The Tyranny of Shams/Chapter II
THE MILITARY SHAM
In the original conception of this work militarism was selected as the first sham to be assailed because it is at once the most costly and the least excusable. The way to remove many of the blots on our civilisation is by no means plain. A dozen conflicting theories confront you, and each has a sufficiently large body of adherents to entitle it to consideration. But there are others in regard to which a large and practical measure of agreement has been reached. Here we do not need so much the subtle dissection of arguments and proposals as the kindling of that ardent and imperious sentiment which spurs a man or a race to action. The evil is recognised: the way to remedy it is sufficiently clear. What we need is, in the mass of the people, that fiery resentment of a hated tyranny which will shake the lie from its throne.
The first, the gravest, the most flagrant and most vivid in our minds at the moment of these obvious shams is war, with the military system which it involves. Here there is no sacred legend of a divine origin to confuse the minds of the ignorant. There are legends of divine approval, it is true, but the clergy do not press them and they have little influence. War is a practice or institution which we clearly trace to the wild impulses and imperfect social forms of early man: even to the sheer passion of the beast that was still strong in him. No sophistry can obscure this bestial origin. We men and women of the twentieth century cling to one feature, at least, of an age on which we look back with high disdain: an age with which we would bitterly resent any comparison in point of intelligence and feeling. We may try to gild it with glittering phrases about a nation’s honour, but we know, all the while, that the honour of a nation no more demands that it shall dye its hands in the blood of a sister-nation than the honour of an individual requires so barbaric a consolation.
We maintain this sham in an age when mechanical progress has made such strides that it has turned the industry of war into our chief and most oppressive occupation. We cannot, with all our sacrifices, find the means to carry out most urgent reforms in our social life; we cannot put flesh on the bones and light in the eyes of poor children, or ease the lives of worn workers and helpless widows; because we need these, and even greater resources, to sharpen the sabre for our neighbour’s throat and enlarge the calibre of the tube that will scatter a hail of death. We have for years stood in such attitude confronting each other, we civilised nations, that on any day of any year the bugle might peal, and the soil and seas of Europe be reddened with blood, and the pain which knows no remedy shoot through millions of homes; and now the tragedy has opened , grimmer than the dourest prophet had ever pictured it. Why have we done this? Ultimately, because man, the primeval savage, knowing nothing of our systems of justice, laid it down that the knife or the club was the guardian of a man’s honour or property: proximately, because we of this highly cultivated age enthrone still one of the most ghastly shams which barbarism succeeded in enforcing on civilisation.
I have described it as a characteristic of our age that we are rising above the stream of traditions which flows from civilisation to civilisation, and are discovering that some of its sources are tainted. Now in the case of warfare this scrutiny of the origin and course of our traditions is comparatively easy. What we have discovered is so well known, and so little disputed, that it need hardly be related. It may be useful to state, at least, that very early man was probably not a combative and bloodthirsty savage. He lives to-day in such lowly peoples as the Veddahs and the Yahgans, and they are generally peaceful and averse from brawling. In this primitive man, however, there slumbered all the impulsive passion of earlier ancestors, and it was inevitable that a cultural rise should awaken it. When men became organised in tribes, when they became hunters and tillers of the soil, when they increased and wandered far afield, quarrels arose over women and hunting grounds and other necessaries, and the institution of warfare was established. Within the tribe there was already some kind of court, as a rule, before which a man could bring his neighbour for wrong-doing. For the quarrel between tribe and tribe there was no judge: the verdict lay with the heavier weapon and the stouter arm. Hence, the higher the intelligence of the tribe, the more deadly and widespread became the carnage. Ferocity became a useful social quality—a virtue, indeed, the supreme virtue, or virtus (manliness)—and the primitive genius was expended in making more cruel and lacerating the barbs of the arrow and the spear. The administration of justice advanced, and a time came when private vengeance, and even family feuds, were strictly forbidden and regarded as crimes. But, while ten men might not go to war against ten men, ten thousand would march out, with the sonorous blessing of their priests, to the more barbaric butchery of war against ten thousand. The mind had to grow larger, the heart more human, before the reign of justice would be acknowledged in the relations of masses of men to each other as well as in the relations of individuals.
With the dawn of civilisation a terrible paradox occurred. Warfare was not abolished, but made more destructive. Again we find this a natural and intelligible development. Each early civilisation found itself surrounded by barbaric tribes, with which no compact of justice could be established or trusted. The great Stoic humanitarians of Rome, who preached the brotherhood of men and denounced violence, dared not, in the interest of civilisation, plead disarmament. There were, of course, moral sophisms in support of this plain need. The profit of aggression, the prestige of conquering, were adorned with phrases akin to our “white man’s burden.” Yet it is true that until modern times warfare could not have been abolished without grave danger to civilisation. The crime of warfare became a crime only in these later centuries. Now that fully three-fourths of the race are gathered into civilised states, a compact of justice, an international tribunal with an international executive, is possible; and we are guilty, either of a base hypocrisy or a ghastly insensibility to our gravest interests, in refusing to set up that compulsory international tribunal.
No writer will be expected to discuss patiently to-day the pitiful sophistry with which, until yesterday, a few defended the retention of the military institution. Germany resounded with, and England and France and the United States echoed here and there, the pompous and hollow claims of its Treitschkes and Moltkes. War was a splendid moral discipline: an institution appointed by Providence for purging the race of sloth and materialism, for restoring chivalry and brightening the shield of honour and rebuking selfishness. War has grimly belied its apologists and we need notice them no longer. It has betrayed one of the greatest nations of modern times into horrors and outrages which are a supreme and eternal mockery of their moral claims for it.
Others more justly claimed that war develops the virility, the endurance, the power of men. The lesson of history, they said, is on the side of war: the great empires of the world became great by their heroism and sacrifices on the field of battle. Here we must distinguish carefully. It is obviously true that these empires became big, powerful, and wealthy by war; and if any nation candidly confesses that it relies on war to increase its territory, its power, and its wealth, its argument is unanswerable. But there is now no nation in the world that professes to maintain an army and a navy for the purpose of aggression and expansion. Even Germany, which undoubtedly did construct its massive armament for that purpose, had not the audacity to admit it. Defence is the justifying title and, in so far as it is sincere, it is a just title. If, as long as the military system lasts, an army and a navy of a certain strength are required, in the judgment of appointed experts, for the defence of a country and its institutions, we pay our share willingly for the maintenance of such an army and navy, and we respect our soldiers and sailors. I do not for one moment advocate the disarmament of one nation living amidst armed neighbours; and a partial disarmament, or an insufficient armament, is the surest provocation of war. My point is that, since the world has reached such a pitch of moral development that each nation now professes to arm only against the possible aggression of a neighbour, the time has come for them to agree upon the infinitely less costly and more reliable way of settling their possible quarrels as individuals do. Only one nation, Germany, seems to be genuinely opposed to this, not so much from native malice of character as from very serious domestic reasons for aggression: and a perfect opportunity now arises for effectively impressing on Germany the fact that she has come too late into the family of Great Powers for filibustering.
As to the development of physique and endurance and discipline, it is too obvious that this could be attained by athletic contests which are at present left to voluntary interest or to the unattractive manoeuvres of professional exploiters. For years I have followed professional football with keen pleasure, and I was interested when, at the outbreak of war, men cried that these footballers were the most superb material for our recruiting agents. It was perfectly true. Any State which is sincerely eager to develop the physique and endurance of its citizens can do it by the use of devices which will provide most enjoyable spectacles and national or international festivals instead of periodic orgies of blood and tears. The defenders of war must be hard pressed for argument when they plead this necessity. There is, moreover, one supreme difference between war and athletics as instruments of training. War destroys what it creates: athletics keeps its men among our citizens and breeders.
The truth is that the whole historical argument for war, which has had an incalculable influence in the education of Germany, is a miserable fallacy. The real lesson of history is that militarism has been a malignant cancer, transmitted from one empire to another, and, by destroying them, it has hundreds of times suspended the advance of civilisation. It is in a sense a fallacy to claim that any nation became great by war. The tribe which wins ascendancy over its neighbours does so because it is already more powerful, more numerous, or more fortunately situated. Then comes the period of expansion, when, as we admit, greater power and wealth and territory are undoubtedly won by the sword. This is the seductive phase of history, leading astray men like Ruskin as well as men like Mommsen and Niebuhr. Let us admit all its glories. Moral and humanitarian excesses are just as mischievous as immoral excesses. As a result of this successful war and expansion, the older empires were enabled to foster art, to protect their growing culture, to civilise vast stretches of the earth that might otherwise have lain uncivilised for ages.
Most assuredly war has, in this sense, been a most valuable influence in spreading civilisation over the earth. What modern historians forget is that the conditions have totally changed. Your empire is no longer surrounded by myriads of barbarians whom you must conquer before you can civilise. Germany has been forced to colour its aggression by the stupid pretence that it had a higher Kultur than its neighbours, and that, in endeavouring to impose it on them, it was carrying out the “law of history.” It is a pity that science and history ever adopted the word “law.” What they mean, of course, is only a summary of the way in which things uniformly occurred in certain conditions. Now that the conditions are entirely changed, the laws have no application. One might suggest that we still need armies to conquer and civilise the outstanding barbaric peoples. We do not. We need an international armed force to check their aggressions, but there are other and better methods of civilising them. In any case, this plea has no relation to the vast armies and navies and the bloody wars we actually endure.
But it is the next and final phase of militarism which the historical apologists for war have so grossly overlooked: the phase when the best stocks of the old race are extinguished on the battlefield or enervated by the luxurious idleness which was bought by the spoils of war. Is it not proverbial how the great families which had led the invincible legions of Rome dwindled in five centuries into a sickly cluster of parasites or wholly disappeared? Is it not notorious that it was, in the first century of the present era, the healthier provincial stocks which saved Rome from destruction, or postponed its destruction? And do we not find, as time goes on, men from more and more distant provinces, in the end men from the barbaric fringes of the Empire, coming to lead its legions and support its falling eagles? All through Roman history war presents itself to the mind of the candid historian as a vampire living on the best blood of the people. Only a continuous supply of fresh blood and stout frames from the subject peoples keeps up the illusion of an “eternal Rome.” It is only the shell that lasts. The people of Rome itself and of the neighbouring plains, from which the old legionaries had come, were soon exhausted. Italy in turn was exhausted and made desolate. Then Gaul and Spain and Africa, and Thrace and Dacia and the more distant provinces, were sucked bloodless and resourceless; and the great shell of an empire fell with a crash under the blows of Goth and Vandal. It is a clerical myth that Roman strength was sapped by vice. Its blood was drunk by war.
These things Niebuhr and Mommsen forgot when they proposed to Germany the splendid example of Rome; and history will have its revenge on its great interpreters by recording the close in tragedy of this new imperialism which they inspired. Other historians boldly quoted Greece—Alexander of Macedon—and the fallacy is even more piteous. Athens assuredly did not become great by war. Its most brilliant period opens after a crushing and devastating reverse, and its achievements were entirely due to its statesmen, its artists, and its thinkers. But from the moment when the shadow of the Macedonian empire fell on it, a blight came swiftly over its culture. Its glory departed for ever when it became part of a great military power. Greece, as a whole, was impoverished and ruined by war. Sparta itself, one of the most strenuous military powers that ever lived, is a classical proof that war invigorates only to destroy.
To whatever nation we turn, we learn the same lesson of history. Egypt survived the strain, owing to the constant infusion of foreign blood, for eight thousand years, but sank at last so exhausted that it seems almost beyond the hope of reanimation. Assyria and Babylonia were prepared for destruction by the same steady drain of their healthiest blood. The Hittites, the Lydians, the Phœnicians, the Medes, the Persians followed the same course. From the first founding of civilisation in the valley of the Nile, ten thousand years ago, war has brooded over its cities and cornfields, and has time after time blighted its achievements and its hopes. It is as though some god were jealous of the advance of man, and maintained on the earth this corroding pest to eat into the life of each successive empire, and, by destroying it, to interrupt the progress of the race.
In the history of Europe since the fall of Rome we witness the same human tragedy. I do not overlook the other evil influences, such as fiscal disorder and industrial parasitism, which have contributed to the fall of empires, but the share of war in these tragedies was incalculable. The fate of early England, battling against invaders and rent by internal quarrels for centuries, is typical. The greater England of modern times, or the real greatness of modern England, was built in periods of comparative peace by merchants and manufacturers and scholars. Over the whole of Europe the vampire still brooded, fastening on each young nation that advanced beyond its fellows. The medieval republics of Italy were wrecked by war. Holland and Portugal, once the most promising powers of Europe, were exhausted by it. Not vice, not enervation, not a dwindling birth-rate,—which are rather consequences than causes,—but the incessant exhaustion of their resources on the seas and the battlefield condemned them to decay. Italy fell back into the state of impotence which gave Austria and the Papacy their ignoble opportunity. Once more the advance of civilisation was checked by the jealous god of war.
It is, of course, true that warfare produced fine types of men; but for every Bayard there were ten thousand brutal soldiers, whose march across Europe left a broad track of rape and ruin. It is true that the naval or military successes of Venice and Genoa and Florence enabled them to raise marble palaces and to foster the art of painters and the research of scholars; but it is equally true that prosperity based on such a foundation was generally doomed. The example of medieval Rome shows that a military basis was not essential. The peoples from whom the tribute had been wrung awaited their hour—the hour when the vampire had sucked the great frame weak and bloodless—and then, by the same law of might, they smote the oppressor. The historian who reads the whole chronicle of man is saddened even in contemplating a nation’s prosperity. Amidst the cries of joy and triumph and love he seems to hear the cynical laughter of the war-god.
I need not follow the devastation of war through the later history of Europe. The Thirty Years War laid Germany desolate, and postponed its cultural development for more than a century. Spain, Portugal, and Holland, which had won empire by the sword, lost it to the sword. The Ottoman Empire sank into weakness and shame. All this was due, in the first place, to what Count von Moltke calls “the institution of God”: the institution without which “the world would fall into decay and lose itself in materialism.” Even while he spoke Germany was prospering by peace as few nations had ever prospered before. Could there possibly be a more perverse reading of the lesson of history? Could there be a greater mockery conceived than to imagine God smiling on this blood-reeking Europe, or to call this a spiritual triumph over materialism? Is any man, with the present desolation of Europe before him, tempted to place the soldier above the artist, the scientist, or the engineer as an instrument of progress? Let us grant militarism all that it has really achieved. It remains, in the mind of the historian, the greatest curse that mankind has endured since the primitive humans were first gathered into tribes and disputed each other’s “spheres of influence.”
Blind to this ghastly tragedy of history, we have maintained and cherished militarism until it has brought on us in turn the greatest catastrophe that a single year ever embraced. Probably our grandchildren, probably many a child that gazes now with wide eyes on our troops and banners, will look back on our civilisation with amazement. They may smile at a drill-sergeant like Count von Moltke telling illiterate rustics of the glorious moral qualities which war develops in—the men who traversed Belgium! But we civilians will honestly puzzle them. We had the history of the world unfolded before us, and we saw this institution plainly emerging from barbarism and leaving its bloody and defacing splashes on every page of the chronicle. We traced the evolution of justice, and we saw that, as it was a mighty gain to men when tribunals were set up to adjudicate on the quarrels of individuals or clans, it would be a far mightier gain to erect a tribunal for settling the quarrels of nations. Yet we took this stupid burden from the shoulders of our fathers, and we made it incalculably heavier for ourselves and our children.
I need not set out the weight of the burden in figures. When I first wrote this page I dilated on the seventy million sterling per year which we English were compelled to spend on defence: I imagined it expended on social betterment and human help—on a magnificent scheme of education, for children and adults, and so on. Then I observed—two years ago—with a shudder that at any moment a war might double our National Debt and compel us to find a further £40,000,000 a year to pay for our militarism. And here, within less than twelve months, we have incurred this monstrous burden, yet we linger still on the very fringe of the mighty battlefield we have to traverse. Think what the future may be if we retain militarism. In the past one hundred years, or a little more, war has cost Europe about £4,000,000,000. In one year a modern war has cost Europe more than that sum, and may cost it double. Add to this, if you can calculate it, the value of the millions of the more robust workers who die on the field: the appalling loss to productive industry: the portentous devastation of property. I suppose that, soberly, the total cost of this war will be something between ten and twenty thousand million sterling. What will be the cost of the next war, which may come within ten years? And what might we have done in Europe with ten thousand million sterling?
I am not, it will be observed, relying on disputed speculations like those of Mr. Norman Angell. I do not accept his characteristic theory; but it need not now be discussed, as our experience rather suggests that a modern war will prove so exhausting, economically, that there will be no question of substantial indemnity for the victor. But we must in any case add to this cost of war, for victor and vanquished alike, that incalculable damage which is expressed in ruined homes, ruined fortunes, and the pain of loss. This also is too vividly present in our minds to need comment. These sacrifices have been borne heroically. Those of us who have lost nothing can most sincerely salute both the men who exposed their lives in a just cause and the women who endured as women do. The soldier’s trade is an honourable trade while the need for it lasts, and at such a time it calls for respect and gratitude. But how stupid and brutal in the last degree is the system that imposes these sacrifices, when we reflect that the honour or the rights of any nation could have been vindicated without the darkening of a single home or the loss of a single citizen.
There, of course, we have the centre of gravity of the whole discussion. If we can abolish and dispense with the military system, our retention of it in the twentieth century is the most appalling sham and anachronism of which we are guilty. I do not enlarge on the cost of war. No one to-day can be insensible of it or suggest that any but the most imperious needs would justify us in retaining it. I assume also that, after the lamentable behaviour of Germany, none will question that there will be wars as long as militarism lasts, and that the cost and carnage will increase prodigiously.
The supreme point for us to realise is the comparative ease with which this greatest of reforms can be accomplished. We have no rival schools of economists or moralists or philosophers darkening counsel here. We do not await a genius to discover the path for us. A plain and seriously indisputable ideal is put before us: arbitration. A court for exercising it has already been established: the Hague Tribunal. Let the majority of people in the more powerful nations of the earth agree to submit every international difference to that or some other tribunal, and we have made an end of militarism and war.
If this seem a hasty or superficial view of a grave problem, reflect on the difficulties which a cautious or conservative thinker might allege. He would, I fancy, on sincere consideration, admit that the chief and most serious difficulty is not a reluctance based on specific reasons, but a general apathy due to want of reflection. I am not for a moment underrating the magnitude of the effort that will be required in overcoming this apathy, in creating the general will. In this respect, indeed, the pacifist reform is peculiarly hampered. Pessimistic people ask how we came to boast of moral progress in modern times when this military evil has become greater than ever. They do not reflect on the special conditions of the problem. In attacking almost every other evil—industrial injustice, say, or cruel sport, or a stupid penal code—we have to deal only with our own nation. We can carry the reform within our own frontiers, whatever other nations do. In the case of militarism we cannot. All the Great Powers, at least, must advance simultaneously. We have not to educate a nation, but a planet. Pacifists have at times given the impression—generally a wrong impression—that they forgot this; that they advocated disarmament or relaxation of armament in our own nation, whether other nations disarmed or no. In this way, and because many pacifists have weakly opposed or carped at England’s action in this very grave crisis, they have done harm by making humanitarianism seem unpractical, blindly sentimental, and dangerous. I need not repeat that I have not the least sympathy with that sort of pacifism. The reform must be international and thoroughly practical.
But this large task of planting a definite conviction in the minds of the majority in many nations does not conflict with what I said about the essential clearness and simplicity of the reform. If you set out to attack poverty or to reform marriage, you have first to settle very serious controversies about the way to do it. There is no such controversy here. There are, it is true, a few who still have in their veins some of the blood of the medieval swashbuckler. They say that, while a quarrel about territory might fitly be referred to a judge, an outrage on our national honour must be expiated by blood. The idea is purely barbaric. As if this river of human blood were not an immeasurably greater outrage than the heated words of a nervous diplomatist, or the jibes of a silly journalist, or the acts of an excited crowd, or the guilt of a couple of assassins! As if an international court could not devise some means of appeasing injured honour as well as of restoring injured rights! It is dreadful materialism, they say, to put honour in the scale with money. So men said in the clubs of London a century ago in defence of the duel, and we recognise in their pleas the lingering, more or less disguised, of a barbaric sentiment. Most of us recognise that same feature in this last apology for the duel of nations. If we can trust our individual honour to a mediocre magistrate or judge, or a still worse jury, we can certainly entrust our national honour to a group of the ablest and most impartial lawyers of the world. It is sheer distrust of justice to refuse it.
Here again history is wholly on the side of reform. Which of the great wars of the nineteenth century involved a point of honour that could not, with entire decency, have been submitted to arbitration? Was there such a point of honour in the Napoleonic wars? The Prusso-Danish? The Prusso-Austrian? The Italian? The American Civil War? The Franco-German? The Russo-Turkish? The South African? What point was involved in any of them that could not have been settled with far greater honour to the combatants and greater regard for justice by an impartial tribunal? In most cases they were really wars of aggression and expansion, like the war in which we are engaged. We may at least ask the men who hold that medieval idea of war to have—since they boast much of their courage—the elementary courage to say so.
There is no conceivable quarrel that cannot with perfect honour be submitted to arbitration. And the ostensible ground of this colossal struggle which is now exhausting Europe—the satisfaction due to Austria for the assassination of the Archduke—was pre-eminently a matter for a tribunal. The frivolity and insincerity with which these grave issues are sometimes met are, to put it on the lowest level, costly. Speaking in a London club some time ago, I urged this substitution of arbitration for war. My opponent frivolously observed that he was not sure that a court of great lawyers would be cheaper than war, and there were some who quite seriously applauded. Yet Europe had then actually expended about £2,000,000,000 in the preliminary stages of its great war!
Wherever there is a considerable and deliberate reluctance to substitute arbitration for war, wherever these unsatisfactory pleas for war are put forward, we find a hypocritical concealment of real motives. If we would be practical we must candidly confront these motives, and we shall find that the most persistent and most dangerous of them is still the desire to gain territory. The spectacle of the decay of the Ottoman Empire and the apparent helplessness of the Balkan peoples had more to do with the militarism of European Powers than they were willing to admit. That source of temptation is now renewed, and most of the Powers have, or soon will have, all the territory they can reasonably desire. The further distribution of African territory could clearly be best controlled by an international court. There remains one Power that will still feel the lust of territory. Germany conspicuously thwarted in Europe the advance of the pacifist reform because, as the whole world now sees, it had an aggressive territorial ambition. We may assume that Austria will now be cured of its lawless and costly designs, and that Germany will remain the one unsated and discontented nation. But Europe will surely have the elementary wisdom of refusing to maintain its terrible burden on that account. It will pay us better to meet the real economic need of Germany by a generous colonial deal, and then to use the power of an international polity to destroy and prevent the revival of militarism in that country.
We should thus remove the last serious obstacle to the reform, and the work might advance rapidly. The tribunal, as I said, exists, and has had more experience than is generally realised. The Hague Conference of 1907 established a Prize Court, with permanent salaried judges, and an Arbitration Court. A large number of very grave quarrels have since been adjusted by this tribunal, and, as Professor Schücking observes, “more than a hundred contracts between States have been concluded in which, on each occasion, two States made the Arbitration Court obligatory.” But, largely owing to the opposition of Germany and the general apathy, the Court remained optional, and the Powers maintained their armies for the settlement of quarrels in the old barbaric manner. The next and last step is for all the Powers to recognise the Court as compulsory, and to furnish it with an executive (a small international army and navy) for the enforcement of its decisions. Our vast armies and navies then become superfluous and would be disbanded simultaneously, leaving only a small force in each country for the suppression of native aggression (with the consent of the Hague Court) and for use by the Court itself to enforce its verdicts or suppress illegal attempts to arm.
There is nothing Utopian or academic about this reform. A body of high-minded lawyers and statesmen have for years discussed the details of the scheme, and are ready to launch it whenever the various Governments are compelled by public opinion to adopt it. The immediate task is to create this pressure of public opinion. We may hope that, after our ghastly lesson in the price of the military method, we shall no longer be rebuffed with vapid phrases like: “Do not force the pace.” A business-man who talked nonsense of that kind would soon find his level. We need to conduct our national and international life on business-principles, to get rid as speedily as possible of a waste and disorder which are an outrage on the intelligence of the race. I look more confidently to business-men than to speech-making politicians and sentimental moralists for the triumph of the reform. Certain industries will, of course, be gravely dislocated, even annihilated, by the change; and vast bodies of additional workers will, in most countries, be thrown upon a crowded labour-market. From the abstract economical point of view it is only a question of transfer. Fifty millions which were spent on military industries will now be used in enlarging other industries or creating new. In reality there will be grave confusion; but that is due to the utterly disorganised nature of our industrial world, which I discuss later. In any case to allege this industrial difficulty as a serious reason against disarmament is a very singular piece of folly. The cost and trouble of adjusting this temporary dislocation would be infinitely less than the cost and trouble of a war.
We need, therefore, to persuade the public, which has borne its military yoke and endured the occasional lash of war with the placidity of a draught-ox—that is, candidly, how we shall appear in the social history of the future—that it may escape the yoke and the lash when it wills. Our Churches might make some atonement for a long and lamentable neglect of their duty by organising a really spirited collective campaign in this greatest of moral interests. The central educative body should, however, be quite unsectarian. I take it that an amalgamation of the various Peace Societies, strengthened by the adhesion of our commercial and industrial leaders, would form this central educative body. The present war would furnish it with a superb text and an unanswerable argument. It ought, in the circumstances, to capture each country in Europe more speedily than Cobden’s famous league captured England. The press would begin to assist at a certain stage of progress. Even the politicians would presently lend their oratory; especially as their prestige, at least in this country, would hardly survive a second strain such as this war has put on it. Every agency ought to be enlisted in impressing upon the public that, whatever other reforms may imply, here we ask no sacrifice; we indicate a way in which the community may, when it wills, rid itself of a stupendous burden and set free enormous resources for social improvement.
Reformers are widely, and with some reason, accused of being dreamy and unpractical. Here, at least, it will be seen that it is rather the public and the opponents of reform who are dreamy, romantic, and unpractical: that the reform itself is a business proposition of the most attractive and promising character. But let us be even more practical. To forecast the future is an interesting intellectual recreation; but to close one’s mind entirely against the possibilities and dangers of the future is positive folly. Let us glance at the future.
I have not the faintest hope that the Allied Powers will, as they ought to do, disarm Germany and Austria and then disarm themselves, when the war is over. Then Germany will concentrate all its marvellous power of organisation, dissimulation, and intrigue in a dream of revanche. The appalling incompetence displayed by what we may call, in the broadest sense, our Intelligence Department and our War Office will return, when the temporary accession of business-ability has been withdrawn from it. There will be no serious inquiry into our scandalous indolence in the early period of the war, our complete failure to forecast the conditions of war, and our heavy somnolence during Germany’s feverish preparations, although the documents published by the French Government show that, by 1913 at least, sharp-sighted foreign representatives saw clearly that war was, to put it moderately, highly probable. In point of fact, our authorities knew that war was gravely imminent. I happen to know, from a little breach of confidence, that our War Office secretly warned certain reservists in June 1914 (even before the Serajevo murder) to be ready. The men were ready, and have borne their share superbly; but our authorities had to confess that, even after nine months’ experience of the war, they were immeasurably behind Germany in the production of the two vital necessaries of a modern war—machine-guns and high-explosive shells.
Our experts will return to this comfortable somnolence. There will be no serious inquiry. Politicians and their advisers will escape in a cloud of thrilling emotions and enthusiastic rhetoric. Persistent questioners, who are rudely impatient of party-discipline, will be snubbed and evaded. Any other questioners, not of the political world, will be ignored. We shall return to British dignity and placidity. Germany will work and intrigue as it never worked and intrigued before. There will be grave domestic trouble in Russia and, as in the case of Turkey, German representatives will think while British representatives play. The preparations may occupy ten years or twenty years, but they will proceed. The aim will be a war with Russia neutral or friendly to Germany. If it occurs…One has only to imagine where we should be to-day if Germany had not made the error of abandoning the Bismarckian tradition.
Behind this is a further possibility. China is just as capable as Japan of learning the use of thirteen-inch guns and maxims. Sir Hiram Maxim, in fact, who knows both China and the gun, quite agrees with me on that. And China has, behind that stoical and almost child-like expression it presents to Europe, an acute memory that for thirty years we have treated it with flagrant injustice. It may take decades to undo the evil of ages of Manchu misgovernment and organise the resources of the country, but the day will come when an alert and powerful nation of 500,000,000 Orientals will press against its frontiers. We may remember that the Mongol banners have before now fluttered over Moscow and reached the Mediterranean. And the Mongols are not the only awakening people. We may yet see an anti-European combination from the Asiatic shore of the Pacific to the African shore of the Atlantic. These are some of the possibilities we hand on to our children if we do not in time abandon the military system.
To that pass has it brought us. We writhe and groan under the terrible burden it lays on us, and we shrink from contemplating the future; yet we might cast off the burden and rid the future of peril when we will. We disavow the buccaneering spirit, and protest that we arm only in defence against each other; and one wonders whether to smile or weep at the obtuseness which prevents us from adopting a simple and humane means of defence instead of this exhausting barbarism. We “humanise” war, yet cling needlessly to the whole inhuman business. We are teaching the backward nations to arm,—we would gladly supply them with tutors and arms at any time,—and may be thus preparing a more colossal conflict than ever. Surely the man or woman of the twenty-first century will find us an enigma!
Let me close with a repetition of my protest against the misconstruction to which such a book as this is always exposed. I advocate no Utopian scheme, but one which some of the ablest lawyers, statesmen, and business-men in Europe have discussed for years and warmly endorsed. I have no wish to conceal technical difficulties under sentimental phrases, but these men, to whom I refer, are prepared to meet the difficulties. I regard the work of the soldier as honourable and worthy, as long as we impose the military system on each other; and at this particular juncture regret only that I am long past the age of bearing arms. I plead, as long as the system lasts, for unquestionable efficiency in national defence, whatever it cost. But I say that, in this military system, we are enthroning the hollowest and most ghastly sham that ever deluded humanity: that, when we have the courage or wisdom to strip it of its tinselled robes, we will shudder at sight of the gaunt frame of death which has ruled civilisation for so many thousand years: that nothing is wanting but the general will to dethrone this mockery of a god: and that, when we have abolished militarism and war, we shall advance along the way of social improvement with far lighter steps and vastly increased resources.