Even as things are, there have been some gains in the manner of conducting war, which, when future generations look back on them, will be seen to be considerable. It is true that modern science has devised new and appalling weapons. The invention of a new weapon in war always arouses protest, but it does not usually, in the long run, make war more inhuman. There was a great outcry in Europe when the broadsword was superseded by the rapier, and a tall man of his hands could be spitted like a cat or a rabbit by any dexterous little fellow with a trained wrist. There was a wave of indignation, which was a hundred years in passing, when musketry first came into use, and a man-at-arms of great prowess could be killed from behind a wall by one who would not have dared to meet him in open combat. But these changes did not, in effect, make war crueller or more deadly. They gave more play to intelligence, and abolished the tyranny of the bully, who took the wall of every man he met, and made himself a public nuisance. The introduction of poison-gas, which is a small thing compared with the invention of fire-arms, has given the chemist a place in the ranks of fighting-men. And if science has lent its aid to the destruction of life, it has spent greater zeal and more prolonged effort on the saving of life. No previous war will compare with this in care for the wounded and maimed. In all countries, and on all fronts, an army of skilled workers devote themselves to this single end. I believe that this quickening of the human conscience, for that is what it is, will prove to be the greatest gain of the War, and the greatest advance made in restraint of war. If the nations come to recognize that their first duty, and their first responsibility, is to those who give so much in their service, that recognition will of itself do more than can be done by any conclave of statesmen to discourage war. It was the monk Telemachus, according to the old story, who stopped the gladiatorial games at Rome, and was stoned by the people. If war, in process of time, shall be abolished, or, failing that, shall be governed by the codes of humanity and chivalry, like a decent tournament; then the one sacrificial figure which will everywhere be honoured for the change will be the figure not of a priest or a politician, but of a hospital nurse.
A paper read to the Essay Society, Eton College, March 14, 1918.
When you asked me to read or speak to you, I promised to speak about the War. What I have to say is wholly orthodox, but it is none the worse for that. Indeed, when I think how entirely the War possesses our thoughts and how entirely we are agreed concerning it, I seem to see a new meaning in the creeds of the religions. These creeds grew up by general consent, and no one who believed them grudged repeating them. In the face of an indifferent or hostile world the faithful found themselves obliged to define their belief, and to strengthen themselves by an unwearying and united profession of faith. It is the enemy who gives meaning to a religious creed: without our creed we cannot win. So I am willing to remind you of what you know, rather than to try to introduce you to novelties.