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The passion of patriotism is of course not new to history. But one might have justly expected a more sober spirit in this age and a more general insistence upon knowing the justice of the positions the nations had taken, and for which they asked their citizens to sacrifice their lives.It is true, there were some questioning and some dissenting voices in the countries involved.That the clergy should be in times of war, as George Bernard Shaw not unjustly observes, "The most pugnacious of our citizens" is significant.
But the utterances of many of the nations' leaders force us to conclude that there was yet another cause for their readiness to sanction an undertaking for which a moral defense is so difficult.
This was the moral charm that war still holds for many as an opportunity for the expression of some of man's noblest passions.
In 1915-1916, the CPU turned its attention to peace education in the churches and Sunday Schools, a program praised for its innovation by trustee Charles S.
Mac Farland, who pointed out that peace had not been a significant thread in church-sponsored education before.
The heroism and sacrifices of national conflicts have always been among the favorite topics of the poets and among the ideals which men worship the virtues of the battle have taken the highest rank.
We do violence to history therefore if we ignore this problem.Perhaps this was due to the fact that they overestimated the moral significance of their respective nation's positions.Scholars of both sides for instance interpreted the war as a defense of democracy or a defense of culture.Perhaps the most general impression created in the hearts of American citizens by the rumors of war immediately preceding the present great conflict was a sense of incredulity.Prominent men everywhere expressed the opinion that the world war to which the rumors pointed would be such an anachronism that some means would surely be found to avert the seemingly inevitable catastrophe.But another reason for our incredulity and our desperate hope was our belief that the sin and the injustice of war was so evident to the majority of civilized men that the moral conscience of the nations would revolt against the impending struggle.It was because of this widely held opinion that men were so quick to place the blame for the war upon the respective rulers of the belligerent nations.That an immense number of people are still blind to the iniquity of war, is of course not surprising.The important thing is that the moral leaders of the nations did not rebel.Two of the most effective foes of war, the church and socialism, were carried away by the emotional riot of the hour and gave a more or less unanimous moral sanction to what they had previously condemned as immoral.Some of the nations had been concerned with momentous internal issues. The champions of certain moral issues, some of them of great importance, depreciated their causes in comparison with what they conceived to be a greater one and to which they tried to attach moral significance.