The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79
Conscription, or The Commandeering of the Lives of our Young Men—————
Conscription, or The Commandeering of the Lives of our Young Men—————
Professor Hugh Mackenziein Wellington,
on Sunday Evening, Jan. 9th, 1916.
I have always been anxious to pass for a Socialist, though those who ordinarily proclaim themselves such would probably deny me the right or privilege of calling myself a Socialist, Well, I call myself a Socialist, who, after long and careful study (according to my light) of social and economic problems, believes that it is an essential function of the State so to direct things that every healthy, normal, well-intentioned member of the community whose conduct and character has stood the usual social tests shall have an opportunity afforded him of making the most of such mental endowments and acquired accomplishments as he possesses. We have in New Zealand what is probably the most broad-based, soundly democratic, and sanely Socialistic political system in the World. We are becoming, by a process of sane political evolution one of the most socially-developed communities in the world. We are becoming steadily more and more democratic and socialistic in the best sense of those terms. We seek to establish equity in all our social, political, commercial, and other relations. That is our social ideal and aspiration. We are slowly but surely attaining our ideal. We do not believe in militarism, but we recognise that until there is pretty general agreement among the great nations of the world against militarism. It would be disastrous for us. As a nation, to identify ourselves with anti-militarism. If we are militarist and conscriptionist, it is not because we believe in militarism or in conscription, but because the dire necessity of defending our country, our lives, and liberties, not to say homes and hearths, makes it impossible for us to be other than mili- page 4 tarist and consenptionist. As rational Socialists we are Anti militarist and Free-traders, but until the great nations of the world come to discern the rationality and expediency of accepting an anti-military and a Free-trade gospel, we must reserve our right to call ourselves, and to he, both Militarist and Protectionist. In other words, we are Militarist an Protectionist from force of circumstances, not from philosophic or economic conviction. Most of us would, no doubt rejoice to think that it were possible to abolish militarism in all its forms. Most of us, too, would probably rejoice, if it were found possible, completely to substitute public for private ownership and control of land and capital. At any rate we are, probably all of us, profoundly impressed with the fact that the good things of this world are all too often very unequally and very inequitably distributed. We have one great ideal, and that is that the reciprocal relations of the individual and the State should be put on as equitable a basis as possible. With that as an ideal, the State is, in my opinion, justified in calling upon the individual citizen to recognise their obligations to the State.
Our entire legislative and legal system may be said to take it for granted that the State does direct and control things not in the interests of a party or of a class, but in the interests of the people as a whole. I am aware that too often things may appear to be far other than they ought to be, in view of the ideal suggested; yet, but for the fact that there existed some such ideal, the social units, which we call nations, could not exist at all.
Taking it therefore, that the Slate where (as with us) constitutional government obtains, honestly seeks, to the best of its power and ability, to direct things not in the interests of the few, or even the many, but rather in the interests of all, we cannot dispute the State's right to call, if need be, on the individual citizens, the beneficiaries of rational and constitutional rule, to help the State with personal service or such other aid as the State may deem expedient. A rational Socialism, I make bold to affirm, demands that much. What is sorely wanted is a "national" rather than a "class-consciousness," in the hope that a humanity or race consciousness will soon be duly developed. Socialists should, therefore, I affirm, be conseriptionists. Until a federation of the enlightened or whole world is realised, and an international justice and police system established, with power to deal with offending nations, just as our National Justice and Police Departments at present deal with individual offenders there must be occasions when it is the duty of every individual citizen to render what service he can—military, financial, or other—to the State. No citizen can acquire social or page 5 civic rights without incurring obligations at the same time. The sober and rational Socialist is as much occupied with the question of his obligations to the State as with the question of the State's obligations to him. The pseudo-Socialist (that is, the irrational Socialist) keeps, as a rule, harping, in season and out of season, on the question of the State's obligation to him, but rarely gives a moment's consideration to the question of his obligation to the State. It is, it would appear to him, merely a question of his so-called "rights." The question of personal duty or obligation is too often completely forgotten or ignored.
Those who are loudest in their professions of altruism and Socialism are found too often to be prompted and influenced by a social creed that is the quintessence of selfishness. Even the most altruistic and humanitarian of us too readily forget or ignore the ethical imperative: "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." We intellectually assent to the voice of reason and conscience in this connection, but when called upon to give practical expression, in conduct or action, to our conviction, we too often completely fail. We frequently hear people talking loudly glibly, and vehemently about human and natural rights, and making wild, extravagant, and declamatory demands upon communities or nations, upon which they have practically no legitimate claim whatever. These, not rational, but irrational, Socialists completely forget or ignore the fact that no rights can be acquired until obligations have been incurred. Until that point has been reached all human beings may be said to live on sufferance. No one would deny, I presume, that, in connection with social and political experience, one has no valid claim on society until one has done, or is at least prepared to do society a service. We come into this world, so to speak, by divine and human sufferance. We have obviously no enforceable rights. We may think and talk as we like about abstract human or natural rights, but the only rights we can really enjoy to begin with are those that our parents or the nation in which we are horn recognise or allow. In a word, we are born with no enforceable claims on society; and what valid rights or claims we acquire as we grow up will depend on the service we render, or are prepared to render, to, in the first instance, our parents, as proteges or delegates of the State, but chiefly to the State itself. Our rights and claims are, in the last resort, determined by our value to the community. So far as the majority of men (in fact, almost all) are concerned, the first twenty years of their life are passed in drawing upon the service of, and incurring obligations to, others, while doing practically nothing of economic value for others. Their obli- page 6 gations to society steadily increase until they are equipped for social service in some capacity, and so economically on their own, so to speak.
Now, though during our earlier years we are of little or no economic value to society, and though we could never be of much real service to ourselves or to humanity but for the many services rendered, and being rendered, us, by humanity—or, to be more definite, by the community in which we live—we are found too frequently indulging in wild and reckless tirades against society; or, more particularly, that part of society constituting the nation to which we belong, and to which we most certainly owe all that is best in us. We modern Britons are as ungrateful offenders in this matter as can be found anywhere. We have either not read, or we have forgotten, the history of civilisation, and more particularly the part which our nation has played in championing and securing the liberties and privileges which we as an Umpire now enjoy. Did we but duly appreciate the privileges we enjoy as citizens of the Empire, or adequately realise the price paid for, and sacrifices made by our ancestors in securing for us, the political, social, and spiritual liberties which we enjoy, we would be found such loyal patriots that the ugly term, "Conscription," would never be heard among us. Even such a crisis as now confronts us as a people and as an Empire was needed to bring us to our senses: and I greatly fear that even this great catastrophe in the history of the Empire, and of the world, will fail to bring some of us to our senses. We have so long enjoyed the fruits of the labour and sacrifices of those who have gone before us—of those who have lived and fought and died for us—that we are politically, and socially, if not also morally and spiritually, demoralised. Others have sown, and we have reaped. Now the question comes: Are we worthy of the traditions we inherit, and of the privileges, political, social and spiritual, which we enjoy? Are we prepared to stand up for the cause of justice and of righteousness? Are we prepared to do for posterity what our fathers did for us? If we really arc there should be no occasion whatever to resort to what is called "Conscription." But, on the other hand, if there are able-bodied men of military age among us (and I believe there are) who are unconscious of any obligation, moral or other, in this connection, then I am firmly convinced it is the duty of the State to bring home to them a sense of their obligations and duty by resorting to Conscription. There never was a privilege enjoyed in this world which did not carry with it duties. We have all reaped abundant benefits from the labours and sacrifices of those page 7 who have gone before us, and if we are worthy of the name of men, or even of Britons, we should he prepared to do for those who are to come after us as much as those who have gone before us have done for us. The benefits and blessings bestowed upon us by God have not been bestowed upon us for our own exclusive use. We have enjoyed many blessings and many privileges for which we have never laboured. Why, then, should we cry "Hold!" so to speak, after enjoying a surfeit of good things for which we never laboured? Others have laboured, and we have entered into their labours, and it is our duty to humanity and to posterity to labour so that others may enter into and enjoy the fruits of our labours. That is surely genuine altruism and rational Socialism, In the circumstances, it is, I have no hesitation in stating, the duty of the State to have, if need be, recourse to Conscription. If this is the only way in which the relation of man to the State, or of the individual to the nation, can he adequately inculcated at such a critical juncture as we are now experiencing, then, by all means, let its have Conscription.
In a constitutionally-governed and in a sanely democratic Empire, such as ours is, Conscription involves no undue encroachment on the liberty of the subject or individual. Every right that an individual possesses is subject to conditions. His right to live even is conditioned by his conduct and action as a social being. If he has enjoyed the blessings of civilised government, it is but right and reasonable that he should serve his country, and, if need be, be made to serve his country in defence of the blessings and privileges of civilisation which he has enjoyed.
Now, while I think there can be no disputing the validity of my argument so far, it must yet be emphatically affirmed that, should the Empire (or even this Dominion)' resort to Conscription, duties, obligations, and responsibilities will he imposed on our statesmen, as the constitutional representatives of the people, which will demand most serious and deliberate consideration. The life of no citizen can be said to be entirely his own, or even entirely the State's. It must, I think, be regretfully admitted that, so far as our own men who have volunteered to serve their country at this critical juncture are concerned, the State has failed to undertake due legal obligations to make adequate provision for their dependents and relatives who have domestic claims upon them, or a vested interest in their lives. Every man and woman among us is under obligation to other individuals as well as to the State. If, then, the State is to commandeer the service of the individual, it becomes its bounden duty to under-take to discharge, as far as possible, the obligation incurred by the individual commandeered to other individuals, If page 8 the State commandeers the service of an individual, his wife and his family, if he is a married man and parent, acquire large and indisputable claims upon the State. Again, whether he is married or not, his parents, if his parents are living, and whether they be rich or poor, acquire very consideable claims on the State. These claims are not merely moral claims; they are claims that should be legally enforce-able. It is certainly right that the dependents of those who are maimed or fall in this war, be they rich or poor, should be, if possible, none the poorer for the sacrifices made by those on whom they were, or are, dependent.
Now, the claims of the widow and the orphan are recognised after a fashion, by the State. That of the parent in indifferent circumstances is more or less grudgingly recognised. But I beg to direct your attention to the fact that there is another parent who has, to my mind, undeniable claims on the State in this matter, and his claims have, so far as I am aware, received no consideration at all from our accredited statesmen. I refer to the capitalist whose only capital is his sons. Has this capitalist—the father of sons of military age, and in sound health—no claim upon the State for the loss he incurs through injury to, or the death of, his son or sons in war? When, or rather before, Con-script ion is introduced among us, it will be the bounden duty of our statesmen to give earnest and fullest consideration to this question. In fact, they should have done so long ago in connection with the claims of those who have already so nobly volunteered their services to the State. It stands to reason, if one man acquires wealth by investing in land, or by refusing to undertake the duties of parenthood; or if he is a parent by exploiting child labour, that the State should make larger demands on this kind of capitalist than on the "parent capitalist," who expends all his earnings or income on bringing up and educating a large family. Can the State be justified in commandeering the lives of the sons of such parents, without making ample provision by a system of Government life insurance for the loss of such lives? There can be no possible doubt that the only capital possessed by the great majority of the people of this Dominion is their families, more particularly their sons. If, then, the State commandeers the service and lives of our sons, surely we are, in all equity and reason, entitled to, I shall not say consideration but rather generous compensation from the State for the human capital of which we may be for ever deprived. Every life commandeered by the State should, therefore, in all equity be covered by a State insurance policy in favour of those who have legal claims on, or a vested interest in, that life. The Romans and Anglo-Saxons put a value on every page 9 human life. The Romans called it "aestimatio" capitis; the Anglo-Saxons called it "wergild." We want, then, in view of the adoption of impressment or conscription, the re-institution of this valuing of human life. Every life should have a legal money-equivalent, and it should, in the case of the conscripts, be covered by a life insurance policy at the expense of the State. Until adequate provision is made for such a system of life insurance (for the conscripts), it cannot be maintained that the wealth of this Dominion has been duly commandeered by taxation.
It is quite possible that we may have surprises sprung upon us in the near future in the way of emergency legislation, and there is, therefore, all the more reason for giving full and careful consideration to the issues involved and difficulties to be encountered, if strict justice is to be done to those more particularly whose sole capital is their families.
For myself, I would have legislation introduced at the earliest possible moment, if our accredited statesmen deem it necessary, imposing a just and rational form of Conscription during the war. I should apply Conscription for military service (in the first instance) to all the physically fit between 25 and 50; and Conscription for non-combatant service to all the physically fit between 18 and 25, as also to all between 50 and 60. If is, to my mind, the height of cowardly bullyism to ask not to say coerce, boys under 21 years of age, who have acquired no voice in the affairs of the country, and who can have no adequate conception of what life really means or war involves, to fight for us, while the services of any man, married or single, between 25 and 50, are available. When these are exhausted, then let us draw upon the boys and the elderly. And yet there are hysterical females going about our streets calling boys of 17 and 18 "shirkers." In the case of married men of military age, exemption should depend on the number of their dependents. Single men and married men with no family should be called upon to serve before drawing upon married men with a family. Married men with one child should be called upon before married men with two, and so on. Lads of from 21 to 25, while subject to Conscription only for non-combatant purposes, should (have the right to volunteer for active service if they wished to.
There should be no exemption of the physically fit of military age on religious, ecclesiastical, or any other ground, for the Quaker (or such as he), suppose he and I share the same home, and a robber or enemy attacks us, why should I be called upon to do the fighting, and he confine himself to praying for my success in defending our home and lives? The most pacificist of ecclesiastics of military age, and "with- page 10 out encumbrances," cannot, I venture to suggest, he justified in accepting the blood of other men as the price of his own security. He should, indeed, be among the first to recognise this fact. There are. I believe, some 20,000 ecclesiastics nobly fighting for France, and no fewer than 1000 Anglican clergy have petitioned their ecclesiastical superiors to be allowed to fight for Britain.
Now, in the matter of permanent legislation in connection with the defence of our country, I would, by legislation, make it impossible for any man to acquire a vote—political, municipal, or other—in this Dominion unless he, when acquiring a voter's right, definitely pledges himself, if pronounced physically fit, to serve his country in any capacity that the exigency of the State, in such a crisis as this, demands. No man or woman should be entitled to a vote in the affairs of this Dominion unless they are prepared to serve their country (in case of emergency) in whatever capacity the interests of State demand.
In summoning the '"conscripts" for active service, justice demands that the sons of the wealthy land-owners and propertied classes he among the first drawn upon. Even in feudal times, the barons and land-owning gentry had to lead their sons and retainers to battle, There should, of course, be no exemption of men of military age on the ground that they are engaged in primary industries. For munition-making, commissariat, and other non-combatant purposes, the services of those under 25 and over 50 should be requisitioned. At the same time, the State should make ample provision for indemnifying all who—be they wives, children, or parents—have any claims upon those whose lives the State commandeers. Not only that, but those whose wealth consists of land, property, or large incomes from any source whatever, should be made to bear a financial burden commensurate with their wealth and their capitalistic interest in the country. Justice, too, demands (more particularly in view of our resorting to Conscription) that the question of the incidence of taxation should receive the fullest consideration of the Parliament of this country. It seems to me monstrous that a bachelor, with an income of. Say, £1000 year, should have to pay no more income tax than a married man with ten of a family who is in receipt of the same income! Justice, too, demands that the Government fully investigate the shameful exploitation of the necessaries of life indulged in by our middlemen. In view of the possibility of the adoption of Conscription, the duty of "commandeering" in this connection cannot, in all justice, be much longer shirked or deferred by our Government.page 11
In the year 1086 William the Conqueror had a survey and record made of the lands of England, their extent, ownership, and liabilities. It is often referred to as the Great Inquest, or Inquisition. The record itself has been known since the twelfth century as "Domesday Book," or, more popularly, "Doomsday Book"—i.e., Book of Judgments, Just as the Bible may be represented as a Book of spiritual values and judgments, so "Doomsday Book" may he represented as (for its time) a book of temporal values and Judgments. The object of this census of land-owners, and record of the extent and value of their lands was to enable the Kings (or their Governments) to make a pro rata levy on the land-owners and capitalists of the time for the defence and government of the country.
What we want in these times, then, is a new Doomsday Book, or record of the land, capital, and capitalists of the Dominion, so that those who own the land, and are really Wealthy, and those who are in receipt of large incomes, can be called upon (by a pro rata system of taxation) to pay for the defence and the government of the country, and for providing adequate compensation to those who are injured in defending their country, as also to the relatives of those who give their life in their country's cause. It stands to reason that Conscription or the commandeering of the lives of our sons, should involve such a commandeering, by drastic but equitable taxation of the wealth of our capitalists, especially that of bachelors and married men with no children, as would provide adequate compensation to those who, directly or indirectly, suffer from injury to, or loss by death of, their bread-winners, or of members of their family. This would be host provided for by a comprehensive system of life insurance (at the expense of the State) for both volunteers and conscripts.
When some such adequate provision is made, then there can be no challenging the expediency or the justice of re-sorting to Conscription. If, as a nation and an Empire, we are on the side of righteousness in this war, then "shirking" on the part of the physically fit (who have no domestic ties or obligations of honour at home) is not only a sin, but also a crime. Conscription, therefore, of the' physically fit, which makes shirking impossible, and which, if carried out with absolute impartiality, involves no injustice whatever and is, indeed, the only just solution, is a national duty.
At the same time, I feel hound to admit that, in my opinion, the voluntary system has not, so far, been put to a fair test. If really adequate provision were made by the State for the injured, with, say, a minimum of 30s, a week for a widow, and 10s. a week for every child under 21, with free page 12 education (primary, secondary, and University), and reasonable provision were made for the dependents of unmarried volunteers, then I should be greatly surprised if the voluntary system would not prove equal to the task imposed upon it by this great world-crisis.
It is painful to contemplate that a great nation like Germany, which seemed, like ancient Greece, to he gradually acquiring a pacificist ascendancy throughout the enlightened world, should prostitute its intellectual and cultural achievement to such sinister purposes. The glory of Germany has departed from her. Her fall and sin have been the result of knowledge and greatness divorced from rational morality and rational religion. We hear the prophet's voice across the ages: "Tins nation and kingdom that will not serve Thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall he utterly wasted."
We long for the day when "grim-visnged war" will have "smoothed its wrinkled front!" We long for the time when "The Day" of Kings and Kaisers will be the Day of the Lord ! We long for the day, the day longed for by both Isaiah and Micah. When nations "shall beat their sword into plow-shares and their spears into pruning hooks;" and when "nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they study war any more."
I venture to give expression to our hope of the future in the following unpretending hymn (suggested by one or two well-known hymns) :—
Hymn of Love.
The Day of the Lord.
We pray the day approaches,
The day so long foretold,
When all shall cease from fighting
As fought the beasts of old :
When Catholic and Protestant
Shall come from near and far,
In closest bond of fellowship,
To make a war on war.
Then, all that now divides men,
Shall make no longer stay,
But like the mists of morning,
Shall wholly pass away.
Such sweet anticipation
Should cheer us on our way,
And make us strive and labour
To usher in that day.
Bestow, O Lord, Thy blessing
On all who do the right;
And may both Jew and Gentile,
For ever share Thy Light.
And work in closest union
To usher in the day
When all that now divides men
Shall wholly pass away.
O, make us all one nation,
In closest bonds below;
Where all shall live together
And seek Thy Law to know.
Then shall the morning brighten—
"All shadows flee away."
O Lord ! to Thee alone we look
To usher in that Day.