The World's Famous Orations/Volume 6/On the Zulu War

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A. M. SULLIVAN

ON THE ZULU WAR[1]

(1879)

Born in 1830, died in 1884; became Editor and Proprietor of the Dublin Nation, 1846; opposed the Fenian Movement; ordered to be assassinated, but the order never executed; imprisoned, 1868; elected to Parliament as a Home Ruler, 1874; reelected, 1880, but owing to ill health resigned, 1881; buried in the "O'Connell Circle" in Glasnevin Cemetery.


We find ourselves once again sitting in Committee of the Whole House to vote a war subsidy. The present occupants of the Treasury Bench are determined that so long as they retain their places the Temple of Janus shall not be closed. In the reading-room of this House, a couple of years ago, her majesty's ministers were kind enough to send up for the convenience of members and to hang on the walls maps of our latest acquisitions and our "seats of war." We had maps of the Transvaal and of Cyprus and the harbors of Famagousta, Limasol, and all the rest of it. Then came "the seat of war" in Afghanistan, which covered all that remained of the wall, and the other day, when the clerks of the Intelligence Department came to fix up our newest "seat of war," it was discovered that we had on hand so many "seats of war" that there was no room on the wall for more.

If this is to go on, where is it to end? I will tell you that it will not end so long as her majesty's government can have money voted in this House on the excuse that because we are involved in war, money must be voted to carry it on. It is always too late or too soon to protest. For my part, I take my stand against what seems to have become a system of plunging us without our knowledge or concurrence into wars from which our consciences revolt, and then, because the butcher's bill is incurred, telling us government must needs have the money—that it would be "unpatriotic" to refuse it.

I know there are honorable members round about me who will say: "We are as much opposed to this Zulu war as any man can be. We believe it to be an unjust war, but will vote for the money because the country is now engaged in the struggle." I can quite recognize that as a ground which some members of this House may take up; far be it from me to quarrel with them; but, for myself, I say my conscience recoils from having act, hand, or part in voting a sixpence for this war. I challenge any man in or out of this House to defend it on the principles of public equity, if he will only suppose that it is Russia that is waging the war, and not England. I say no man in this House will dare to apply to such a war the principles which you apply elsewhere. If this dusky chief, spear in hand, set forth to defend his home against the Frank, the Russian, or the German, English pens would trace his record of glory, and English poets would sing his fame. "We have had sympathetically dramatized for us the story of Pizarro, when men—savages perhaps, but patriots all the same—withstood the civilizing tyrant that came upon their shores. And when we stand in Pizarro's place in South Africa to-day, is no voice to be raised in England better worthy of being heard than mine to say, as I say now, "This is an iniquitous and a wicked war; it is against all my convictions of right and wrong?"

And at what an hour do we find ourselves so far gone in this onward march of aggression, this lust of territory, this greed of annexation? It is at the very moment that you have been contesting the right of a Christian power to redress Christian wrongs in the east of Europe. You call Russia an aggressive power, and treat us to homilies on the iniquity of her pushing her frontiers forward. Was ever hypocrisy so gigantic as yours? To call Russia aggressive, when you are reaching out your hands to grasp more territory in every region of the globe, by every violation of right. It is incontestable that you led the Zulu king to conclude that you favored his claims to this strip of land. But no sooner had you annexed the Transvaal than you turn round upon him in conduct which he calls, and I say, justly calls, something very like perfidy. Now that you are the rulers of the Transvaal, you say he shall not have what you notoriously led him to expect as his just and lawful right.

Where slumbers the public morality of England? I look in vain in the public press of this country for that voice which ought to speak out, when we read the ultimatum—that impudent and insolent missive—of Sir Bartle Frere. I know of nothing more audacious than the document which was sent to provoke this war; yet now the land is agitated from end to end by the story of the terrible disaster at Isandlana, and money is being sought here to-night, not for defense of your South African possessions, but in order to wage a war of vengeance on Cetewayo and give up his people to sword and flame.

I pay my tribute to the gallantry and heroism of those British soldiers who fell beneath their flag. They served their queen and their colors well. But while I admire them, I more admire the men, savages tho they be, who fell with their feet on their native soil defending themselves against an invader. My morality is not cribbed, cabined, and confined by geographical lines. I mete out to the savage the same measure of justice which I extend to more civilized races. Altho a man be a savage, we ought not to deny him the degree of praise which is due to his patriotism, as praise is paid to Caractacus and Kosciusko. This Zulu king stood within his own territories. He only did what Queen Elizabeth did in the case of the Spanish Armada when it threatened English soil. He called his forces around him, as she did hers, and said: "I will make the invader bite the dust." And he did so.

England, with the £1,500,000 you vote to-night, will doubtless succeed in a war of revenge upon this African prince. £1,500,000! Why, if the government had asked for £5,000,000 they would have got it. If I saw Cetewayo pushing his advantage so far as to invade the territories which do not belong to him, and to endanger the safety of peaceful settlers who are outside his own land, I could sympathize with your military movements. But in so far as he stands in the position of one who is resisting aggression, and is on his own soil, defending his own people and country, for my part I can not avoid confessing—whatever consequences may follow from my avowing it—that my sympathies are on his side. I say he ought to have from us the same admiration that the writers of history have taught us to pay to the men who resisted Spanish invaders in another clime.

I prize highly the advantages of civilization, and the blessings of civil and religious liberty; but never shall a vote of mine be given to encourage unjust invasion and conquest on the pretext of pushing "civilization," or to carry the Bible with the sword, so that rapacity may call its crimes "the diffusion of Christianity."

No, sir; I will give no vote to extend this already swollen empire at the cost of the liberty of these natives, howsoever dark their skin may be. I protest here to-night against further annexations. I believe if the representatives of Ireland, or the people of Ireland, had a voice in this question they would say that the British Empire is wide enough, great enough, grand enough, powerful enough, rich enough, without sending an ultimatum to take a rood of ground from Cetewayo. We might leave this dusky warrior to himself, and the British ensign would float as proudly from the turrets of Windsor Castle as it does now. Nay, much better and happier might we all be by giving up these aggressive enterprises and costly schemes of aggrandizement. It is while trade is languishing, and industries are perishing in our midst, and the cry of absolute destitution comes to us from the midland counties, £1,500,000 is being asked from us to carry out this most iniquitous business.

All vainly I speak. To-night this money will be voted. I know that well. But I know what verdict will yet be passed on this episode of British history. When the present feeling of resentment has passed away, when passion has cooled, and reason returned, there will arise some Allison, or some Macaulay, or some Lecky, to trace for our indignant posterity the story of this hour. They will say it was a reproach to the British Parliament that it had not patriotism enough or independence enough to resist and refuse this application for money to spend in a war which they will declare to be, as I declare it to be, as unjust, as wicked, and as wanton as that which George III. waged—thank God, he waged in vain!—against the liberty-loving people of the American Colonies.

  1. From a speech in the House of Commons, February 27, 1879. By permission of Mr. T. D. Sullivan, brother of A. M. Sullivan. The circumstances in which this speech was delivered were described at the time as follows, by the Parliamentary correspondent of the Liverpool Journal: "But the debate was not to be wholly and uninterruptedly dreary, for near the end of it there came a speech from Mr. Sullivan, the member for Louth, which drove away all dulness for the time, and lighted up the debate as a lightning flash illuminates the sky on a murky night. The speech was short, but the effect must have been startling. These people had been droning for several hours about mere money matters. Meanwhile Mr. Sullivan sat in his place on the second bench from the floor below the gangway. At last, when Sir Stafford had in his dryest style delivered his winding-up speech, Sullivan's patience gave out, and up he sprang, and, kicking all precedent aside, and knocking old use and wont head over heels, he stormed into the debate like a tornado."