The Indifferent Stars
( Originally Published 1916 )
W. B. RICHMOND
September 21, 1915
ONE wonders, as he gazes at them shining brightly in the sky, as tranquil as though peace- still brooded over the earth. Beneath them sail the Zeppelins, hurling bombs that dismember women and children, bombs that fall alike on cathedral, church, and synagogue, bombs that kill the little ones to whom God has just granted life. In the empyrean, set in their eternal places, the stars shine on.
A hundred years hence fifty, nay, even twenty-five all that is happening to-day will be recorded in cold black and white, will have ceased to be a memory, will have become a mere stilted diary of fact. Kaisers, generals, admirals, statesmen, will be dust that mingles with the other dust, fragments of nothingness in the vast silence. In five years, tourists will go in char-à-bancs to the scenes of dreadful slaughter, will eat sandwiches and empty flasks where to-day men are dying in their thousands. Fields will be tilled again that now are rocky burial-grounds ; tears will have dried, the dead will be forgotten. The dead will lie in their graves, the living will go about their daily affairs ; men and women will marry and beget children, who, in their turn, will gaze at the stars and die. Do these things matter, to the stars ?
The Grand Rabbi of Lyons was helping to carry a wounded soldier to the ambulance when another, who was dying, mistook him for a Catholic priest, and prayed for absolution. The Rabbi rushed in search of a crucifix, found one, and pressed it to the dying man's lips, murmuring words of comfort. And then a shell came, and they died together, and went to the one God whom they both worshipped. The Rabbi was a good man, but this was surely the most sublime act of all his life and in doing it he was killed. Why not ? Is it not well to die when one has performed his sublimest act ? And the war has brought us nearer to the sublime.
Up above, somewhere, perhaps, the order was given. To us, creatures of an hour, it seems in-credible that so vast a catastrophe should not have had its extra-human warrant. As the betinselled Lord of Potsdam stood there, hesitating in his palace, was there not the finger of God that moved the clock ? He who has allowed plague and earth-quake, dreadful shipwreck, cholera, yellow fever surely He has also allowed this war ! Not the God you pray to, Kaiser but the God of all mankind and all eternity. The soul of man had become thick and clogged, perhaps it needed cleansing. Men knew too much, and cared too little. The Scheme of Things, desiring the better, has plunged the world into the melting-pot, to fashion it anew. And if some millions die a year or two before they would have died, if havoc stalks across the lives of those who yet remain does all this matter to the Scheme of Things ?
It is better to believe that than to tell oneself that there is no God. Better to turn one's eyes from the reeking, mourning earth, and raise them up on high, and say, It is Thy will. Nor will those who believe this pray for victory, but for tranquil acquiescence only, and for power to do the right. To Him above there are no Allies and no enemy, but only souls of men. Do frontiers concern the Maker of the Universe, the Evolver of Suns ? But the soul of man is as important as a million suns ; and it is the soul of man that will emerge triumph-ant from this war.
" GOTT MIT UNS ! " cries the German. No. He has yet to learn. Darkness has crept over him ; he clamours and shouts in vain. The material con-quest will come later, when the lands he has won are wrested from him, his own territory invaded, and terms of peace dictated to him in his capital. But even to-day he is overwhelmed. For the war has brought him nothing, has gained him nothing. In his mad passion for victory, he has damned his soul ; he has been unjust and cruel. Treachery and useless slaughter, foul betrayal and slimy artifice he has craved God's help for these. The night creeps over Germany the night that comes from the darkness of mind.
And yet the stars shine on, over Germany as over Belgium, the land of magnificent sacrifice and undying heroism. In the deep blue sky of Italy, over the fair fields of France, in the great spaces of Russia, above the Zeppelin-haunted coasts of England, all men raise their eyes to the stars we, the Allies, as they, the foe. And the stars, that have seen this earth begin, as they will see it end, perform their allotted task in the harmony of the spheres. So shall we, in our degree, do what we have to do. First, conquer, and then learn. Learn the lesson that the war will have taught us, that will have been written in the life-blood of thousands of heroes the lesson that there must be an end to indifference and selfishness, of nations as of individuals, and that there can be no peace in the world till all the peoples of the world are free.