Ethics of Honor.

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To the Editors of the CRIMSON:

It is often said that German insults demand retaliation through war, as a point of honor, regardless of consequences. Is this truth or superstition?

First, what is private honor? Its meanings are legion. But its aggressive phase is the feeling that deliberate injuries to one's pride or person or kin make requital dearer than life itself. This is so part of us that we instinctively scorn anyone who questions it. Yet is it a reliable guide, after all? History's variegated standards of honor prove no. Honor constrained the medieval knight to make quixotic fighting tours to glorify a lady whom he never saw. Honor dictated family feuds like that of the Montagues and Capulets. Honor involved private war after every injury. Today only a few points of aggressive honor remain. Why is it? Partly, of course, because we have learned to let the law right our wrongs. But our law provides no redress for sheer insults and forbids a man, assailed by a murderer, to stand his ground and kill if he can safely retreat. Europe, however, sanctions duelling and standing ground.

Clearly honor for honor's sake must bow to some more infallible test of duty. This test is, I take it, whether one's conduct is pushing forward to the goal which his philosophy accepts. I can see no logical mid-points between private egoism and devotion to the human common-wealth. Suppose the latter is chosen. Then right is action towards this goal. And retaliation is right when and when only it carries man forward. Whenever self-assertion against a molestor only makes matters worse for the community, the injured individual ought to submit and swallow his humiliation cheerfully. Gradually it was realized that self-help tended rather to aggravate disorder and injustice, rather than to prevent it, and now we sanction self-help in only those few situations where it is more constructive than destructive.


If private pride must yield to higher national ends, so must national pride. I utterly reject as mumbo-jumbo any conception of American honor as a mysterious something distinct from the aggregate honor of American citizens. National traditions, ideals and honor live in the minds of people and nowhere else. Now, as members of the American partnership, we feel sorely humiliated by the Germans. Somehow we feel less moved by the greater indignities practiced by American partners on each other. It is so much easier to hate the foreigner. But if we are to steer with open eyes toward the goal and not by blind feeling, we must calculate whether retaliation as such will build toward the goal of richer life or set us back.

One main value of retaliation is to lessen injuries by discouraging them. But a war aiming to defend American lives or to establish international law seems valueless to me because I think it would defeat its own ends. Another use of retaliation is to win prestige. I myself put faith in other expedients than war to gain a less precarious and less costly prestige. But war can be strongly argued on the ground of prestige and also on the premise that the Allies cause is our cause. To wage war as a point of honor, however, seems to me to be unintelligent. CECIL H. SMITH 2L.