Littell's Living Age/Volume 130/Issue 1683/The Turkish Atrocities

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From The Economist.


Foreign policy does not easily seize hold of the imaginations of Englishmen, and it is with great difficulty that either the intellectual interests or the moral sympathies are fixed upon the confused and complicated incidents of a warfare, such as is now being waged upon the borders of Servia. But when a view of any such controversy does get hold of the popular mind, it is apt to be fierce and persistent, for it is not modified by any direct weighing of evidence. It is most frequently through the emotions that such a view of distant events acquires power, and being almost beyond the pale of reasoning, it is likely to become a dangerous force in politics. Thus, we believe, the Crimean War was the direct consequence of a popular impulse, which had its root in the inaccurate judgment of the English people upon some ambiguous acts and expressions of the emperor Nicholas, for the explanations and modifications of which no hearing could be obtained. We are not without apprehension that the present temper of the public mind is now as dangerously bent upon the opposite course. The moral effect produced by the history of the Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria has been rarely paralleled in this country. While foreign critics, who generally miss the point of popular movements in England, are declaiming against the English government as the protector and patron of the Turk, the real danger is not that England may plunge into war or involve herself in diplomatic meshes in defence of the Ottoman government, but that she may be forced into a military or political intervention, abounding in risks and responsibilities, for the humiliation or subjection of the Turks; and this is a penal measure to satisfy the boiling anger and indignation of our countrymen. We need not say that we trust so injurious and ill-considered an impulse will be resisted as well by the leaders of the Liberal party as by the Conservative ministry. It must be admitted that the danger is not imaginary when distinguished Liberals below the gangway insist that it is Mr. Disraeli's duty to send the British fleet at once from Besika Bay to the Golden Horn, there to punish or terrify the ministers of the Porte. The debate raised by Mr. Anderson on Monday was renewed by Mr. Ashley on Friday, and in the interval Mr. Bourke had to reply to a searching question addressed to him by Mr. Ritchie. The agitation out-of-doors is even now significantly vigorous, and if the stories of outrages like those perpetrated by the Bashi-Bazouks and Circassians, in Bulgaria, should be repeated during the progress of the Turkish invasion, we may see the ministry forced by an irresistible wave of public feeling into a war, with aims and issues that never entered into their calculations. We can only hope that those who influence the popular sentiment will now be firm, sober, and careful in their estimate of consequences; that the ministry will take precautions to free itself from any further responsibility, such as has been perilously incurred by Mr. Disraeli's levity of language, and Sir Henry Elliot's apathy or incompetence; that the government at Constantinople will see the necessity and possess the power of restraining the armies that have invaded Servian territory from the abominable practices which disgraced the irregulars let loose upon Bulgaria; and finally, that with the least possible delay the truth may appear. It is essential that the whole story should be disclosed in all its detail as soon as may be, and we cannot understand why, for the public interest and for their own, they have not hastened the publication in this country of Mr. Baring's full and final report. The telegraph is as much at the disposal of the government as at that of the newspapers, and if Mr. Bourke could present a complete statement of what Mr. Baring declares he ascertained for himself, he would silence much conjectural, but not less injurious criticism.

But whatever means may be taken to allay the public excitement upon this question, and to prevent its exacerbation, ought to be taken at once. The crimes charged against the Turkish irregular troops in Bulgaria, are of a kind against which the manly nature of Englishmen revolts with a sickening repulsion, not easily overcome or forgotten. Torture, massacre of defenceless prisoners, outrages on women, the sale of children into slavery and infamy — these are things that make English blood boil, and if one-tenth of what has been reported from Bulgaria be true, the Turkish irregular soldiery have been guilty of all these things and worse. Even Mr. Baring's first impressions were fatally damaging to the Turks; he wrote in his first despatch: "Till I have visited the villages, I hardly dare speak, but my present opinion, which I trust hereafter to be able to modify, is that about twelve thousand Bulgarians have perished. Sixty villages have been wholly or partially burned; by far the greater portion of them by the Bashi-Bazouks." But in this account, and in the official reports of the Turks, the worst abominations are denied or slurred over. It would be more in the interest of the Porte to confess them frankly, and to show a desire to expiate them by the punishment of the guilty, and a sincere endeavor to suppress any similar atrocities in other quarters. It is said that the Turks, in reply to the repeated remonstrances of our government, have given assurances that they will do, that they are doing, all in their power to mete out exemplary punishment to the criminals, and to suppress sternly any further outrages at the seat of war, or in the districts where the insurrection has been subdued. But even if these assurances should be found untrustworthy, as so many Turkish promises have been before, we hope it will be remembered that the effect of an English menace to the Turkish government, such as Mr. Jacob Bright and Mr. Whit well call upon the government to use, would be to dissolve at once the whole fabric of Turkish government, to set half-a-dozen new wars and insurrections on foot, and to compel us to undertake responsibilities in the restoration of peace, the cost of which we have not calculated. Our intervention would probably, in the first instance, lead to a vast increase in the destructiveness and the horrible character of the war in the East, and would involve us in risks for which we see no compensating advantage to the victims of Ottoman oppression.