The disagreement between the United States and England about the damage done to American shipping by the Alabama, which threatened to lead to war, was settled in 1872 by the Geneva arbitration; and the good example then set has been followed on several occasions since that date.
But, nevertheless, war is still generally regarded as the only ultimate way of settling national disputes, the armies of great nations are larger than they ever were before in the history of the world, and there seems little prospect of the establishment of the reign of universal peace.
Although the principle that might is right no longer prevails in the relations between individuals, it is still considered natural to appeal to it when one nation quarrels with another.
War remains as a tremendous relic of barbarism in the midst of modern civilization, and the progress of modern science is every year leading to the discovery of more powerful instruments for the destruction of human life and property.
No doubt the increase of humanity and of sympathy that has accompanied the advance of civilization has done something to mitigate the horrors of war. The ancient Assyrians used to impale their captives. The Greeks and Romans made slaves of their conquered enemies.
In the reign of Edward I, Sir William Wallace, the brave champion of Scottish independence, was hung, drawn and quartered by his English conquerors. His head was fixed on London Bridge, and his four quarters were sent to Newcastle, Berwick, Perth and Sterling.
When the Black Prince, who was regarded as the flower of chivalry, captured the French town of Limoges, he vented his fury on the town by allowing three thousand of its inhabitants, men, women, and children, to be massacred by his troops. Such terrible cruelty as this would be now impossible in the warfare of civilized nations.
Attempts have been made of late years, not without success, to diminish the horrors of war by international agreement. It is now an accepted principle in European warfare, that private property is to be respected, and that wounded soldiers and the doctors who attend upon them are not to be fired upon.
But in spite of all such agreements, war, as long as it exists, must produce countless evils. Even if the regular armies in the fields abstain from pillage, anarchy is sure to prevail in the neighborhood of their operations, the criminal classes feel relieved from all restraint, and bands of plunderers spread ruin far and wide.
War always paralyses the industry of a country by calling away able-bodied men from the field and the factory. Powerful artillery destroys in a few hours buildings that have taken many years to erect.
In every war a large number of families reduced to destitution by the destruction of their property or by the loss of those on whom they depended for support.
In some western countries at the present day universal conscription prevails, and the younger members of every family are compelled by law to serve in the army. Under such circumstances war spreads far wider desolation than when it is waged by a limited number of men who have voluntarily adopted the profession of arms.
But just this circumstance, which increases the extent of the suffering inflicted by war, may tend to prevent nations from hastily appealing to arms, and so promote the cause of peace.
No nation is likely to enter upon war with a light heart, when every man capable of bearing arms is compelled to take his place in the ranks and risk his own life on the battle-field.
The knowledge of this must surely do much to extinguish the national ardor for warlike glory, which has been the cause of so much bloodshed in the past.