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Biology of War. (Book review. 1919.)

The News asked Woodbridge N. Ferrris of Big Rapids, former governor of Michigan, to review an interesting book recently published by the Century company. The volume is entitled "The Biology of War" and was written by a German, Dr. C. F. Nicolai. We are pleased to devote this space today to Mr. Ferris's review, which is a brief synopsis of the German's book, and includes also some views of the former governor, who is one of the best thinkers in Michigan.


"Dr. C. F. Nicolai was born in Berlin in 1872. Before the outbreak of war he was known throughout Germany as the leading heart specialist, in which capacity he had attended the German empress, whom he is said to have saved from a troublesome malady. He also held the chair of physiology at Berlin university. He married a daughter of Admiralitatstrat Buslay and has one child- a daughter.

'The Biology of War' was written since the outbreak of war, in the German fortress of Grandenz, in which the author was imprisoned. If the German government could have had its way, the book would never have seen the light, at any rate not so long as the war lasted; but by a happy chance the manuscript was conveyed to Switzerland, where it was brought out by the leading German-Swiss publishing firm, Orell Fussli of Zurich.

This remarkable book has no affinity whatsoever with an ordinary pacifist publication. In the fifteen chapters, Dr. Nicolai contends that there is no biological justification for war now.

In chapter one, under, 'War Instincts,' he discusses the dynamics of conduct in both man and the lower animals. The lower animals cannot change the conditions under which their instincts are exercised. Man is endowed with the power to change his conditions. Man can live anywhere and everywhere. Through the use of the human hand, tools have become the means and symbol of all man's future greatness. 'Man, in short, could conquer only because he was a social being.'

Perhaps the most decisive proof of mans' originally tribal nature, however, is speech. 'Universal brotherhood among men is older and more primitive than all combat, which was not introduced among men until later.' 'Wars and combats between animals of the same kind should be of such extreme rarity that it may almost be said that war, like so much else, is a human invention.' He maintains that 'propertyless animals live in peace with one another.'

Wars among men, that have any practical result, involve property and human slavery. War is not a struggle for existence, but a struggle against existence. 'In accordance with the general rules of the struggle for existence, a machinery victory is the only possible victory which man can still win today.' 'Truly our tools are weapons, but to be used against nature and not against man.' 'For in the end all civilization is based on respect for life.'

If international democracy ever prevails, the people must take matters into their own hands. By implication, Dr. Nicolai says that diplomats make war. The last war will be the greatest, 'even as the last Saurian was the hugest of all.' He does not assert however, that this is our last world war.

Those who bear arms are not necessarily the fittest to survive. They do not determine the glory and greatness of a nation. The national army of workers, inventors, artists, poets, etc., represent the vital force that creates new life. Therefore, nations that encourage organizations of professional soldiers are forging the instruments of war. Nations are prone to find use for their equipment.

The author attacks that form of patriotism that results in war intoxication. 'My country right or wrong' destroys even the prospect of international democracy. The perpetuation of this false patriotism means the perpetuation of war.

Unlike the lower animals, man has a free intellect. Unlike the lower animals, he is not chained to his immediate environment. He can go anywhere and live anywhere. In other words, the lower animals are controlled by their environment; man makes and controls his environment.

Much has been said about the superiority of unmixed races. He hints that if this superiority could be maintained, there would be some ground for advocating the fictitious patriotism already mentioned. He declares that Europe 'is an absolute national medley.' He speaks of Germany as a 'civilized state built upon the basis of common speech. It is not a national state built upon a common race.' He further says that 'a human being ceases to be a human being- that is a personality- when he has to praise his country simply because it is his country.' Dr. Nicolai states clearly his position in the following: 'Whoever holds that his own country's civilization lies close to his heart should remember that it is joined by a thousand secret threads to foreign countries, and consequently is injured by the breaking of international relations.'

Dr. Nicolai makes a strong plea for altruism. He declares that mankind is an organism, hence altruism is fundamental in an enduring civilization. 'The war gods have misinterpreted Darwinism. If the German people possess the physical and psychical qualifications for ruling the world, it will succeed in doing so without any war; and if it does not possess such qualifications, the winning of any number of wars will not alter the fact.'

There is only the right of mankind. The individual is in the right when he recognizes the right of mankind. Altruism and egoism are not opposing forces. Both are absolutely essential to the progress of mankind. Dr. Nicolai accepts the doctrine of utilitarianism, 'that the aim and object of our actions is the greatest possible happiness of the greatest possible number of human beings.' 'Man ought to act in accordance with a maxim which may at the same time prevail as a universal law.'

He quotes from a letter written by Hellmuth von Moltke to Bluntschli: 'Perpetual peace is a dream, and not even a beautiful dream, and war is a link in God's universal ordinance. In war men's noblest qualities are developed- courage and resignation, fidelity to duty and readiness to make sacrifices, even when it comes to laying down life. Without war the world becomes swamped in materialism.'

He further states that 'the only other man who has expressed himself so clearly is ex-President Roosevelt in America. He says that he despises nations and human beings who calmly pocket insults and does not admire the love of peace of timorous persons. America, he continues, if she is to play a part in this world, must perform those sanguinary deeds of heroism which have brought glory to a nation in the past; for only in war can a nation acquire energy which is necessary in the struggle for existence. If, on the contrary, it were to live in peace and comfort, it must give way before other nations which have not yet lost the valor and love of adventure of the man.

The views entertained by von Moltke, Bernhardi and Roosevelt are the views held by militarists and the majority of the world's diplomats. The people have not shared these views. The peoples of the earth do not want war. The peoples of the earth want peace.

Dr. Nicolai, in the last chapter, discusses religion. It might be better to use the term world ethics rather than the term religion. It is a fitting climax to the book.

The chief value of Dr. Nicolai's book does not lie in new and startling revolutionary thinking. Not only many scientist of Germany, but many scientists of every other country have justified war on their interpretation of Darwinism. Dr. Nicolai has attempted another interpretation. In doing this, he has unconsciously classed himself with Benjamin Kidd.

"The Biology of War" was written under serious stress of mind, consequently the book is uneven in scientific merit. He has sometimes allowed his own personal bias to manifest itself unduly. It is refreshing, however, to find a German who does not slavishly bow down to a Haeckel. The result of the world war make the book all the more valuable from the standpoint of humanitarianism.

Source: Grand Rapids Press. 1919.