Honorable War

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J. William Lloyd

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Honorable War

J. William Lloyd

WAR has been attacked from many standpoints. It has been declared incompatible with Christianity, with Socialism, with Humanitarianism; there are even those who have attacked it from the viewpoint of business, though others declare it the legitimate child and inevitable offspring of modern business and economic competition. But strangely enough, there is one very obvious standpoint from which, so far as I know, war has never been assailed.

I believe I am correct in saying that so far in the history of the world no one has essayed to show that the military profession, as we have it, is condemned by the Code of the Gentleman.

Yet nothing is more self-evident. It can be demonstrated with the greatest ease. Nevertheless it has been everywhere assumed and tacitly admitted that the profession of arms was. peculiarly that of the gentleman.

The Code of the Gentleman has come down to us as a legacy from the Age of Chivalry. It has been a model for centuries. Everybody knows it. Its requirements are more clear and definite than those of Christianity, or of Socialism, and less disputed.

Not quite undisputed, it is true. Thus it always has been a point in dispute whether the ideal gentleman should treat his social inferiors as gentlemen and ladies, or as beings outside his code. Although the consensus of decision has been in favor of the larger and more generous view, we may very well waive this point in the discussion and consider only the gentleman's relation to his undisputed equals. Again, while it has always been admitted that gentlemen may fight, it has always been held that the fighting must be according to the code duello, that is, strictly fair and equal. It is true that in some countries the code duello has now fallen under legal and quasi-social censure; nevertheless it is still everywhere held that if gentlemen do fight, they must fight as gentlemen; that is honorably, equally, without base advantage or deception, with scrupulous, fastidious fairness. This ruling applied to the duelling ground, to the prize ring, to all races, games of chance or hazard, competitions or disputes whatever. To stoop to trickery or any unfair advantage is to be a cad, and this ruling stands to-day, as it always has. The bully, the cheat, is no gentleman.

It is everywhere held that the gentleman must not be a coward.

It is everywhere held that the gentleman's word must be inviolate—he must speak the truth—especially must he not lie to save himself or to take advantage.

Everywhere it is held that the gentleman must always and everywhere be chivalrous, the defender and protector of womanhood in knightly errantry. To take advantage of a woman, to injure a woman, is doubly damned. And this logic applies to children and all the weak.

Briefly, then, a gentleman must be brave, he must speak the truth, he must never take advantage, he must fight fairly, he must protect the weak.

Of course a gentleman must be dignified and courteous; but though to-day these are given an abnormal prominence as proofs of the gentleman, they were in olden times hardly considered or mentioned, so inevitably were they supposed to proceed from and accompany the essentials.

The undisguised contempt of the old-time gentleman for trade, so largely glossed over and ignored nowadays, did not proceed, as is so often assumed, from any snobbishness on the gentleman's part, but from a very clear perception that all competitive trading is based upon lies, cheating and taking advantage, is essentially and inevitably unfair, and is therefore an impossible profession for a gentleman to touch. That was why the gentleman had to be a landed proprietor or to engage in some of the gentlemanly professions. This was sound, as far as it went; but the astounding thing is that it was not perceived that war, as it has always been carried on between different nations, is exactly like trade, a competition requiring trickery, lying, bullying and all unfairness, and therefore something which no gentleman can touch.

International diplomacy, as heretofore carried on, which is really a part of war, precedes all war and is its first step and cause, is also a profession impossible to the gentleman, because it is peculiarly a business of lies, flattering, fawning, cheating, intrigue and taking advantage, until the situation becomes unbearable and open war is declared.

These truths, once stated, are so self-evident that they hardly need argument to sustain them. It has always been known and undisputed that diplomats were liars, schemers, tricksters, trying to win an underhand advantage. It has always been acknowledged that in war, as heretofore known and carried on, every possible advantage would be taken of the enemy. Nor can it be urged, as a dodge, that the gentleman, who is always an officer, is mainly opposed in battle by privates who are not gentlemen. In the first place the gentleman is not always an officer, but may be a private; and in the second place wars are declared between kings or presidents, undisputedly gentlemen and equals and responsible for the whole thing, and, thirdly, the officer, as a gentleman, faces not merely a mob of privates, but is opposed to another officer, another gentleman. Practically speaking, the privates do not exist at all, but are all parts and members of some officer, who directs their every movement and is altogether responsible for them. Just as, under the old laws, the slave was a part of the master, who would resent any injury offered as an attack upon him, and the wife was a part of the husband, and could not be insulted or injured without responsibility to him; so is the relation of the private to his officer. The war is between the gentlemen officers, and the privates are but weapons wielded by them. By no possibility can this truth be evaded.

It has always been recognized and admitted that the spy was no gentleman, and was acting dishonorably, and it has always been the custom to placate the code in a hypocritical way by hanging the spy, when caught, as a hapless scapegoat; but this too is a trick utterly unworthy of gentlemen, utterly unfair, because the spy is always connived at, assisted, and usually ordered and directed by officers on the side he assists, who conspire with him, receive his messages and reward him, and who as his accomplices are equally or more guilty, and these " gentlemen" can in no way evade their responsibility for his offence. They are all cads together.

In all wars it is the endeavor to crush or overawe an inferior force by a superior one, or by superior or irresistible weapons. This is unfair, this is to act as a bully, this is to dishonor the code.

In all wars it is the custom to take advantage, wherever possible, of the enemy by feints, stratagems, ambuscades, secret mines, night attacks, by any and every lie, deceit, cheat, surprise imaginable except a very few which " civilized " nations have agreed to forgo, and even these agreements are very shaky and apt to be disregarded. All this is to act unworthily as gentlemen and utterly impossible to defend. It would not pass even in the prize ring, at the gaming table, on the race track.

Leaving out of the question all actual rapes of womanhood, all direct thefts and murders of non-combatants (because, though all these do accompany all wars and it is known that they inevitably will, they are at least nominally condemned and forbidden), it is certain that in all wars, as now conducted and as always conducted heretofore, women will be horribly terrified, will be shot and torn by missiles, or will be driven from their homes and subjected to dreadful losses and frightful mental and physical anguish; and not only women, but children, old men, noncombatants, the weak and innocent of all and every kind. Therefore all our wars are unchivalrous; and this too can in no way be evaded or denied.

No gentleman on the duelling ground would think of wearing bullet-proof armor or of using a pistol or rapier in any way superior to that given to his opponent; yet when he becomes an officer in war he unblushingly uses forts, earthworks, armored ships, and tries always to outclass his enemy's armament.

But why go on? The proofs are all on the surface and everybody has seen them, though by a strange paradox of psychological abstraction nobody seems to have seen them. The standards of war and trade are the same and each uses every unfair advantage. Suffice it to say that every soldier of to-day is a coward, a bully, a cheat, a liar, unchivalrous to women and the weak, by every necessity of his profession. He is not and cannot be a gentleman.

But let no one suppose that in this article I am trying to reform the gentleman's code so that no gentleman will fight. I am asking for no reforms or changes whatever in the code. I am standing strictly by the code as it is and has always been, asking only that it shall be consistent and purge out all hypocrisy and everything inconsistent with itself. I want the gentleman to be utterly and fastidiously a gentleman, a knight pure and without reproach, or else acknowledge himself a cad and a vulgarian.

I do not ask to reform the gentleman so that he will not go to war, but I do ask that war be so reformed that a gentleman can be a warrior—an impossibility to-day.

How can this be done? Very simply. A gentleman should blush to ask the question, because the gentleman's code already contains all necessary and explicit guidance. Go back to the Code Duello—what was honorable and fair for two men is honorable and fair for all men; simply make war between nations honorable and fair and fit for gentlemen. If humanity has decided, and it seems it has, that certain questions can only be decided satisfactorily by deadly batde and the drawing of blood, then let us as gentlemen decide how the fight can be equal and noble and worthy of high-minded men.

This might be done in many ways, but I will sketch one possible method. War, to be fair, must be so arranged that any nation, however small, could fight any nation, however great, on equal terms. That goes without saying. Let us suppose, then, that each recognized nation on earth selects one hundred gentlemen to be its army and fighting force. No nadon is so small that it could not do this. Let all nations agree on a common weapon, of equal quality, size, shape, pattern, deadliness; made by the same manufacturer for all alike. Let the manual of arms, tactics and method of fighting be the same for all. Whatever the weapon, it must not be one that could by any possibility accidentally injure non-combatants witnessing or near the conflict. Therefore all fire-arms and missile-weapons must be barred. Let us suppose the weapon chosen is the sword. It has always been the gentleman's weapon, and if this were chosen, " the arbitrament of the sword " would not be an empty phrase. And let a board and jury of judges be chosen, one from each nation, to witness, referee and decide all contests, with this exception, that in any given contest the judges belonging to the nations engaged, being interested parties, should have no vote or voice in the matter. And let a common, international battle-ground be chosen, on some island, or in some remote, desert place, far from the centres of human life. Surgeons, nurses, and seconds to be chosen by each nation to attend to its fighting men. Spectators should be freely admitted to view all battles, except that children should be barred, and perhaps it would be more chivalrous to exclude women.

Two nations have disagreed. All negotiations have failed and it has been decided that only the ordeal of battle can prove the right. One hundred men from each nation are drawn up, facing each other. The seconds have fastidiously paired them off so that as far as may be they are equal in youth, size, weight, skill, as well as in weapons. All have shaken hands, affirmed that they have no personal animosities to settle, all have declared themselves satisfied with the fairness of all arrangements.

At a given signal the battle is on. Swords flash or redden with blood, spectators cheer, encourage, sigh, or are transfixed by the thrilling sight. Each couple fights by itself and until one antagonist is killed, disabled, disarmed, or has surrendered. There is no melee.

When the round is concluded, the slain are borne away, the wounded are attended, the disarmed are declared defeated and withdrawn, unless the enemy permits them to rearm and remain, and the judges confer and agree on points.

The battle has been sanguinary. One side has lost in killed, wounded, disarmed, seventy-five men; the other side has fifty men left. From the fifty men the seconds select twenty-five as fair opponents of the remnant on the other side, and the other twenty-five are told to stand aside. Again the battle closes, and at its conclusion the balance has shifted and the minority side in the first round has now a majority of survivors, ten against five. Some on both sides are slightly wounded, but are permitted to fight again on their own request, the surgeons concurring. Matched again as fairly as possible, another round is fought, and now only two remain able to swing a blade and these fight to a finish.

Had the judges entirely agreed they would now announce their decision, but as they have disagreed on some minor points, they have a week within which to come to a conclusion. If no agreement is reached, then the battle may be fought over again, until a unanimous decision is given. Once the judgment is given, as all involved are gentlemen and honorable men, there is no appeal from the verdict. Nor can any war be fought over again in less than one year's intervening.

Now here is honorable war. No lies, cheats, bullying, braggadocio; no unfair weapons or unfair fighting; no sneaking or skulking, hiding behind breastworks or armor plate; no masked batteries, sniping from tree-tops with smokeless powder and silenced rifles, blowing up from below with mines or submarines; no attacking of sleeping men in the dark; no dropping of bombs on helpless men from the gentle skies; no damage to property, art-treasures, homes, manufactures, agriculture, commerce, travel; no starvation or inflated prices; no navies or vast menacing armies of useless soldiers; no war taxes, except the infinitesimal sum required to finance such a battle between two hundred volunteer gentlemen as I have described; and no women brought to sorrow except those intimately related to the handful of men engaged. Yet there has been real fighting, real bloodshed, perhaps real killing, and Mars has been propitiated.

Of course the killing is not a necessary consequence. It can be intentionally avoided. By wearing masks, armor, or arranging weapons, rules, etc., alike on both sides, killing could be ruled out or made impossible, or a defeat to the killer. Single-sticks or foils could be substituted for real swords with an equally decisive conflict. In fact any non-missile weapon might be substituted. Clubs would probably be considered too vulgar for gentlemen, and while fists might be popular with Anglo-Saxons and Celts, they would never be accepted by the rest of the world; but what about canes or whips? It has always been as common and popular for gentlemen to carry canes and whips as swords, and it perhaps takes a hardier and rarer courage to face blows from a whip than cuts from steel. The defeated party could then, without metaphor, be properly described.as "whipped," " beaten," and " thrashed," and yet there might be but little bloodshed, or serious wounding, and death would be improbable and could be counted against the side inflicting it.

At any rate, here is a method indicated by which war may be made as decisive a test of national and personal hardihood, courage and manliness as now, as decisive of victory or defeat as now, and yet be absolutely honorable and fair; and the way, and the only way, is shown by which it can be touched by a gentleman.



Source:

  • J. William Lloyd, “Honorable War,” The Forum 54, no. 3 (September 1915): 305-312.