We are what we are, all of us. Beasts and birds are not sentimental. Things to them stand for things, not for thoughts about things. I have seen young rabbits play cross-touch about the stiffened form of an unfortunate brother. I have seen a barnyard cock flap and crow, standing upon the dead body of one of his wives. Directly a creature is dead it ceases to be a creature at all to those which once hailed it fellow. It becomes part of the landscape in which it lies; and with certain beasts which we are accustomed to call obscene it becomes something to eat. But dogs which have lived long with us are not like that. I knew two dogs which lived in a house together and shared the same loose-box at night. One night one of them in fidgeting, bit upon an artery and bled to death. Never again would the survivor enter that sleeping place. Dogs have learned from us that things may stand for thoughts.
Anything that persuades the British people to spend two minutes a year in thought is a good thing; for thinking is not congenial to us. Feeling is; and feeling may perhaps be described as thinking about thinking. We feel still, as we felt at the time, the wholesale, hapless, heroic and entirely monstrous sacrifice of our young men; but it is out of the question to suppose that we thought about them—or, for that matter, that any nation in the world did; for if we had thought as we felt the scythe would have stopt in mid-swathe and Death been robbed of a crowning victory! But we did not think; and we were not thinking just now when we stood still in the midst of our interrupted affairs. The act sufficed us. It was a sacrament. An act, that is, a thing, stood for a thought about a thing—namely heroic, hapless death. Of such sacraments, maybe, is the kingdom of this world, but not, I am persuaded, the Kingdom of Heaven; and assuredly not of such, nor of any amount of it, will be a League of Nations which is anything more than a name.
The thought, or the feeling, of those two minutes here in the village, or in the city eight miles away, where in full market the same opportunity was taken, was concerned in all human probability, with the hapless dead rather than with means to preserve the living from hapless and unnecessary death; and yet, so curiously are we wrought out of emotion, sensibility and habit, some good besides piety may come out of a memorial Eleventh of November. Pitying, recording, respecting the dead or perhaps the bereaved, it may presently become a fixed idea with us that avoidable death is taboo. It may be borne in upon us on the next occasion when stung pride, outraged feeling or panic fear is sweeping like a plague over our land, that nothing but sorrow and loss was gained by the Four Years War. That is just possible, but no more than that, we being what we are. Yet, unless we learn to think rather of life than of death, there is no other way. As in religion, faith comes before works, and you must fall in love with God if you are to believe in Him, so it is in politics. Emotional conviction must precede action. And the conviction to be established is that war is a crime and in some nations, a vice.