The Progress of Science Makes It Possible
to Kill Millions of Persons in a Short Time
Visconde de Figanière
Prophetically, Figanière uses the image of a cat fight to sum up the current
human situation: the expression “Kilkenny cats” is perfect for the 21st century
I believe it was Paul Emile who once said that talent was no less necessary to serve a banquet than to organize an army. If he was right, it may still be true today – the question must be settled between generals and butlers.
We will no doubt agree in recognizing, nevertheless, that talent does not depend on progress; and that if all the kitchens of Christendom were transformed into so many schools, the proportion between talent and the average effectiveness would remain as it is, that is to say, talent would always be the exception. Progress takes place in material ideas and in the improvement of physical procedures.
The idea that gastronomy and the art of banqueting have made progress since the time of Luculle is something everyone will immediately reject; but as far as war is concerned, no one can deny it.
It is fitting to point out to you, parenthetically, that less than a quarter of a century ago [1] the Christians, at least the great mass of them, were firmly convinced that the practice of war was approaching its end. A long peace of forty years led them to the hope that the doctrine of Christ, combined with their well-being, social progress and the moral force of modern ideas would make war more and more difficult to make, and unlikely to occur, so that a party of peace was formed with a view to establishing agreement and friendship between all the powers, and bringing about general disarmament. But the illusion did not last long; in the last twenty years there have been five great wars in Europe, not to mention those in North and South America, in India, China, Abyssinia and other parts of the world where Christians are present. People are fighting each other right now in Spain; and all the nations arm themselves to the teeth!
Since man cannot, therefore, be cured of his fondness for war, science has undertaken to provide him with “perfected” means, allowing him to satisfy this innate passion. This improvement is progressing by leaps and bounds, and it would be difficult to predict to what point of excellence the art of killing one another will still be carried. Already in the seventeenth century the historian Gibbon said about gunpowder:
“If we compare the rapid progress of this pernicious discovery with the slow and laborious march of reason, science and the arts of peace, the philosopher, according to his mood, will laugh or cry over the folly of the human race.”
What would he say today at the sight of modern rifles, machine guns, Krupp cannons? On one hand, thanks to the rapidity of the means of transport and communication, strategy has made a kind of progress which has its useful aspect, even outside purely warlike interests. The modern system of ambulances and the creation of this truly Christian association of the Red Cross are, as everyone admits, a source of legitimate pride for Europeans; and they will perhaps say that, their inventions for organizing and accelerating massacres on a large scale, also have on the other hand a humanitarian and civilizing side.
A civilizing side, since property is spared, time and expense are saved. These goals are civilizing. To achieve this, the military campaign must be quick. Therefore, the object in view must be the extermination of the enemy as soon as possible. The conclusion is unquestionably very logical; and the profound science of the Christians has shown itself equal to the problem. Whereas formerly a war required several campaigns, it is decided today by a few battles, thanks to the means of massacring men at the rate of 50,000 per hour. Long live progress!
As for its humanitarian side, I ask you, is it not better to kill one hundred thousand men in the same moment, firing twelve times a minute, with at least six shots hitting the target, and then going home to clean his rifle, instead of spending a whole year on marches and countermarches, watching each other, avoiding each other, then clashing and reloading, firing shots at each other, 80% of which miss, all with endless pain and relatively minimal results, as happened in our fathers’ time?
And is it not more charitable, with a single well-aimed cannon shot to send a battleship with all its human cargo into the abyss without too much noise, than to use the old techniques of boarding enemy ships, then having to fight hand-to-hand, or to seize the enemy’s prow with the grappling hooks, hoist it out of the water to make it fall back into the sea, as Archimedes, that dreamy fool, did in Syracuse, thus giving the swimmers a chance to escape?
When it comes to completing a painful task, it is certainly better to finish it as soon as possible. After all, the age of science has already left the age of chivalry behind, hasn’t it?
Great profits with less trouble and at less cost, this is a canonical rule of modern progress. Saving time and money, these are requirements of civilization. Industry must also live; and, to name only one of the beautiful results of war, great battles prepare your land to the point that often, for centuries, you are no longer obliged to throw manure on it!
Nations use to renew their armaments every ten years. The time period will doubtless be reduced at least to five years, since inventions follow one another with rapid progressive perfection, to the benefit of armies in general, and of inventors and manufacturers in particular. This will only end when perfection has reached the point of guaranteeing mutual  annihilation – the  fate of the two Kilkenny cats [2] – who ended their battle by swallowing each other.[3] In any case, long live progress!
[1] This text by the viscount of Figanière was published in 1875, the year when the theosophical movement was founded. A quarter of a century earlier would be 1850. (CCA)
[2] Kilkenny cats. Reference to a tale about a cat fight in which the two cats disappeared, leaving behind only their tails. The expression indicates a conflict in which there is total mutual destruction. Kilkenny is a city in Ireland. (CCA)
[3] Written in the 1870s, this ironic phrase by the Viscount de Figanière anticipates the concept of “Mutual Assured Destruction” (MAD) in case a nuclear war occurs. It should be noted that the dilemma of Mutual Assured Destruction arose after the United States destroyed the entire cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945, as a means of defending democracy and human rights against the violence of a political regime seen as authoritarian, when Japan was already militarily defeated, of course. The bloody wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan are other notable examples of the United States’ defense of democracy and human rights – not to mention Ukraine. A truly Christian country indeed. (CCA)
The above text was published on the associated websites on 27 July 2023. “Progress in the Art of Massacre” is a translation of Chapter X in the book “Lettres Japonaises”, by Portuguese Theosophist Visconde (Viscount) de Figanière. The subtitle of the book is “On Civilization in Europe as a Product of Christianity, and the Path It Presently Follows”. See pages 83 to 90. “Lettres Japonaises” is available on the websites of the Independent Lodge of Theosophists.
A classical author in esoteric philosophy, Portuguese theosophist Visconde de Figanière (1827-1908) was a personal friend of Helena Blavatsky. Figanière served as the diplomatic representative of Portugal in Russia and lived in a house belonging to Blavatsky’s family. He also worked in Brazil, England, Spain and France. Click to see other writings by him.
Helena Blavatsky (photo) wrote these words: “Deserve, then desire”.