Posted by: sean | December 3, 2007

Noah Worcester: A Solemn Review of the Custom of War

Noah Worcester (November 25, 1758-October 31, 1837), entirely self-educated after the age of 15, studied and thought his own way to unitarian doctrine and also to pacifism. A formally unschooled farmer and school teacher, he became a respected and influential minister, author, editor and peace advocate, honored by two institutions of higher learning and a “father of the American peace movement.” (click here to read more about Noah Worcester)

Read his 14 page essay in its entirety in |html| or |pdf|. Below is an excerpt that I found particularly remarkable.

The demoralizing and depraving effects of war cannot be too seriously considered. We have heard much of the corrupting tendency of some of the rites and customs of the heathen, but what custom of the heathen nations had a greater effect in depraving the human character than the custom of war? What is that feeling usually called a war-spirit, but a deleterious compound of enthusiastic ardor, ambition, malignity, and revenge – a compound which really endangers the soul of the possessor as much as the life of his enemy? Who, but a deranged or deluded person, would think it safe to rush into the presence of his Judge with his heart boiling with enmity, and his brother’s blood dripping from his hands! Yet in time of war, how much care is taken to excite and maintain this bloodthirsty disposition as essential to success!

The profession of a soldier exposes him to sudden and untimely death, and at the same time hardens his heart and renders him regardless of his final account. When a person goes into the army, it is expected of him that he will rise above the fear of death. In doing this he too commonly rises above the fear of God, and all serious concern for his soul. It is not denied that some men sustain virtuous characters amidst the contaminating vapors of a camp, and some may be reformed by a sense of the dangers to which they are exposed, but these are uncommon occurrences.

The depravity occasioned by war is not confined to the army. Every species of vice gains ground in a nation during war. And when a war is brought to a close, seldom, perhaps, does a community return to its former standard of morals. In times of peace, vice and irreligion generally retain the ground they acquired during a war. As every war augments the amount of national depravity, so it proportionally increases the dangers and miseries of society.

Among the evils of war, a wanton undervaluing of human life ought to be mentioned. This effect may appear in various forms. When a war is declared for the redress of some wrong, in regard to property, if nothing but property is taken into consideration, the result is not commonly better than spending five hundred dollars in a lawsuit to recover a debt of ten. But when we come to estimate human lives against dollars and cents, how are we confounded! “A man will give all that he has for his life.”

If rulers learn to undervalue the lives of their own subjects by the custom of war, how much more do they undervalue the lives of their enemies! As they learn to hear of the loss of five hundred or a thousand of their own men, with perhaps less feeling than they would hear of the death of a favorite horse or dog, so they learn to hear of the death of thousands after thousands on the side of the enemy with joy and exultation. If their own men have succeeded in taking an unimportant fortress, or a frigate, with the loss of fifty lives on their own side, and fifty-one on the other, this is a matter of joy and triumph. This time they have won the game. But, alas, at what expense to others! This expense, however, does not interrupt the joy of war-makers. They leave it to the wounded and the friends of the dead to feel and to mourn.

Thanks to for this e-book.


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