The Spectator

The Spectator at war: How to talk to a pacifist

‘Keep your temper’, from The Spectator, 8 August 1914:

‘When a nation goes to war the policy of the Government nearly always fails to carry with it the convictions of a minority.  It is, of course, very rare for a Government who make war to find themselves without the support of the majority – for, as a rule, they would not even contemplate war without ascertaining the general tendency of public opinion – yet such cases have happened. It is probable that the majority were opposed to the war of George III. and Lord North against the American colonists. Even when the causa causans of a war in past history was a question of religious faith or of independence – both wonderfully binding motives – there were probably recalcitrants who said or felt strongly that their country was in the wrong.  So far as we know, reasoned objections to the Crusades are not on record, but we may be sure that even the Crusades were denounced as being mere piratical excursions – which is indeed what they were, though we must not judge them morally by our present code. The feeling of the majority against the minority during war is apt to be very bitter and intolerant. No doubt a Crusader who was called a robber and a murderer by a contemporary political philosopher would have been ready to kill his critic in the most Christian manner possible in the name of the Church. What we think it is worth while to say now is that we of these days ought to know better. The only test for persons who admit the virtue of tolerance is whether dissent from the policy of the nation is honest or dishonest. The history of France should be enough to remind us of the awful peril of calling men sans-patries because they take an unpopular view.

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