Two Similar Pastimes.

From: The Creed of Kinship (1935)
Author: Henry S. Salt
Published: Constable & Co Ltd 1935 London


And we shall share, my Christian boy,
The foeman’s blood, the avenger’s joy
                           (THOMAS CAMPBELL.)

  Before going further, I would like to speak again of a subject which forms a curious link between the case of human and that of non-human sufferers—the strange similarity, in certain cases, of Sport and War.

  There were not a few instances, in the course of the struggle in South Africa, of the war being openly and avowedly referred to as a form of “sport.” Everyone remembers the letter a newspaper published during the early months of the war, in which an English officer spoke of the “excellent pig-sticking” obtained by a British squadron in its pursuit of the flying Hoers. “All men who are patriots and sportsmen,” said a well-known M.P. on another occasion, “must feel that there is about war something of a magnificent game.” These indiscreet utterances naturally raised a protest; but it must be admitted that they only expressed what is very generally felt among a large section of nominally civilised people. There is not a doubt that numbers of Englishmen have gone to wars as to a sport in excelsis, a kind of glorified rabbit-shoot or battue—though probably many of them have modified that opinion in the light of subsequent experience, for we heard less talk of that sort in the war with Germany.

  Blood-sports and war are certainly pastimes with a good deal in common. They both date from a prehistoric period when man

“Butted his rough brother-brute
For lust or lusty blood or provender,”

and both, having been prolonged into an age which ought to have left them far behind with other antiquated barbarisms, are now defended by the same moral and economic fallacies, as being, in the first place, part of the great “struggle for existence,” “survival of the fittest,” and so forth, and secondly, as “good for trade.” Good for trade they both are, in the sense that they help the few to snatch a temporary profit at the expense of the many; and as for the survival of the fittest, if you are determined to wrest that theory from its true meaning, it may be made to cover both war and sport at a stretch. “To-day,” as Mr. Robert Buchanan said, “under the fostering wing of Imperialism, brute force is developing more and more into a political science. There is no excess of rapacity, no extreme of selfishness, no indifference to the rights of the weak and helpless, which Christian materialism is not ready to justify. The Englishman, both as soldier and colonist, is a typical sportsman; he seizes his prey wherever he finds it, with the hunter’s privilege. He is lost in amazement when men speak of the rights of inferior races, just as the sportsman at home is lost in amazement when we talk of the rights of the lower orders. Here, as yonder, he is kindly, blatant, good-humoured, aggressive, selfish, and fundamentally savage.”

  Such sport is frequently justified by its apologists as being a “training” for war. But here it must be asked what kind of sport and what kind of training are referred to in such statements. The sports of which we are now speaking in connection with warfare are those which are more correctly described as “bloodsports,” to distinguish them from the humane sports of the gymnasium and playing-field. Training, again, is either physical or mental. Now as far as physical training is concerned, it is evident that blood-sports are no better preparation for war than football and other athletics; but if it is mental and moral training that our “patriots” have in mind, then we must allow—in fairness to our adversaries and to ourselves—that blood-sports are the best of all schools for that other form of bloodshed which is euphemistically known as war.

  It all depends on what is the object to be attained. If we wish as a nation to lord it over our human fellow-beings without regard to considerations of justice and humaneness, it must be a most appropriate training to practise and perfect ourselves in a similar treatment of the non-human races. In that sense we grant the “patriot-sportsman” his claim. As a school for callousness there is nothing superior to blood-sports, and the killing of defenceless animals is the best education for the looting of houses and the burning of non-combatants’ farms. But conversely, if it is our desire that the people to which we belong should be a just, humane, and generous people, as jealous of the rights of others as of its own, and dreading no loss of prestige so much as a wrong done to a less powerful community—if we wish our country to be a peaceful, sympathetic, and considerate member of the family of nations—then assuredly it is not wise to encourage our youths in the practice of what we call blood-sports. To break up hares, to worry tame stags, to mow down driven pheasants in the battue, to shoot pigeons from traps, to dig foxes out of their holes, and to course bagged rabbits in enclosures where they have no chance of escape—such sports as these cannot possibly have conduced to generosity of character, or to that much-misunderstood quality which is called manliness.

  For we may take it for granted that, in the long run, as we treat our fellow beings “the animals,” so shall we treat our fellow-men. In spite of all the barriers and divisions that prejudice and superstition have so industriously heaped up between the human and the nonhuman, the fact remains that the lower animals hold their lives by the same tenure as men do, and that there is no essential difference between the killing of one race and of the other. “The hare in its extremity,” says Thoreau, “cries like a child. I warn you, mothers, that my sympathies do not always make the usual philanthropic distinctions.” No; and our European soldiery does not always make the usual philanthropic distinctions. The tiger that lurks in all of us will not easily be tamed, so long as the deliberate murder of harmless creatures for “sport” is a recognised amusement in every civilised country. Once open your eyes to the kinship that links all sentient life, and you will see very clearly the relation that subsists between the sportsman and the soldier.

  We recall an incident related some years ago at a humanitarian meeting where the craze for “big game” shooting was being discussed. Everyone knows how the possessors of such “trophies” as the heads and horns of “big game” love to decorate their houses with these treasured mementoes of the chase. It had been the fortune—good or bad—of the narrator of the story to visit a house which was not only beautified in this way, but also contained a human head that had been sent home by a member of a certain African expedition and “preserved” by the skill of the taxidermist. When the owner of the head—the second owner—invited the humanitarian visitor to see the trophy, it was with some trepidation that he acquiesced. But when, after passing up a staircase between walls literally plastered with portions of the carcases of elephant, rhinoceros, antelope, etc., he came to a landing where, under a glass case, stood the head of a pleasant-looking young negro, he felt no special repugnance at the sight. It was simply a part—and, as it seemed, not a specially dreadful or loathsome part—of the surrounding dead-house; and he understood how mankind itself is nothing more or less than “big game” to our soldier-sportsmen, when they find themselves in some conveniently remote region where the restrictions of morality are unknown. The absolute difference between human and nonhuman is a fiction which will not bear the test either of fearless thought in the study or of rough experience in the wilds.

  To conclude, then: the temper which makes war still possible in the twentieth century is that which is kept alive and fostered in so-called times of peace by the practice, among other practices (for we do not, of course, assert that sport is the only accessory to war), of doing to death thousands upon thousands of helpless animals for purposes of mere recreation. Peace advocates who declaim against the infamies of war, without taking note of the kindred infamies of sport, have, to say the least of it, not looked very deeply into the subject of their propaganda; and precisely the same holds good of those “lovers of animals” who are horrified at the idea of running a fox to death, but are ready to accept the flimsiest of flimsy sophisms as an excuse for going to war. Sport is, in truth, a form of war, and war is a form of sport; and those who have defended such institutions as the Eton Beagles, on the ground that the schoolboys who indulge in them were thereby trained to be the future stalwarts of Imperialism, are fully justified in their contention—provided only that they look the facts of war and Imperialism in the face. The Etonians who, in the eighteenth century, used to beat rams to death with clubs, and who now break up hares as a half-holiday pastime, have always furnished a large contingent of officers to the British army. Need we wonder that wars flourish without regard to justice or morality, and that an English officer could describe as “excellent pig-sticking” the slaughter of Dutchmen—the race nearest to our own in ties of language and blood?

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