Document 3: F. L. Orton, "War No Parlor Game: No Ethics in It and No Answer Save Corpses, Blood, and Tears," New York Tribune (28 April 1915), p. 8.
In this letter to the editor of the Tribune, F. L. Orton argued against the emerging American popular opinion of chemical warfare as barbaric and inhumane, asserting, in fact, that poison gas might be more humane than traditional weapons. Orton himself realized, however, that his opinion was a minority one.
WAR NO PARLOR GAME
No Ethics in It and No Answers Save
Corpses, Blood and Tears.
To the Editor of The Tribune.
Sir: Being an editor, I sometimes try, by way of getting the popular viewpoint, to imagine myself as big a fool as most of the individuals making up the population of the world, in order that I may serve them with the mental buttermilk that they need. Unfortunately I am now and then unsuccessful. And this war is putting my machinery for understanding the public mind all out of gear.
It appears that the German armies, in order to dispose of their enemies, sent noxious gases ahead of them and as a result made considerable gains. According to newspaper reports, the Germans “admit” they did this, but insist that the Allies taught them how. The assumption is that, in the opinion of some one, there is discredit attached to fighting by means of gas.
The purpose of war is to win. If gas is more deadly than bullets--certainly it is far more humane--why quarrel over who used it first? If the Allies discovered the principle and failed to follow it up it is very discreditable to them. If a man comes into my house to murder me I shall not quibble over whether he uses steel, lead or poison--in fact, my aesthetic sensibilities rather approve of the latter.
If I were Germany, and fighting for my existence, no matter how I came to be fighting, I should use every means at my disposal to win. The German would be a bigger fool than his worst enemy ever accused him of being if he didn’t. War isn’t a parlor game, and it cannot be much worse at its worst that it is at its best. There is about 99 per cent of hypocrisy in the criticism of Germany these days
Nevertheless, I am hoping for the greater good of the world, that the Allies will soon begin to display a little of the real fighting quality of the Germans and crush Prussian militarism. Unfortunately, a good many of them seem to feel that the war is to be settled on the basis of argument upon the ethics of shelling cathedrals. The answer is really to be sought in corpses, in making more widows and orphans in Germany, in watering the soil of the Fatherland with tears as well as deluging it with blood. If we are going to war let us be warriors, not milk-fed babes.
Brooklyn, April 26, 1915.
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