That feeling now returned with redoubled force.
The group of villagers had parted into many human fragments. He could hear the hearty invitation of the innkeeper for all boon spirits to join him, free of expense—and regardless of the liquor laws—in a pint of bitter, to drink confusion to the enemy. But to Selwyn they seemed creatures of another planet—or, rather, that he was the visitor in a world of strange inhabitants.
All the resentfulness of an idealist whose ancestry was steeped in liberty of action rose to a fury at this unwarrantable interference of war with the lives of men—a fury maddened by his feeling of utter impotence. Was it possible, he argued, that a group of men drunk with pomp and lust of conquest could wreck the whole fabric of civilisation? What of science and education? Had they risen only to be the playthings of madmen? What kind of a world was it that allowed such things?
Was it possible, however, that this war was different from any other? Granted that Austria had willed the crushing of Servia, and that Germany was instigator of the crime—had not the rest of the world proved false to their creeds by allowing the war-hunger of the Central Powers to achieve its aim? Supposing France, Britain, America, and Italy had joined in an immediate warning to Germany and Austria that if they did not desist from their malpractices the area of their countries would be declared a plague-spot, commercial intercourse with the outside world would be brought to an end, and their citizens treated as lepers. If that had been done, men could have gone on leading the lives to which they had been called, and by sheer cumulative effect could have exerted a moral pressure on the war-lust of Germany that would have been irresistible.
Yet, like a bull that sees red, the nations had rushed madly at each other, thirsting to gore each other’s vitals with their horns. Men of peaceful vocations were at that very moment slaughtering their brother-men. It was wrong—hideously wrong!
And the charge of responsibility could not be laid at the door of those idiots of Emperors. Their crime was evil enough, but the responsibility for war was with the people who allowed themselves to be led to murder by a mad, jingoistic patriotism. Supposing that when Europe was mobilising, the people of Great Britain had sent a message to the Germans: ’Brothers, justice must be done and malefactors punished. Fearing nothing but the universal conscience, we refuse to fight with you, but demand in humanity’s name that you join with us in establishing the permanent supremacy of Right.’ Some such message as that coming from a Power steeped in a great past would have been ashes to smother the smouldering flames of world-war.
But there was no machinery for such a thing. There was no method by which the great heart of one country could speak with that of another. Our obsolete diplomatic envoys, the errand-boys of international politics, were mere artifices, tending to cement rather than to dispel the mutual distrust of nations. What, then, stood in the way of world-understanding? What was the cause of the blindness which permitted men to be led like dumb cattle to the slaughter?