Theosophy and the Great War
Deeper Issues Raised By the War
First Published August 29th 1914
IT is the custom in modern days so to praise peace, and to be so horrified at the ghastly physical concomitants of war, that it does not seem to strike people to look quietly into the question, and to ask themselves why a thing so obviously hideous and brutal should have gone on from time immemorial with the persistence of a natural phenomenon. There are many who are so obsessed by the visions of mangled corpses, of mutilated living bodies, of gaping wounds, of flowing blood, of the agony of un-slaked thirst, of the irremediable maiming of strong young bodies, and of all the attendant torture of mothers, wives, sweethearts, children, living through long agonies of slow suspense to be ended only by the news of the beloved as a corpse or a cripple, that they cannot master the indignant emotion that tears at their hearts, nor see through their angry, tear-filled eyes any fair fruits from sowings so foul. To ask  them to reason is almost to insult them, and they are ready to knock one down in order to demonstrate the beauty of peace.
None the less, as we look backwards over history, we see that invasions of one people by another have spread the knowledge and the arts of the more civilised nation throughout the less civilised. Alexander came and went, but he left behind him in Indian sculpture the serene beauty of Greek art; the Muslims came, and gave a new architecture and an exquisite wealth of design and of ornamentation, that was cheaply purchased by endurance of the cruelties of an Aurungzeb. How much poorer had Spain been, if the Moors had not conquered her fairer provinces; how un-civilised England, if the Normans had not trampled down her peasantry; how Europe would have failed to learn the exquisite lessons of chivalry, had its nations never met the Saracens in Palestine, and if the light of Science had not come to her in the Crescent that shone from the banners of the invaders!
But what of the individuals? If people see in man only the creature of a few years of mortal life, born out of nothingness, to sink into nothingness again in dying; then indeed should all lovers of man raise the cry of "Peace at any price", for war means death, and death is the end of all hope of joyous life. Or, if man believes himself to be a vessel moulded by God as clay by a potter, with no  past to explain him and no future to evolve him; with a heaven or a hell on the other side of death, where virtue would be a seedless flower and vice an enduring weed; then, again, war could have no meaning and no use, bringing but worse doom of useless pain into a lot already but too dreary and too bootless.
But if man be an eternal spiritual intelligence, evolving through many lives into a nobler and loftier existence; if the fruits of each life be garnered and ripen into seeds for planting in another, and so on, and on, as the Hindu believes, until the Self which was but as a seed has grown into a mighty tree; then war, like all other happenings in a world "that exists for the sake of the Self", has under the rough husk of evil the sweet kernel of lasting good. For though the body be slain or mutilated, the man is living still; he has learned to offer life and limb on the altar of a great Ideal that otherwise he would not have known: he dies for King and Country - a King he may never have seen, a Country which is not of plains and hills and cities, but of splendours and radiances and beauties of ideal might and loveliness that else he had not dreamed. And he does not only die; he lives through hardship and pain. The scented darling of a luxurious drawing-room and the village ruffian of the pothouse march side by side through freezing torrent, across sun-parched desert; they starve, they are  fevered and chilled, they joke as they go to cheer each other, they learn to know each other as men, they suffer for the country's "honour", they die for the country's "flag". What is "honour", what is "flag"? Mere empty breath of a poet? Nay, they are the mighty forces which evolve the hero from the sybarite and the drunkard, and turn the brute into the man.
When we read of the awful slaughter and image the piles of the
wounded, let us forget the pain of the bodies, and realise
the swift evolution of the man. Let us realise the
unending life, rather than the broken form, and then we shall realise why the saffron-robed Rajput rode singing into the
battle, leaving wife and daughter as fire-blackened corpses behind him, knowing
that at eventide they would be reunited, and that over the agony of the
shattered bodies the freed men and women would again join hands, smiling at the
passing pain that brought them joy so rich. - New