For the conduct of war: at the first, men rested extremely upon number; they did put the wars likewise upon main force and valour, pointing days for pitched fields, and so trying it out upon an even match; and they were more ignorant in ranging and arraying their battles. After they grew to rest upon number, rather competent than vast; they grew to advantage of place, cunning diversions, and the like; and they grew more skilful in the ordering of their battles.
There was a soldier that vaunted before Julius Cæsar of the hurts he had received in his face. Cæsar, knowing him to be but a coward, told him, You were best take heed, next time you run away, how you look back.
War is the matter which fills all history, and consequently the only or almost the only view in which we can see the external of political society is in a hostile shape; and the only actions to which we have always seen, and still see all of them intent, are such as tend to the destruction of one another.
The first accounts we have of mankind are but so many accounts of their butcheries. All empires have been cemented in blood; and, in those early periods, when the race of mankind began first to form themselves into parties and combinations, the first effect of the combination, and indeed the end for which it seems purposely formed, and best calculated, was their mutual destruction. All ancient history is dark and uncertain. One thing, however, is clear,there were conquerors, and conquests, in those days; and, consequently, all that devastation by which they are formed, and all that oppression by which they are maintained.
But these disputes ended as all such ever have done, and ever will do; in a real weakness of all parties; a momentary shadow and dream of power in some one; and the subjection of all to the yoke of a stranger, who knows to profit of their divisions.
I intended, my lord, to have proceeded in a sort of method in estimating the numbers of mankind cut off in these wars which we have on record. But I am obliged to alter my design. Such a tragical uniformity of havoc and murder would disgust your lordship as much as it would me; and I confess I already feel my eyes ache by keeping them so long intent on so bloody a prospect.
I shall draw to a conclusion of this part, by making a general calculation of the whole. I think I have actually mentioned above thirty-six millions. I have not particularized any more. I dont pretend to exactness; therefore, for the sake of a general view, I shall lay together all those actually slain in battles, or who have perished in a no less miserable manner by the other destructive consequences of war, from the beginning of the world to this day, in the four parts of it, at a thousand times as much; no exaggerated calculation, allowing for time and extent. We have not perhaps spoke of the five-hundredth part; I am sure I have not of what is actually ascertained in history.
Shall I, to justify my calculations from the charge of extravagance, add to the account those skirmishes which happen in all wars, without being singly of sufficient dignity in mischief to merit a place in history, but which by their frequency compensate for this comparative innocence? shall I inflame the account by those general massacres which have devoured whole cities and nations; those wasting pestilences, those consuming famines, and all those furies that follow in the train of war? I have no need to exaggerate; and I have purposely avoided a parade of eloquence on this occasion.
The numbers I particularized are about thirty-six millions. Besides those killed in battles, I have said something, not half what the matter would have justified, but something I have said concerning the consequences of war even more dreadful than that monstrous carnage itself which shocks our humanity, and almost staggers our belief. So that, allowing me in my exuberance one way for my deficiencies in the other, you will find me not unreasonable. I think the numbers of men now upon earth are computed at five hundred millions at the most. Here the slaughter of mankind, on what you call a small calculation, amounts to upwards of seventy times the number of souls this day on the globe: a point which may furnish matter of reflection to one less inclined to draw consequences than your lordship.
From the earliest dawnings of policy to this day, the invention of men has been sharpening and improving the mystery of murder, from the first rude essays of clubs and stones, to the present perfection of gunnery, cannoneering, bombarding, mining, and all those species of artificial, learned, and refined cruelty, in which we are now so expert, and which make a principal part of what politicians have taught us to believe is our principal glory.
Examine history; consult present experience; and you will find that far the greater part of the quarrels between several nations had scarce any other occasion than that these nations were different combinations of people, and called by different names: to an Englishman, the name of a Frenchman, a Spaniard, an Italian, much more a Turk, or a Tartar, raises of course ideas of hatred and contempt.
As if war was a matter of experiment! As if you could take it up or lay it down as an idle frolic! As if the dire goddess that presides over it, with her murderous spear in her hand and her Gorgon at her breast, was a coquette to be flirted with! We ought with reverence to approach that tremendous divinity, that loves courage, but commands counsel. War never leaves where it found a nation. It is never to be entered into without a mature deliberation,not a deliberation lengthened out into a perplexing indecision, but a deliberation leading to a sure and fixed judgment. When so taken up, it is not to be abandoned without reason as valid, as fully and as extensively considered. Peace may be made as unadvisedly as war. Nothing is so rash as fear; and the counsels of pusillanimity very rarely put off, whilst they are always sure to aggravate, the evils from which they would fly.
If to preserve political independence and civil freedom to nations was a just ground of war, a war to preserve national independence, property, liberty, life, and honour from certain universal havoc is a war just, necessary, manly, pious; and we are bound to persevere in it by every principle, divine and human, as long as the system which menaces them all, and all equally, has an existence in the world.
A danger to avert a danger, a present inconvenience and suffering to prevent a foreseen future and a worse calamity,these are the motives that belong to an animal who in his constitution is at once adventurous and provident, circumspect and daring,whom his Creator has made, as the poet says, of large discourse, looking before and after. But never can a vehement and sustained spirit of fortitude be kindled in a people by a war of calculation. It has nothing that can keep the mind erect under the gusts of adversity. Even where men are willing, as sometimes they are, to barter their blood for lucre, to hazard their safety for the gratification of their avarice, the passion which animates them to that sort of conflict, like all the short-sighted passions, must see its objects distinct and near at hand. The passions of the lower order are hungry and impatient. Speculative plunder,contingent spoil,future, long adjourned, uncertain booty,pillage which must enrich a late posterity, and which possibly may not reach to posterity at all,these, for any length of time, will never support a mercenary war. The people are in the right. The calculation of profit in all such wars is false. On balancing the account of such wars, ten thousand hogsheads of sugar are purchased at ten thousand times their price. The blood of man should never be shed but to redeem the blood of man. It is well shed for our family, for our friends, for our God, for our country, for our kind. The rest is vanity; the rest is crime.
As to war, if it be the means of wrong and violence, it is the sole means of justice amongst nations. Nothing can banish it from the world. They who say otherwise, intending to impose upon us, do not impose upon themselves. But it is one of the greatest objects of human wisdom to mitigate those evils which we are unable to remove. The conformity and analogy of which I speak, incapable, like everything else, of preserving perfect trust and tranquillity among men, has a strong tendency to facilitate accommodation and to produce a generous oblivion of the rancour of their quarrels. With this similitude, peace is more of peace, and war is less of war.
It is not known where he that invented the plough was born, nor where he died: yet he has effected more for the happiness of the world than the whole race of heroes and of conquerors, who have drenched it with tears, and manured it with blood, and whose birth, parentage, and education have been handed down to us with a precision proportionate to the mischief they have done.
Since the foolish part of mankind will make wars, from time to time, with each other, not having sense enough otherwise to settle their differences, it certainly becomes the wiser part, who cannot prevent these wars, to alleviate as much as possible the calamities attending them.
[European] compacts for peace are drawn up with the utmost precision, and ratified with the greatest solemnity: to these each party promises a sincere and inviolable obedience, and all wear the appearance of open friendship and unreserved reconciliation. Yet, notwithstanding these treaties, the people of Europe are almost continually at war. There is nothing more easy than to break a treaty ratified in all the usual forms, and yet neither party be the aggressor. One side, for instance, breaks a trifling article by mistake; the opposite party, upon this, makes a small but premeditated reprisal; this brings on a return of greater from the other; both sides complain of injuries and infractions; war is declared; they beat; are beaten; some two or three hundred thousand men are killed; they grow tired; leave off just where they began; and so sit coolly down to make new treaties.
And what advantage has any country of Europe obtained from such calamities? Scarcely any. Their dissensions for more than a thousand years have served to make each other unhappy, but have enriched none. All the great nations still nearly preserve their ancient limits; none have been able to subdue the other, and so terminate the dispute. France, in spite of the conquests of Edward the Third and Henry the Fifth, notwithstanding the efforts of Charles the Fifth and Philip the Second, still remains within its ancient limits. Spain, Germany, Great Britain, Poland, the states of the North, are nearly still the same. What effect then has the blood of so many thousands, the destruction of so many cities, produced? Nothing either great or considerable. The Christian princes have lost indeed much from the enemies of Christendom, but they have gained nothing from each other. Their princes, because they preferred ambition to justice, deserve the character of enemies to mankind; and their priests, neglecting morality for opinion, have mistaken the interests of society.
While the philanthropist is devising means to militate the evils and augment the happiness of the world, a fellow-worker together with God, in exploring and giving effect to the benevolent tendencies of nature, the warrior is revolving, in the gloomy recesses of his capacious mind, plans of future devastation and ruin. Prisons crowded with captives, cities emptied of their inhabitants, fields desolate and waste, are among his proudest trophies. The fabric of his fame is cemented with tears and blood; and if his name is wafted to the ends of the earth, it is in the shrill cry of suffering humanity; in the curses and imprecations of those whom his sword has reduced to despair.
Conceive but for a moment the consternation which the approach of an invading army would impress on the peaceful villages in this neighbourhood. When you have placed yourselves for an instant in that situation, you will learn to sympathize with those unhappy countries which have sustained the ravages of arms. But how is it possible to give you an idea of these horrors? Here you behold rich harvests, the bounty of heaven and the reward of industry, consumed in a moment or trampled under foot, while famine and pestilence follow the steps of desolation. There the cottages of peasants given up to the flames, mothers expiring through fear, not for themselves but their infants; the inhabitants flying with their helpless babes in all directions, miserable fugitives on their native soil! In another part you witness opulent cities taken by storm; the streets, where no sounds were heard but those of peaceful industry, filled on a sudden with slaughter and blood, resounding with the cries of the pursuing and pursued; the palaces of nobles demolished, the houses of the rich pillaged, the chastity of virgins and of matrons violated, and every age, sex, and rank mingled in promiscuous massacre and ruin.
What a scene must a field of battle present, where thousands are left without assistance and without pity, with their wounds exposed to the piercing air, while the blood, freezing as it flows, binds them to the earth, amid the trampling of horses and the insults of an enraged foe! If they are spared by the humanity of the enemy and carried from the field, it is but a prolongation of torment. Conveyed in uneasy vehicles often to a remote distance, through roads almost impassable, they are lodged in ill-prepared receptacles for the wounded and the sick, where the variety of distress baffles all the efforts of humanity and skill, and renders it impossible to give to each the attention he demands. Far from their native home, no tender assiduities of friendship, no well-known voice, no wife, or mother, or sister, is near to soothe their sorrows, relieve their thirst, or close their eyes in death. Unhappy man! and must you be swept into the grave unnoticed and unnumbered, and no friendly tear be shed for your sufferings or mingled with your dust!
The life of a modern soldier is ill represented by heroic fiction. War has means of destruction more formidable than the cannon and the sword. Of the thousands and ten thousands that perished in our late contests with France and Spain, a very small part ever felt the stroke of an enemy; the rest languished in tents and ships, amidst damps and putrefaction: pale, torpid, spiritless, and helpless; gasping and groaning, unpitied among men made obdurate by long continuance of hopeless misery; and whelmed in pits, or heaved into the ocean, without notice and without remembrance. By incommodious encampments and unwholesome stations, where courage is useless and enterprise impracticable, fleets are silently dispeopled, and armies sluggishly melted away . If he that shared the danger enjoyed the profit; if he that bled in the battle grew rich by the victory, he might show his gains without envy. But at the conclusion of a ten years war, how are we recompensed for the death of multitudes and the expense of millions, but by contemplating the sudden glories of paymasters and agents, contractors and commissaries, whose equipages shine like meteors, and whose palaces rise like exhalations.
Dr. Samuel Johnson: Thoughts on the Falkland Islands, 1771.
Where communities are very large, the heavier evils of war are felt but by few. The ploughboy sings, the spinning-wheel turns round, the wedding-day is fixed, whether the last battle were lost or won. In little states it cannot be thus; every man feels in his own property and person the effect of a war. Every man is a soldier, and a soldier fighting for his nearest interests. His own trees have been cut downhis own corn has been burnthis own house has been pillagedhis own relations have been killed. How can he entertain towards the enemies of his country the same feelings with one who has suffered nothing from them, except perhaps the addition of a small sum to the taxes which he pays? Men in such circumstances cannot be generous. They have too much at stake. It is when they are, if I may so express myself, playing for love, it is when war is a mere game of chess, it is when they are contending for a remote colony, a frontier town, the honours of a flag, a salute, or a title, that they can make fine speeches, and do good offices to their enemies. The Black Prince waited behind the chair of his captive; Villars interchanged repartees with Eugene; George II. sent congratulations to Louis XV. during a war upon occasion of his escape from the attempt of Damiens: and these things are fine and generous, and very gratifying to the author of the Broad Stone of Honour, and all the other wise men who think, like him, that God made the world only for the use of gentlemen. But they spring in general from utter heartlessness. No war ought ever to be undertaken but under circumstances which render all interchange of courtesy between the combatants impossible. It is a bad thing that men should hate each other; but it is far worse that they should contract the habit of cutting one anothers throats without hatred. War is never lenient but where it is wanton; when men are compelled to fight in self-defence, they must hate and avenge: this may be bad; but it is human nature; it is the clay as it came from the hand of the potter.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Mitfords Greece, Nov. 1824.
If there be any truth established by the universal experience of nations, it is this, that to carry the spirit of peace into war is a weak and cruel policy. The time for negotiation is the time for deliberation and delay. But when an extreme case calls for that remedy which is in its own nature most violent, it is idle to think of mitigating and diluting. Languid war can do nothing which negotiation or submission will not do better: and to act on any other principle is not to save blood and money, but to squander them.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Hallams Constit. History, Sept. 1828.
Tis said of many great leaders that they have had certain books in particular esteem, as Alexander the Great, Homer, Scipio Africanus, Xenophon, Marcus Brutus, Polybius, Charles the Fifth, Philip de Comines; and tis said that in our times Machiavil is elsewhere in repute: but the late Mareschal Strossy, who took Cæsar for his man, doubtless made the best choice, being that that book in truth ought to be the breviary of every great soldier, as being the true and most excellent pattern of all military art. And moreover with what grace and beauty he has embellishd that rich matter, with so pure, delicate, and perfect expression, that, in my opinion, there are no writings in the world comparable to his: as to that, I will set down some rare and particular passages of his wars that remain in my memory.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. xci.
[The Utopians] detest war as a very brutal thing: and which, to the reproach of human nature, is more practised by men than any sort of beasts; and they, against the custom of almost all other nations, think there is nothing more inglorious than that glory which is gained by war. They would be both troubled and ashamed of a bloody victory over their enemies; and in no victory do they glory so much as in that which is gained by dexterity and good conduct, without bloodshed.
The fate of a battle is the result of a moment,of a thought: the hostile forces advance with various combinations, they attack each other and fight for a certain time; the critical moment arrives, a mental flash decides, and the least reserve accomplishes the object.
What used to mislead men, and still misleads not a few, as to the costliness of war, and the check it gives to national prosperity, is, that they see the expenditure go to our own fellow-subjects. We pay a great deal, it is true, out of the public purse, to soldiers; but then it is our soldiers, the Queens subjects, that get it. Powder, and guns, and ships of war, cost a great deal; but this cost is again to the manufacturers of powder and guns, &c. And thus people brought themselves to fancy that the country altogether did not sustain any loss at all . The fallacy consists in not perceiving that though the labour of the gunpowder-makers, soldiers, &c., is not unproductive to them, inasmuch as they are paid for it, it is unproductive to us, as it leaves no valuable results. If gunpowder is employed in blasting rocks, so as to open a rich vein of ore or coal, or to make a useful road, the manufacturer gets his payment for it just the same as if it had been made into fire-works; but then, the mine, or the road, will remain as an article of wealth to him who has so employed it. After having paid for the powder he will still be richer than he was before; whereas if he had employed it for fireworks he would have been so much the poorer, since it would have left no results.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms, &c.