Remembering J. Gresham Machen on Veteran’s Day

Here is my source from which I am posting excerpts:

In reviewing a book in 1915 by a noted pro-English author, Machen remarked that the book was “a glorification of imperialism.” The author “glorified war” and ridiculed “efforts at the production of mutual respect and confidence among equal nations.

Machen was not interested in the world being “made safe for democracy”:

The alliance of Great Britain with Russia and Japan seems to me still an unholy thing – an unscrupulous effort to crush the life out of a progressive commercial rival. Gradually a coalition had to be gotten together against Germany, and the purpose of it was only too plain. An alleged war in the interest of democracy the chief result of which will be to place a splendid people at the mercy of Russia does not appeal to me.

This talk about British democracy arouses my ire as much as anything. Great Britain seems to me the least democratic of all the civilized nations of the world – with a land-system that makes great masses of the people practically serfs, and a miserable social system that is more tyrannical in the really important, emotional side of life than all the political oppression that ever was practiced. And then if there is such a thing as British democracy it has no place for any rival on the face of the earth. The British attitude towards Germany’s just effort at a place in ocean trade seems to me one of the great underlying causes of the war.

He reserved his harshest words for imperialism:

Imperialism, to my mind, is satanic, whether it is German or English.

I am opposed to all imperial ambitions, wherever they may be cherished and with whatever veneer of benevolent assimilation they may be disguised.

A few months after the war began, Machen wrote that “the enormous lists of casualties” impressed him, “as nothing else has, with the destructiveness of the war.”

Machen on conscription:

Even temporary conscription goes against the grain with me, unless it is resorted to to repel actual invasion, but my fundamental objection is directed against compulsory service in time of peace.

The country seems to be rushing into two things to which I am more strongly opposed than anything else in the world – a permanent alliance with Great Britain, which will inevitably mean a continuance of the present vassalage, and a permanent policy of compulsory military service with all the brutal interference of the state in individual and family life which that entails, and which has caused the misery of Germany and France.

Excerpt from a letter to his Congressmen:

After a residence in Europe I came to cherish America all the more as a refuge from the servitude of conscription. That servitude prevails whether the enforced service be required by a vote of the majority or by an absolute government. Compulsory military service does not merely bring a danger of militarism; it is militarism. To adopt it in this country would mean that no matter how this war results we are conquered already; the hope of peace and a better day would no longer be present to sustain us in the present struggle, but there would be only the miserable prospect of the continuance of the evils of war even into peace times.

In short Americanism is in danger – American liberty and the whole American ideal of life. Is it to be abandoned without consideration, under the unnatural stress of an emergency with which the proposed change in policy has absolutely noting to do? Just when other nations are hoping that the present war will result in the diminution of armaments and the broadening of liberty, is America to be the first to take a radical step in exactly the opposite direction? I am not arguing against preparedness. I believe, in particular, that we should have a much more adequate navy. What I am arguing against is compulsion, which I believe to be brutal and un-American in itself, and productive of a host of subsidiary evils.

On having to put up with the war ethos at his school:

Princeton is a hot-bed of patriotic enthusiasm and military ardor, which makes me feel like a man without a country.

Also from the same essay on Machen:

In an address delivered in 1919 that was published in the Presbyterian called “The Church in the War,” Machen lamented that men are perfectly ready to admit Jesus

into the noble company of those who have sacrificed themselves in a righteous cause. But such condescension is as far removed as possible from the Christian attitude. People used to say, “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin.” They say so no longer. On the contrary, any man, if only he goes bravely over the top, is now regarded as plenty good enough to pay the price of sin. Obviously this modern attitude is possible only because men have lost sight of the majesty of Jesus’ person. It is because they regard him as a being altogether like themselves that they can compare their sacrifice with his. It never seems to dawn upon them that this was no sinful man, but the Lord of glory who died on Calvary. If it did dawn upon them, they would gladly confess, as men used to confess, that one drop of the precious blood of Jesus is worth more, as a ground for the hope of the world, than all the rivers of blood which have flowed upon the battlefields of France.

Worth pondering.

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