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War and Freemasonry

In the Middle Ages a "war" was a personal or family quarrel, with small forces officered by a few knights and composed of retainers and peasants. In the period of the Renaissance, armies were a form of private business, like a factory, which would sign a contract to fight for the highest bidder, and according to agreed rules; collusion among private armies, as among modern managers of prize fighters, was common, and oftentimes the decision was agreed on beforehand-- Machiavelli's appeal to Florence to stop this farce, in which not one man would be killed in "battle," and substitute for it an army of citizens, stirred Europe far more than his mephistophelean theory of government.

When the countries became nationalized, so did armies; they were composed of local levies of men, or cadres, or of impressed or conscripted troops, and a man could buy his way into or out of an officership --the Ironmongers Company in London was twice levied for money by each side in the English Civil War. As in China, common soldiers were looked down on as belonging to the lowest order, and sailors were treated with even more contempt. Back of the system was the idea that an army was a nation's champion; while the English champion was fighting the French champion, the English and French peoples went about their affairs as usual, willing to abide by the verdict of a remote contest. Our own Civil War was the first "modern war"; in it the army no longer was a champion but was the people itself, and the home front was as much a part of the struggle as the military front; carried to its inevitable outcome this became the present-day total war in which two or more whole peoples are conscripted into a single armed effort with themselves, their property, and their country at stake.

In articles on other pages of this supplement on RELIGION AND FREEMASONRY and on POLITICS AND FREEMASONRY it is shown that Freemasonry is among those arts and sciences which are inalterable by theological and political doctrines, and therefore it stands apart and unaffected by alterations in them. This is equally true as regards war; just as the old arts of farming, or the old sciences of physics and astronomy, or the old disciplines of mathematics, or philosophy, or history, or the plastic arts, cannot commit themselves to war, or be altered or revolutionized by war, so a Masonic Lodge has nothing in its Landmarks or its purposes which can take part in armies as men, its members may tremble with apprehension or flame with patriotism or may seize arms; as Masons they are, like Christianity or medicine or education, non-belligerent; even if in any given war, as in the war between the Government of Spain and the Id Phalangist rebels, the future existence of the Frater city lies in the balance, still it has in itself no means to arm itself; and as it is not so organized as to take any place in an army neither is it organized to take any part in the diplomatic activities which precede a war, or write a peace, or act to prevent wars.

A Mason's one interest (as a Mason) is at the point where the history of Masonry intersects the history Of Near. In Medieval Freemasonry one large and important branch of Craftsmen specialized in military architectures in building castles, fortresses, and fortified city walls-- castle building was so specialized that it almost comprised a separate species of Masonry. During the hundreds of wars in Britain and on the Continent during the long period of Operative Masonry, there is no evidence that the Masonic fraternities gilds, or lodges ever took part in them as such; in the midst of war the gilds went on with their work as best they could, as farmers, sailors, teachers, churches did. In 1732 the Grand Lodge of Ireland hit upon the expedient of granting Warrants for military Lodges (or regimental, or naval, or sea and field) under ambulatory or traveling Charters.

As one Grand Lodge after another adopted the custom these military bodies multiplied into the hundreds, and helped to carry Freemasonry about the world; but this was not a war measure, made to support one side as against another, but was for the sole purpose of according the privileges of the Craft to men away from home; the same Grand Lodge Chartered Lodges in two or three armies, as in America where there were military Lodges in both conflicting armies and under the same Grand Lodge! During that war, as they were to do so again in 1812 and in 1861-5, Masons from both sides oftentimes attended the same Lodge, and did so not out of "the emotions of the battle field" but because they knew that Lodges stand outside the militant struggle.

NOTE. In his article on page 1089 Bro. Robert I. Clegg discusses the action taken by Scottish Lodges in 1777, in offering bounties to men who would enlist for the war in America. The action taken by the Grand Lodge of Scotland the following year to condemn this un-Masonic practice bears out what was said in the above paragraphs. _ The majority of those Scottish Lodges at the time had patrons in tact is not in name; it is probable that they ware urged on by the patrons. The same thing had been attempted years before when patrons made use of a few Lodges as recruiting centers for immigrants willing to move to the Colonies. One act was as un-Masonic as the other.

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