There were a great many young college and university men in the volunteer army during the Spanish-American war. No one looked for a long war or much serious fighting, and we all believed in our superiority over the Spanish soldiers as fighters, and many of us young men looked upon the war as a sort of outing or picnic and went in for the excitement of it and a jolly, good time generally. The fighting did not amount to so much, but there were some distressingly hot moments before it was over, and a number of fine young fellows were cut down by bullets and a great many more, in fact some thousands of the boys, were swept by disease into untimely graves.
“Strange to say in those days and nights about the camp fire, while I was trying hard to persuade myself that I had certainly ascended from apes, and that it mattered but little if one ape should kill another, I found myself quite inclined to talk on religious subjects. My distressed state of mind drove me to seek to confirm myself in unbelief. If I could only have found some one who could have proven to me, beyond a doubt, that the Bible was a concoction of stories and fables gotten up by uninspired and designing men it would have lifted a load off of my guilty soul.
I was not much surprised, and somewhat comforted, to find most of our college and university men, especially those from the East and Northeast, were unbelievers in the Scriptures. I met with quite a number who, like myself, had once been Christians but had been robbed of their faith in the Scriptures, in the schools they had attended, and, like myself along with the giving up of their faith, had given up their morals also, and had become miserably wicked men. Skeptical college professors seem to forget that the old faith which they regard as musty superstition, has a powerful moral effect upon men’s lives; that it lifts up high standards of honesty, sobriety, and virtue, and these in the way of promised rewards and punishments, offer most powerful incentives toward a right course of conduct, and true manly living. There is that in the nature and surroundings of a young man, that draws him very strongly toward an improper and dangerous course of conduct. An unquestioning faith in the Bible and the future life, revealed in its pages and what it says of the final fearful outcome of sinful conduct, places a powerful restraint upon a man. It gives him both hopes and fears to check and brace him to resist temptation and to develop strong and pure character.
The modern destructive critic in the college or pulpit, destroys this wholesome faith in the Bible, takes off the restraints, unbridles the appetites, cuts loose the latch of the passions and sends young men into rampant wickedness. Of course, that is not their purpose, nevertheless it is almost certainly the result of the course they pursue, many of them are doubtless acquainted with the facts, and yet seem perfectly willing to take the risk involved in the propagation of their free and easy notions about the inspiration and authority of the word of God.
The soldier in the United States army finds very little to restrain himself from sin, or to help him, self to a life of purity and right living. A large per cent of the army officers are materialistic in their views. They too have the taint of unbelief that is so common today in many of our schools, and among a large per cent of the public man of the country. Comparatively few army officers, whatever their views may be with reference to the Scriptures or the religious life here and hereafter, wield an influence that has any moral effect upon their soldiers. The chaplains themselves seem to be for the most part, political chaplains. That is, they were men who had a pull. They were not appointed to the chaplaincy because of any especial fitness for the position, but because they had friends who were able to secure for them the position and they wont along for the money, the recreation, and the novelty of it instead of to watch over and protect the boys from the ruin of army life.
It is wonderful how the social vulture will gather about an army camp. The very worst of men and women come flocking in there from all quarters and settle down around the soldier boys to live off of them. Saloons and brothels, gambling dens and dives, will spring up like mushrooms at any place where soldiers are stationed for even a few weeks. In the Cuban campaign, the people swarmed like flies about our camps and the sin and degradation were something fearful.
Just after the war closed, and while we were still in camp in Cuba, I received a letter from my father telling me of the death of my poor brother John. It turned out that John had been suffering from diabetes, and while the doctors felt that the tragedy which had occurred at his house had broken him down and perhaps helped to hurry his trouble, nevertheless the die had been cast for the poor fellow, and it would have been impossible, under the most favorable circumstances, for him to have lived but a short time. This aroused all of my compunctions of conscience. I could see now if I had let the matter entirely alone, John would soon have gone away in peace to heaven and been saved beyond those so unworthy of him, to live and sin as they saw fit, and I would have had no blood on my hands, no guilt on my conference.
John’s death seemed to be the breaking of the one last link that held me on somewhat to hope for hater things, and seemed to fall away deeper into unbelief and indifference than before. I plunged into excess, frequently drank to drunkenness, gambled away what money I could get my hands on and rushed into sin, not only to gratify my carnal inclinations, but with the deliberate purpose of so hardening my heart that my wicked enjoyments might not be disturbed by the cries of my conscience. Wicked as I was, I do not suppose that I was any worse than a very large per cent of my associates. I do not think that the average minister of the gospel has any real conception of the amount of sin that is going on around about him, of the number of fearfully hard men one will meet with in a day who live as if there were no Bible, no God, no judgment, and no hereafter. So far as any outward observation is concerned, that is the way a very large per cent of us lived in the army. And, as to that matter, sad to say, in many of the great colleges and universities.
When the Cuban war closed, I came home for a time, found my father ill rapidly declining health, and deeply concerned for me. While he looked upon me with great solicitude and I could easily imagine his thoughts, he was careful of his words and the dear man did not dare to exhort, entreat, and warn me as I am sure his heart ached to do. As for my mother, I have chosen not to discuss her in these articles. I might say however that she was quite a proper woman, attended her church, had very rigid notions with reference to table etiquette and other little things that she magnified into matters of great importance, devoted herself largely to literature and gave some attention to philanthropic movements most of which concerned people over the seas and far away. I doubt not she had real love for me, and there was yet lingering in me enough of the human to have a very tender regard for my mother; in fact, too much for me to say more of her in these articles.
I remained at home but a little while; found myself restless and without any desire at all for employment or care for setting myself up in business, or looking ahead to the accumulation of property, or what people called success. The army suited me better than anything else, so I re-enlisted with the regulars and went to the Philippine Islands, where I lived as the animal, I had been taught in the university to believe myself to be an army brute of sin. I found, in the regular army, more men than you would think who had had some advantages in the world, but, like myself, had made poor use of them and were now seeking to bury themselves alive. We had but little fear of death and the lives of others were not sacred to us, so the camp, the raid, the skirmish, and the excitement of man hunting, suited us about as well as anything in which we could have been engaged to kill our time and throw our miserable lives away.
During my time of service in the army I found several soldiers, who, like myself, were carrying a burden of blood; had been connected with killings, one way and another on account of women, sweethearts, wife, or sister. I think in every case they had lived to regret the folly of their rash deed, and like myself, they were seeking to drown the voice of a guilty conscience in the noise and excitement of army life.
Men may ridicule the old Bible all they choose, but those who trample upon its commandments will, in the end, kindle within themselves a fire of torment they cannot put out. Sometimes they may flatter themselves that they have about extinguished it, but it will break out and blaze up afresh, consuming all their happiness and all their hopes.