Great War Memorial Unveiling 1925
Theosophy and the Great War
Two World Empires
First Published November 1914
ALL over the world is the tumult of war; the lurid light of devastated homes blazes out from the burning towns of Belgium; the relics of past ages in Louvain and Rheims and Dinant have been hammered into pieces by the new hammer of Thor; hundreds of thousands of men, killed or wounded, strew the fields that should have been yellowing for the sickle; all the fair, peaceful industries of common life are whelmed in one red ruin.
And for what is all this pain, this agony of wrenched muscles and shattered limbs, this blasting of bright young lives, this destruction of glowing hopes? In the pictures of the killed that appear in the illustrated papers there are so many faces glad with the sunshine of life, bright faces of young manhood, dawning into virility, faces that mothers must have loved so dearly, must have kissed so passionately as they sent them forth. As one looks at them, one sees them trampled into crimson mud, shattered by bursting shell, riven by cut of sabre, and is glad that the earth should hide the horror of what was once so fair. Clear eyes, looking out so brightly upon joyous life, that have gazed unflinchingly into the eyes of death. Lips, still showing the gracious curves of youth, that hardened in the battle-crash, to relax again only in the peace of death.
And all for what? For what the broken hearts in all the homes in which these gallant lads were light and joy? For what the anguish of the widows of these other men, beyond the first flush of youth, who left behind them their life's treasure, with the children who shall watch for their fathers' coming - useless watching, for homeward he will never come again? For what the myriads of darkened homes, whose breadwinners, husbands and sons, fathers and lovers, find no record in the pictured pages, though dear to the hearts that love them as are the noble and the wealthy who thereon have their place? For what the world's great anguish, mourning over her slaughtered sons? For what?
There have been wars begun for transient objects, for the conquest of a piece of land, for the weakening of a rival, for the gaining of added power, begun because of ambition, of greed, of jealousy, of insult. In such wars, lives are flung away for trifles, though the men who suffer in them, or who die, win out of their own anguish added strength and beauty of character, full reward for the pain endured; for they return with the spoils of victory into new avenues of ascending life, and with them it is very well. Such wars are evil in their origin, however much the divine alchemy may transmute the base into fine gold.
But this war is none of these. In this war mighty principles are battling for the mastery. Ideas are locked in deadly combat. The direction of the march of our present civilisation, upwards or downwards, depends on the issue of the struggle. Two ideals of world-empire are balanced on the scales of the future. That is what raises this war above all others known in the brief history of the West; it is the latest of the pivots on which, in successive ages, the immediate future of the world has turned. To die, battling for the right, is the gladdest fate that can befall the youth in the joy of his dawning manhood, the man in the pride of his strength, the elder in the wisdom of his maturity - ay, and the aged in the rich splendour of his whitened head. To be wounded in this war is to be enrolled in the ranks of humanity's warriors, to have felt the stroke of the sacrificial knife, to bear in the mortal body the glorious scars of an immortal struggle.
Of the two
possible world-empires, that of
embodies - though as yet but partially realised - the ideal of freedom; of ever-increasing self-government; of peoples
rising into power and self-development along
their own lines; of a supreme government "broad-based upon the
people's will"; of fair and just treatment of undeveloped races, aiding
not enslaving them: it embodies the embryo of the splendid democracy of the
future; of the new civilisation, co-operative, peaceful, progressive, artistic,
just, and free - a brotherhood of nations, whether the nations be inside or
outside the world-empire. This is the ideal; and that Great Britain has set her
feet in the path which leads to it is proved not only by her past interior
history with its struggles towards liberty, but also by her granting of
autonomy to her colonies, her formation of the beginnings of self-government in
India, her constantly improving attitude towards the undeveloped races - as in
using the Salvation Army to civilise the criminal tribes in India - all
promising advances towards the ideal. Moreover, she has ever sheltered the
oppressed exiles, flying to her shores for refuge against their tyrants - the
names of Kossuth, Mazzini, Kropotkin, shine out gloriously as witnesses in her
favour; she has fought against the slave-trade and well-nigh abolished it. And
at the present moment she is fighting in defence of keeping faith with those
too small to exact it; in defence of treaty obligations and the sanctity of a
nation's pledged word; in defence of national honour, of justice to the weak,
of that law, obedience to which by the strong States is the only guarantee of
future peace, the only safeguard of society against the tyranny of brute
strength. For all this Great Britain is fighting, when she might have stood
aside, selfish and at ease, watching her neighbours tearing each other into
pieces, waiting until their exhaustion made it possible for her to impose her
will. Instead of thus remaining, she has sprung forward, knight-errant of
The second claimant of world-empire embodies the ideal of autocracy founded on force. The candidate proclaims himself the War-Lord, and in his realm no master save himself; he declares to his army, as he flings his sword into the scales of war:
"Remember that the German people are the chosen of God. On me, on me, as German Emperor, the Spirit of God has descended. I am His weapon, His sword, and His vicegerent. Woe to the disobedient. Death to cowards and unbelievers."
The thinkers, the teachers of his people have formulated the theory of the world-empire; it recognises no law in dealing with states save that of strength, no arbitrament save war. Its own self-interest is declared to be its only motive; its morality is based on the increase of the power of its empire; the weak have no rights; the conquered nations must be "left only eyes to weep with"; woe to the conquered! woe to the weak! woe to the helpless! All religions save the religion of force are superstitious, their morality is outgrown. Murder, robbery, arson - all are permissible, nay, praiseworthy, in invading hosts. Mercy is contemptible. Chivalry is an anachronism. Compassion is feebleness. Art and literature have no sanctity. The women, the children, the aged - they are all weak; why should not strong men use them as they will? All undeveloped races are the prey of the "civilised". And we are not left without signs of the application of the theory. Herr Schlettwein instructs the German Reichstag on the "principles of colonization";
"The Hereros must be compelled to work, and to work without compensation and in return for their food only. Forced labour for years is only a just punishment, and at the same time it is the best method of training them. The feelings of Christianity and philanthropy, with which the missionaries work, must for the present be repudiated with all energy."
General von Trotha, tired even of enslaving them, proclaims:
"The Herero people must now leave the land. If it refuses I shall compel it with the gun. Within the German frontier every Herero, with or without weapon, with or without cattle, will be shot. I shall take charge of no more women and children, but shall drive them back to their people or let them be shot at."
proclamation was carried out: thousands were shot; thousands were "driven
into a waterless desert, where they perished of hunger and thirst". On
this sample, we refuse the goods offered. Moreover, we have seen the Empire at
work, carrying out in
Because these things are so, because the fate of the next age of the world turns on the choice made now by the nations, I call on all who are pledged to universal brotherhood, all Theosophists the world over, to stand for right against might, law against force, freedom against slavery, brotherhood against tyranny. - Theosophist, November 1914.
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