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THE FACT AND NEMESIS OF CRUELTY., Issue 15668, 5 December 1914
THE FACT AND NEMESIS OF CRUELTY.
Some years ago the London ‘Spectator’—■ perhaps the sanest of our weekly papers—had a striking article on the growth of callousness. In the writer’s view, it seemed to be spreading its scurf over all the finer sensibilities of the race. Britain showed unmistakable evidences of it. Within the last 20 years or so there have been a succession of horrors that ought to have startled the civilised world. Take, e.g., the Armenian atrocities. Hero wo stood by and watched assassins do their bloody work. It was carried on almost under the muzzles of British guns. We shudder at this sort of thing as wo turn the pages of ancient history. Yet they almost pale into insignificance before the atrocities of the unspeakable Turk. The famous 10 persecutions in Romo were not nearly so bloody. All the persecutions in England, Ireland, and .Scotland for 500 years did not make one-tenth as many victims. Since the Crusades against the Alhigenses and Huguenots of France nothing so brutal has been seen on this earth. And yet, though Britain was stirred in sections, it did nothing effective. On the Continent people took it almost as a matter of course. They never permitted it to stop for a moment their business or their pleasure. The Emperor of Germany, indeed, to his eternal infamy, even showed an ostentations sympathy with the " Grand Assassin.” And when a little country fayed the latter, all that wo felt called upon to do was to join a league of the Powers to keep the peace. The policy of minding one’s own business seemed to have been carried to such an extent that it had indurated our sympathies with those outside, our own immediate circle. It was very different when, e.g., Cromwell ruled England. When the French King was rounding up the Protestants of Piedmont, Cromwell sent him warning letters. As Macaulay says : The Popo himself was compelled to “ preach humanity to Popish princes, for “ a voice which seldom threatened in vain “had declared that unless favor was shown ” to the people of God the English guns “ should bo heard in the Castle of St. An“gelo.” And Cromwell was able to do this because he knew he had behind him the heart and hand of England. The change between then and the days of unhappy Armenia is very marked and significant. Other evidences point to the same conclusion. There was tremendous excitement over the Jameson Raid in South Africa, but the horrors of the slave trade, the wholesale butcheries and deliberate smoking of human flesh for food, as we do that of pork or meat, the fearful disclosures of the Benin expedition, caused little passionate indignation among the masses of Britain. ******* Then wo had the Congo massacres, in which the late King of the unhappy Belgium of to-day was so sinister an actor. Later on wo had the rubber scandals in Pern. And while these excited anger and indignation in certain limited circles, there was little evidence that the nation as a whole was in earnest in having these horrors ended. And now we are face to face with the German atrocities in the present. We had Imped against hope that the reports of these were exaggerated, nr that they had been confined to drunken soldiers. But the evidence accumulates to the contrary. The horrible cruelties seem an inherent part of the German war machine—deliberately planned in cold blood, and remorselessly executed. At last we arc stirred. For it is our own kith and kin that are now the victims. And yet, what is the moaning of tin's difficulty to find recruits? Why is it that this horrible slaughter of defenceless women and children—this sacking and burning of towns, with the nnnamahle infamies associated therewith—docs not fire the whole Empire? 'Why is it that Lord Roberts bad to warn the nation that this was no time for indulging in pleasure and sport 7 Why is it that the nation does not spring to arms as one man to make an end cnee and for ever of the instigators and perpetrators of these, fiendish deeds? Instead of this we have the leading men in Britain and in the Government going up and down the countiv pleading for volunteers. Is this a further evidence of the growth of that callousness to which the writer in the ‘Spectator’ called attention some years ago? It is disquietingly like it. ******* What is the explanation of this insensitivoness to horrors that ought to appal us all ? It is difficult to say. The operating causes arc complex. .Some tell us it is due to the inordinate pursuit of wealth. Others will argue that it is the love of pleasure, which is so deep and widespread a feature of our time. There is no doubt that such a love, more perhaps than anything else, does tend to ossify the nature. The sensualist, the voluptuary, is the finished specimen of callousness. It was a characteristically .unerring insight that led the great Teacher to put the rock beneath the thin soil. If we want hard hearts we shall find them readiest and best among the gay votaries of fashion, whose pitilessness is masked under a light layer of sentiment. And that word sentiment suegests to us another reason. It is a reading age, and the reading runs mostly into fiction. The dull, humdrum worker must find some outlet for the imaginative and aympathetic side of his nature, which, after all, is the most powerful side. He finds it in novels and picture shows. These compete with each other in the presentation of the abnormal—the dark and tragic phases of life. Men and women sup full of horrors here. Their sensibilities are drugged, so that when real tragedies are displayed before them they take it almost as a matter of course, and are little stirred by them. * * * -X- -Jr * * And that brings us to a further reason suggested by the writer to whom wc have referred. Ho thinks chat the whole world is becoming a. sort of theatrical exhibition. in which the inhabitants view the scenes a-: audiences in a theatre. They are int-wested and amu«ed, but the passion cuds with the stirring of the emotions. It fails to send them on into doitig. The flutter of the feelings becomes a substitute for action, ‘’Owing “ to the immense increase of infor“mation. to the extreme rapidity with “ which intelligence is conveyed, and to “ the increase of newspaper and novel “ reading and picture- shows, we come “ to gaze at the affairs of the world ac “ if they were dramas, and as the scenes “ advance behold thjm with pleasure or “pity or horror, but without realising “ that they are actual, and that for them, “they, the spectators, may have acute “ responsibility. They feel, they suffer, “ they even weep, but it does not occur “to them to act.” One has only to think of the different effects which, a dramatic tragedy produce* upon the seasoned city dweller and the callous country youth. On the former it is light and transitory; on the latter it is deep and dismaying. The reason undoubtedly is that the city man is in constant touch, with the telegraph and the newspaper. He is accustomed to hoar of BUfibi things daily, hourly. He
has them served up hot and fresh at every meal, till they become almost the commonplaces of his daily life—a something for which, like an earthquake in another continent, he feels no responsibility. But wo need be less concerned about the causes than the issues of callousness and cruelty. We have these in their crimson frontage in the present war. We hesitated for a long time to credit the stories of the German atrocities. But wo cannot do so any longer. The evidence is convincing and conclusive. The cruelties perpetrated are not the sporadic doings of irresponsible soldiers* They are part and parcel of the “ machine.” They are the deliberate orders of the General Staff. A captured officer explained that such exploits* as the shooting of women and children and the burning of villages were fully covered by the instructions of the General Staff. And he sought to prove “ that the pitiless use of necessary vio- " lenc-a is often the best thing possible “ for the conquered.” We wonder what the massacred Belgian non-combatants would have to say to this comfortable doctrine of thgir murderers. ******* But while we vehemently condemn these German atrocities, it is well not to be too sure of ourselves. There is in all of ns an instinctive cruelty that needs careful watching. This callousness, which is so ominous a growth among multitudes, is evidence of an undeveloped cruelty. Boys are proverbially cruel. Tennyson selects a schoolboy as the type of cruelty. In (ho normal man is kept under by custom, conscience, and the resources of civilisation. But it is still there. And wove the restraints lifted off wc should be astonished to find to what dark depths of passion even the average man is capable of descending. It is said of one who was a model of statesmanship and devout living in our own day that he admitted he was aware of a leaning to cruelty in. his own inner nature. “If this inclination, “ then, be more general than is supposed, “we must look for the explanation in the “gratification human beings (particularly “ timid and physically weak people) have ‘‘in exercising a terrible authority, in “securing that some other person shall “humbly and completely acknowledge ‘their supremacy." Some such thing as this may perhaps account for the cruelties perpetrated by the Germans. Lan Maclaren. m ‘The Young Barbarians,’ says that each individual epitomises tho race. He gathers up into himself all tho parts—retains part and drops part. But clearly it is not always so. And what has token place in Louvain, Liege, and elsewhere is tiie proof of this. The German soldiery have cither never yet emerged from tho savage state or in their unrestrained liberty they have reeled back again into the brute. if # # TP TP But whatever be tho psychology of cruelty, its appearance is a portent, and a portent of the most ominous kind. It is the certain precursor of ruin. If history tea dies anything, it teaches that. Tho classical illustration of it is ancient Babylon. We say classical, because its innermost nature is interpreted for us by the greatest of the Hebrew prophets. He denounces doom upon Babylon because of its cruelties. But its multies were themselves effects. They' were the effects of pride. Pride is the deification of self. And this was the Babylonian spirit “Thou hast said in thine heart ‘I am, and none else beside me.’ ” This boro fruit in two directions —upward and downward. Upward it issued in atheism, or, rather, the dethronement of the true God and the worship of self. But this egoism bore fruit downward as well. It ended in cruelty. Men talk sometimes ns if it made no difference to philanthropy whether one oolicved in a theology or rot. It makes an immense difference. When a Ihcology r ends in the deification of self, philanthropy will die. It may tako a little time, but it is certain it will not survive long. '.Vo shall have remorseless schemes for killing off tho aged and weak. These are already Ireing advocated by those who believe that immortality and the Gcd of Christ arc but the dream of a worm in tho dust and tho shadow of its desire. Wo see what it has produced in German culture, under tho influence of Nietzsche and Co. But the point is that cruelty ends in extinction. Where now are Babylon and those ancient empirer, founded on pride and cruelty? " Lo there to-day the skulking wiki fox scratches in a little heap of dust. Ihe Hebrew prophets ring out their denunciations of cruelty. ‘‘Wee to the bloody citv,” says one. “ Behold 1 am “against these destroying mountains, “saith the Lord, which destroy cst “all the earth," says another. And of Babylon it was foretold: “Therefore “shall evil come upon thee . . . the “loss of children and widowhood. . . . “Therefore evil shall como upon thco sud“donly. and them shalfc not know how to “ charm it away ” Wc may doubt whether or not these old prophets wove divinelyinspired ; wc cannot doubt the fulfilment of tho doom they foretold. Babylon passes, but tho spirit of Babylon never dies. It is reincarnated in the pride- and cruelty of tho German War Lords of to-day. Wo need no other assurance of their overthrow and extinction than their insensate pride and the cruelties they have perpetrated. That is the Nemesis of them. It may bo delayed for a time, but it is sure in the end. “The “ Furies walk with leaden leet, but strike “with iron hands.”
THE FACT AND NEMESIS OF CRUELTY., Issue 15668, 5 December 1914
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