Theosophical Society, Cardiff Lodge,

206 Newport Road,

Cardiff, Wales, UK CF24 – 1DL.


Bangor-on-Dee - Bangor-Is-Y-Coed

North Wales

Great War Memorial Unveiling 1925



Theosophy and the Great War



Two World Empires


Annie Besant



First Published November 1914


Return to Homepage




ALL over the world is the tumult of war; the lurid light of devastated homes blazes out from the burning towns of Belgium; the relics of past ages in Louvain and Rheims and Dinant have been hammered into pieces by the new hammer of Thor; hundreds of thousands of men, killed or wounded, strew the fields that should have been yellowing for the sickle; all the fair, peaceful industries of common life are whelmed in one red ruin.


And for what is all this pain, this agony of wrenched muscles and shattered limbs, this blasting of bright young lives, this destruction of glowing hopes? In the pictures of the killed that appear in the illustrated papers there are so many faces glad with the sunshine of life, bright faces of young manhood, dawn­ing into virility, faces that mothers must have loved so dearly, must have kissed so passion­ately as they sent them forth. As one looks at them, one sees them trampled into crimson mud, shattered by bursting shell, riven by cut of sabre, and is glad that the earth should hide the horror of what was once so fair. Clear eyes, looking out so brightly upon joyous life, that have gazed unflinchingly into the eyes of death. Lips, still showing the gracious curves of youth, that hardened in the battle-crash, to relax again only in the peace of death.


And all for what? For what the broken hearts in all the homes in which these gallant lads were light and joy? For what the anguish of the widows of these other men, beyond the first flush of youth, who left behind them their life's treasure, with the children who shall watch for their fathers' coming - useless watching, for homeward he will never come again? For what the myriads of darkened homes, whose breadwinners, hus­bands and sons, fathers and lovers, find no record in the pictured pages, though dear to the hearts that love them as are the noble and the wealthy who thereon have their place? For what the world's great anguish, mourning over her slaughtered sons? For what?


There have been wars begun for transient objects, for the conquest of a piece of land, for the weakening of a rival, for the gaining of added power, begun because of ambition, of greed, of jealousy, of insult. In such wars, lives are flung away for trifles, though the men who suffer in them, or who die, win out of their own anguish added strength and beauty of character, full reward for the pain endured; for they return with the spoils of victory into new avenues of ascending life, and with them it is very well. Such wars are evil in their origin, however much the divine alchemy may transmute the base into fine gold.


But this war is none of these. In this war mighty principles are battling for the mastery. Ideas are locked in deadly combat. The direction of the march of our present civilisa­tion, upwards or downwards, depends on the issue of the struggle. Two ideals of world­-empire are balanced on the scales of the future. That is what raises this war above all others known in the brief history of the West; it is the latest of the pivots on which, in successive ages, the immediate future of the world has turned. To die, battling for the right, is the gladdest fate that can befall the youth in the joy of his dawning manhood, the man in the pride of his strength, the elder in the wisdom of his maturity - ay, and the aged in the rich splendour of his whitened head. To be wounded in this war is to be enrolled in the ranks of humanity's warriors, to have felt the stroke of the sacrificial knife, to bear in the mortal body the glorious scars of an immortal struggle.


Of the two possible world-empires, that of Great Britain and that of Germany, one is already far advanced in the making, and shows its quality, with Dominions and Colonies, with India at its side. The other is but in embryo, but can be judged by its theories, with the small examples available as to the fashion of their outworking in the few colonies that it is founding, the outlining of the unborn embryo.


The first embodies - though as yet but partially realised - the ideal of freedom; of  ever-increasing self-government; of peoples rising into power and self-development along  their own lines; of a supreme government "broad-based upon the people's will"; of fair and just treatment of undeveloped races, aiding not enslaving them: it embodies the embryo of the splendid democracy of the future; of the new civilisation, co-operative, peaceful, progressive, artistic, just, and free - a brotherhood of nations, whether the nations be inside or outside the world-empire. This is the ideal; and that Great Britain has set her feet in the path which leads to it is proved not only by her past interior history with its struggles towards liberty, but also by her granting of autonomy to her colonies, her formation of the beginnings of self-government in India, her constantly improving attitude towards the undeveloped races - as in using the Salvation Army to civilise the criminal tribes in India - all promising ad­vances towards the ideal. Moreover, she has ever sheltered the oppressed exiles, flying to her shores for refuge against their tyrants - the names of Kossuth, Mazzini, Kropotkin, shine out gloriously as witnesses in her favour; she has fought against the slave-trade and well-nigh abolished it. And at the present moment she is fighting in defence of keeping faith with those too small to exact it; in defence of treaty obligations and the sanctity of a nation's pledged word; in defence of national honour, of justice to the weak, of that law, obedience to which by the strong States is the only guarantee of future peace, the only safeguard of society against the tyranny of brute strength. For all this Great Britain is fighting, when she might have stood aside, selfish and at ease, watching her neigh­bours tearing each other into pieces, waiting until their exhaustion made it possible for her to impose her will. Instead of thus remain­ing, she has sprung forward, knight-errant of Liberty, servant of Duty. With possible  danger of civil war behind her, with supposed possible revolt in South Africa and India, with  shameful bribes offered for her standing aside, she spurned all lower reasonings, and, springing to her feet, sent out a lion's roar of defiance to the breakers of treaties, uttered a ringing shout for help to her peoples, flung her little army to the front - a veritable David against Goliath - to gain time, time, that the hosts might gather, to hold the enemy back at all  costs, let die who might of her children; called for men to her standard, men from the nobles, from the professions, from the trades, men from the plough, from the forge, from the mine, from the furnace; and this not for gain - she has naught to gain from the war - but because she loved liberty, honour, justice, law, better than life or treasure, that she counted glorious death a thousand-fold more desirable than shameful existence bought by cowardly ease. For this, the nations bless her; for this, her dying sons adore her; for this, history shall applaud her; for this, shall the world-empire be hers with the consent of all free peoples, and she shall be the pro­tector, not the tyrant, of humanity.


The second claimant of world-empire em­bodies the ideal of autocracy founded on force. The candidate proclaims himself the War-Lord, and in his realm no master save himself; he declares to his army, as he flings his sword into the scales of war:


"Remember that the German people are the chosen of God. On me, on me, as German Emperor, the Spirit of God has descended. I am His weapon, His sword, and His vicegerent. Woe to the dis­obedient. Death to cowards and unbelievers."


The thinkers, the teachers of his people have formulated the theory of the world-empire; it recognises no law in dealing with states save that of strength, no arbitrament save war. Its own self-interest is declared to be its only motive; its morality is based on the increase of the power of its empire; the weak have no rights; the conquered nations must be "left only eyes to weep with"; woe to the conquered! woe to the weak! woe to the helpless! All religions save the reli­gion of force are superstitious, their morality is outgrown. Murder, robbery, arson - all are permissible, nay, praiseworthy, in invading hosts. Mercy is contemptible. Chivalry is an anachronism. Compassion is feebleness. Art and literature have no sanctity. The women, the children, the aged - they are all weak; why should not strong men use them as they will? All undeveloped races are the prey of the "civilised". And we are not left without signs of the application of the theory. Herr Schlettwein instructs the German Reichs­tag on the "principles of colonization";


"The Hereros must be compelled to work, and to work without compensation and in return for their food only. Forced labour for years is only a just punishment, and at the same time it is the best method of training them. The feelings of Christianity and philanthropy, with which the missionaries work, must for the present be repudi­ated with all energy."


General von Trotha, tired even of enslaving them, proclaims:


"The Herero people must now leave the land. If it refuses I shall compel it with the gun. Within the German frontier every Herero, with or without weapon, with or without cattle, will be shot. I shall take charge of no more women and children, but shall drive them back to their people or let them be shot at."


The proclamation was carried out: thou­sands were shot; thousands were "driven into a waterless desert, where they perished of hunger and thirst". On this sample, we refuse the goods offered. Moreover, we have seen the Empire at work, carrying out in Belgium its theories of murder, rape, and loot. The "chosen people of the [German] God" stink in the nostrils of Europe. This embryo­-Empire of the bottomless pit, conceived of hatred and shaped in the womb of ambition, must never come to the birth. It is the New Barbarism; it is the antithesis of all that is noble, compassionate, and humane. Human­ity knows the ways of Goths, Vandals, and Huns, the Berserker rage of the Vikings; it refuses to bow down before the idol of force, the negation of law, of freedom, of justice, and of peace. They that make the sword the arbitrament shall perish by the sword. The war Germany has provoked, as her road to empire, shall crush her militarism, free her people, and usher in the reign of peace.


Because these things are so, because the fate of the next age of the world turns on the  choice made now by the nations, I call on all who are pledged to universal brotherhood, all Theosophists the world over, to stand for right against might, law against force, free­dom against slavery, brotherhood against  tyranny. - Theosophist, November 1914.




Return to Homepage


Theosophical Society, Cardiff Lodge,

206 Newport Road,

Cardiff, Wales, UK, CF24 – 1DL.



For more info on Theosophy

Try these


Dave’s Streetwise Theosophy Boards

The Theosophy Website that

Welcomes Absolute Beginners


Theosophy in Cardiff


Theosophy in Wales


Wales! Wales! Theosophy Wales

The All Wales Guide to

 Getting Started in Theosophy

This is for everybody not just people in Wales


Cardiff Lodge’s Instant Guide to Theosophy


Cardiff Theosophy Start-Up

A Free Intro to Theosophy


Cardiff Theosophical Archive


Cardiff Blavatsky Archive


Blavatsky Blogger

Independent Theosophical Blog


Quick Blasts of Theosophy

One Liners & Quick Explanations


Great Theosophists


The Most Basic Theosophy Website in the Universe

If you run a Theosophy Group you can use

this as an introductory handout



The New Rock ‘n Roll


The Key to Theosophy


The Voice of the Silence


The South of Heaven Guide to

 Theosophy and Devachan


The South of Heaven Guide

To Theosophy and Dreams


The South of Heaven Guide

To Theosophy and Angels


Theosophy and Help From

The Universe


Feelgood Theosophy

Visit the Feelgood Lodge


The Tooting Broadway

Underground Theosophy Website

The Spiritual Home of Urban Theosophy


The Mornington Crescent

Underground Theosophy Website

The Earth Base for Evolutionary Theosophy



Try these if you are looking for a

local Theosophy Group or Centre



UK Listing of Theosophical Groups


Worldwide Directory of Theosophical Links


International Directory of 

Theosophical Societies