Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

The Causes of War, and the Remedies
(S567: 1899)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Wallace's essay on this subject first appeared in abbreviated form in French, but was printed in toto in English a short time later on page 213 of the London newspaper The Clarion, issue of 8 July 1899. To link directly to this page, connect with:

    In response to a request from the Editor of L'Humanité Nouvelle, I here give my views, briefly, on the questions submitted to me. [These were: "(1) Is war among civilised nations still necessary on the grounds of history, right, and progress? (2) What are the effects of militarism--intellectual, moral, physical, economic, and political? (3) What is the best solution of the problems of war and militarism in the interests of the future civilisation of the world? (4) What are the most rapid means of arriving at this solution?" --Ed.]

    (1) Under the existing conditions of society in all civilised communities, and as a consequence of the principles and methods of government which prevail in them, war cannot cease to be more or less prevalent among them.

    The conditions which almost inevitably lead to war are the existence of specialised ruling and military classes, to whom the possession of power and the excitements and rewards of successful war are the great interests of life. So long as the people permit these distinct and independent classes to exist, and--more than this--continue to look up to them as superiors and as necessary for the proper government of the country and for the effective protection of individual and national freedom, so long will these rulers continue to make wars.

    All civilised governments, whatever may be their professions, act on the principle that extension of territory and the absorption of adjacent or remote lands, so as to increase both the extent of country and the population over which they have sway, is a good in itself, quite irrespective of the consent of the peoples so absorbed and governed, and even when the peoples are alien in race, in language, and religion. Although they may not openly avow their acceptance of this doctrine, yet they invariably act upon it, though in some cases they think it necessary to make excuses for their action. They declare that such conquest and absorption is necessary for the national safety, for the increase of trade, and for many other reasons. The majority of the workers, and of educated people who do not belong to the ruling or the military classes, however, do not accept this principle. They more or less decisively hold the opinion that governments can only justly derive their power from the consent of the governed, and that all wars for territory and all conquests of alien peoples are wrong.

    The reason of this difference of opinion is very simple. Every addition of territory, every fresh conquest even of barbarous nations or of savages, provides outlets and additional places of power and profit for the ever-increasing numbers of the ruling classes, while it also provides employment and advancement for an increased military class in first subduing and then coercing the subject populations, and in preparing for the inevitable frontier disputes and the resulting further extensions of territory. Wars and conquests and ever-expanding territories are thus found to be essential to their existence and continued power as superior classes. But the people outside these classes derive little, if any, benefit from such extensions, while they invariably suffer from increased taxation, either temporarily or permanently, due to increased armaments, which the protection of the enlarged territory requires. Almost without exception every war of modern times has been a dynastic war--a war conceived and carried out in the interests of the two great governing classes, but having no relation whatever to the well-being of the peoples who have been forced to fight each other. In every case the people suffer by the loss or disablement of sons, husbands, and fathers, by the destruction of crops, houses, and other property, and by increased taxation, due to the increase of armaments that always follows such wars even in the case of the victors. Hence the material and moral interests of the mass of the people of every country are wholly opposed to war, except in the one case of defending their country against invasion and conquest. They are therefore more open to the influence of moral and humane considerations, while they alone feel the numberless evils which war brings upon them. Except in very rare cases, a plebiscite fairly taken would decide against any other than a defensive war.

    (2) To discuss the effects of militarism under the various heads suggested in the question would require much space and some special knowledge which I do not possess. That these effects have both good and evil aspects may be admitted. The evil effects have been often set forth and are sufficiently known, both in their vast extent and far-reaching consequences, while the greatest of them--the perpetuation of war and the desire for military glory--has already been alluded to. I will, therefore, confine my remarks to the partial good that undoubtedly exists in this fundamentally evil thing, chiefly for the purpose of showing that whatever good there is in it may be obtained in other ways which are as essentially humane, moral, and beneficial as war is essentially cruel, immoral, and hurtful.

    The good that results from militarism arises wholly from the perfection of its organisation, of its training, of the habits of order, cleanliness, and obedience which the soldier soon learns are essentials to efficiency, from the social and brotherly life of the soldier, whether in camp or in the field, from the esprit de corps which grows out of its systematic organisation and companionship, leading to generous rivalry and to those deeds of heroism and self-sacrifice which are universally admired. And, further, every soldier learns by experience the marvellous power of organised labour under skilled direction to overcome what to the ordinary man seem insurmountable difficulties. He sees how foaming torrents or broad rivers can be rapidly bridged; how roads can be made over morasses or across mountains; how the most formidable and apparently impregnable defences are attacked and taken; and how a few bold men in a "forlorn hope," by the sacrifice of their lives, often insure the success of the army to which they belong. Many of the finest qualities of our nature are thus called into action by the soldier's training and during his struggle against the enemy; and so greatly has humanity developed among us that it may be fairly argued that these good effects more than balance the evil passions of cruelty, lust, and plunder which even now are to some extent manifested in every great war, though to a far less degree than even 50 years back.

    But every one of these good results of militarism could certainly be obtained by any equally extensive and equally skilful organisation for wholly beneficial purposes. If labour, where organised for military ends, is so effective in results and so beneficial as a training, it would be equally effective and equally beneficial when devoted to overcoming the obstacles to man's progress presented by nature to the production of the necessaries of civil life, to sanitary works for the preservation of health, and to everything that facilitates communication and benefits humanity. If the same amount of knowledge, the same amount of energy, and the same lavish expenditure, where absolutely required, were devoted to the training of great industrial armies, to their maintenance in the most perfect health and efficiency, and to their employment in that great war which man is ever waging against Nature, subduing her myriad forces to his service, guarding against those sudden attacks by storm and flood, by violence and earthquake, which he cannot altogether avoid, and in the production of all the essentials of human life and of a true and beneficent civilisation, the good effects on character would surely be much greater than those produced by mere military training, as the objects aimed at and the results achieved would be more beneficial and more calculated to promote the higher interests of man. And if these industrial armies were allowed to reap the full advantages, material as well as moral, which they created, the results would be so striking that almost the entire population, male and female alike, would claim to be so trained and organised for their own physical, moral, and economic benefit. And the enjoyment of life under such a system of voluntary organised labour would be so enhanced that few indeed would wish to escape from it. Labour in companionship for the common good almost ceases to be labour at all. Friendly emulation takes the place of unfriendly competition, and esprit de corps urges each local organisation to surpass other local organisations in efficiency. In such a grand industrial organisation, with equal opportunities of education and training for all, there would necessarily be numbers of inventors and students whose aim and delight would be to so improve the machinery and the methods of work as to continually diminish all the less pleasant forms of labour, and thus proportionately increase the amount of leisure and the higher enjoyments of social life.

    It has been objected to all such proposals for the organisation of industry that it would deteriorate character by destroying individuality; but no such objection is made to the military organisation, while under its best forms the reverse is found to occur. In point of fact, all organisation is beneficial to character just in proportion as it rises above slavery. And when it shall have reached the point of being the organisation of social equals, for the equal benefit of all, it will attain to its most beneficial influence. Then, character and merit will alone give authority, and the highest and best will inevitably rise to the highest positions. And, just in proportion as the rank and file became educated, and felt the inspiring influences of comradeship and emulation, they could be left more and more to their own initiative; each one's individuality would have the fullest play, controlled only by the influence and opinion of his immediate fellow-workers, and the whole great organisation would become almost automatic in its harmonious working.

    Such is found to be the case in the best military organisations, in which the intelligence and individual action of both commissioned and non-commissioned officers, and even of privates, is cultivated, and becomes of the greatest value, giving to the army in which it most generally exists an undoubted superiority. In any army thus intelligently and sympathetically trained and organised none of the results so dreaded in industrial organisation are found to occur. Men are not brought to a dull level of mediocrity; interest in the work they have to do is not lost; skulkers, malingerers, and deserters do not abound in any appreciable or hurtful proportion; nor is there any indication that men of superior abilities refuse to exercise their talents for the common good because the money rewards of such ability are small as compared with those often obtained in civil life; and lastly, the fact that all are provided with food and clothing, and are thus removed from the influence of economic competition, is not found to have any injurious effect on their effectiveness as workers, fighters, or organisers. And that these effects are not caused by compulsion and the severe penalties of military law is shown by the fact that during the civil war in America, where compulsion and punishment were rarely used, the whole of the opposing armies being practically volunteers, cheerfully submitting to military drill and organisation for the common good, these high qualities were equally manifested.

    Yet objections of this class are held to be fatal to any proposal for national industrial organisation for the benefit of all, and the very system of training and co-operation which in the one case is admitted to have beneficial effects on character, and is undoubtedly, even under very unfavourable conditions, attractive in its comradeship and freedom from care, is condemned as being injurious and unworkable when applied industrially. Oh! that some great ruler of men would arise to benefit humanity by organising industrial armies, leading to the elevation and happiness of a whole people, and thus proving that peace may have its victories, far greater and more glorious than those of war!

    (3-4) The two last questions--as to the solution of the problems of war and militarism, and the means of arriving as rapidly as possible at such a solution--have already been partly answered in the preceding discussion of the problem itself, but a few words may here be added.

    It is, I think, clear that no hope of a complete solution--hardly even of amelioration--is to be expected from the ruling classes, urged on as they are on the one hand by those who are ever seeking for place and power, or for official appointments in newly-acquired territories, and on the other hand by the military class, who ever seek to justify their existence and the enormous burden they are to the nation by obtaining for it extensions of territory or military glory, and with either of these an extension of their own influence. It is, therefore, the people, and the people alone, that must be relied upon to banish militarism and war, and for this end every possible effort must be made to educate and enlighten them, not only as to the horrors and iniquity of war, but as to the utter inadequacy and worthlessness of almost all the causes for which wars are waged. They must be shown that all modern wars are dynastic; that they are caused by the ambition, the interests, the jealousies, and the insatiable greed of power of their rulers, or of the great mercantile and financial classes which have power and influence over their rulers; and that the results of war are never good for the people, who yet bear all its burthens.

    In the course of this education of the people there are certain points that should be specially advocated. For example, nothing is more inconsistent, more foolish, and more wicked than the universal practice of civilised and Christian nations in selling all the most improved weapons and instruments of destruction to semi-civilised, barbarous, or savage rulers, thereby rendering it more difficult--more costly in blood and treasure--to deal with such rulers when their crimes against their own peoples or against humanity become too great to be borne. This practice also renders it ever more and more difficult for advanced nations to disarm, and thus gives to militarism an additional reason for its existence. From every point of view, whether of Christianity, humanity, or human progress, the supply of modern instruments of war to barbarous rulers, for the coercion of their own subjects, and as a standing menace to civilisation, should be absolutely forbidden. For this purpose, and in order that legal enactments to this end may be effective, we must try and create a sentiment of horror against those who continue thus to betray the cause of civilisation, as being not only traitors to their country, but enemies to the human race. In my opinion, men who, after due notice, and in spite of its declared illegality, continue to supply these weapons to the possible enemies of their country should be declared outlaws in every Christian or civilised community. Hardly less foolish and wicked is the free trade in these instruments and armaments of war, so that directly one or more of the civilised nations are preparing for war the workshops of all the other civilised nations are at once engaged in supplying every kind of destructive appliance, even though they may in a year or two be used against themselves. The time will surely soon come when this conduct will be looked upon as the very culminating point of combined folly and wickedness that the world has seen. The only rational mode of procedure would be to forbid altogether the private manufacture or sale of war material. War is a national act, and so long as it exists all preparation for it should be kept strictly in the hands of national governments.

    This supply of the implements of war is the work of capitalists in their own interests; but even worse, if that be possible, is the action of the great civilised governments themselves in allowing their trained officers to engage in the organisation of the armies of semi-barbarous rulers, thus rendering it more difficult to coerce these rulers in the interests of civilisation, and indirectly, yet most certainly, leading to a vast extension of the horrors of war. The entire absence of ethical principle created by militarism is especially shown in the fact that no effective protest has been raised against this most pernicious and suicidal practice. Here, again, the people alone can take effective action, and the people want educating. Common justice, common humanity, even common sense, alike demand that this practice be absolutely forbidden, and that any officer engaging in the organisation of the armies of semi-barbarous or alien rulers should be declared an outlaw by the Government in whose army he was trained, be demanded from the employing Government as a traitor to his country, and the refusal to give him up be followed by an instant declaration of war from all the civilised governments.

    Yet another point on which the people should be educated is, that they should claim and exercise the right to refuse, as soldiers, to act against their fellow-countrymen or against other countries with whose people they have no quarrel. Accepting the principle that the only just rights of governments rest upon the consent of the governed, what is termed rebellion is not a crime, but is usually the just demand of a community for self-government, a demand which, instead of being repressed by force, should be tested by a plebiscite. And smaller disturbances, termed riots, always arise from some injustice or supposed injustice, and are not proper subjects for massacre by armed soldiers. To use fire-arms against a crowd, and kill or maim innocent persons, women and children, as almost always happens, is to authorise murder. Whenever it may be necessary to prevent violence by a mob, and the available force of police is not sufficient, special constables should be enrolled. But a far better plan would be to organise the fire-brigades as coadjutors of the police, since it is certain that no unarmed (or even armed) mob can stand against the jet of a fire-engine or of several fire-engines. The mob would instantly disperse, and be rendered ridiculous without endangering life.

    Of course, any proposed system of arbitration to settle disputes between nations should be strongly supported; but the existing condition of all the great civilised governments renders it certain that, so long as the ruling and military classes exist, and are allowed to possess the almost absolute powers they now exercise, war, as the ultimate mode of settling national disputes, will not cease.

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