The Cross and Flag: World War I Experiences – By George Ridout

Chapter 21

The Havoc of War, and After

I hate war! Be it far from me to glorify it. War has been responsible for the greatest calamities that have befallen humanity. War has brought more cries and tears, more heart-breaks and agonies, more sorrows and griefs, than pestilence, famine, fire or flood.

Well has an English writer said: “War involves moral degradation not only because of the deeds it demands for which man has to call up his savage and animal instincts, but because of the hate, trickery and false witness without which it cannot be conducted. War dethrones reason and makes religion sheer hypocrisy, and the best thinkers of our times have done their best to devise schemes to banish this disgrace from the world; so far all in vain.”

Walt Whitman was right when he said: “Wars are hellish business — all wars. Any honest man says so — hates war, fighting, blood letting. I was in the midst of it all. Saw war was worst — not on the battlefields. No in the hospitals, there war is worst!”

I hate war. I have seen, while on battlefields and in the devastated territories of France, a thousand things to make me hate war! O war, I hate thee for cities bombed by the aircraft, and pierced by the long-range guns. I hate thee for slaying the mother and her helpless children, and destroying defenseless homes; I hate thee for destroying cities and towns and villages by gun and torch and gas and sword. I hate thee for thy work of ruthless violence upon the innocent and the weak. I hate thee for human habitations turned into slaughter-pens. I hate thee for battle. fields ‘mid whose smoke and carnage fathers and sons, husbands and lovers go down to dreadful deaths, or to sufferings unspeakable. I hate thee for destroying the wheels of industry, turning aside the streams of progress and human happiness and making the world a dreadful morass in which are found no paths of peace, no resting places.

Think of the awful waste of human life this war has brought: Battle deaths of thirteen nations in the world war, according to figures compiled and announced by General Peyton C. March, Chief of Staff, U. S. A., totaled 7,354,000. The figures include only men killed in battle or who succumbed to wounds received in battle. The losses by the various nations were as follows: Russia, 1,700,000; Germany, 1,600,000; France, 1,305,000; Austria, 800,000; Great Britain, 706,000; Italy, 460,000; Turkey, 250,000; Belgium, 102,000; Bulgaria, 100,000; Rumania, 100,000; Serbia and Montenegro, 100,000; United States, 50,000. The number of men in the American Army transported up to the day of the armistice was 2,500,000. The total discharges from the United States Army to date number 1,300,000. Orders issued to date call for the demobilization of a total of 1,500,000 men.

“Christ dies before us in the war;
The wounded show His mangled hands,
We plant His crown in many lands
And all the weapons of our pride
Are piercing the Savior’s side.”
One has said of war that “it’s heroisms are but the glancing sunlight on a sea of blood and tears.” Yet after going through it on three battlefronts I cannot see that America could have done anything else but engage in the strife against the greatest menace of our age. I cannot conceive how we Americans could have kept out of it and look a Frenchman or an Englishman in the face again if we had permitted them to keep on unaided in their struggle till their strength was completely gone, and the foe had conquered, and the mailed fist had beaten them into despair and submission. I cannot conceive how we could have maintained a decent self-respect if we had indulged ourselves in a smug, self-complacency and folded our arms and said to England and to France, “It is none of our business.”

I cannot reconcile the two — hatred of war and recognition of war — as a necessary measure. Yet I find myself in that dilemma. America in entering the war did it not for her own sake; did it not for a dollar of gain or an acre of territory. She went into it as a righteous and honorable measure, and by America entering the strife the day was saved! England and France, Belgium, Italy, the Balkans, Jerusalem — the whole round world has been benefited, humanity and civilization and freedom has been protected, and the stream of human progress has not been turned backward for perhaps a thousand years.

What shall bring an end to wars? Let us not be deceived, let us not look in the wrong direction for hope of relief from the power of this fell destroyer! I think Dr. Jefferson, of New York, has put it right when he said: “Science cannot kill war, for science has not the new heart, and whets the sword to a sharper edge. Commerce cannot kill war, for commerce lacks the new heart, and lifts the hunger of covetousness to a higher pitch. Progress cannot kill war, for progress has no heart at all, and progress in wrong directions leads us into ,bottomless quagmires in which we are swallowed up. Law cannot kill war, for law is nothing but a willow withe tied round the arms of humanity, and human nature when aroused snaps all the withes asunder and carries off the gates of Gaza. Education cannot end war, and if by education you mean the sharpening of the intellect, the drawing out of the powers of the mind, the mastering of formulas and laws and dates and facts, education may only fit men to become tenfold more masterful in the artful art of slaughter.

Who will end war? The world has had three historic scourges: famine, pestilence, and war. Each one numbers its victims by the tens of millions. Commerce killed famine. By her railroad and steamship she killed it. It lies like a dead snake by the side of the road along which humanity has marched up to the present day. Science killed pestilence. The Black Plague, the Bubonic Plague, Cholera, Smallpox, Yellow Fever — all have received their deathblow. Science did the work. These foes of mankind lie bleeding and half dead by the side of the road along which the world presses on to a higher day. Who will kill war? Not Commerce, and not Science, not both of them together. Only Religion can kill war, for religion alone creates the new heart. Without religion we are without hope in this world. Without God we are lost.”

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After The War — The Gospel

While the war was in progress I wrote an appeal to hold fast the old faith. In that article in The Christian Witness, I said:

I hold that it will take more than an European war, more than artillery and trenches and airplanes and millions of soldiers armed to the teeth to give us anything better in the way of religion than the old-time religion, or anything better in the way of faith than the ,Christian faith. My own conviction is that at the end of the war we shall find ourselves in greater need of the Christian faith and the old-time religion than we ever do now, for war brings sorrows, wounds, disappointments, and grief inconsolable. It likewise brings in its train vice, insanity, lawlessness, immorality and numerous other ills, and the people who have to bear these will need more than human support and sympathy. They will need God and the consolations of religion and, I should not be surprised if the experience of our people after the Civil War will be repeated when deep called unto deep — the deeps of human sorrow and need cried unto the deeps of God’s compassion and mercies and there was a great turning unto God through the preaching of the old, old gospel.

At all costs let us hold first to the faith because if we let that go we shall be lost in a wilderness of doubt, dismay and despair. Philosophy cannot take its place. Science has added length to our arms so that we can hurl a cannon ball three score miles and ten. It has added to our sight so that we can see through a powerful telescope into limitless space. It has given volume to our voice so that we can talk to one another three thousand miles away. It has given us wings so that we can fly in the heavens, but science has no consolations for the broken heart, no solace for the grief stricken. It has no healing for the wounded soul. It cannot speak pardon to the guilty or wash away the soul’s pollution or bring it into tune with God and into accord with heaven’s music. Science is demonstrating itself in this war. The science of gunnery has laid cities waste and dealt out destruction to countless thousands. The Science of Chemistry has produced gases which poured out upon the clouds have enveloped armies and caused pains and pangs and horrors indescribable as they have burned up lungs and tissues and made the human body a furnace of fire and death, the most horrible of monsters. The science of aviation has caused cities to shake with suspense and alarm as the dreadful aircraft has dropped bombs that have broken on the heads of the innocent and swept fire and dealt out destruction on houses, churches and marts. Germany today stands as a living monument and example, of what a false philosophy can do and what war as a science can bring to a whole world — of upheaval, distress, famine, destruction, wreckage and human misery and woe. The whole world is today in its bitterest travail and pain and sorrow because a Nation chose philosophy and kultur [culture] as its God, and war as its science, and to get back to normal again and to reconstruct human affairs and to put civilization again upon a livable basis where happiness and contentment can again be pursued without molestation, we shall have to get back to a New Testament basis and bring back again the ark of the Lord which for a long time now has been in exile.

In connection with this subject of the crying need of the gospel after the war, I was moved to write the Christian Herald an appeal on this line, and I said, in part:

The Church after the war? Well, let me speak as one who has preached the gospel twenty-five years at home and a year in the army in France; as one who has seen war in all its frightful actualities and who for five months lived and suffered and wrought under shell-fire, and who knows by a bit of real experience what officers and men have to go through and have come out of.

First. Let the Church present a live, vital gospel. I mean the kind that is found in the New Testament. Don’t let the pulpit spend its precious time on such secondary matters as “reconstruction,” “expansion,” the “new social conditions,” etc. The press, the magazine, the forum, the lyceum, the lecture hall, etc., can better handle a lot of those questions than the average preacher. That was a good reply of Henry Ward Beecher, while lecturing at Yale, when he was asked if the preacher should devote some time to lecturing on various subjects other than religions. “What’s the use,” said Beecher, “of having two nozzle to your hose, when you have only water enough for one? Exactly! I believe the Church and the pulpit that “after the war” build on the same old gospel that Wesley, Spurgeon, Talmage, Simpson and Moody preached will be the one that the soldier boys want to go to, and that will best meet the new conditions brought upon us by the world war. Remember, it was after the Civil War that Moody’s mighty work took place, and no man clung to the old, old gospel like Moody. Remember also that the man to whom England is listening to today is John H. Jowett, whose message is always and only that of the New Testament gospel.

Second. Let the churches drop all denominational rivalry; let all petty bickerings be cleaned out; let even theological hair-splitting be done with, and let the Church settle down to the away main proposition: that of promoting the interests of the Kingdom of God. Let there be a settling down to that business chiefly — all other things, all other questions, all other activities being secondary.

Third. Let the Church guard sacredly the things handed down to her, and let not war conditions and their cessation bring on a hysteria of liberality by which the golden law of Moses might be exchanged, for expediency’s sake, for something brassy, and the “‘old faith” substituted by a program entirely human.

War has a tendency to produce a short memory for the Ten Commandments. Peace must needs improve that memory. The Church must apply herself to this important bit of business. The old Decalogue has had some rough usage the past year or more. America must look out here!

Then there has been a lot of wild talk about a new gospel coming from the trenches and battlefields. Well, I have been through the thing, and have been associated with thousands who have been through the thing, and we have found no new gospel in the trenches or dugouts or battlefields of France. Oh, no! We have seen blood there and demons. We have wrestled with the powers of darkness there, and have seen suffering men cry in their agonies to God. We have met all kinds of things in the trenches and dugouts and battlefield, but have failed to find any gospel there better than the gospel of our childhood, the gospel of our youth, the gospel of our manhood and ministry, which is the good old gospel of the New Testament. And let it be remembered that the boys, as they march out of the trenches and battlefields on their way home, will carry with them the same New Testament that they bore upon the battlefront, because they have failed to find anything any better.

Let no one be deceived by a spurious cry of a new gospel. And now that the war is over, just let the churches do what old Peter Cartwright, of early Methodist history, said when dying: “Give the old gospel a chance.”

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