin-stained beings, find the human type we [recognize]. In this paradox lies the solution of our problem of conflicting loyalties. Evil is always disloyalty to man, as well as God; and less than the best that we can do and see of the ideal is less than perfect loyalty to both. If war is wrong, we shall do well to preach this doctrine even now, when every nerve thrills with the desire to be "one with the nation," and every past sin and error of our own cries out against our raising such a standard. How often when we are most alone, are we indeed most loyal to our race! How often, when we seem most at one with the world, do we indeed betray it! There comes a moment, perhaps, when one who is speaking achieves a great sympathy with his audience; when he knows that with a word, a phrase, he can strike out the laughter or applause which makes electric his touch upon them. Perhaps even as he says it, he betrays them, and would, that word left unsaid, have been more true. This thrill of sympathy the peacemaker [today] foregoes; nor will he count it a great thing to bear if he is reproached with treachery. For we who seek peace know best how often we have in our own souls made war, and we shall not find the world's judgment on us too harsh. But neither will we now betray what has been too often betrayed, or keep silent on what we believe to be the truth. Truth does not come to men in easy ways, nor will it ever come by those who see a vision, and put it by as a thing too fair for the present hour, to be [realized] some day. It will be [realized], but only when those who see it, however dimly, live up to all they see at any cost. It will come by [page 16] no automatic process of revelation, but by the blood and sweat of those who see it now. "He that doeth the will shall know of the doctrine," and through him the world. This is loyalty both to Christ and to "our brother whom we have seen."

And here I seem to find a proof of this; for it is noticeable that many agree that peace is better than war, but hold the world not ready yet for such teaching. I cannot so separate myself from the world, and to me the separation involved in preaching that here and now war is wrong, when so many think it right, is less real than the separation implied in the belief that I can see a vision others cannot. I am convinced that what I can see others can see, and nothing will persuade me that the world is not "ready" for an ideal for which I am ready. To us who plead for peace, the idea that we stand apart from other men in our capacity for idealism, would be grotesque, if it were not tragic. We are certain that we can serve only by giving the best we have and see; not by withholding any part of it because we judge "the world" not ready yet.

For the truth, as they see it, men are laying down their lives [today] in Belgium and in France. And we who see another truth -- shall we be less true to it than they? Not so does the world go forward. "We are all trying to see," said one to me the other day; "if you think you see something we do not, tell it us. Truth is more to us than Victory." Let us, also, believe this. We cannot sacrifice the Christian ideal even to a national necessity. Truth is more than victory. Christ indeed consecrated patriotism, as He consecrated every earthly love. He taught us that love is all one, and all divine, because it is love. But in spite of His own love for the Jewish race, His anguish as He foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem, He would not sanction war. He might have led a revolt against the cruel tyranny of Roman rule in Palestine, and -- whether in success or failure -- have added another name to the long list of [page 17] patriot-heroes who shed their blood for their country. Yet He refused. Was He more or less true to humanity by that refusal?

Truth is more than victory. We cannot tell whether defeat or triumph is best for a nation, or whose success upon the battle-field is better for the world. But we know that only he who is ready to die for an ideal can truly be said to be loyal to that ideal, and this hard saying is true of nations as of men. What is the Christian ideal? Submission to evil? Resignation to the sufferings of others? No -- "Be not overcome with evil -- but overcome evil with good." [page 18]

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*"Life and Letters of Alexander Mackennal, D.D.," by Dugald Macfadyen, p. 257.