The Foreign Office, however, can at lease shift its ground, and declare for the good cause instead of belittling it with quibbling excuses. For see what the first effect of the nonsense about Belgium has been!
Accordingly, after Mr. Asquith's oration at the Mansion House, the Allies very properly insisted on our signing a solemn treaty between the parties that they must all stand together to the very end. A pitifully thin attempt has been made to represent that the mistrusted party was France, and that the Kaiser was trying to buy her off. All one can say to that is that the people who believe that any French Government dare face the French people now with anything less than Alsace and Lorraine as the price of peace, or that an undefeated and indeed masterfully advancing German Kaiser as he seemed then dare offer France such a price, would believe anything.
Of course we had to sign; but if the Prime Minister had not been prevented by his own past from taking the popular line, we should not have been suspected of a possible backing-out when the demands of our sanctimoniousness were satisfied.
He would have known that we are not vindicating a treaty which by accident remains among the fragments of treaties of Paris, of Prague, of Berlin, of all sorts of places and dates, as the only European treaty that has hitherto escaped flat violation: we are supporting the war as a war on war, on military coercion, on domineering, on bullying, on brute force, on military law, on caste insolence, on what Mrs. Fawcett called insensable deviltry only to find the papers explaining apologetically that she, as a lady, had of course been alluding to war made by foreigners, not by England.
Some of us, remembering the things we have ourselves said and done, may doubt whether Satan can cast out Satan; but as the job is not exactly one for an unfallen angel, we may as well let him have a try. In the meantime behold us again hopelessly outwitted by Eastern diplomacy as a direct consequence of this ill-starred outburst of hypocrisy about treaties! Everybody has said over and over again that this war is the most tremendous war ever waged. Nobody has said that this new treaty is the most tremendous blank cheque we have ever been forced to sign by our Parliamentary party trick of striking moral attitudes.
It is true that Mr. Hobson realised the situation at once, and was allowed to utter a little croak in a corner; but where was the trumpet note of warning that should have rung throughout the whole Press? Just consider what the blank cheque means. France's draft on it may stop at the cost of recovering Alsace and Lorraine. We shall have to be content with a few scraps of German colony and the heavy-weight championship.
But Russia? When will she say "Hold! Suppose she wants Constantinople as her port of access to the unfrozen seas, in addition to the dismemberment of Austria? Suppose she has the brilliant idea of annexing all Prussia, for which there is really something to be said by ethnographical map-makers, Militarist madmen, and Pan-Slavist megalomaniacs? It may be a reasonable order; but it is a large one; and the fact that we should have been committed to it without the knowledge of Parliament, without discussion, without warning, without any sort of appeal to public opinion or democratic sanction, by a stroke of Sir Edward Grey's pen within five weeks of his having committed us in the same fashion to an appalling European war, shews how completely the Foreign Office has thrown away all pretence of being any less absolute than the Kaiser himself.
It simply offers carte blanche to the armies of the Allies without a word to the nation until the cheque is signed. The only limit there is to the obligation is the certainty that the cheque will be dishonoured the moment the draft on it becomes too heavy. And that may furnish a virtuous pretext for another war between the Allies themselves.
In any case no treaty can save each Ally from the brute necessity of surrendering and paying up if beaten, whether the defeat is shared by the others or not. Instead of which we sign a ridiculous "scrap of paper" to save ourselves the intolerable fatigue of thought. And now, before I leave the subject of Belgium, what have we done for Belgium?
Have we saved her soil from invasion? Were we at her side with half a million men when the avalanche fell on her? Or were we safe in our own country praising her heroism in paragraphs which all contrived to convey an idea that the Belgian soldier is about four feet high, but immensely plucky for his size?
Alas, when the Belgian soldier cried: "Where are the English? We have not protected Belgium: Belgium has protected us at the cost of being conquered by Germany. It is now our sacred duty to drive the Germans out of Belgium. Meanwhile we might at least rescue her refugees by a generous grant of public money from the caprices of private charity.
We need not press our offer to lend her money: German capitalists will do that for her with the greatest pleasure when the war is over. I think the Government realizes that now; for I note the after-thought that a loan from us need not bear interest. First, that our autocratic foreign policy, in which the Secretary for Foreign Affairs is always a Junker, and makes war and concludes war without consulting the nation, or confiding in it, or even refraining from deceiving it as to his intentions, leads inevitably to a disastrous combination of war and unpreparedness for war.
Wars are planned which require huge expeditionary armies trained and equipped for war. But as such preparation could not be concealed from the public, it is simply deferred until the war is actually declared and begun, at the most frightful risk of such an annihilation of our little peace army as we escaped by the skin of our teeth at Mons and Cambrai.
The military experts tell us that it takes four months to make an infantry and six to make a cavalry soldier.
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And our way of getting an army able to fight the German army is to declare war on Germany just as if we had such an army, and then trust to the appalling resultant peril and disaster to drive us into wholesale enlistment, voluntary or better still from the Junker point of view compulsory. It seems to me that a nation which tolerates such insensate methods and outrageous risks must shortly perish from sheer lunacy. And it is all pure superstition: the retaining of the methods of Edward the First in the reign of George the Fifth. In these recommendations I am not forgetting that an effective check on diplomacy is not easy to devise, and that high personal character and class disinterestedness the latter at present unattainable on the part of our diplomatists will be as vital as ever.
I know that even in the United States, where treaties and declarations of war must be made by Parliament, it is nevertheless possible for the President to bring about a situation in which Congress, like our House of Commons in the present instance, has no alternative but to declare war. But though complete security is impracticable, it does not follow that no precautions should be taken, or that a democratic tradition is no safer than a feudal tradition. A far graver doubt is raised by the susceptibility of the masses to war fever, and the appalling danger of a daily deluge of cheap newspapers written by nameless men and women whose scandalously low payment is a guarantee of their ignorance and their servility to the financial department, controlled by a moneyed class which not only curries favour with the military caste for social reasons, but has large direct interests in war as a method of raising the price of money, the only commodity the moneyed class has to sell.
But I am quite unable to see that our Junkers are less susceptible to the influence of the Press than the people educated by public elementary schools. On the contrary, our Democrats are more fool-proof than our Plutocrats; and the ravings our Junkers send to the papers for nothing in war time would be dear at a halfpenny a line.
Plutocracy makes for war because it offers prizes to Plutocrats: Socialism makes for peace because the interests it serves are international.
So, as the Socialist side is the democratic side, we had better democratize our diplomacy if we desire peace. And now as to the question of recruiting. This is pressing, because it is not enough for the Allies to win: we and not Russia must be the decisive factor in the victory, or Germany will not be fairly beaten, and we shall be only rescued proteges of Russia instead of the saviours of Western Europe.
We must have the best army in Europe; and we shall not get it under existing arrangements. We are passing out of the first phase of the war fever, in which men flock to the colours by instinct, by romantic desire for adventure, by the determination not, as Wagner put it, "to let their lives be governed by fear of the end," by simple destitution through unemployment, by rancour and pugnacity excited by the inventions of the Press, by a sense of duty inculcated in platform orations which would not stand half an hour's discussion, by the incitements and taunts of elderly non-combatants and maidens with a taste for mischief, and by the verses of poets jumping at the cheapest chance in their underpaid profession.
The difficulty begins when all the men susceptible to these inducements are enlisted, and we have to draw on the solid, sceptical, sensible residuum who know the value of their lives and services and liberties, and will not give them except on substantial and honourable conditions. These Ironsides know that it is one thing to fight for your country, and quite another to let your wife and children starve to save our rich idlers from a rise in the supertax.
They also know that it is one thing to wipe out the Prussian drill sergeant and snob officer as the enemies of manhood and honour, and another to let that sacred mission be made an excuse for subjecting us to exactly the same tyranny in England. They have not forgotten the "On the knee" episode, nor the floggings in our military prisons, nor the scandalous imprisonment of Tom Mann, nor the warnings as to military law and barrack life contained even in Robert Blatchford's testimony that the army made a man of him.
And here is where the Labour Party should come in. It must co-operate with the Trade Unions in fixing this moral minimum wage for the citizen soldier, and in obtaining for him a guarantee that the wage shall continue until he obtains civil employment on standard terms at the conclusion of the war. It must make impossible the scandal of a monstrously rich peer his riches, the automatic result of ground land-landlordism, having "no damned nonsense of merit about them" proclaiming the official weekly allowance for the child of the British soldier in the trenches.
That allowance is eighteenpence, being less than one third of the standard allowance for an illegitimate child under an affiliation order. And the Labour Party must deprive the German bullet of its present double effect in killing an Englishman in France and simultaneously reducing his widow's subsistence from a guinea a week to five shillings. Until this is done we are simply provoking Providence to destroy us. I wish I could say that it is hardly necessary to add that Trade Unionism must be instituted in the Army, so that there shall be accredited secretaries in the field to act as a competent medium of communication between the men on service and the political representatives of their class at the War Office for I shall propose this representative innovation presently.
My Fanatical Regrettable Tour Of Ministry
It will shock our colonels; but I know of no bodies of men for whom repeated and violent shocking is more needed and more likely to prove salutary than the regimental masses of the British army. One rather pleasant shock in store for them is the discovery that an officer and a gentleman, whose sole professional interest is the honour and welfare of his country, and who is bound to the mystical equality of life-and-death duty for all alike, will get on much more easily with a Trade Union secretary than a commercial employer whose aim is simply private profit and who regards every penny added to the wages of his employees as a penny taken off his own income.
Howbeit, whether the colonels like it or not—that is, whether they have become accustomed to it or not—it has to come, and its protection from Junker prejudice is another duty of the Labour Party. The Party as a purely political body must demand that the defender of his country shall retain his full civil rights unimpaired; that, the unnecessary, mischievous, dishonourable and tyrannical slave code called military law, which at its most savagely stern point produced only Wellington's complaint that "it is impossible to get a command obeyed in the British Army," be carted away to the rubbish heap of exploded superstitions; and that if Englishmen are not to be allowed to serve their country in the field as freely as they do in the numerous civil industries in which neglect and indiscipline are as dangerous as they are in war, their leaders and Parliamentary representatives will not recommend them to serve at all.
In wartime these things may not matter: discipline either goes by the board or keeps itself under the pressure of the enemy's cannon; and bullying sergeants and insolent officers have something else to do than to provoke men they dislike into striking them and then reporting them for two years' hard labour without trial by jury. In battle such officers are between two fires.
My Fanatical Regrettable Tour Of Ministry — reireidomenexs.ga
But soldiers are not always, or even often, at war; and the dishonour of abdicating dearly-bought rights and liberties is a stain both on war and peace. Now is the time to get rid of that stain.
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If any officer cannot command men without it, as civilians and police inspectors do, that officer has mistaken his profession and had better come home. Another matter needs to be dealt with at the same time. There are immense numbers of atheists in this country; and though most of them, like the Kaiser, regard themselves as devout Christians, the best are intellectually honest enough to object to profess beliefs they do not hold, especially in the solemn act of dedicating themselves to death in the service of their country.
He offered to swear in the form. This was refused; and we accordingly lost a recruit of just that sturdily conscientious temper which has made the most formidable soldiers known to history. I am bound to add, however, that the attesting officer, on being told that the oath would be a blasphemous farce to the conscience of the recruit, made no difficulty about that, and was quite willing to accept him if he, on his part, would oblige by professing what he did not believe.
Thus a Ghoorka's religious conscience is respected: an Englishman's is insulted and outraged. But, indeed, all these oaths are obstructive and useless superstitions. No recruit will hesitate to pledge his word of honour to fight to the death for his country or for a cause with which he sympathizes; and that is all we require. There is no need to drag in Almighty God and no need to drag in the King.
Many an Irishman, many a colonial Republican, many an American volunteer who would fight against the Prussian monarchy shoulder to shoulder with the French Republicans with a will, would rather not pretend to do it out of devotion to the British throne. To vanquish Prussia in this war we need the active aid or the sympathy of every Republican in the world. America, for instance, sympathizes with England, but classes the King with the Kaiser as an obsolete institution. Besides, even from the courtly point of view the situation is a delicate one. Why emphasize the fact that, formally speaking, the war is between two grandsons of Albert the Good, that thoroughbred German whose London monument is so much grander than Cromwell's?
The Labour Party should also set its face firmly against the abandonment of Red Cross work and finance, or the support of soldiers' families, or the patrolling of the streets, to amateurs who regard the war as a wholesome patriotic exercise, or as the latest amusement in the way of charity bazaars, or as a fountain of self-righteousness. Civil volunteering is needed urgently enough: one of the difficulties of war is that it creates in certain departments a demand so abnormal that no peace establishment can cope with it.
But the volunteers should be disciplined and paid: we are not so poor that we need spunge on anyone. And in hospital and medical service war ought not at present to cost more than peace would if the victims of our commercial system were properly tended, and our Public Health service adequately extended and manned.
We should therefore treat our Red Cross department as if it were destined to become a permanent service. No charity and no amateur anarchy and incompetence should be tolerated.