TOPICS OF THE WEEK - 23 JULY 1885

THERE are indeed enthusiasts who fancy that there is a way of putting an end to war at once and for ever. Their talisman is the discovery of an all-destroying projectile. An invention of wholesale slaughter thus becomes the dream of the philanthropists, and the infernal powers themselves are to be made ministers of peace. It would be a curious, and for mankind at large might prove an awkward, part of the discovery that it would invest its first possessor with omnipotence, and enable him to compel all nations, on pain of annihilation, to receive him as universal emperor. The London Speculator, in a paper discussing this vision at great length, pointed out that the improvement of weapons has so far resulted only in a change of drill and tactics without banishing or even diminishing war. It is certainly curious that the rate of slaughter, instead of keeping pace with the increased range and precision of firearms and artillery, should have remained stationary, as it appears to have done, or rather has diminished. The rifled breechloader does nothing like the execution which was done by the bow. At Crecy the French dead were counted by heralds on the field, and their number exceeded thirty thousand. This was certainly the work of, according to Froissart, five thousand two hundred archers. At Batoche, we are told, nineteen thousand rounds were fired, and by good marksmen, besides Gatling ammunition and shells; and the number of killed and wounded on the side of the Half-breeds was about thirty. Batoche was not a normal case, it is true, because the enemy were in rifle-pits; but still the contrast is striking. The archer was not confused by smoke or noise, nor could he discharge his arrow without drawing the bow to his ear and taking some sort of aim, while many soldiers in a modern battle are said not to bring the rifle to the shoulder or take any aim at all. But we must wait for a great sea-fight before we make up our minds what effect scientific invention is likely to produce on war. From naval war at all events all the romance, all the pride, pomp, and circumstance, which largely stimulated the martial spirit, must now have fled. We shall see whether the souls of men are to be fired by the prospect of what Farragut called going to -- the nether world -- in a tea-kettle.


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