The first edition of "The Re-Appraisement of Heroism," published by Ann Arbor Press, Michigan, does not contain a date of publication. Entries at WorldCat.org give the date as "191-?" However, on the basis of an announcement printed in The Daily Journal Gazette (Matoon, Illinois) on January 30, 1915, it is assumed that it was written in late 1914 or at the beginning of 1915. The announcement bills "The Re-Appraisement of Heroism" as a "free lecture at the First Congregational Church," specifying that "It has to do with the present War in Europe." From 1911 to 1915, LLoyd C. Douglas was director of religious work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 1915 he moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to assume the ministry of the the First Congregational Church, a post which he held for the next six years. It is probable, therefore, that his essay on heroism was published in the first year of his ministry. —RG.
IN the heart of every normal man, however modest he may strive to appear, there abides an instinctive longing to become conspicuous for something in his own little domain. He has an ambition to be great and cannot be persuaded that greatness does not necessarily make a man conspicuous. He is so determined to confuse these attributes, however,—greatness and conspicuousness—that we may allow these two words to mean the same thing for a moment,—just long enough to reflect that one of the most curious facts about humanity is that no two races or ages have ever been able to agree on what things go to make men great.
One age has measured its bust and biceps with tape-line and calipers; and the man who had the deepest chest-expansion and the biggest fist won the prize.
Another age has gone a-grailing; half-starved, half-naked, through mountain storms and desert heat—and he was chief who dragged himself back, after weary years, unkempt and tattered; or, better still, who never came back, at all, but left his bones bleaching under some lonely palm a thousand miles from home.
Another age has togged itself out in garish satins, gaudy parasols and lace handkerchiefs; and he with the most mincing step and gorgeous raiment sat the throne.
Another age has taken pride in the cultivation of its intellect. Its picked men have studied themselves gray and blind, squinting through high-powered microscopes and big-lensed telescopes to plumb the depths of earth and sky—the grayest and blindest earning the laurel.
Another age has set out to make a rose-garden of some wilderness; and its greatest man was he who swung the heaviest ax and worked the longest day.
Another age has repudiated toil as no fit business for a gentleman; declaring that the glory of the chase and the perils of the fox-hunt were sufficient rewards for any man of refined taste; maintaining that books and pens were for clerks and hirelings who must undergo the drudgery of labor to possess their silly knowledge—so that he who signed his name with the most awkward X and displayed the softest hands was elected chief on the first ballot.
So frequently, indeed, has the world altered its opinion in regard to the things in which men take most pride, that the people who succeeded in winning the noisiest applause in their own generation are commonly regarded by the players in the succeeding act as eccentric persons whose ornate epitaphs belong only in that volume of history devoted to its wit and humor.
I do not now refer to the really great men; for each age is willing to stand in something very like awe and reverence before their tombs; but only rarely has the man to whom the after ages ascribed greatness been regarded so by the people with whom he lived.
Perhaps one might go to the length of saying that no generation is competent to elect its superman and that about the best a generation may do in the way of conferring honor upon a man of its day is to say of him that he is the most conspicuous man of his time.
Almost invariably, the man who stands forth permanently as the dominant figure of his age paid the dear price of his posthumous glory with imprisonment, expatriation or death.
Whatever have been the changes in the world's thought, however, concerning greatness (in the sense of conspicuousness) there has been maintained, throughout the ages, a fixed belief that heroism reaches its climax and final glory in but one specific manner.
And now, even this age-long opinion is to be changed. It is given unto us in our day to witness a change of viewpoint in regard to this ancient opinion of heroism which has endured practically from the beginning of the world.
When I say "our day," I do not mean anywhere from 1850 to 2100, A. D. I mean now—a mighty change in a fundamental, deep-rooted, world-old idea! I mean that it is going on now—while the clock ticks—the Re-appraisement of Heroism!
Half the world is blood-smeared and battle-riven. We happen to be at peace. I say "happen" advisedly; for America's present peace is rather a matter of good fortune than a reward of merit. Not only are we at peace but we are enjoying a type of prosperity that leans heavily toward luxury.
The pacifist advises us to stop thinking and talking about the war, chiefly for the reason that it is "so depressing." It is depressing. It will be good for us to be depressed. Our prosperity has made us vain and boastful. Our country is to be indicted on the same charge of selfishness and indulgence that once provoked an ancient prophet to say of a people, "Moab hath been at ease from his youth. He hath settled on the lees. He hath not been emptied from vessel unto vessel—therefore his taste remaineth in him"—and a sordid and petty taste it was!
A blood-spattered continent offers to tell us a great story. Customarily, so valuable a lesson involves a high tuition fee. Not so here. We may have this course for a penny a day.
This story is grievously sad, but it will be very wrong for us to dismiss it because it breaks our hearts to hear it.
For always, heretofore, War has been portrayed as the stage upon which heroism appears in its most convincing role. Upon every highway for conveying impressions to the human mind, the armor-clad figure of the fighter has always been borne in the foremost van.
Art has done its best to make War attractive. Its painters have mounted ladders to spread upon vast canvasses the scene of supermen; marching, with stern and serious faces, into fame and glory. Its sculptors have handed their names down to a proud posterity by hacking stone drums and cannon out of granite blocks. It has placed a bronze horse, with flowing mane and swollen veins, ridden by a bronze man, with jaw tensed and sword drawn, in every city park. Art has lied!
To-day's photographs, picturing broad areas of smoking ruins strewn with the broken and mangled bodies of the slain are telling the truth about War.
Music has always striven, valiantly, to teach the world the grandeur of War with lofty martial strains that set the pulses dancing; and even when forced to introduce a minor passage, she has merely muted the strings and stilled the brass for a moment. The requiem claimed glory for its motif—measured with the muffled drums of proud soldiers burying a fallen comrade, flag-shrouded and coffined, beneath some sympathetic cypress-tree. Music has lied!
To-day's military melody consists of the groans of the thirsty dying, to the accompaniment of the pitiful wail of little children and the anguished cries of desolated women. It is a discordant din. It lacks the swing and dash of the old martial airs; it wants the stately rhythm of the conventional battle-song—but it has achieved the crowning virtue of truth.
History has ever felt the necessity of making War a worthy sport for valorous men. It has recounted the daring deeds of flashily-uniformed troops marching to the fray with furling flags and burnished steel. How History has smacked its lips over such tales as—"I need ten men," the Colonel said, facing his regiment, "to undertake a hazardous mission, full of danger and brimming with death. Volunteers are called for. Whoever will go may step forward two paces!" And the regiment advanced two paces.
How History has sucked the sweets from such morsels as—"Don't give up the ship!" "We have met the enemy and they are ours!" "Lead on, oh heart of Bruce, lead on! We'll follow thee! We'll follow thee!"
How History has rolled this story around on its tongue:—"And while Napoleon dictated messages to the young lieutenant, whose paper was spread upon a drum-head, a shrieking shell burst above them and drove a smoking chunk of steel through the drum; whereupon the young lieutenant arose, smiled and said, "Pardon, sire, until I secure me another drum!" "Very good, Major!" replied Napoleon, bowing.
Brave stories History tells in its flamboyant attempt to advertise War. History has lied! And now, humbled and chagrined, it has begun to tell the truth about War; and having decided, somewhat tardily to tell the truth, History means to tell the whole of it and nothing but the truth. Its story is depressing but we must bear it,—this new, this truthful History, with its eloquent silences about the stirring appeal of brilliant banners and the herd-thrill of brass-blare; with its eloquent sentences about carmine-soaked bandages and ambulances with slippery steps. What blood History chose to show us, heretofore, was always warm and vital. It is willing now that we should see battle-gore as it is—cold, black, coagulated! Let us understand this great world-sorrow in all its nameless horror; from its pathos to its nausea; from the cries of its barefoot children, sobbing in ruined streets, to the ten-mile stench of its battle-fields where piles of horses and men lie together, bloated and unburied! I know these words are not pleasant. I did not mean them to be pleasant. They have the solitary grace of being true.
We have all been talking earnestly on the subject of world-peace, during these latter years; hoping for it, praying for it, convoking diplomatists to resolve upon it. In the meantime, every cultural and educational vehicle that travels the high-road of sense perception has been decked out in war-paint!
The orator has reserved for his last spellbinding sentence some stirring anecdote from the field of battle. The poet, at his best, has introduced his minstrelsy with "arma virumque cano"—or its equivalent. The preacher, too, advocate of a cause founded by the Prince of Peace, has found his choicest illustrative material in the war-stories of the nations.
Now that the honor and fame of War have been unable any longer to brook the mocking grin of the Death's Head, we shall be searching in other quarters for our glory!
And who are they that seek each others' lives? By no means "a heathen horde" that "put their trust in reeking tube and iron shard" and "guarding call not God to guard;" but officially appointed Defenders of the Faith,—invoking God to give power to the powder and swiftness to the steel that they may become efficient messengers of death and poverty and tears. Some old-world seer once cried out, in a fit of desperation over the presumptuous sinfulness of his generation, "God, in Heaven, shall laugh!" But God will not laugh at this. The incongruity of a ruler proclaiming "I, by the Grace of God, King, hereby order my brave countrymen to turn out and butcher their neighbors"—may be funny enough, if that were all—but the humorous quality fades out of it when one considers the result.
Christianity has sat itself down, to-day, to rest its elbows on its knees and its chin in its hands, and think much more seriously than it has thought for ages. For, all over the world, to-day, the critics of Christianity are dipping their pens in gall and writing furious indictments of the Christian Church as a failure! They are saying of it that if Christ is the Light of the World, and if His Church is the mechanical contrivance through which this Light is made to illumine the nations,—somewhere, along the line, a fuse has blown out!
One wonders what the Prince of Peace must be thinking of his earthly constituency, to-day. St. Paul said the Christian was a soldier. He said this to a nation that slept in a steel shirt and to whom the highest type of manly supremacy was armed. The rhetoric of Jesus, however, was not military. He said that the Christian was an illuminated city upon a hill-crest; a branch of a fruitful vine; a sheep of a well-kept fold. He never said the Christian was a soldier—because he hated war! Almost the last words he spoke concerning his kingdom emphasized the distinction he wished drawn between it and the political governments of the earth. "My kingdom is not of this world!" he explained to Pilate. "If it were, then would my servants fight!"
But, notwithstanding this attitude on the part of Jesus concerning the pacific principles of his gospel, his Church has probably done as much, either by direct influence or tacit approval, to assist in educating the world to glorify War—as any other agency!
Never since Crusade Days has so much militarism been expressed in the literature and hymnology of the Church as in our day of fervent prayer for the disarmament of the nations. We Christians have joined hands with all the other powder-merchants in announcing our belief that Heroism Superlative is the passion that bids a man stuff his pockets with cartridges, at the bidding of his ruler, and start out to orphan the children of some man with whom he has no quarrel—when both he and his pretended foe would greatly prefer to be at home digging potatoes and raking hay.
A score of years ago, the Church sang "Only an Armor-bearer, proudly I stand; Waiting to follow at the King's command!" But this business of trailing along in the rear with an armor seemed somewhat tame; so we lurched into the actual clash and crash of conflict, shouting, "The Son of God goes forth to War—a kingly crown to gain"—and he might have had a kingly crown on some such terms! "His blood-red banner streams afar!" Oh, yes; no doubt. Only it is to be suspected that he would not care to have that slow trickle of the atoning price, as it stained the ground about his cross, described in any such manner. "Onward, Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War!" War! War! Boom! Crash! Bang! Why, perhaps, in the year 4500, when they look back upon this generation, they will refer to it as the Swashbuckling Age of the Christian Church, when its choir-loft resounded with the antiphonal sputter of machine-guns and its pulpit oratory swaggered about in hip-boots and jangling spurs.
Let us have done with it. Heretofore, Warrior and Hero have been regarded synonymous terms. Henceforth, if Art and Music and Poetry and History and Homily are true to their new resolves, the warrior will be sorrowfully regarded as only one hundred and ninety-six pounds of cannon-bait. Heroism will have to be re-appraised!
Now; just what the world will decide about heroism—as to what it is and who has the most of it and by what process it may be most gloriously achieved, is an interesting problem. Perhaps the world, at large, will refer the question to the Christian Church to settle. And, if so, it is not inconceivable that Christianity may decide that the honest, loyal, fearless maintenance of Christ's principles in the daily life—executed without compromise; regardless of cost; reckless of temporal gain or personal loss, is to be considered the highest type of heroism attainable among the sons of men.
For we are about ripe, in this country, at least, for a revival of the virtue of having convictions. This has been a soft and spineless age, with partial paralysis of the nerve of conscience, with flabby morals, with leaky heart-valves which allowed most of its sacrificial blood to regurgitate, so that it wept over conditions it did precious little to relieve.
We have racked our brains to find easier ways of doing things until almost nobody needs to have callous on his hands, though it is a negligible matter if he has callous on his soul. Most of our vaunted ingenuity has been expressing itself in donating the world bigger and better rubber-tires, elliptical springs and overstuffed cushions. Already some of us are growing weary of our toys. The greatest satisfaction to be had of them was the joy of making them and proving that they worked. We will presently be wanting to play at something worth the effort.
Any eighth-grade pupil knows that there are three Shakespeare-sanctioned methods of becoming great. Some are born great; some achieve greatness; some have greatness thrust upon them—that is, the old, obsolete sort of greatness such as used to photograph an infant kinglet with a trayful of medals pinned upon his breast certifying him to be the Imperial This-of-That or the Ineffable Something-or-Other of So-and-So. With the present low price of crowns and regal trinkets, it will become known all over the world that no man has greatness thrust upon him; that no man is born great; and that if he ever is to be great, at all, it will not be because he inherited it from his uncle or stumbled over it in the dark,—but by achievement—achievement with a definite price attached thereunto!
Perhaps we are about ready now—the War may steady us—we may be ready, now, to accept the old couplet "He best deserves a knightly crest who slays the evils that infest his soul within!"
Whoever sincerely wants to achieve heroism and through heroism enter into permanent greatness can satisfy himself, to the full, by contemplating and embracing the life-program of Jesus, the Nazarene. Perhaps not by standing before the conventional portrait of Christ; for whatever of beauty the sentimentalist and dreamer may find in the saintly languor of that pallid face, with its lusterless eye, its seamless brow, its unfurrowed and untroubled cheek,—surely it has but little hope to offer an age like ours.
Indeed, I cannot well understand how it could have made much of a contribution to the heroism of any age. I cannot conceive of Nicodemus ben Gorion, wisest of the Jewish seers, coming, either by night or noon, to ask counsel of that pictured Christ. Surely, no shouting multitude would ever have offered that Christ of the pictures a crown; or have dragged him to the outskirts of their Holy City a week later to kill him for upsetting the ancient traditions of their people—and then station guards about his grave lest he fare forth from his tomb and surprise the world with fresh evidences of his supremacy. What has he—this Christ of the pictures—to say to an age and country that can scarce hear itself think for the deafening din of automatic hammers driving red-hot rivets into gigantic structures, forty stories high; and the shriek and grind of traffic in congested streets? What has he—this pale Galilean of the stained window—who walks upon a cloud-bank, carrying in his arms a sheaf of white lilies, to say to an age of steel and concrete; when the whole world is racing, at top speed, through the tunnelled mountains and under the rivers and in the air to gain time in their mad striving with each other for place, power and plunder?
It is clearly evident that we have been making two great mistakes about him. In one breath we shout "The Son of God goes forth to War"—which he does not; isn't going to war, at all; nothing further from his thoughts; hates war; refuses to have his name or influence associated with it;—and in the next breath we express devotion for the anaemic Man whose placid face pictures the supremest contentment with a world so sorely in need of salvation.
Oh, you who have been squeezing out pinks and ambers and opals upon your palette wherewith to paint, upon a delicate ivory panel, the face and motive and story of Jesus, put up your dainty tubes and study him—as he is!
Watch him staggering along the Via Dolorosa, jostled by a pack of ruffians whose only pride was prejudice; after a mock trial before a moral leper with only an inch of forehead between hair-line and eye-brows; and another mock trial before a dotard priest; and another mock trial before a Roman whose only definition of king was braggart and bully. Watch this man as he proceeds, dignifiedly, to his serious business of teaching the last lesson of the course he was giving the world in Altruism. He spoke to the sobbing groups that lined the pavement—"Weep not for me! Weep for yourselves and for your generation!"
Behold him now upon his cross—surely no easy price to pay for the privilege of teaching the world the maxim "Greater love hath no man than this—that he lay down his life for his friends!" And he has not come up to this without considerable serious thought, either.
Let all those who think that when the infant Jesus lay in his manger-cradle he already understood the divine plan for him and smiled up at the vision of a cross on a lonely hill as the climax of his life, get whatever comfort is to be had of making the Lord as remote as the farthest star—the fact remains that he sweat blood at the very thought of what was about to happen to him; and cried, in all the anguish of a tortured soul, "If it be possible, let this cup pass!" Thanks to the fibre of him, he was able to add "Nevertheless!"
You need not weep for him! He asks no pity. As he hangs there in the humid heat of that tropical noon, his hair disheveled, his face thorn-scratched and blood-smeared, his lips parched, swollen, his glassy eyes staring dead-ahead into the vast unknown—he asks no sympathy. He only wants to feel the depth of your admiration for the motive that had led him to consent to this dear cost.
And what was it all about? What was he doing? Was God, who so loved the world that He had given it His son, delighted with the afternoon's program? We cannot understand the emotions of God; but surely the suffering of God over a child's sorrow, combined with the gratitude of God over a child's triumph, must be a wonderful state of the divine Mind. Well; what was Jesus trying to do, after all? What sort of a life was reaching its climax in this gory spectacle? A life of service—humble service—rendered, partly, in unobtrusive acts of kindness which were performed upon all kinds of needy people, regardless of their station—blind beggars, lepers, outcasts, lunatics, cripples, palsied; a life of service, consisting partly of tactful words of encouragement, spoken at the right time and place; admonition to choose carefully among life's possible alternatives and select the best; to pluck such flowers as would live the longest; to drive shrewd bargains with the world for the possession of its enduring treasures; to sell all—houses, lands, cattle, mines and vineyards and pay the whole price for just one pearl, if that one pearl represented the best thing attainable.
Here was no fawning and hedging Christ who solicited men to engage in a cause that made small demands and took such recruits as could be secured on promise of easy jobs and short hours! Once, when a scribe, momentarily overcome by the tingle of Jesus' call to heroism, shouted, "Master; I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest!" Jesus did not answer, warmly, "That's right, brother! That's the way to talk! Anybody else, now?" He replied, calmly, dispassionately, "You may follow: but if you follow! The foxes have holes; the birds have nests; the Son of Man hath nowhere to lay his head!" Count the cost! Think it over!
Jesus seemed not to want his kingdom made up of sentimental zealots who would give one wild whoop of joy over the discovery of a majestic principle, sign the constitution, pin on a badge; and then, after the first fever of enthusiasm had been reduced by the dull drudgery of daily duty, go off and lie down in the shade with their crosses—an advertisement of the fact that Christianity had failed to function in their lives. He knew the dangers to his kingdom from such causes. He tried to prescribe for this menace by precept, fable and allegory.
He told the story of a man who decided to build a tower—greatest tower in all that part of the country. So he made a deep and long and broad excavation in order that his wonderful tower might have adequate support and put all the brick he was able to buy into that hole; so that people came from far and near to see this marvellous tower which had never reached the surface, remarking, dryly, as they looked at it. "This man began to build a tower!"
Presently, we shall be re-appraising heroism. We will be looking for it everywhere. Perhaps we may never find it elsewhere, in its perfected state, than in the sacrificial life of the Galilean who hated War. We are soon to have a re-created Christianity; with a saddened and a steadied and a serious-minded world coming back to Jesus to learn the simple story of his life and the simple precepts of his Gospel. And when we do that, we shall achieve a united Christianity. All the various caravans, toiling over the divergent roads on which men, for ages, have sought greatness, will return, empty-handed, via the Hill Golgotha and from that point of vantage survey the life that Jesus led—the heroic life of just being kind and true and loyal and obedient to the call of The Larger Task.
One needs be neither morbid nor melancholic to feel the tug and thrill of tales about heroes who remained, the last, solitary figure on deck to scuttle the ruined ship after the life-boats had pulled away to a safe distance, so that the wreck would not be a menace to navigation; who went deliberately into a leper colony as a missionary, for which journey no return trip ticket was purchased; who accepted a commission to carry a message to Death, itself—asking no reward but the satisfaction of having rendered an acceptable service.
Jesus offers opportunities for such heroism as this to those who espouse the cause of Christ-like living.
For the most part, this heroism of the daily life is unrecognized and unapplauded. Thousands there are who give of themselves, unstintingly, uncomplainingly, denying themselves almost everything humanly dear in order that they may be great in his sight by being least in the regard of men to whom conspicuousness means greatness. Very few of them ever hear plaudits of any kind or live on in bronze. Obscure martyrs, they are
"Who have no place in storied page,
No rest in marble shrine;
They pass and are gone with buried age,
They die and make no sign.
But work that shall find its wages yet;
And deeds that their Lord did not forget,
Done for his love divine;
These are their mourners and these shall be
The pledge of their immortality."
Not much longer will it be necessary for the world to be summoned into the heroic by the blast of a bugle or the crashing roll of drums. For heroism is to be re-appraised. This is the call of Jesus, the Hero, to all who would be his disciples—a challenge than which none more daring has ever been thrown down at the feet of God's children: "Whoever would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me!" Unpaid, unnoticed, unthanked—perhaps even unscorned! But "so the ark is borne to Zion, who heeds how they perished or were paid that bore it? For so the shrine abide, what shame, what pride, if we, the priests, were bound or crowned before it?"