Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

THE CAUSE OF OUR NATIONAL

INSECURITY

[ocr errors]

WAEN, after twenty years of desperate striving, the peace that followed Waterloo dropped its curtain upon the stage of Europe, the scenes which that curtain veiled passed rapidly from the mind of England. The long agony of national struggle; the enduring stern resolve ; the vast sacrifices of blood and of gold, which had not only preserved the independence of England and gained or sustained England's Empire, but had enabled the European peoples to hurl aside the yoke of Napoleon-all these efforts, all these experiences, were forgotten in the tide of a great reaction. The burden which past events had imposed was present. The former need was effaced from memory. Domestic politics, for nearly a generation thrust into the background, held the board. Catholic emanicpation, Poor-Law problems, the extension of the franchise, not merely absorbed public attention, but claimed the hearts and the brains of thinking men.

In this era–when the basic truths had been lost to sight that every great nation is a unit in a world of competing peoples, and that national dominion expresses only a temporary adjustment of rival forces—were born or grew up the men who gave the hue and the tone to the political life and thought of our country far into the nineteenth century. Gladstone was born in 1809, Bright in 1811; they spent the formative time of their youth in a period wben questions of domestic reform plus a great philanthropic cause--the abolition of slavery-held paramount place. Although when Macaulay wrote his oft-quoted essay upon the first book of the future Liberal chief he described Mr. Gladstone as 'the rising hope of the stern unbending Tories,' the fact which he thus stated did not affect the case. For whether in advocacy or in resistance, Tories and Liberals were alike mainly occupied with internal movements in the life of England.

Meanwhile, in the kingdom of Prussia that intense nationality which had been welded in the fires of the Seven Years' War, and kindled anew in the uprising of the nations in 1813, remained a living force. The work of Stein and of Scharnhorst did not die.

The systems of military and of educational training which they inaugurated in the years when Prussia writhed under the heel of Bonaparte brought forth fruit in distant generations, and in their later and modern developments those systems are mainly responsible for the Germany of to-day.

A continental State, lying amid other continental States, Prussia retained her international sense, while England remained national only. Perhaps if England, like Prussia, had been conquered in war, if the foot of the invader had been stamped upon our necks, if an arrogant soldiery had dominated our territory and made us eat bread in the valley of humiliation ; if, in a word, the fate of Prussia had been the fate of England--then, in sequent time, our statesmen too might have remembered, and not forgotten the realities which condition a' nation's life. But beyond a small and abortive raid upon Ireland, British soil was never violated by the footstep of the invader throughout the whole conflict which raged with France, with two short interludes, from 1793 to 1815.

Wrapped in her mantle of naval supremacy, England, fiercely contending on and beyond the seas, yet knew not war in her own home. Trafalgar and the fruits of Trafalgar preserved us from war's last grip. The trident of Neptune in the hand of Nelson traced round these fortunate isles a circle as of a magician's wand.

а And as sea power had saved us in the past, so was it relied on to save us in the future, while the immense part which military prowess had also played in the great struggle passed out of view.

Thus is the paradox true that Britain is now suffering from the completeness of her ancient triumph, while Prussia has reaped a harvest from her defeat. Stress produces strength, but the absence of it weakness. Great men have been born of Jena', and many feeblings from the victory off Cadiz.

To such a depth of nescience did Englishmen sink in the thirty years that followed Waterloo that even Carlyle could write thus :

She [i.e. Britain) has in fact certain cottons, hardware, and suchlike, to sell in foreign ports, and certain wines, Portugal oranges, Baltic tar and other products to buy; and does need, I suppose, some kind of Consul, or accredited agent, accessible to British voyagers, here and there, in the chief cities of the Continent; through which functionary or through the penny post, if she had any specific message to foreign Courts, it would be easy and proper to transmit the same. Special message-carriers, to be still called ambassadors, if the name gratified them, could be sent when occasion great enough demanded; not sent when it did not.

But for all purposes of a resident ambassador, I hear persons extensively and well acquainted among our foreign embassies at this date declare, that a well-selected Times reporter, or own correspondent,' ordered to reside in foreign capitals and keep his eyes open, and (though sparingly) his pen going, would in reality be more effective and surely we see well, he would come a good deal cheaper' !

a

This passage occurs in Latter Day Pamphlets, Downing Street, published in 1850. By a singular stroke of fate, the date of the paper is the 1st of April.

As we needed no ambassadors, so also, in Thomas Carlyle's opinion, we required no navy and no regular army. This view, which was probably extremely popular at the time of its enunciation, is clearly expressed in the pamphlet following that already cited, called The New Downing Street :

Our War Offices, Admiralties, and other Fighting Establishments are forcing themselves on everybody's attention at this time. . . . A perpetual solecism, and blasphemy (of its sort), set to march openly amongst us, dressed in scarlet! Bull, with a more and more sulky tone, demands that such solecism be abated; that these Fighting Establishments be, as it were, disbanded, and set to do some work in the Creation, since fighting there is none for them. This demand is irrefragably just, is growing urgent, too; and yet this demand cannot be complied with—not yet while the State grounds itself on unrealities, and Downing Street continues what it is.

Further on the true function of our Navy is indicated :

[ocr errors]

Seventy-fours not hanging idly by their anchors in the Tagus . but busy, every seventy-four of them, carrying over streams of British Industrials to the immeasurable Britain that lies beyond the sea in every zone of the world.

These quotations from one of the greatest writers of midVictorian times display with singular vividness the frame of mind which has been inherited by our modern Radicals and peace-atany-pricers. Our Ministers were for the most part the merest opportunists in foreign affairs (even as they are now), without the most elementary conception of the need of a national policy aiming at national advantage. A perusal of Queen Victoria's published letters leads to the belief that that great sovereign stood almost alone in her grasp of this central idea. Of those beliefs of Carlyle and of his com peers of which the events of sixty years have proved the ineffable absurdity, the great mass of the present-day Liberal party, inside and outside of the House of Commons, are the true heirs-at-law. Historically, the British Empire, as it existed when Carlyle wrote, was the result of prodigious processes of desperate contention with other competing States. If any man was aware of the fact, that man might have been supposed to be himself. Yet so completely was he obsessed by the thought current in his day that knowledge of the past possessed for him no significance in regard to the future. The vision of England as a country wrestling for ascendancy with mighty rivals, and with her trade, her wealth, her empire and her national independence dependent on the issue of that grapple, was a vision wholly hidden from his

sight. To him, and to his contemporaries, whatever benefit the sacrifices of previous generations had gained for the people of Britain appeared an inalienable possession which the other nations of mankind would never dream of tearing from our hands. That mood, that thought, came of five-and-thirty years of peace, of a national security resting upon former victory by sea' and by land, of the exhaustion of Europe and the sleep of Asia, Africa was savage.

America was immature. These circumstances were all either entirely exceptional or swiftly transient, yet they existed once, and while they existed the grossness of error into which even a' man of genius could fall was in a measure natural and lacked not some excuse.

But though we may thus palliate the immense mistake made by Carlyle, how can we forgive those who, living now in the light of a knowledge denied to him, and with the world's picture as it is painted to-day thrust before their eyes, can still become the victims of misapprehension equally complete? In regard to international affairs, English Radicals are the Peter Pan of politics. They have never grown up. They have never been able to understand that since the notions were formed of which they are the modern patentees, the entire condition of the world has altered. They are living still in 1850. They fail to perceive that the struggle for life, for growth, for ascendancy, which characterised the relations of the civilised peoples in the sixteenth, the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, but which had temporarily ceased in the middle of the nineteenth, has revived now with an intensity as great as, and upon a scale far greater than was ever known before.

Within four years from the time when the Englishmen of 1850 considered navies and armies to be useless encumbrances and the days of international rivalry to be for ever past, Europe was convulsed by the Crimean War. Within seven years from the same date only the trained troops of England, the scarlet ‘solecisms' of John Bull, saved their countrymen and countrywomen in India from the ultimate horrors of the Mutiny. But two years later still, that is, in 1859, the freedom of Italy from Austria's oppression, the goal desired for ages by Italian patriots, was won on the battlefield by the armies of France and Savoy. From 1861 to 1865 a tremendous internecine conflict raged in the United States. In 1864 Prussia and Austria showed their reverence for the weak by bisecting Denmark. In 1866 the spoilers fought, and Moltke and the Prussian needle-gun wrested the hegemony of Germany from the House of Hapsburg. In 1870 came the colossal duel between France on the one hand and Prussia, with the southern German States, on the other. Yet seven years more, and the spear of Russia, smiting as on the gates of Constantinople, after

a

the carnage of Plevna and the Shipka Pass, was repulsed only by the menace of the British Fleet.

In the eighteen-eighties came the Egyptian and the Khartoum expeditions, the ravage of the Soudan, the foundation alike of the French and of the German colonial empires, the war of France with China, and the onward march of the Russian arms even until they stood, at Penjdeh, on Afghan soil. Armed rebellion against Turkish rule fashioned Bulgaria into a separate State, while in the ' nineties' Greece was taught by Turkish bullets that high sentiment and passionate aspiration were vain without military efficiency. In 1898 the United States flung aside the traditions of a hundred years, broke by force the rule of Spain, and entered into the arena of world competition by the seizure of the Philippines, whence it is possible that, before many years are past, they will be expelled by Japan.

If all these wars, and others which I have not stopped to name, were insufficient to convince our Radicals that their whole theory of international affairs was false, then the events that next followed might at last have brought the proof. In the South African war Britain had over two hundred and fifty thousand troops in the field, while the British Navy alone stood between our otherwise unguarded shores and a Europe burning to intervene—a feat which, in like circumstances, it is now no longer adequate to perform. Meantime, in a silence inspired with a terrible energy, had proceeded the renaissance of the Japanesea renaissance not of letters, but of arms, until, in 1904-5, by sea and by land she showed to mankind a new portent, the victory of an Asiatic race over one of the mightiest empires of the West. Later still than all this, even within the last few months, a vast upheaval, fraught with infinite meaning for the whole world, has occurred in China ; while even at the present time a war is proceeding between Italy and Turkey, and rumours of possible co-operation with the former Power on the part of Russia are rife in the world.

As if all this were not enough evidence of the impermanence of all political conditions, Western mankind is also threatened with an earthquake from beneath in comparison with which the fury of the French Revolution itself might pale its ineffectual fires. The ‘Red Peril' already throws its lurid glare across the page of coming history, and intestine struggles on a scale unprecedented in human annals are already looming on the horizon of nearly all civilised peoples.

Yet in face of these tremendous and appalling probabilities of the near future, in sight of the storm-signs of an era of almost universal war, there are yet to be found, mainly in the realms

[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »