Britain's Deadly Peril/Chapter 11

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We have heard a good deal about "Business as usual": it would be well if we heard a little more of the companion saw—"Do it now." For if this campaign, for good or ill, is to finish before the snows of next winter come, the need for an instant redoubling of our energies is pressing beyond words.

In his gallant defence of the Press Bureau against overwhelming odds—few people share his admiration for that most unhappy institution—Sir Stanley Buckmaster denied that information was ever "kept back." So far as I know no one has ever suggested that the Press Bureau had anything to say about the circulation of official news: its unhappily directed energies seem to operate in other directions. But that it is keeping back news of the very gravest kind admits of no shadow of doubt. The official reports have assured us of late, with irritating frequency, that there is "nothin' doin'." Now and again we hear of a trench being heroically captured. But we hear very little of the reverse side of the picture, upon which the casualty lists, a month or six weeks later, throw such a lurid light.

Time and again lately we have read in the casualty lists of battalions losing anything from two hundred to four hundred men in killed or wounded or "missing," which means, in effect, prisoners. Even the Guards, our very finest regiments, have lost heavily in this last disagreeable fashion: other regiments have lost even more heavily. Now British soldiers do not surrender readily, and we can take it for granted that when a large number of our men are made prisoners it is not without very heavy fighting. One single daily paper recently contained the names of very nearly two thousand officers and men killed, or wounded, or missing, on certain dates in January. Where, why, or how these men were lost we do not know, and we are told absolutely nothing. The real fact is that the news is carefully concealed under a tiny paragraph which announces that a line of trenches which had been lost have been brilliantly recaptured. We are glad, of course, to learn of the success, but would it not be well for the nation to learn of the failure? Can it be supposed for an instant that the Germans do not know? Is it giving away military information of value to the enemy to publish here in Great Britain news with which they are already perfectly well acquainted? Is it not rather that in their anxiety to say smooth things the authorities deliberately suppress the news of reverses, and tell us only the story of our triumph?

The most injurious suppression of news by the Government has made its effect felt in practically every single department of our public life which has the remotest connection with the prosecution of the war.

Take recruiting as an example. Recruiting is mainly stimulated, such is the curious temper of our people, either by a great victory or a great disaster. Failing one or other of these, the flow of men sinks to what we regard as "normal proportions," which means in effect that the public is lukewarm on the subject. It is perfectly well known that a specially heroic deed of a particular regiment will bring to that regiment a flood of recruits, as was the case after the gallant exploit of the London Scottish had been published to the world. And what is true of the regiment, is true of the Army. Yet with all their enthusiastic advertising for recruits, the military authorities have neglected the quickest and easiest way of filling the ranks: instead of telling our people in bold stirring words of the heroic deeds of our individual regiments, they have, except in a few instances, fought the war with a degree of anonymity which may be creditable to their modesty, but does no tribute to their intelligence.

Turn the shield to the darker side: every reverse has stimulated patriotism and brought more men to the colours. What, I wonder, was the value of the Scarborough raid as compared with the recruiting posters? The sense of insult bit deep, as it always does in the English mind. The Kaiser's own particular insult—his jibing reference to "General French's contemptible little Army"— probably did more to rouse the fighting blood of our men than all the German attacks. The splendid story of the retreat from Mons flushed our hearts to pride, and men poured to the colours. Is there no lesson here for the wiseacres of Whitehall? Does the knowledge that Englishmen may be led, but cannot be driven, convey nothing to them? Are they unaware that the Englishman is the worst servant in the world if he is not trusted, but the very best if full confidence is extended to him? Can they not see that their foolish policy of suppressing ugly facts is, day by day, breeding greater distrust and apathy?

I confess to feeling very strongly on the Clyde strikes, which, for a wretched industrial dispute—probably engineered by German secret agents—held up war material of which we stood in the gravest need. I cannot understand how Scotsmen, belonging to a nation which has proved its glorious valour on a hundred hard-fought fields, could have ceased work when they were assured that their claims would be investigated by an impartial tribunal. The bare idea, to me, is as shocking as it must be to most people. And I can only hope and believe that the action the men took is mainly attributable to the simple fact that they did not understand the real gravity of the position; that they did not appreciate the desperate character of our need, and that they utterly failed to realise that to cease work at such a time was as truly desertion in the face of the enemy as if they had been soldiers on duty in the trenches. I confess I would rather think this than put the cause down to laziness, or lack of patriotism, or drink. But if this, indeed, be the real cause—a lack of knowledge of the essential facts of the situation—whom have we to thank? Those, surely, who have cozened a great people with fair words; those, surely, who have spoken as though our enemy were in desperate straits, that all goes well, and that the war will soon be over.

With regard to the alien peril, it is a source of great gratification to me that His Majesty's Government have adopted my suggestion of closing the routes to Holland to all who cannot furnish to the Foreign Office guarantees of their bona fides. In my book, "German Spies in England," I suggested this course, and in addition, that the intending traveller should apply personally for a permit, that he should furnish a photograph of himself, his passport, his certificate of registration, if an alien, and two references from responsible British individuals stating the reason for the journey and the nature of the business to be transacted. Within a fortnight of the publication of my suggestion the Government adopted it, and have established a special department at the Home Office for the purpose of interviewing all intending to leave England for Holland. The regulations are now most stringent. And, surely, not before they were required.

Thus one step has been taken to reduce the enemy alien peril. But more remains to be done. If we wish to end it, once and for all, we should follow the example of our Allies, the Russians, who were well aware of the network of spies spread over their land. In Russia every German, whether naturalised or not, has been interned, every German woman and child has been sent out of the country, and all property belonging to German companies, or individuals, has been confiscated for ever by the Government.

One result of this confiscation is that factories in first-class condition can now be purchased from the Russian Government for what the bricks are worth. In addition, there is a fine upon all persons heard speaking German in public. In the opinion of Russians, Germany was, as in England, a kind of octopus, and now they have the opportunity they have thrown it off for ever. Why should we still pursue the policy of the kid-glove and allow the peril to daily increase when the Government could, by a stroke of the pen, end it for ever, as Russia has done?

Now there is one remedy, and only one, for the national apathy. The truth must be told, and with all earnestness I beg of my readers, each as opportunity offers, to do all in his power to stimulate public opinion in the right direction until the demand for the truth becomes so universal, and so insistent, that no Government in this country can afford to ignore it. Many Members of Parliament have appealed in vain; the great newspapers have fought unweariedly for the cause of honesty and common sense. The real remedy lies in the hands of the people. Democracy may not bring us unmixed blessings, but it does, at least, mean that, in the long run, the will of the people must rule. If the people insist on the truth, the truth must be told, and in so insisting the people of England, I firmly believe, will be doing a great work for themselves, for our Empire, and for the cause of civilisation.

They will be working for the one thing necessary above all others to hearten the strong, to strengthen the weak, to resolve the hesitation of the doubters, to nerve Britons as a whole for a stupendous effort which shall bring nearer, by many months, the final obliteration of the greatest menace which has ever confronted civilisation—the infamous doctrine that might is right, that faith and honour are but scraps of paper, that necessity knows no law but the law of self-interest, that the plighted word of a great nation can be heedlessly broken, and that the moral reprobation of humanity counts for nothing against material success.