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BY DR. ALFRED J. H. CRESPI.
THAT the time might soon come when wars will cease and armies be disbanded has long been the earnest prayer of the Christian and the dream of the enlightened philosopher. With Europe one vast camp, and wars and rumours of wars continually distracting the nations, that blessed reign of peace does not seem likely soon to
The present century has been pre-eminently distinguished for its colossal armies, and hard-fought and sanguinary battles. The first fifteen years were passed in wars which cost the lives of not fewer than three, perhaps even of four, millions of men, and which seriously retarded the progress of the world.
With the fall of Napoleon, at Waterloo, the principal source of danger was removed, and for thirty years Europe was able to breathe, or, rather, it had time to partially recover from the effects of those expensive, and in many cases iniquitous, wars, which had laid waste a large part of the Continent, and had brought sorrow and poverty to millions of homes. That brief period of uneasy repose over, a new era commenced, one not perhaps so remarkable for the number and duration of its wars as for the ceaseless preparation made for war-preparations little less ruinous and unwise than actual war itself-and so vast, so well organised, as to transform a great part of Europe into an enormous camp, and half the men of Europe into soldiers."
The wars of the last twenty years have been on a colossal scale. Europe has several times seen a million, sometimes nearer two millions, of armed men in motion. The United States, separated by the broad ocean from the rest of the civilised world, have been the scene of a terrible and fratricidal conflict, in which some hundreds of thousands of brave and generous men were consigned to an early grave. Battles have taken place in which from 300,000 to 500,000 men have been actually engaged. Science has exerted herself to the utmost to improve the weapons with which the mighty armies of the present day are armed, and to render possible the rapid con. centration of still larger masses of troops.
Firearms are in general use as remarkable for their accuracy of fire as for their length of range. The whole strength of a nation is called forth by the breaking out of war, and the most tremendous
efforts are made to lose no time. As soon as war commences there is little time for further preparation; the object then being to turn to instant account everything that had been prepared for the purpose during the busy years of peace.
Long before fresh bodies of men could be properly dried, long before the destruction of valuable materiel could be replaced, the war may be over. While it lasts, short, sharp, and exhausting; but, fortunately, soon over. Then once more come the feverish, insane rivalry of preparation, the easily-aroused suspicion, the ill disguised fear of friends and foes.
On the scale of recent wars, hostilities could not last long. In a single month many millions of pounds are expended, and far larger sums wasted or destroyed. There is a cessation of industry of all kinds, and pestilence and famine would certainly be the result of a great war lasting six or seven years. In consequence, therefore, of the short duration of hostilities in modern times, a war, however terrible and sanguinary while it lasts, would not permanently tax the resources of a nation, and give rise to the heartrending suffering of the Thirty Years War, or of the Seven Years War; were it not that the preparations and expenditure of those periods which, by an excess of courtesy, are known as times of peace, make it difficult for a nation to recover from its losses and defeats.
The wars of the present generation have been remarkable in many ways. The care taken not to cause unncessary loss or suffering to the unhappy inhabitants of the country the seat of hostilities is in itself a pleasing proof of the higher civilisation and more practical Christianity of the age. The humanity and tenderness with which the wounded of both sides, and the prisoners, are treated would have startled the old Peninsular armies, themselves far in advance of the troops of the middle ages, and would have seemed to the Great Frederick a mark of effeminacy. This consideration for the helpless inhabitants of the invaded country, and this humane, and almost at times genercus, treatment of the wounded, are sufficient to show the progress which has been made towards that state of universal brotherhood which will one day make war impossible, and they are the strongest proofs that the unselfish labour of the friends of peace will ultimately be crowned with success.
Surely, now that the world admits that the wounded are men and brothers-not wild beasts and enemies-and are entitled to the tender care which a suffering brother would claim and receive; now that the conquerers, as soon as the battle is over, are the first to hasten to the rescue of their wounded foes, and to spare no pains to remove them from danger, and to provide them with every com
fort, there seems some possibility that the nations of the civilised world will advance a step farther, and perceive and acknowledge that war must be a heinous crime, and doubly iniquitous now that men are beginning to admit that God has of one blood created all the races of mankind, and that He designed them to be brothers and friends. But this humanity and consideration-excellent as far as they go-ought not to blind anyone to what war really is. War and destruction are convertible terms, and must always remain so.
There is nothing of which man has any knowledge so awfully destructive, while it lasts, as a great war. Men, horses, houses, property of all kinds, and the costly materiel of war, are sacrificed with a prodigality which, even in these humane days, is appalling; and which might become ten times as frightful, were circumstances to arise which should call forth, in wild fury, the darker and fiercer passions of the combatants. It is certainly not likely, but it is quite possible, that in some future struggle between two of the principal Continental nations, success might incline first to one side then to the other, and then, again, incline to the former; and that two or three years of bloodshed would be required to bring the conflict to a decisive termination.
The suffering caused by six months of war is bad enough; but this suffering would, in every succeeding six months, increase in geometrical proportion. At last, when the exhausted combatants. had to seek, in an armistice, the repose they both sorely needed, the injury done to the more unfortunate might be without a parallel in the world's history.
The power for mischief which an enormous army, like that of Germany in the late war, possesses, probably surpasses anything which even the strongest enemies of war have attributed to it. million of armed men, exasperated by opposition, privation, and hatred, might destroy dozens of flourishing towns, and transform the most fertile provinces of Europe into a desert. Twenty years of hard work would be necessary to repair the loss, and to restore the country to its normal condition. Those who set great armies in motion must never be allowed to forget what may some day be the consequences of a protracted modern war.
In one respect, the wars of the last twenty years have been very unlike what might reasonably have been expected. They have been sanguinary enough, in all conscience; still, considering the kind of weapons used, and the immense size of the armies engaged, the casualties have been comparatively few.
In the great Napoleonic wars the percentage of killed and wounded appears, according to the most carefully compiled statistics, to have been so much larger than what has lately been the
rule, that, in spite of the colossal dimensions of the armies engaged, it does not seem probable that any of the recent battles have, with perhaps one or two exceptions, cost as many lives as the principal battles of the beginning of the century. A percentage of from six or seven, to occasionally fourteen or sixteen, killed and wounded, may fairly represent the average loss in recent battles. Unless gross errors have been made in the returns, generally accepted as accurate, the percentage of casualties, sixty or seventy years ago, ranged from twelve or fourteen, to twenty or thirty. In one or two cases, the percentage appears to have fallen little short of fifty; while on one occasion, that of Albuera, the casualties in the victorious army, approached eighty per cent. The battle of Albuera, by the way, is a singular proof of the horrors of war. A most cautious and impartial critic, Sir William Napier, does not hesitate to say that it ought never to have been fought, as no possible advantage could result from it; yet in that action nearly twenty thousand men fell.
The explanation of the smaller percentage of mortality of late years-a result not to have been expected-is, probably, that now, in consequence of the deadly nature of the weapons used, a great battle resembles nothing so much as a number of skirmishes. Formerly, large masses of troops manœuvred so near to the enemy's guns as to suffer terrible loss from weapons comparatively rude, but formidable enough when brought to bear on large bodies of men and horses.
The progress of military science has actually been of service to humanity, though exerting itself to the utmost to make war still more destructive. Modern firearms make it necessary that troops should he broken up into long thin lines, and that advantage should be taken of any shelter, however small. Dense masses of men can rarely in these days be exposed to the fire of artillery and infantry near at hand. Were they to be so exposed, the most frightful destruction would be the inevitable consequence.
Still greater improvements in the range and accuracy of firearms will probably lead to such a further scattering of the troops engaged that the percentage of casualties will be still more diminished.
The experience of the last two hundred years has shown the folly of wars of conquest. Probably, henceforth there will be little danger of organised attempts to wrest large tracts of territory from a foreign nation. When successful, the cost of hostilities would make the advantage gained a doubtful one, while the difficulty of retaining possession of a conquered tract of hostile country for more than a very few years seems to be getting greater and greater. What, perhaps, is still more important is that public opinion, both in England and elsewhere, would no longer sanction attempts of
the kind, unless, indeed, they disguised themselves under some more or less plausible pretext. From the danger of wars of conquest, Europe seems nearly free.
Wars to preserve the so-called balance of power are not likely to be common in future. There never was a time, ancient or modern, when the continent of Europe was parcelled out equally among ten or twelve principal nations, all pretty nearly of the same strength. There never was a time when one or two, at least, did not possess far greater power and wealth than the rest.
Of course, however, the statesmen of the last century never pretended to be distressed at the weakness and poverty of Portugaland Switzerland, or to fear that the greater strength of Austria or France endangered their safety and property. In all their schemes for the preservation or the restoration of that ignis fatuus-the balance of power-they only thought of the four or five principal states of Europe. All they attempted to do, all the ministers of the last century and of the first half of the present one contemplated, was to keep the great powers of the world about as powerful the one as another. At best, therefore, the balance of power was a very one-sided affair. Experience taught them nothing. They would not, they could not, see that the balance of power, even in the case of the great empires of Europe, was yearly changing, and that first one, then another, came to the front; and for a time was supreme.
The wisdom or folly of the government for the time being of any nation was, of course, enough to increase or decrease the power of that nation. Success in a long and sanguinary war was certain to give the victorious people an amount of prestige which, for a time, overthrew or disturbed the balance of power.
Three times in the course of a hundred years England possessed, in all probability, more power than any of her rivals. Once, at least, in the same century, France was omnipotent. Once in the same period, Prussia, ruled by the victorious Frederick, was almost without a rival. Within the last twenty years France has seemed to be the most powerful nation in Europe; and when her star set at Gravelotte and Sedan, Prussia rose to the top, and now can look down on all her rivals and neighbours. The very attempt to preserve the balance of power is certain to lead to greater confusion than ever. No nation can long retain the supremacy; for while several powerful countries, all very populous and wealthy, divide the Continent of Europe amongst themselves, a turn in the wheel of fortune may lower one, and raise another. The death of her ablest generals and statesmen might deprive Germany of her wellearned pre-eminence.
The source from which danger will long continue to come is