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Source: Liberty
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “International War”
Author(s): Byington, Steven T.
Date of publication: January 1903
Volume number: 14
Issue number: 5
Pagination: 2-3

Byington, Steven T. “International War.” Liberty Jan. 1903 v14n5: pp. 2-3.
full text
war; society (criticism); governments (criticism); assassination (causes); war (impact on society); society (mental health).
Named persons
Leon Czolgosz; William Tecumseh Sherman.


International War

     The world has been full of fighting for some time; now comes a momentary pause, so far as concerns the chief civilized nations of the temperate zones. Let us take a trial balance to see what goes to profit and loss.
     As to the nominal purposes of the wars: Crete will henceforth be governed by its friends, instead of its enemies. Greece, if I remember right, has lost a bit of frontier to Turkey. Cuba will be governed mainly by the Cubans, under an American protectorate; incidentally, the United States has the discredit of a broken pledge under circumstances that furnish no excuse. The Philippines pass from a bad foreign master to another whose treatment of dark-colored races has always hitherto been bad. Doubtless the higher offices in the Philippines will attract a more acceptable class of men than are America’s Indian agents; but I wish I could see the assurance that the small offices, which will have most to do with the every-day life of the Filipinos, will be better filled. Porto Rico and Guam have changed owners. Corea [sic] is no longer connected with the Chinese empire, nor closed to foreign intercourse; it has become a bone of contention between Japan and Russia, one of the likeliest causes of a new war. Manchuria has two owners instead of one, with a jealous neighbor wanting to fight over it. Formosa, a colony of Chinamen with a large native race on one side of it, is subject to the Japanese. The territorial rights of foreign powers in sundry Chinese cities are slightly extended. A number of missionaries and their Chinese friends are dead; a good deal of their property has been destroyed, and afterward paid for by the destroyers and their neighbors; a few high Chinese officials are degraded or dead; various expiatory ceremonies, supposed to be very impressive to the Chinese mind, have taken place on account of murdered Europeans. The “mutual protectorate” of Italy and Abyssinia has been interrupted by the attempted conquest of Abyssinia and the destruction of a large Italian army. The last important centre of Arab slave-trading power in Africa, the rebellious Egyptian Soudan [sic], has been brought under British control. The western Soudan [sic] has passed from a Mohammedan tyrant (about the worst of native rulers) to the French (none of the best of foreign rulers). The Transvaal, formerly under a very corrupt and illiberal government with great possibilities of improvement by experimentation, [2][3] will be under a comparatively honest and liberal government with much less chance for beneficial experiment. The Orange River country, formerly the Transvaal’s superior, will now be its equal. The price of all these things in soldiers’ lives and governmental expenditure of money is matter of official record; the price paid among the population of the seat of war in the way of murder, rape, destruction of property, etc., is partly recorded. Has it paid, on the face of this showing? Would they have done it all, if they could have foreseen the whole outcome? The questions are old. I am writing to ask a different question: Is this the outcome, or the main part of it? Have the wars of the world, since the Cretans lighted the match, resulted mainly in such matters of death, expense, and governmental changes as those I have named?
     I think it at least doubtful. I should not hesitate to say that the indirect oppression of war taxes, over and above the fund collected, will cost more than the direct expense of the wars. In like manner I think the indirect tax on life, the indirect effects on government, will amount to more than the direct slaughter and conquest.
     A political party which conducts a war expects thereby to gain a longer lease of power, restrained by less opposition, regardless of good administration. This is reckoned to be in itself an evil of war, since office-holding should depend on good service. But a government gains power in this way just like a party. The feeling that it is treason to oppose the government or to try to limit its power grows stronger. Look at the way the United States government was aggrandized by the war of 1861! Such sentiments, having no logical connection with any good service of the government, of course hinder clear thinking on public affairs.
     The foremost representative of this feeling is the “old soldier.” In his relation to public affairs the old soldier is thoroughly a bad citizen. In his private life—this is my next point. General Sherman’s saying that “war is hell” has been getting hackneyed lately. You take several hundred thousand young men, many of them young devils, and put them in hell for a training; do you not think the world will feel it when they come out? We are seeing less of the evils of 1861 in this respect, because the men who came back debauched have mostly died of their habits. But ask grandmother, who remembers, whether the overthrow of the Confederacy was not bought at a heavy expense of the soldier-boys’ character. Yet the army of 1861 was reckoned exceptionally respectable. The Philippine army will hardly uphold the record; too many of them come back to make trouble for the police. It has been widely reported as matter of official record, and I have not seen it contradicted, that ten per cent. of that army at one time were under treatment for venereal disease. But probably a patriot would reckon it the clearest proof of the disreputableness of the Philippine army that so many of them had to be punished for praising Czolgosz.
     This raises another point—but, before I pass to it, just remember that vice is contagious. Now, if you bring together these many thousands; soak them in army life, which has always been notorious as a centre of moral pollution; then turn them loose to carry the pest through the country,—cannot the stupidest board of health predict the result?
     But to come back to Czolgosz. From the fifties to the seventies the world was full of wars—Japan, China, India, all Europe, the United States, Mexico, South Africa, I know not what else—and of assassinations of presidents, emperors, shahs, prime ministers, and the like. Then, from the early eighties to the middle of the nineties the world had comparative rest from war, and dignitaries from assassination. Next comes that recrudescence of war which I have been discussing, and with it a most notorious recrudescence of assassination. And in both periods the assassinations have mostly come in or near those countries which had just been at war. The periods of assassination drag a trifle later than the periods of war. Such facts demand attention.
     For myself, I see no puzzle in them. The existence of a contagious psychological “war fever,” whereby the sight of nations at war makes nations willing to go to war, is notorious. Let this sort of psychological suggestion act on a man whose tendency is to isolated and erratic action, and what can you expect but assassination? The idea of affecting great public interests by a bullet seems to be an essential part of the suggestion, for private murders in the United States decreased during the war period. Perhaps this is because those who have an appetite for slaughter join the army. I should think it likely.



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