Why this unnecessary evil?

Sydney Spencer agonises over the evils of the war:

Thursday October 29th, Saturday October 31st & Sunday

Oxford still exists, & the sound of martial feet is heard in the land, & bugles startle the sacred learned precincts of our college with their brazen cry, & all points to & tells of war. As I write & think of those days when Loughton and I basked in broiling sunshine on the lawn of the Rose & Lily tea gardens, or paddled our canoe among beds of rushes & golden eyed lilies, & followed the sleepy current of that wending stream which runs by the hotel at Wheatley, & saw the world of nature, & pronounced it “very good”, that in four short months the world would be plunged in war!

Yes, as I write our fair world is clouded & darkened, & shaken to its foundations by one of the greatest & most terrible wars that this world has seen. Germany: France: Servia [sic]: Belgium: Portugal: India: Turkey: Poland: Russia: South Africa! All these countries are at war with one or another! England has Germany as her enemy. England, Belgium, Russia, Japan & France are allied against Germany. Servia has as it were, although the originator of the war, died out of the question. In South Africa there is a German party stirring up hatred against England & causing war & bloodshed. Turkey has lifted her hand against Russia & the relations between England & that nation are at breaking point. Today I see that America is protesting against our detention of a ship the “Kroonland”. India in her loyalty to England is drawn into the net, & so the war circle ever widens & widens till indeed it will be a world war.

And that word war. What does it all mean? Why this brutal waste of humanity, why this “unnecessary evil”? For unnecessary it undoubtedly is. And the answer is surely that the nations are not yet Christianised, that is to say not yet civilised. Are those who say that war is a necessary evil right or wrong? In one respect they are right, in one respect wrong. Or perhaps it were better to say, that if they present their arguments in one light they are right, & if in another light wrong. Suppose they say that in the present state of affairs, since the world is neither Christian nor civilised, since nations are wholly ignorant of even the rudiments of Christ’s teaching, since nations would be greeted, if they were suddenly transported to the other world with Depart ye strong to Me, & my Father, depart ye workers of iniquity who lived on earth with a lie ever on your lips: suppose & say that these people acknowledged all this, & further acknowledged that as militarism is the only universally understood language – what a lamentable truth! – and that consequently when we rise up & punish a wicked nation, we must shew we must talk to them in their own language, we must in a word use militarism as an argument & our language, then undoubtedly was is a most necessary evil, & their statement is true. Consequently it is only untrue when nations have learned to respect other arguments, of “meekness”, of “non-resistance”, of “CHRIST”.

I heard an address a little time back, in which the speaker suggested that if I am to gain a man’s respect, & get him to a higher level, I must first shew him that I can beat him on his own level. I take him to mean that I must teach him to respect the fact that I know his own language & philosophy of life, & can beat him on it, & then lift him – having gained his respect and ear, onto a higher level…Well this is a very specious argument, without doubt, as it would logically mean that I must get blind drunk with another man before I can teach him that temperance is a higher level.

Diary of Sydney Spencer, 1914 (D/EX801/12)

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