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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, October 1919

The Spike or Victoria University College Review

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The Spike or Victoria University College Review


The Editorial Committee invites contributions, either in prose or verse, on any subject of general interest, from students or officials connected with the College. All literary communications should be addressed to The Editor, Victoria University College, Wellington.

Subscriptions are now due, and are payable to Mr. W. A. Sheat, Financial Secretary, Victoria University College.


Socrates: . . . . It would not be in the least surprising if I were Put to death.
Callicles: And do you think it is a good thing for a man to be so defenceless?"
Socrates: Yes, Callicles, so long as he has the one defence that he has never done any wrong to God or men either by word or deed. What does a man fear who is neither an idiot nor a coward ? Not dying, but doing wrong.


Devil hammering nail through mortarboard

* * * *

At the present time the military institutions of this country are under scrutiny. Some want them extended and improved; others want them abolished; others are satisfied with them as they are. A university review ought to have something to say on the matter. What is the position ? And what ought we to do?

* * * *

I. We have been at war with Germany—our aim, to "crush Prussian militarism.' We have won the war; what of "Prussian militarism?' It has been insisted, e. g., by Mr. Lloyd George and President Wilson, that our real enemy was, not the German people, but a spirit, a system of thought, an idea, in a word "Militarism." It was claimed that to crush this spirit was to make sure the peace of nations; in this sense it was a "war to end war." To-day Colonel Sir James Allen, a member of the New Zealand Government, proposes to conscript the young men of the country and train them for war; in order to train them page 16 "efficiently" to segregate them for four months in a military camp. What is to be said for this?

* * * *

II. First of all, what is to be said for war? We are agreed that on the whole it is not a good thing. In the recent war we lost several million men—among them men of promise. We have wasted more wealth than would rebuild Europe. Racial hatred and suspicion have gone into the very roots of our life. These are tremendous losses. What was it all for? It is said that great ideas were at stake and they were worth it all. Our enemy was the military spirit. And to defeat that the sacrifice were worth while; but is it defeated?

* * * *

III. The militarist spirit, it is said, produces war. Ours was a war to overthrow the spirit and to end war. But are ideas overthrown, is a spirit driven out, by force of arms? Whence come wars? we ask, and the answer is made as of old time : Out of the hearts of men. We do not improve the spirit of a people by blockading their ports or by defeating their armies; hearts are not changed by blows, but that way hatred and suspicion are increased. War never can end war. Neither war nor the preparation for war, will give us peace. General F. D. Maurice has recently told the people of America that to prepare for war is finally to get war. Lord Roberts asked the people of England "not to be led away by those who say that the end of this great struggle is to be the end of war, and that it is bound to lead to a great reduction of armaments." ("Hibbert Journal," 1914.) Is this true?

So far, then: (I) War never can end war, and (2) to prepare for war is to get war. Why prepare? Is war "necessary"?

* * * *

IV. There have been, there are, those who talk of the "biologual necessity" of war. In war, it is said, a nation renews its youth; war is the exercise of a healthy organism; it is the "mystical blood-payment" for progress. There is enough truth in this to make it dangerous. Of course the healthy man is a fighter, "ever a fighter," the poets remind us; Ruskin, in the "Essay on War," and James, on the "Moral Equivalent," repeat it—only to observe that there is scope enough for fight in time of peace. Darwinism is called to make a case for war as a condition of progress; but Darwin said: "In every country in which a standing army is kept up the finest young men are taken by conscription and enlisted. They are thus exposed to early death in war, are often tempted into vice, and are prevented from marrying during the prime of life. On the other hand, the shorter and feebler men with poorer constitutions are left at home; and consequently have a much better chance of marrying."—("Origin of Species.")

* * * *

V. War never yet built up a nation in real greatness. It brings great evils in its train. The way to drive out the war-idea is by a better idea. Have we got one? What is it?—"Britannia Rules the Waves,' "Imperial Preference," "Britain for the British," the "Alien Enemies Act," the "Yellow Peril"?

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Who are its apostles?—William Massey, Sir Joseph Ward, Sir James Allen, W. M. Hughes, Lord Northcliffe, Horatio Bottamley ?

We are presented with alternatives. Shall we put our trust in guns or in ideas? We can have—(a) Thoroughgoing military preparations, or (b) disarmament and education. (And on either Colonel Allen's proposals stand condemned. If (a), then his scheme is not enough; if (b), it is too much.) It may be said that a third possibility exists: we can have both. But there are two sufficient reasons why this cannot be: (a) We cannot afford both, and (b) true education, real enlightenment, is incompatible with a military discipline.

* * * *

VI. Not long ago we had almost no military forces at all in New Zealand. Then we had a territorial system; then the war and conscription; we have now a military machine and a big, well-paid staff; it is proposed to extend the old system. How far is all this to go?

The next generation is to grow up under conscription; it will be asked to allow further extensions. That way lie Prussia and Hindenburg.

* * * *

VII. During the war we heard a great deal about the principles we were fighting for—Liberty, Justice, Freedom, and the like. Was it all humbug? Do we put our trust in great principles? Do we believe that "Right must win" and "Truth will prevail"? Then let us rise to the height of daring of Athenian Plato and fear, above all, "not dying, but doing wrong," believe with our own Milton that truth will look after itself.

* * * *

VIII. War spells ruin. With our increasing skill in making engines of destruction we shall annihilate one another. We must, with the future in our hands—take all the hazards of the day and hold to our ideal. Perhaps the outlook is dark. "But I hope," says Mr. Lowes Dickenson, "I hope because of the young, and to them I now turn. To you, young men, it has been given by a tragic fate to see with your eyes and hear with your ears what war really is. Old men made it, but you must wage it—with what courage, with what generosity, with what sacrifice of what hopes, they best know who best know you. If you return from this war, remember what it has been. Do not listen to the shouts of victory, do not snuff the incense of applause; but keep your inner vision fixed on the facts you have faced. You have seen battleships, bayonets, and guns, and you know them for what they are, forms of evil thought. Think other thoughts, love other loves, youth of England and of the world! You have been through hell and purgatory. Climb now the rocky stair that leads to the sacred mount. The guide of tradition leaves you here. Guide now yourselves and us. Believe in the future, for none but you can. Believe in the impossible, for it waits the help of your hands to become the inevitable."

That is the argument against the proposals of the Minister for Defence. Sir James's sergeant-majors are not the men to teach us, and military camps are not the place to learn these new thoughts and this better way.