AN INQUIRY INTO THE ACCORDANCY
OF WAR WITH THE
PRINCIPLES OF CHRISTIANITY
by Jonathan Dymond
OBSERVATIONS ON THE EFFECTS OF WAR
War’s least horror is the ensanguined field. – Barbauld.
There are few maxims of more unfailing truth than that “A tree is known by its fruits;” and I will acknowledge that if the lawfulness of war were to be determined by a reference to its consequences, I should willingly consign it to this test, in the belief that if popular impressions were suspended, a good, benevolent, or reasoning man would find little cause to decide in its favor.
In attempting to illustrate some bf the effects of war, it is my purpose to inquire not so much into its civil or political, as into its moral consequences; and of the latter, to notice those, chiefly, which commonly attract little of our inquiry or attention. To speak strictly indeed, civil and political considerations are necessarily involved in the moral tendency, for the happiness of society is always diminished by the diminution of morality, and enlightened policy knows that the greatest support of a state is the virtue of the people.
The reader needs not be reminded of – what nothing but the frequency of the calamity can make him forget – the intense sufferings and irreparable deprivations which a battle inevitably entails upon private life. These are calamities of which the world thinks little, and which, if it thought of them, it could not remove. A father or a husband can seldom be replaced; a void is created in the domestic felicity, which there is little hope that the future will fill. By the slaughter of a, war, there are thousands who weep in unpitied and unnoticed secrecy, whom the world does not see; and thousands who retire, in silence, to hopeless poverty, for whom it does not care. To these, the conquest of a kingdom is of little importance. The loss of a protector or a friend is ill repaid by empty glory. An addition of territory may add titles to a king, but the brilliancy of a crown throws little light upon domestic gloom. It is not my intention to insist upon these calamities, intense, irreparable, and unnumbered as they are; but those who begin a war without taking them into their estimates of its consequences must be regarded as, at most, half-seeing politicians. The legitimate object of political measures is the good of the people, — and a war must produce a great sum of good if it outbalances even this portion of its mischiefs.
In the more obvious effects of war, there is, however, a sufficient sum of evil and wretchedness. The most dreadful of these is the destruction of human life. The frequency with which this destruction is represented to our minds has almost extinguished our perception of its awfulness and horror. In the interval between the years 1141 and 1815, England has been at war with France alone for two hundred and sixty-six years. If to this we add our wars with other countries, probably we shall find that one-half of the last six or seven centuries has been spent by this country in war! A dreadful picture of human violence! There is no means of knowing how many victims have been sacrificed during this lapse of ages. Those who have fallen in battle, and those who have perished “in tents and ships, amidst damps and putrefaction,” probably amount to a number greater than the number of men now existing in France and England together. And where is our equivalent good? “The wars of Europe for the previous two hundred years, by the confession of all parties, have really ended in the advantage of none, but to the manifest detriment of all.” This is the testimony of the celebrated Dr. Josiah Tucker, Dean of Gloucester, and Erasmus has said, “ I know not whether any war ever succeeded so fortunately in all its events, but that the conqueror, if he had a heart to feel or an understanding to judge as he ought to do, repented that he had ever engaged in it at all.”
Since the last war, we have heard much of the distresses of the country, and whatever may be the opinion whether they have been brought upon us by the peace, none will question whether they have been brought upon us by war. The peace may be the occasion of them, but war has been the cause. I have no wish to declaim upon the amount of our national debt – that it is a great evil and that it has been brought upon us by successive contests, no one disputes. Such considerations ought, undoubtedly, to influence the conduct of public men in their disagreements with other states, even if higher considerations do not influence it. They ought to form part of the calculations of the evil of hostility. I believe that a greater mass of human suffering and loss of human enjoyment are occasioned by the pecuniary distresses of a war, than any ordinary advantages of a war compensate. But this consideration seems too remote to obtain our notice. Anger at offence, or hope of triumph, overpowers the sober calculations of reason and outbalances the weight of calamities that continue long afterward. If the happiness of the people was what it ought to be, the primary and the ultimate object of national measures, I think that the policy which pursued this object would often find that even the pecuniary distresses resulting from a war reduce the sum total of felicity more than those evils which the war may have been designed to avoid. At least the distress is certain, and the advantage is doubtful. It is known that during the past eight years of the present peace, a considerable portion of the community has been in suffering in consequence of war. Eight years of suffering to a million of human creatures is a serious thing! “It is no answer to say that this universal suffering, and even the desolation that attends it, are the inevitable consequences and events of war, howsoever warrantably entered into, but rather an argument that no war can be warrantably entered into, if it produces such intolerable mischiefs.” 
There is much of truth, as there is of eloquence, in these observations of one of the most acute intellects that our country has produced. It is an object of wonder with what coolness and indifference the greater part of mankind sees war commenced. Those who hear of it at a distance, or read of it in books, but have never presented its evils to their minds, consider it as little more than a splendid game, a proclamation, an army, a battle, and a triumph. Some, indeed, must perish in the most successful field of battle; but they die upon the bed of honor, resign their lives amidst the joys of conquest, and fitted with England’s glory, smile in death. 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, gasping and groaning, unpitied among men made obdurate by long continuance of hopeless misery; and were at last buried 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 depopulated and armies sluggishly melted away.
“Thus are a people gradually exhausted, for the most part with little effect. The wars of civilized nations make very slow changes in the system of empire. The public perceives scarcely any alteration but an increase of debt, and the few individuals who are benefited are not supposed to have the clearest right to their advantages. If he who shared the danger enjoyed the profit, and after bleeding in the battle grew rich by the victory, he might show his gains without envy. But at the conclusion of a ten-year war, how are we recompensed for the death of multitudes, and the expense of millions? By contemplating the sudden glories of paymasters, agents, contractors and commissaries, whose equipages shine like meteors, and whose palaces rise like exhalations.
“These are the men who, without virtue, labor, or hazard, are growing rich as their country is impoverished. They rejoice when obstinacy or ambition adds another year to slaughter and devastation, and laugh from their desks at bravery and science while they are adding figure to figure, and cipher to cipher, hoping for a new contract for a new armament, and computing the profits of a siege or a battle.” 
Our business, however, is principally with the moral effects of war.
“The tenderness of nature and the integrity of manners, which are driven away or powerfully discountenanced by the corruption of war, are not quickly recovered – and the weeds which grow up in the shortest war can hardly be pulled up and extirpated without a long and unsuspected peace… War introduces and propagates opinions and practice as much against heaven as against earth. It lays our natures and manners as waste as our gardens and our habitations, and we can as easily preserve the beauty of the one as the integrity of the other, under the cursed jurisdiction of drums and trumpets.” 
“War does more harm to the morals of men than even to their property and persons.”  “It is a temporary repeal of all the principles of virtue.”  “There is not a virtue of gospel goodness but has its ‘death-blow from war.” 
I do not know whether the greater sum of moral evil resulting from war is suffered by those who are immediately engaged in it, or by the public. The mischief is most extensive upon the community, but upon the profession it is most intense.
Rara fides pietasque viris qui castra sequuntur.  – Lucan.
No one pretends to applaud the morals of an army, and for its religion, few think of it at all. A soldier is depraved even to a proverb. The fact is too notorious to be insisted upon, that thousands who had filled their stations in life with propriety, and been virtuous from principle, have lost, by a military life both the practice and the regard of morality; and when they have become habituated to the vices of war, have laughed at their honest and plodding brethren who are still spiritless enough for virtue, or stupid enough for piety. The vices that once had shocked them become the subject, not of acquiescence, but of exultation. “Almost all the professions,” says Dr. Knox, “have some characteristic manners, which they seem to adopt, with little examination, as necessary and as honorable distinctions. It happens, unfortunately, that profligacy, libertinism, and infidelity are thought, by weaker minds, almost as necessary a part a soldier’s uniform as his insignia. To hesitate at an oath, to decline intoxication, to profess a regard for religion, would be almost as ignominious as to refuse a challenge.” 
It is, however, not necessary to insist upon the immoral influence of war upon the military character, since no one probably will dispute it. Nor is it difficult to discover how the immorality is occasioned. It is obvious that those who are continually engaged in a practice “in which almost all the vices are incorporated,” and who promote this practice with individual eagerness, cannot, without the intervention of a miracle, be otherwise than collectively depraved.
If the soldier engages in the destruction of his species, he should at least engage in it with reluctance, and abandon it with joy. The slaughter of his fellow men should be dreadful in execution and in thought. But what is his aversion or reluctance? He feels none; it is not even a subject of seriousness to him. He butchers his fellow candidates for heaven as a woodman fells a coppice: with as little reluctance and as little regret.
Those who will compute the tendency of this familiarity with human destruction cannot doubt whether it will be pernicious to the moral character. What is the hope, that he who is familiar with murder, who has himself often perpetrated it, and who exults in the perpetration, will retain the principles of virtue undepraved? His moral feelings are blunted; his moral vision is obscured. We say his moral vision is obscured, for we do not think it possible that he should retain even the perception of Christian purity. The soldier, again, who plunders the citizen of another nation without remorse or reflection, and bears away the spoils with triumph, will inevitably lose something of his principles of probity. These principles are shaken; an inroad is made upon their integrity, and it is an inroad that makes subsequent inroads easier. Mankind does not generally resist the influence of habit. If we rob and shoot those who are “enemies” today, we are in some degree prepared to shoot and rob those who are not enemies tomorrow. The strength of the restraining moral principle is impaired. Law may, indeed, still restrain us from violence, but the power and efficiency of principle are diminished. And this alienation of the mind from the practice, love, and perception of Christian purity, therefore, of necessity extends its influence to the other circumstances of life. It is hence, in part, that the general profligacy of armies arises. That which we have not practiced in war we are not likely to practice in peace, and there is no hope we shall possess the goodness which we neither love nor perceive.
Another means by which war becomes pernicious to the moral character of the soldier is the incapacity that the profession occasions for the sober pursuits of life. “The profession of a soldier,” says Dr. Paley, “almost always unfits men for the business of regular occupations.” On the question of whether it would be better that of three inhabitants of a village, one should be a soldier and two farmers, or that all should occasionally become both, he says that from the latter arrangement the country receives three raw militia men and three idle and profligate peasants. War cannot be continual. Soldiers must at some point become citizens, citizens who are unfit for stated business will be idle, and they who are idle will scarcely be virtuous. A political project, therefore, such as a war, which will eventually pour fifty or a hundred thousand of such men upon the community, must of necessity be an enormous evil to a state. It is an infelicitous defense to say that soldiers do not become idle until the war is closed, or until they leave the army. To keep men out of idleness by employing them in cutting other men’s limbs and bodies is at least an extraordinary economy, and the profligacy still remains, for, unhappily, if war keeps soldiers busy, it does not keep them good.
By a peculiar and unhappy coincidence, the moral evil attendant upon the profession is perpetuated by the subsequent system of half-pay. We have no concern with this system on political or pecuniary considerations, but it will be obvious that those who return from war with the principles and habits of war are unlikely to improve, either by a life without necessary occupation, or without express object. By this system, there are thousands of men in the prime or in the bloom of life who live without such object or occupation. This would be an evil if it happened to any set of men, but upon men who have been soldiers the evil is peculiarly intense. He whose sense of moral obligation has been impaired by the circumstances of his former life, and whose former life has induced habits of disinclination to regular pursuits, is the man who, above all others, it is unfortunate for the interests of purity should be supported on “half-pay.” If war has occasioned “unfitness for regular occupations,” he will not pursue them; if it has familiarized him with profligacy, he will be little restrained by virtue. And the consequences of consigning men under such circumstances to society, at a period of life when the mind is busy and restless and the passions are strong, must, of inevitable necessity be bad. The officer who leaves the army with the income only which the country allows him often finds sufficient difficulty in maintaining the character of a gentleman. A “gentleman” however he will be; and he who resolves to appear rich while he is poor, who will not increase his fortune by industry, and who has learned to have few restraints from principle, sometimes easily persuades himself to pursue schemes of but very exceptionable probity. Indeed, by his peculiar law, the “ law of honor,” honesty is not required.
I do not know whether it is politic that he who has held a commission should not be expected to use a ledger or a yard; but since, by thus becoming a “military gentleman,” the number is increased of those who regulate their conduct by the law of honor, the rule is necessarily pernicious in its effects. When it is considered that this law allows of “profaneness, neglect of public worship and private devotion, cruelty to servants, rigorous treatment of tenants or other dependants, want of charity to the poor, injuries to tradesmen by insolvency or delay of payment, with numberless examples of the same kind;” that it is “in most instances, favorable to the licentious indulgence of the natural passions;” that it allows of “adultery, drunkenness, prodigality, dueling, and of revenge in the extreme;”  when all this is considered, it is manifestly inevitable that those who regulate their conduct by the maxims of such a law must become, as a body, reduced to a low station in the scale of morality. 
We insist upon these things because they are the consequences of war. We have no concern with “half-pay” or with the “law of honor,” but with war, which extends the evil of the one, and creates the evil of the other. Soldiers may be depraved, and part of their depravity is, undoubtedly, their crime, but part also is their misfortune. The whole evil is imputable to war; and we say that this evil forms a powerful evidence against it, whether we direct that evidence to the abstract question of its lawfulness or to the practical question of its expediency. That can scarcely be lawful which necessarily occasions such enormous depravity. That can scarcely be expedient which is so pernicious to virtue, and therefore to the state.
The economy of war requires of every soldier an implicit submission to his superior, and this submission is required of every gradation of rank to that above it. This system may be necessary to hostile operations, but I think it is unquestionably adverse to intellectual and moral excellence.
The very nature of unconditional obedience implies the relinquishment of the use of the reasoning powers. Little more is required of the soldier than that he be obedient and brave. His obedience is that of an animal that is moved by a goad or a bit, without judgment or volition of his own, and his bravery is that of a mastiff, which fights whatever mastiff others put before him. It is obvious that in such agency, the intellect and the understanding have little part. Now I think that this is important. He who, with whatever motive, resigns the direction of his conduct implicitly to another, surely cannot retain that erectness and independence of mind, that manly consciousness of mental freedom, which is one of the highest privileges of our nature. The rational being becomes reduced in the intellectual scale and an encroachment is made upon the integrity of its independence. God has given us, individually, capacities for the regulation of our individual conduct. To resign its direction, therefore, to the despotism of another, appears to be an unmanly and unjustifiable relinquishment of the privileges that he has granted to us.  Referring simply to the conclusions of reason, I think those conclusions would be that military obedience must be pernicious to the mind. And if we proceed from reasoning to facts, I believe that our conclusions will be confirmed. Is the military character distinguished by intellectual eminence? Is it not distinguished by intellectual inferiority? I speak of course of the exercise of intellect, and I believe that if we look around us, we shall find that no class of men, in a parallel rank in society, exercise it less or less honorably to human nature than the military profession.  I do not, however, attribute the want of intellectual excellence solely to the implicit submission of a military life. Nor do I say that this want is so much the fault of the soldier as of the circumstances to which he is subjected. We attribute this evil also to its rightful parent. The resignation of our actions to the direction of a foreign will is made so familiar to us by war, and is mingled with so many associations that reconcile it, that I am afraid lest the reader should not contemplate it with sufficient abstraction. Let him remember that in nothing but in war do we submit to it.
It becomes a subject yet more serious if military obedience requires the relinquishment of our moral agency – if it requires us to do, not only what may be opposed to our wills, but also what is opposed to our consciences. And it does require this. A soldier must obey, howsoever criminal the command, and howsoever criminal he knows it to be. It is certain that of those who compose armies many commit actions that they believe to be wicked, and which they would not commit but for the obligations of a military life. Although a soldier determinately believes that the war is unjust, although he is convinced that his particular part of the service is atrociously criminal, still he must proceed; he must prosecute the purposes of injustice or robbery; he must participate in the guilt and be himself a robber. When we have sacrificed thus much of principle, what do we retain? If we abandon all use of our perceptions of good and evil, to what purpose has the capacity of perception been given? It would be as well to possess no sense of right and wrong, as to prevent us from the pursuit or rejection of them. To abandon some of the most exalted privileges which heaven has granted to man kind, to refuse the acceptance of them, and to throw them back, as it were, upon the Donor, is surely little other than profane. He who hid a talent was of old punished for his wickedness. What then is the offence of him who refuses to receive it? Such a resignation of our moral agency is not contended for or tolerated in any other circumstance of human life. War stands upon this pinnacle of depravity alone. She only, in the supremacy of crime, has told us that she has abolished even the obligation to be virtuous.
To what a situation is a rational and responsible being reduced, who commits actions, good or bad, mischievous or beneficial, at the word of another? I can conceive no greater degradation. It is the lowest, the final abjectness of the moral nature. It is this if we abate the glitter of war, and if we add this glitter it is nothing more. Surely the dignity of reason, the light of revelation, and our responsibility to God should make us pause before we become the voluntary subjects of this monstrous system.
I do not know, indeed, under what circumstances of responsibility a man supposes himself to be placed, who thus abandons and violates his own sense of rectitude and of his duties. Either he is responsible for his actions or he is not, and the question is a serious one to determine. Christianity has certainly never stated any cases in which personal responsibility ceases. If she admits such cases, she has at least not told us so; but she has told us, explicitly and repeatedly, that she does require individual obedience and imposes individual responsibility. She has made no exceptions to the imperativeness of her obligations, whether we are required to neglect them or not; and I can discover in her sanctions no reason to suppose that in her final adjudications she admits the plea that another required us to do that which she required us to forbear. But it may be feared, it may be believed, that howsoever little religion will abate of the responsibility of those who obey, she will impose not a little upon those who command. They, at least, are answerable for the enormities of war; unless, indeed, anyone shall tell me that responsibility attaches nowhere; that that which would be wickedness in another man is innocence in a soldier; and that heaven has granted to the directors of war a privileged immunity, by virtue of which crime incurs no guilt and receives no punishment.
It appears to me that the obedience which war exacts to arbitrary power possesses more of the character of servility, and even of slavery, than we are accustomed to suppose; and as I think this consideration may reasonably affect our feeling of independence, howsoever little higher considerations may affect our consciences, I would allow myself a few sentences upon the subject. I will acknowledge that when I see a company of men in a stated dress, and of a stated color, ranged, rank and file, in the attitude of obedience, turning or walking at the word of another, now changing the position of a limb, and now altering the angle of a foot, I feel humiliation and shame. I feel humiliation and shame when I think of the capacities and the prospects of man, at seeing him thus drilled into obsequiousness and educated into machinery. I do not know whether I shall be charged with indulging in idle sentiment or idler affectation. If I hold unusual language upon the subject, let it be remembered that the subject is itself unusual. I will retract my affectation and sentiment if the reader will show me any case in life parallel to that to which I have applied it.
No one questions whether military power is arbitrary. “That which governs an army,” says Paley, “is despotism,” and the subjects of despotic power we call slaves. Yet a man may live under an arbitrary prince with only the liability to slavery. He may live and die, unmolested in his person and unrestrained in his freedom. But the despotism of an army is an operative despotism, and a soldier is practically and personally a slave. Submission to arbitrary authority is the business of his life; the will of the despot is his rule of action.
It is vain to urge that if this is slavery, everyone who labors for another is a slave; because there is a difference between the subjection of a soldier and that of all other laborers, in which the essence of slavery consists. If I order my servant to perform a given action, he is at liberty, if he thinks the action improper, or if, from any other cause, he chooses not to do it, to refuse his obedience. I can discharge him from my service indeed, but I cannot compel obedience or punish his refusal. The soldier is thus punished or compelled. It matters not whether he has entered the service voluntarily or involuntarily; being there, he is required to do what may be, and what in fact, often is, opposed to his will and his judgment. If he refuses obedience, he is dreadfully punished; his flesh, is lacerated and torn from his body, and finally, if he persists in his refusal, he may be shot. Neither is he permitted to leave the service. His natural right to go wherever he would, of which nothing but his own crimes otherwise deprives him, is denied to him by war. If he attempts to exercise this right he is pursued as a felon; he is brought back in irons and is miserably tortured for “desertion.” This, therefore, we think is slavery.
I have heard it contended that an apprentice is a slave equally with a soldier, but it appears to be forgotten that an apprentice is consigned to the government of another because he is not able to govern himself. But even were apprenticeship to continue through life, it would serve the objection but little. Neither custom nor law allows a master to require his apprentice to do an immoral action. There is nothing in his authority analogous to that which compels a soldier to do what he is persuaded is wicked or unjust. Neither, again, can a master compel the obedience of an apprentice by the punishments that a soldier receives. Even if his commands are reasonable, he cannot, for refractoriness, torture him into a swoon, and then revive him with stimulants only to torture him again; still less can he take him to a field and shoot him. And if the commands are vicious, he may not punish his disobedience at all. Bring the despotism that governs an army into the government of the state, and what would Englishmen say? They would say, with one voice, that Englishmen were slaves.
If this view of military subjection fails to affect our pride, we are to attribute the failure to that power of public opinion by which all things seem reconcilable to us; by which situations that would otherwise be loathsome and revolting are made not only tolerable but also pleasurable. Take away the influence and the gloss of public opinion from the situation of a soldier, and what should we call it? We should call it a state of insufferable degradation and of pitiable slavery. But public opinion, although it may influence notions, cannot alter things. Whatever may be our notion of the soldier’s situation, he has indisputably resigned both his moral and his natural liberty to the government of despotic power. He has added to ordinary slavery, the slavery of the conscience; and he is therefore, in a twofold sense, a slave.
If I am asked why I thus complain of the nature of military obedience, I answer, with Dr. Watson, that all “despotism is an offence against natural justice. It is a degradation of the dignity of man, and ought not, on any occasion, to be either practiced or submitted to.” I answer that the obedience of a soldier does, in point of fact, depress the erectness and independence of his mind. I answer, again, that it is a sacrifice of his moral agency, which impairs and vitiates his principles, and which our religion emphatically condemns. And, finally and principally, I answer that such obedience is not defended or permitted for any other purpose than the prosecution of war, and that it is therefore a powerful evidence against the solitary system that requires it. I do not question the necessity of despotism to war. It is because I know that it is necessary that I thus refer to it; for I say that whatever makes such despotism and the consequent degradation and vice necessary must itself be bad, and must be utterly incompatible with the principles of Christianity. 
 Lord Clarendon – who, however, excepts those wars that are likely “to introduce as much benefit to the world as damage and inconvenience to a part of it.” The morality of this celebrated man, also, seems thus to have been wrecked upon the rock of expediency.
 Johnson – Falkland’s Islands.
 Lord Clarendon’s Essays.
 William Law, A. M.
 Please contact www.nonresistance.org if you know what this means!
 Essays, No. 19. Knox justly makes much exception to the applicability of these censures.
 Dr. Paley.
 There is something very unmanly and cowardly in some of the maxims of this law of honor. How unlike the fortitude, the manliness of real courage, are the motives of him who fights a duel! He accepts a challenge, commonly because he is afraid to refuse it. The question with him is whether he fears more a pistol or the world’s dread frown; and his conduct is determined by the preponderating influence of one of these objects of fear. If I am told that he probably feels no fear of death, I answer that if he fears not the death of a duelist, his principles have sunk to that abyss of depravity from whence nothing but the interposition of Omnipotence is likely to reclaim them.
 Transcriber’s note – Dymond has previously argued in favor of just such an implicit resignation of conduct to God because, by faith, we believe that God is implicitly trustworthy, whereas, with equal confidence, we can be sure that the direction of mere men will, at some point, fail us.
 This inferiority will probably be found less conspicuous in the private than in his superiors. Employment in different situations, or in foreign countries, and the consequent acquisition of information often make the private soldier superior in intelligence to laborers and mechanics; a cause of superiority which, of course, does not similarly operate among men of education.
We would here beg the reader to bear in his recollection the limitations that are stated in the preface respecting the application of any apparent severity in ourremarks.
 I would scarcely refer to the monstrous practice of impressing seamen, because there are many who deplore and many who condemn it. Whether this is also necessary to war, I do not know. Probably it is necessary, and if it is, I would ask no other evidence against the system that requires it. Such an invasion of the natural rights of man, such a monstrous assumption of arbitrary power, such a violation of every principle of justice, cannot possibly be necessary to any system of which Christianity approves.