Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vol. IV: Literature of the Republic, Part I., Constitutional period, 17881820
The Abolition of War
By Noah Worcester (17581837)
[Born in Hollis, N. H., 1758. Died at Brighton, Mass., 1837. A Solemn Review of the Custom of War. 1814.]
SO prone are men to be blinded by their passions, their prejudices, and their interests, that in most private quarrels, each of two individuals persuades himself that he is in the right, and his neighbor in the wrong. Hence the propriety of arbitrations, references, and appeals to courts of justice, that persons more disinterested may judge, and prevent that injustice and desolation which would result from deciding private disputes by single combats, or acts of violence.
But rulers of nations are as liable to be misled by their passions and interests as other men; and, when misled, they are very sure to mislead those of their subjects who have confidence in their wisdom and integrity. Hence it is highly important that the custom of war should be abolished, and some other mode adopted to settle disputes between nations. In private disputes there may be cause of complaint on each side, while neither has reason to shed the blood of the other, much less to shed the blood of innocent family connections, neighbors and friends. So of two nations, each may have cause of complaint, while neither can be justified in making war, and much less in shedding the blood of innocent people who have had no hand in giving the offence.
It is an awful feature in the character of war, and a strong reason why it should not be countenanced, that it involves the innocent with the guilty in the calamities it inflicts, and often falls with the greatest vengeance on those who have had no concern in the management of national affairs. It surely is not a crime to be born in a country which is afterwards invaded; yet in how many instances do war-makers punish, or destroy, for no other crime than being a native or resident of an invaded territory! A mode of revenge or redress which makes no distinction between the innocent and the guilty, ought to be discountenanced by every friend to justice and humanity. Besides, as the rulers of a nation are as liable as other people to be governed by passion and prejudice, there is as little prospect of justice in permitting war for the decision of national disputes, as there would be in permitting an incensed individual to be, in his own cause, complainant, witness, judge, jury and executioner. In what point of view then is war not to be regarded with horror?
That wars have been so overruled by God as to be the occasion of some benefits to mankind, will not be denied; for the same may be said of every custom that ever was popular among men. War may have been the occasion of advancing useful arts and sciences, and even of spreading the gospel; but we are not to do evil that good may come, nor to countenance evil because God may overrule it for good.
But war gives opportunity for the display of extraordinary talentsof daring enterprise and intrepidity?True; but let robbery and piracy become as popular as war has been; and will not these customs give as great opportunity for the display of the same talents and qualities of mind? Shall we therefore encourage robbery and piracy? Indeed it may be asked, do we not encourage these crimes? For what is modern warfare but a popular, refined and legalized mode of robbery, piracy and murder, preceded by a proclamation giving notice of the purpose of the war-maker? The answer of a pirate to Alexander the Great, was as just as it was severe:By what right, said the king, do you infest the seas? The pirate replied, By the same that you infest the universe. But because I do it in a small ship, I am called a robber; and because you do the same acts with a great fleet, you are called a conqueror! Equally just was the language of the Scythian ambassadors to the same deluded monarch, Thou boastest, that the only design of thy marches is to extirpate robbers. Thou thyself art the greatest robber in the world.
Is it not, then, time for Christians to learn not to attach glory to guilt, or to praise actions which God will condemn? That Alexander possessed talents worthy of admiration, will be admitted; but when such talents are prostituted to the vile purposes of military fame by spreading destruction and misery through the world, a character is formed which should be branded with everlasting infamy. And nothing, perhaps, short of the commission of such atrocious deeds, can more endanger the welfare of a community, than the applause given to successful military desperadoes. Murder and robbery are not the less criminal for being perpetrated by a king, or a mighty warrior.
Shall the Christian world, then, remain silent in regard to the enormity of this custom, and even applaud the deeds of men who were a curse to the age in which they lived? On the same principle we may applaud the chief of a band of robbers and pirates in proportion to his ingenuity, intrepedity and address in doing mischief. But if we attach glory to such exploits, do we not encourage others to adopt the same road to fame? Besides, would not such applause betray a most depraved taste; a taste which makes no proper distinction between virtue and vice, or doing good and doing mischief; a taste to be captivated with the glare of bold exploits, but regardless of their end, or the means by which they were accomplished, of the misery they occasion to others, or the light in which they must be viewed by a benevolent God?