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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review October 1914

Editorial

Editorial.

Devil hammering nail through mortarboard

AAbout three months ago a copy of "Concordia," the journal issued by the Aberdeen University Peace Society, was placed in our hands. The name of the magazine fully explains the purpose for which it is issued—a purpose with which every man, whatever his nationality or his political creed may be, will be in agreement. The ideal of universal peace has occupied the minds of some of the world's greatest thinkers for a long time. It is the ideal for which all true statesmen are aiming; but whether it is possible in present conditions to submit all international disputes to an Arbitration Committee composed of representatives of the nations of the world is a point on which there is great diversity of opinion. It is not our intention here to discuss international arbitration and universal peace; we are concerned with a much more localised matter. Our choice has been brought about by the perusal of an page 6 article, "Lord Roberts's Agitation in Relation to Foreign Policy." For purposes of discussion we assume, to use the words of Captain Brett, that "armaments are for the present a grim necessity," and that "the Naval and Military forces of the Crown should be maintained at an adequate and full strength."

The object of Mr. Maddison's article is to prove that Lord Roberts's scheme of compulsory military training (for which he insists the right name is conscription !) is not only unnecessary, but even a menace to our national peace. We have neither the time nor the inclination to deal with the bogy of conscription or the man who sees in every advocate of compulsory military training "a militarist," but turn to the more serious charges brought by the writer. He is greatly concerned because he sees that the question of compulsory training is "not a mere domestic concern"; it is "a matter of international importance." If home defence is the only question, then, he argues, the case for Lord Roberts falls completely to the ground, owing to the fact that "his scheme is unnecessary with an effective navy, and useless without one." While admitting the great amount of truth contained in the latter part of this assertion, we are by no means convinced that the first portion of it is correct. The standing army of Great Britain, owing to the protection afforded by the Navy, might be quite sufficient to cope with any danger that threatened the United Kingdom. Even as to the correctness of this statement public opinion is by no means unanimous. But is the Army sufficient to guard against national danger? That is a question which the writer does not attempt to answer.

He finds in Lord Roberts's scheme an "aggressive Imperialism." "Once his proposals became law, they would be used to create a reservoir to feed expeditionary forces to leave our shores, not to remain here. They are part and parcel of an aggressive Imperialism, alike a menace to democratic liberties at home and a danger to peace abroad." The democratic touch is good. But in heaven's name, why not "a reservoir to feed expeditionary forces"? In the past Great Britain has found it page 7 necessary, in order to protect her interests, to send troops to the Continent of Europe. Will tins be quite unnecessary in the future? Even Mr. Maddison recognises that an efficient navy is an Imperial (or at least an English) necessity. But is it sufficient to cope with all difficulties that may arise? A year or more ago Lord Roberts approved of the following words:—"Our military arrangements are wholly inadequate to deal with the grave dangers that threaten the existence of the British Empire." To us these words seem to be a true statement of facts. They do not, however, meet with the approval of Mr. Maddison. "There is the whole thing in a nutshell," he triumphantly exclaims. "The National Service League docs not spend large sums of money because it is afraid Aberdeen or Yarmouth will be capured by the Germans. It looks much further ahead than these small islands." And again we say, "In heaven's name, why not?"

Two very vital questions were raised in the book to which Mr. Maddison objects. The first is "the defence of our position in India and the defence of Canada." We are prepared to admit that at first sight the question of Canadian defence may seem a mere alarmist cry. But there are not only Canada and India to be considered; there are also the other British colonies. We do not assert that the writer is correct when he states that the defence of Canada and India is one of "two military problems of the first magnitude arising out of our position as a Continental Power." If we actually believed it to be a misstatement of facts, we should at least not find it necessary on that account to sneer at the intelligence of the British army officer. We think that the members of the National Service League are rightly looking much further afield than "these small islands." To us these words smack too much of the "little-Englander."

The second point is that of the balance of power, with which idea Lord Roberts is, we are told, "quite obsessed."

"The necessities of a hundred years ago were very great," Lord Roberts writes, "but, with all history to support me, I venture to think that the necessities and dangers of the future will be even greater, and the straits to which this country will be reduced will be more desperate page 8 unless we, as a nation, are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to meet them." And in these words our writer discovers the horrifying fact that it is outside these islands that the conscript force is needed." We are in entire agreement with Mr. Maddison when he states that it is quite clear that Lord Roberts means that such grave national dangers as he refers to can be met only by playing our part as a military power on the Continent of Europe. But we cannot agree with him that this is a thing to be deprecated. Indeed, we doubt whether Mr. Maddison at the present time thinks so himself. Mr. L. C. Amery, M.P., asked in the House of Commons in 1912, "Why should not the Secretary of State for War make the same explicit statement as to the force that would have to take the field in France at the outbreak of such a conflict (i.e., with Germany), and the same recognition of duty of the War Office to provide a force which would make it unlikely that a German attack on France would succeed, and so in the highest degree improbable that such an attack would be attempted?"

This seems to us a perfectly sensible question. Present-day events have proved that had the British Government provided the necessary army there would be no necessity to waste time now in training a sufficient force to take the field. That force would have been ready at once. To Mr. Maddison it seems impossible that such a large number of men would be needed. The scheme for obtaining them is in his eyes, "an attempt to revolutionise our military system in the interests of an aggressive Im-perialism, and its immediate objective is Germany." Probably the real fact of the matter is that Lord Roberts saw what Germany's immediate objective was, and wished to prevent a great national catastrophe. Most people have realised since the Boer War of 1899-1902 what the feelings of Germany towards Britain were. It is a mere euphemism to say that they were far from friendly. But we must not hurt the feelings of the Germans by attempting to raise a force equal to the task of coping with the German army. Such a policy would make us, to us our writer's illuminating phrase, "an international nuisance, endangering the peace of the world"! Had Mr. Maddi page 9 son stopped to think, he would possibly have realised that Lord Roberts had and has no desire for war. He would have realised that a man to whom he concedes the title of statesman, a man who has suffered the bitter loss of an only son in battle, and who can realise to the fullest extent how people individually and the country generally must suffer through warfare, would not urge upon his country the necessity for a scheme to provide a large army, were the need not pressing. He would have realised that a man who has seen, in a period of service extending over almost sixty years, all the horrors that accompany warfare, would not be at all likely to desire his country to enter into another and most terrible one.

The extremes to which Mr. Maddison goes in his article are perfectly amazing. He assumes that the "conscript scheme is intended to make Britain supreme on land as she is on sea, to make her, again to quote his peculiar words, "an international nuisance." Lord Roberts has nowhere hinted at such a desire. What he did want was a force sufficient to meet the dangers which he foresaw must inevitably confront the Empire during the next decade or two. That force has to be provided now.

But when the writer in his criticism proceeds to make the following statement: "The demand for compulsory military service is the outcome of the disordered thinking which is always associated with militarism," one begins to understand his attitude towards the scheme. Whether Lord Roberts was justified in his attitude, the British people of to-day will judge.