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

Militarism--The Curse of Civilization.
(S726, Chapter 19: 1898)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Chapter 19 of the book The Wonderful Century, published in 1898. Original pagination from the New York edition (Dodd, Mead and Co.) indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with:

[[p. 325]] CHAPTER XIX.


1. Crime and Punishment.

            They love the most who are forgiven most;
            And when right reason slowly dawns once more
            On the wild madness of a moral fiend--
            Our brother still and God's beloved child--
            There comes a mighty gush of gratitude,
            Thawing the hoar-frost of a life of crime,
            Breaking the icy barriers of self-love,
            While all the loosened rivers of the soul
            Spring from their fountains radiant in the light.
                                                --T. L. Harris.

                    The vilest deeds, like poison weeds,
                        Bloom well in prison air;
                    It is only what is good in Man
                        That wastes and withers there;
                    Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,
                        And the Warder is Despair.
                                                --The Ballad of Reading Jail.

    The first half of the century produced much good work that has not been further developed, many bright promises that have not been fulfilled. The great amelioration of the criminal law, by the exertions of Sir Samuel Romilly, Sir James Mackintosh, and other reformers, have not been succeeded by any corresponding reform of our system of punishment as a whole, which still remains thoroughly inhuman and unjust, and opposed to all the admitted principles by which punishment among a civilized people should be regulated. At the [[p. 326]] beginning of the century about twenty-five offences were punishable with death, including burglary, stealing from a house or shop to the value of 40s., forgery, coining, using old stamps on perfumery and hair powder, sheep- and horse-stealing, and many others. Capital punishment for all these minor offences was abolished before the middle of the century; our prisons were greatly improved as regards cleanliness and order; and transportation to Tasmania and the other Australian colonies, with all its cruelties and abuses, had been got rid of. But there we have stopped; and our treatment of criminals, though not outwardly so harsh, is quite as much opposed to the admitted principles which should regulate all punishment as it was before; while its effects are hardly, if at all, less injurious to the criminals, both as regards bodily and mental health, than the old bad system of the last century.

    Even Plato and other classical writers laid down the principle that one of the great objects of all punishment is the improvement of the criminal. Beccaria in the last century developed this view of the true rationale of punishment, and all modern students and philanthropists admit it; yet during the whole century we have not made a single step in this direction as regards the treatment of adult prisoners. A cast-iron routine, solitude, and a grinding military despotism under which the best characters often suffer most, now characterize our penal system, which is admitted to have the effect of making the good bad and the bad worse; and further, of rendering it almost impossible for a first offender to escape from a life of crime. There is no classification of offenders; no sympathetic instruction; no attempt to improve the [[p. 327]] character; no preparation for an honest life; no means afforded the discharged prisoner enabling him to live an honest life. We have, again and again, been shown what modern penal servitude is like, by educated men who have endured it. They all tell us that it is a hell upon earth; that its tendency is to crush out every human feeling or higher aspiration; and that it sends the majority of those who endure it back to the outside world, worse in character and less capable of living honestly than they were before they entered the prison walls. The system is utterly unchristian, utterly opposed to civilization, or philosophy, or common sense; yet it remains in full force in these last years of the century, and neither governments nor legislators seem to think it a matter of sufficient importance to devote the necessary time and study to its radical reform.

    It must be admitted that in our prison system we see one of the most terrible failures of the boasted civilization of the nineteenth century.

    In an allied department, the confinement of the insane, there is also much room for reform. Their actual treatment, both in public and private asylums, has undergone enormous improvement during the early part of the century, and is now almost as good as it can be made in large asylums, where there is no possibility of that proper classification, isolation, and individual treatment which are essential to curative success. But the great evil lies in the existence of private asylums, kept for profit by their owners; and in the system by which, on the certificate of two doctors, employed by any relative or friend, persons may be forcibly kidnapped and carried to one of these private asylums, without any [[p. 328]] public enquiry, and sometimes even without the knowledge or consent of their other nearest relatives, or of those friends who know most about them. The well-known cases of Mrs. Weldon and Mrs. Lowe prove that perfectly sane persons may be thus incarcerated, with the possibility of making them insane by association with mad people and all the horrors of a crowded asylum. These two ladies were incarcerated because they were spiritualists; that is, because they held the same beliefs as Sir William Crookes, the Earl of Crawford, Gerald Masey, and myself have held for the last thirty years, and for holding which, to be consistent, we and hundreds of other equally sane persons ought to have been permanently confined as lunatics. The great ability and perfect sanity of these ladies, and their having influential friends, rendered it impossible to keep them permanently confined; but we may be sure that many less able persons have been, and are now, cruelly and unjustly deprived of their liberty, and in some cases are made insane by their terrible surroundings. The great danger of trusting exclusively to professional opinions and statements has been shown in my chapters on hypnotism and vaccination. It is therefore imperative that no person shall be deprived of his liberty on the allegation by any medical authorities of his insanity. The fact of insanity should be decided, not by the patient's opinions, but by his acts; and these acts should be proved before a jury, who might also hear medical evidence, before condemnation to an asylum. Asylums for the insane should all belong to public authorities, so that the proprietors and managers should have no pecuniary interest in the continued incarceration of their patients.

    [[p. 329]] So late as 1890 a new and voluminous Lunacy Act was passed, and the public no doubt believe that most of the dangers of the old system are removed. But this is not the case. An examination of this Act shows that private asylums, kept for profit, remain as before. Doctors' opinions are still all-powerful. Under an "urgency order," on the certificate of one doctor, a person may be dragged from his or her home to one of these private asylums, and kept there for seven days, or till a judicial order is obtained, which may sometimes be delayed for three weeks. This judicial order is given by a duly authorized magistrate, on formal application by some person interested, and the certificates of two doctors. The magistrate may see the alleged lunatic, if he pleases, but he may act on the doctor's and petitioner's statements alone. Whatever enquiry he makes is private; but there is little doubt that in most cases he will act on the medical and other statements before him. Then the alleged lunatic is confined for a year; after that for two years more; then for three years; then for five years, if the medical officer of the asylum reports, before the end of each period, that he is still insane.

    And if, either at the first enquiry by the magistrate or afterward, the patient is declared to be sane, and is discharged, there is no provision for giving the alleged lunatic any information as to the cause of his confinement, or the statements of the medical men, or the persons' names who caused him to be confined; so that, really, he is still treated as a possible maniac, and is denied redress if his incarcerators have acted illegally. While confined in one of these private asylums the patient's letters to any official must be sent, but letters to [[p. 330]] any other persons, including his nearest relations or friends, are only sent "at the discretion" of the manager. In like manner the visits of relations or friends require an order from a Commissioner in Lunacy or an official visitor of the asylum; but they are not obliged to give such an order, so that if the manager of any private asylum states that it is inadvisable, or that it would be injurious to the patient, the order will probably be refused. It thus appears that an alleged lunatic, once in an asylum, is wholly dependent on the doctors for any chance of getting out again. Everything is in their hands. The patient may be deprived of all communication with friends, either personally or by letter; and though he may see or write to a Commissioner, that will avail him nothing if the medical superintendent either mistakenly believes him to be insane, or has personal reasons for keeping him in the asylum. From beginning to end there is no publicity, no opportunity of disproving any statements that may be made against him, no means of proving his sanity in open court, and subject to the usual safeguards which are accorded to the poorest criminal.

    Still more dangerous to liberty is the provision, in Sect. 20 of this Act, that any constable, relieving officer, or overseer, may remove any alleged lunatic to the workhouse, if he is satisfied that this is necessary for the public safety or the welfare of the alleged lunatic. It seems hardly credible, but the judges, in a court of appeal, have decided that any of the above named persons may act on the private information of one person, without seeing the alleged lunatic or giving him any opportunity to state or prove that he is not a lunatic! Yet [[p. 331]] they did so decide in March, 1898. A Mr. Harward quarrelled with his wife, and was rather violent, but did not assault or touch her. Yet she went to the relieving officer and said she was afraid her husband would commit suicide or kill her and the children; and on this statement, without any confirmation and without any personal interview, Mr. Harward was taken by force to the workhouse and confined as a lunatic. Being found perfectly sane, he was soon released; and he then brought an action against the Guardians of Hackney Union for false imprisonment. The jury gave him 25 damages, on the ground that "the relieving officer had not taken reasonable care to satisfy himself that the plaintiff was a dangerous lunatic." But the judges decided on appeal that there was no evidence to show that the officer "acted from any other motive than an honest belief," and therefore he was not liable and the plaintiff had no redress. On such grounds, it is evident that any passionate or violent person may, on a mere statement of a relative professing to fear injury, without any further enquiry, be captured and confined as a lunatic, and have no redress. This is a mere parody on justice. Everyone found to have been confined unjustly, for any cause whatever, should receive an apology and compensation from the authorities concerned, without being left to appeal to the law, at great expense and trouble, and with the chance of the further injustice of a decision against him.

    In view of such cases as this, and of the recent scandalous kidnapping of Miss Lanchester; and of the proved danger of founding legislation on the statements and opinions of doctors and officials in the matter of [[p. 332]] compulsory vaccination, the actual state of our Lunacy laws is a permanent danger to liberty and to the free expression of opinion, and is a disgrace to the closing years of our century.

2. The Vampire of War.

        Were half the power that fills the world with terror,
            Were half the wealth bestowed on Camps and Courts,
        Given to redeem the human mind from error,
            There were no need for Arsenals and Forts.
        The Warrior's name would be a name abhorred!
            And every nation that should lift again
        Its hand against a brother, on its forehead
            Would wear for evermore the curse of Cain!

                Since tyrants by the sale of human life
                Heap luxuries to their sensualism, and fame
                To their wide-wasting and insatiate pride,
                Success has sanctioned to a credulous world
                The ruin, the disgrace, the woe of WAR.

    The first half of the nineteenth century was signalized by the abolition of duelling. It had always been illegal, and long been considered to be both absurd and wicked by every advanced thinker; but only when forbidden to military men by the War Office did it entirely disappear among civilians. The same public opinion which caused the disappearance of this form of private war equally condemns war between nations as a means of settling disputes, often of the most trivial kind; and rarely of sufficient importance to justify the destruction of life and property, the national hatreds, and the widespread misery caused by it. Yet so far from any progress having been made toward its abolition, the latter half of the century has witnessed a revival of the war-spirit [[p. 333]] throughout Europe; which region has now become a vast camp, occupied by opposing forces greater in numbers than the world has ever seen before. These great armies are continually being equipped with new and more deadly weapons, at a cost which strains the resources even of the most wealthy nations, and by the constant increase of taxation and of debt impoverishes the mass of the people.

    The first International Exhibition, in 1851, fostered the idea that the rulers of Europe would at length recognize the fact that peace and commercial intercourse were essential to national well-being. But, far from any such rational ideas being acted on, there began forthwith a series of the most unjustifiable and useless dynastic wars which the world has ever seen. The Crimean War in 1854-55, forced on by private interests, with no rational object in view, and terrible in its loss of life; the Austro-Prussian War in 1866; the French invasion of Mexico, and the terrible Franco-German War, were all dynastic quarrels, having no sufficient cause, and no relation whatever to the well-being of the communities which were engaged in them.

    The evils of these wars did not cease with the awful loss of life and destruction of property, which were their immediate results, since they formed the excuse for that inordinate increase of armaments and of the war-spirit under which Europe now groans. This increase, and the cost of weapons and equipments, have been intensified by the application to war purposes of those mechanical inventions and scientific discoveries which, properly used, should bring peace and plenty to all, but which, when seized upon by the spirit of militarism, directly [[p. 334]] tend to enmity among nations and to the misery of the people.

    The first steps in this military development were the adoption of a new rifle for the whole Prussian Army in 1846, the application of steam to our ships of war in 1840, and the use of iron armor for the protection of battleships by the French in 1859. The remainder of the century has witnessed a mad race between all the Great Powers of Europe to increase the death-dealing power of their weapons, and to add to the number and efficiency of their armies; while among the maritime powers there has been a still wilder struggle, in which all the resources of modern science have been utilized in order to add to the destructive power of cannon, and both the defensive and the offensive powers of ships. The various new explosives have been utilized in shells, mines, and torpedoes; rifled cannon of enormous size and power have been manufactured; while battleships of 10,000 to 15,000 tons' displacement, protected by steel armor from ten inches to twenty inches thick, with enormous engines, often at the rate of a horse-power to every ton, driving the ships at a speed of from twelve to twenty-two knots an hour, have so transformed our fleet that the majority of the ships bear no resemblance whatever to the majestic three-deckers and beautiful frigates with which all our great naval victories were gained, and which formed the bulk of our navy only fifty years ago.

    Although the total number of warships and of vessels of all kinds in our fleet are about the same as they were in the middle of the century, their power for offence and defence, and their cost, are immensely greater. Almost all of them are built of iron or steel, and are full of costly [[p. 335]] machinery; while the torpedo-boats and torpedo-destroyers are adapted for purposes quite different from those of the smaller vessels of our old fleets. Some of our modern first-class armored turret-ships cost a million sterling; and yet, as in the case of the Vanguard off Kingstown in 1875, and more recently the Victoria in the Mediterranean, they may be sent to the bottom by a chance collision with a companion ship. The huge 110-ton guns cost 20,000 each, and the more common 67-ton gun costs 14,000. All the modern guns, as well as their projectiles, are elaborate pieces of machinery, finished with the greatest perfection and beauty; and it makes any thoughtful person sad to see such skill and labor, and so much of the results of modern science, devoted to purposes of pure destruction. The six Great Powers of Europe now possess about 300 battleships and cruisers, from 2000 up to near 15,000 tons' displacement, and nearly 2000 smaller vessels, which are able to destroy life and property to an extent probably fifty-fold greater than the fleets of the first half of the century.

    But even this vast cost and loss to modern civilization is surpassed by that of the armies of Europe. The numbers of men have greatly increased; their weapons and equipments are more costly; and the reserve forces to be drawn upon in time of war include almost the whole male adult populations, for whom reserves of arms, ammunition, and all military supplies must be kept ready. Counting only the armies of the six Great Powers on a peace footing, they amount now to nearly three millions of men; and if we add the men permanently attached to the several fleets, we shall have considerably more than three millions of men in the prime of life withdrawn [[p. 336]] from productive labor, and devoted, nominally to defence, but really to attack and destruction. This, however, is only a portion of the loss. The expense of keeping these three millions of men in food and clothing, in weapons, ammunition, and all the paraphernalia of war; of keeping in a state of readiness the ships, fortifications, and batteries; of continually renewing the stores of all kinds; of pensions to the retired officers and wounded men, and whatever other expenditures these vast military organizations entail, amounts to an annual sum of more than 180 millions sterling.1 Now, as the average wages of a working man (or his annual expenditure)--considering the low wages and the mode of living in Russia, Italy, Austria, and the other Continental states--cannot be more than, say, twelve shillings a week, or thirty pounds a year, an expenditure of 180 millions implies the constant labor of at least six million other men in supporting this monstrous and utterly barbarous system of national armaments. If to this number we add those employed in making good the public or private property destroyed in every war, or in smaller military or naval operations in Europe, we shall have a grand total of about ten millions of men withdrawn from all useful or reproductive work, their lives devoted directly or indirectly to the Moloch of war, and who must therefore be supported by the remainder of the working community.

    And what a horrible mockery is all this when viewed in the light of either Christianity or advancing [[p. 337]] civilization! All these nations, armed to the teeth, and watching stealthily for some occasion to use their vast armaments for their own aggrandizement and for the injury of their neighbors, are Christian nations. Their governments, one and all, loudly proclaim their Christianity by word and deed--but the deeds are usually some form of disability or persecution of those among their subjects who are not orthodox. Of really Christian deeds there are none--no real charity, no forgiveness of injuries, no help to oppressed nationalities, no effort to secure peace or good will among men. And all this in spite of the undoubted growth of the true Christian spirit during the last half-century. This spirit has even ameliorated the inevitable horrors of war; by some regard for non-combatants, by greatly increased care of the wounded even among enemies, and by a recognition of some few rights, even of savage races.

    Never, perhaps, have the degrading influences of the war-spirit been more prominent than in the last few years, when all the great Christian powers stood grimly by, while a civilized and Christian people were subjected to the most cruel persecution, rapine, and massacre by the direct orders, or with the consent and approval, of the semi-barbarous Sultan of Turkey. Any two of them had power enough to compel the despot to cease his persecution. Some certainly would have compelled him, but they were afraid of the rest, and so stood still. The excuse was even a worse condemnation than the mere failure to act. Again and again did they cry out, "Isolated action against Turkey would bring on a European war." War between whom? War for what? There is only one answer--"For plunder and conquest." It [[p. 338]] means that these Christian governments do not exist for the good of the governed, still less for the good of humanity or civilization, but for the aggrandizement and greed and lust of power of the ruling classes--kings and kaisers, ministers and generals, nobles and millionaires--the true vampires of our civilization, ever seeking fresh dominions from whose people they may suck the very life-blood. Witness their recent conduct toward Crete and Greece, upholding the most terrible despotism in the world because each one hopes for a favorable opportunity to obtain some advantage, leading ultimately to the largest share of the spoil. Witness their struggle in Africa and in Asia, where millions of savage or semi-civilized peoples may be enslaved and bled for the benefit of their new rulers. The whole world is now but the gambling table of the six Great Powers. Just as gambling deteriorates and demoralizes the individual, so the greed for dominion demoralizes governments. The welfare of the people is little cared for, except so far as to make them submissive tax-payers, enabling the ruling and moneyed classes to extend their sway over new territories and to create well-paid places and exciting work for their sons and relatives. Hence comes the force that ever urges on the increase of armaments and extensions of empire. Great vested interests are at stake; and ever-growing pressure is brought to bear upon the too-willing governments in the name of the greatness or the safety of the Empire, the extension of commerce, or the advance of civilization. Anything to distract attention from the starvation and wretchedness and death-dealing trades at home, and the thinly-veiled slavery in many of our tropical or sub-tropical colonies. The [[p. 339]] condemnation of our system of rule over tributary states is to be plainly seen in plague and famine running riot in India after more than a century of British rule and nearly forty years of the supreme power of the English government.2 Neither plague nor famine occurs to-day in well- [[p. 340]] governed communities. That the latter, at all events, is almost chronic in India, a country with an industrious people and a fertile soil, is the direct result of governing in the interests of the ruling classes instead of making the interests of the governed the first and the only object. But in this respect India is no worse off than our own country. The condition of the bulk of our workers, the shortness of their lives, the mortality among their children, and the awful condition of misery and [[p. 341]] vice under which millions are forced to live in the slums of all our great cities, are, in proportion to our wealth and their nearness to the centre of government, even more disgraceful than the periodic famines of remote India. Both are the results of the same system--the exploitation of the workers for the benefit of the ruling caste--and both alike are among the most terrible failures of the century.

    The state of things briefly indicated in this chapter is not progress, but retrogression. It will be held by the historian of the future to show that we of the nineteenth century were morally and socially unfit to possess [[p. 342]] and use the enormous powers for good or evil which the rapid advance of scientific discovery had given us; that our boasted civilization was in many respects a mere surface veneer; and that our methods of government were not in accordance with either Christianity or civilization. This view is enforced by the consideration that all the European wars of the century have been due to dynastic squabbles or to obtain national aggrandizement, and were never waged in order to free the slave or protect the oppressed without any ulterior selfish ends.

    It has been often said that Companies have no souls, and the same is still more true of the Governments of our day.

Notes Appearing in the Original Work

    1. This is the amount obtained by adding together the war expenditures of the six Great Powers, as given in "The Statesman's Year Book" for 1897. [[on page 336]]

    2. The Parliamentary Papers recently issued on the Plague in India reveal an insanitary condition of Calcutta and Bombay (and no doubt of most other Indian cities) which is almost incredible; yet we may be sure that it does not err on the side of exaggeration, because it makes known such an utter disregard for the well-being of the Indian peoples, while taxing them to the verge of starvation, as to be nothing less than criminal. These Papers, and the discussion on the Plague in Bombay at the Society of Arts, also illustrate that unreliability of interested official statements which we have seen to be so prominent a feature of the vaccination question.
    In January, 1897, the Indian Government sent the Director-General of the Indian Medical Service, Dr. Cleghorn, to Bombay, to examine personally into the conditions that led to the outbreak and to recommend the best measures for dealing with it. He made "a thorough investigation of the infected quarters," and this is what he states: About seventy per cent. of the whole native population (about 800,000) live in "chawls" or tenement-houses of various sizes, the largest being six or seven stories high and holding from 500 to 1000 people each. They consist, on each floor, of a long corridor, with small rooms on each side about 8 feet by 12 feet, each room inhabited by a family, often of 5 or 6 persons. The sanitary arrangements were utterly inadequate, the consequence being that the corridors, especially at the ends, became receptacles of filth of every kind, and were apparently never thoroughly cleaned. But the greatest evil of all was that these overcrowded tenements were built side by side, often with a space of only three or four feet between them, so that, even if the windows were open, in all the lower floors there could be neither adequate light nor ventilation. The privacy of Indian domestic life, however, forbade the opening of these windows, so that practically in half at least of the rooms there was neither light nor ventilation. Added to this, the narrow alleys between the chawls, owing to the inadequacy of other accommodation, were used as refuse pits and open sewers, where filth was allowed to accumulate, so that both inside and outside there were masses of disease-breeding matter. Even if the rooms [[p. 340]] and corridors were kept clean, the darkness, the want of ventilation, and the overcrowding would be sources of deadly disease. With the superadded filth inside and out and the tropical climate, the absence, rather than the presence, of plague would seem the more extraordinary phenomenon, since the condition of London in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries could hardly have been so bad. The same Parliamentary Paper (up to March, 1897) contains a Sanitary Inspection Report on Calcutta, which goes much more into detail, and describes a state of things of the most terrible and almost incredible nature. As examples--six men and boys lived and cooked in a room 7 X 7 X 6 feet, which had no window, and with filth and sewage all around. Of another street we read: "The houses are built almost back to back. It would be nearly impossible to squeeze between them; sunlight is so far shut out that, with broad daylight outside the gully, it is absolutely impossible to do more than grope your way within these tenements; rats run about here in the dark as they would at night; a heavy, sickening odor pervades the whole place; walls and floors are alike damp with contamination from liquid sewage, which lies rotting and for which there is no escape." There are eight foolscap pages of this Report, going into even more horrible details; and there can be no doubt that a large portion of it will apply just as well to Bombay as to Calcutta, and thus enable us to realize more fully the condition of the many hundred thousand dwellers in the worst parts of that plague-stricken city. In the discussion that followed the reading of Mr. Birdwood's paper at the Society of Arts, Dr. Simpson, late Health Officer in Calcutta--who had been in Bombay assisting the search parties in the plague-stricken districts--stated that, "bad as the houses were in some parts of Calcutta, he found them immensely worse at Bombay." On the other hand, Mr. Acworth, late Municipal Commissioner of Bombay, said [[p. 341]] that the Bombay "chawls" were not so bad as the Calcutta "bustees"; that it was "utterly untrue to say that Bombay was a grossly insanitary town," and that it was really the most sanitary large town in India! But the climax of contradiction is reached by the Rev. A. Bowman, late chaplain of Byculla Jail, Bombay, who stated in a letter to The Times (reprinted in the Journal of the Society of Arts, vol. xlvi. p. 333), that he had known the streets and lanes of Bombay intimately for the last five years, and he says, without fear of contradiction, that such places as were described by the Surgeon-General [Dr. Cleghorn] do not exist! The reverend gentleman referred especially to "chawls" holding one thousand people, and rooms and corridors which the light of day could not enter; but he apparently did not then know that Dr. Cleghorn had made these statements in an official memorandum for the information of the Government of India, or he would hardly have made his contradiction so emphatic.
    But what are we to think of a Government that has allowed the erection of such tenements in the two chief cities of the empire, and which takes no heed of the most rudimentary principles of sanitation till a visitation of plague compels attention to them? A Government which spends millions on railroads, on gigantic armies, on annexations and frontier wars, on colleges and schools, and on magnificent public buildings, while allowing a considerable proportion of the native population to live in such horribly insanitary conditions as to rival the worst plague-infected cities of Europe in the Middle Ages. And this is modern civilization! [[on pages 339-341]]

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