George Henry Allen.

The Great war .. (Volume 2) online

. (page 14 of 40)
Online LibraryGeorge Henry AllenThe Great war .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


form her duty as an ally of Russia, and this was all that was
required to incline the scales in favor of war. Corrobora-
tive evidence is furnished by the letter of the Belgian
charge d'affaires from St. Petersburg on July 30th, which
was intercepted in Germany and reserved for publication.
This letter declares that Russia had received definite assur-
ance of British support, and that this had greatly strength-
ened the war party, giving it the upper hand.

The author of the theory which we are discussing does
not find in the published correspondence the report of the
conversation between Sir Edward Grey and M. Cambon
which must have been sent by the latter from London to
Paris, as a necessary link in the chain of causality, or even
the resulting communication from Paris to St, Petersburg.
He intimates that these messages have been suppressed
from considerations of poHcy. But as proof that such
communications did pass between the capitals, bearing the
contagion of encouragement to hostile action, he quotes
a passage in a message from M. Sazonoff to the Russian
ambassador in Paris, contained in the Orange Book, num-
ber 58, probably dispatched on the evening of July 29th,
as follows : " Please inform the French government of this,
and add that we are sincerely grateful to them for the
declaration which the French ambassador made to me on
their behalf, to the effect that we could count fully upon
the assistance of our ally, France."

Although the actual French communication, of which
this is an acknowledgment, is not included in the pub-
lished correspondence, a parallel communication, undoubt-
edly identical with it in substance, is reproduced in the



Moral Impulses in the United Kingdom 153

Orange Book, number 55, a telegram from the Russian
ambassador in Paris, dated July 29th, disregarded by our
German authority, containing the following passage:

*M. Viviani has just confirmed to me the French gov-
ernment's firm determination to act in concert with Russia.
This determination is upheld by all classes of society and
by the political parties, including the Radical Socialists,
who have just addressed a resolution to the government
expressing the absolute confidence and patriotic sentiments
of their party."

The resolve of the French government to act in con-
cert with Russia was probably communicated concurrently
to the Russian ambassador in Paris and to the French
ambassador in St. Petersburg, the latter being instructed to
transmit the message to the Russian Foreign Office. If
we assume, as seems perfectly justifiable, that the com-
munication in the Orange Book, number 55, is virtually
the same as that to which M. Sazonoff alludes in num-
ber 58, we perceive that the expression of solidarity by
the French government, for which M. SazonofT sends
thanks, is self-explanatory without implying any previous
message of encouragement from London. For President
Poincare and Prime Minister Viviani returned to Paris
on July 29th, and a first consideration after their arrival
might naturally impel them to confirm the assurances
of French support for Russia which had been given in
their absence.

There is some indication, on the other hand, that Sir
Edward Grey's conversation with Prince Lichnowsky on
July 29th exercised a transitory influence on the attitude
of the Teutonic powers. For on July 30th Austria-
Hungary expressed a willingness to resume conversations
with Russia, and M. Jules Cambon reported as follows
from Berlin:



154 The Great War

"The Chancellor's attitude is very probably the result of
the last interview of Sir Edward Grey with Prince Lich-
nowsky. Up to these very last few days people have
flattered themselves here that England would remain aloof,
and the impression produced by her attitude upon the
German government and upon financiers and business
men is profound."

A communication from Sir R. Rodd, British Ambassador
in Rome, to Sir Edward Grey, dated July 30th, states that
"the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs believed that Ger-
many was disposed to give more conciliatory advice to
Austria-Hungary, as she seemed convinced that Great
Britain wovild act with France and Russia and was anxious
to avoid an issue with her."

After examining the two conversations of Sir Edward
Grey from all points of view we shall probably conclude
that his words were a fairly approximate statement of the
position of the British government on that date, that they
were not intended as an assurance or a threat, and that any
effect produced by them on the conduct of the other
powers was incidental and probably not decisive.

On July 30th M. Cambon reminded Sir Edward Grey
of the correspondence which had passed between them
November 22, 1912, as reproduced in Volume I, pages
269-271, and urged him to state what Great Britain would
do in case Germany attacked France. Sir Edward Grey
promised to see him the next afternoon, after the cabinet
meeting which was to be held in the morning. But on
the afternoon of July 31st Sir Edward Grey could only tell
him that the cabinet had decided that they could not give
any pledge. He said:

"Up to the present moment we do not feel, and public
opinion does not feel, that any treaties or obligations of
this country are involved. Further developments might



Moral Impulses in the United Kingdom 155

alter this situation and cause the government and parlia-
ment to take the view that intervention is justified. Tlie
preservation of the neutrality of Belgium might be, I would
not say a decisive, but an important factor, in determining
our attitude."

M. Cambon repeated his question whether Great Britain
would help France if Germany made an attack on her, and
Sir Edward Grey replied that he could make no such en-
gagement. M. Cambon asked whether he could not sub-
mit this question again to the cabinet, but the foreign
secretary offered no assurance in reply.

The importunity of M. Cambon, which can only be
explained on the assumption of extreme anxiety, is hardly
compatible with the view that the British Foreign Secre-
tary's words on July 29th had really conveyed an assurance
of assistance.

It may safely be affirmed that as late as August 1st the
British public was opposed to war, and the British govern-
ment saw no reason for promising to intervene in any other
than a diplomatic sense. But the current of events glided
suddenly into a cataract sweeping along the government and
nation alike with bewildering velocity. Saturday and Sun-
daj, August 1st and 2d, have been called the "fateful days
of the century." They will pass into British history as the
memorable week-end. They were days of intense sus-
pense and mental conflict. On Saturday came the news of
Germany's ultimatum to Russia, and of her message to
France, which, if not strictly an ultimatum, was an almost
certain indication that war between Germany and France
was inevitable. Contradictory impulses surged to and fro
in the popular imagination. Antagonistic views with
regard to public policy were sustained with passionate
conviction. A monster peace meeting was held in Trafal-
gar Square on Sunday afternoon at four o'clock, where



156 The Great War

Mr. Keir Hardie, the Laborite parliamentary leader was
the principal speaker. A similar public demonstration in
favor of participation in the war took place only a few rods
away. Cabinet meetings were held throughout the greater
part of the day, and dissension threatened to disrupt the
ministry, so that a coalition cabinet would have to be
created in its place.

Great Britain had not been engaged in war with a great
power for nearly sixty years, or in any war creating a really
critical situation for a hundred years. The tradition of
non-intervention in continental affairs had taken deep root
in the political instincts of the people. A contest demand-
ing the utmost exertion of every national faculty, a struggle
in which national existence itself might be hazarded, would
rend the very warp and woof of inveterate habits. The
nation still wavered before the fateful leap and the world
hung breathlessly on a decision in which the outcome of the
whole tremendous conflict might very likely be involved.

What a theme for tragedy of the classic type! A dra-
matic situation of unsurpassed intensity; a collision of
motives and personalities of compelling distinctness; a
development complying with the Aristotelian conditions,
unity of time, of place, and of action; confined within a
period of about twenty-four hours and a restricted area
in Westminster; with the great political and Laborite
leaders as characters and the multitude of interventionists
and pacificists as chorus; the dhiouement consistently pro-
duced by intelligence of Germany's ultimatum to Bel-
gium. All the millions of the British Empire may be
regarded as the very interested spectators of this unusual
drama which might influence their whole future condi-
tion to remotest ages.

After hours of discussion and controversy nearly all the
members of the cabinet were convinced that a violation of



Moral Impulses in the United Kingdom 157

Belgian neutrality or a German naval attack on the vnide-
fended French coast should be regarded as a casus belli and
gave their assent to the general statement of policy which
Sir Edward Grey was to make before parliament the fol-
lowing afternoon.

After the cabinet meeting on Sunday afternoon, Sir
Edward Grey gave M. Cambon the first partial promise
of eventual support, in the following words:

"I am authorized to give assurance that, if the German
fleet comes into the Channel or through the North Sea
to undertake hostile operations against French coasts or
shipping, the British fleet will give all the protection in
its power.

"This assurance is of course subject to the policy of His
Majesty's Government receiving the support of Parlia-
ment, and must not be taken as binding His Majesty's
Government to take any action until the above contin-
gency of action by the German fleet takes place."

The House of Commons had adjourned, July 31st, after
the prime minister's statement that news had been received
of Russia's general mobilization and Germany's proclama-
tion of martial law.

The House reassembled on Monday, August 3d, at a
quarter before three, for its most memorable session since
the passage of the first Reform Bill. Practically every
member was present, the galleries were crowded, and a
vast concourse of people, estimated at 50,000 persons,
awaited outside the decision of the nation's representatives
on a question which involved incalculable consequences.
The eyes of the whole nation seemed to be turned to the
British Foreign Secretary as he arose to unfold the inter-
national situation.

Sir Edward Grey declared, in the first place, that the
government had worked with all its power to preserve



158 The Great War

peace. The preservation of peace had been universally
recognized as its aim in the Balkan crises in 1912-1913.
But at that time the powers had been willing to devote
time and patience to the adjustment of the problems grow-
ing out of the situation. In the present crisis, on the other
hand, there had been a tendency in some quarters to force
matters to a speedy issue. He wished, therefore, to con-
sider dispassionately what policy British interests, honor,
and obligations demanded.

As for British obligations, he recalled the fact that when
the Russian Minister Iswolsky came to London in 1908,
he told him that public opinion in Great Britain would
not support the British government in offering more than
diplomatic support in the question which arose in conse-
quence of the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by
Austria-Hungary, since it was solely a Balkan problem.
He assured the House, furthermore, that no other promise
had been made in the present crisis until the day before.
No definite promise had been made to France in 1905-1906,
although he had expressed the opinion at that time, that if
war between Germany and France grew out of the Moroc-
can situation, in which an agreement between Great Britain
and France was involved, British public opinion would
rally to the support of France. The French government
had made the observation that such support could not be
very effective without some preliminary conversations be-
tween naval and military experts regarding common action.
Accordingly, Sir Edward Grey had authorized these "con-
versations" with the distinct understanding that they should
not in any way restrict the freedom of either government.
The British Foreign Office retained the same attitude at
the time of the Moroccan crisis in 1911. Later, on
November 22, 1912, letters were exchanged between the
foreign office and the French ambassador containing the



Moral Impulses in the United Kingdom 159

definite agreement confirming the informal, non-restrictive
character of the "conversations" of the military and naval
experts. This correspondence was the starting point for
the British government's policy in the present crisis.

The present situation was quite different from the
Moroccan crisis in its origin; for it grew out of a dispute
in which France was not primarily concerned. The French
were only involved in consequence of an obligation of
honor established by their definite alliance with Russia.
But the British government was not a party to the Franco-
Russian alliance, of the very terms of which it was ignorant.
As to how far British friendship for France entailed an
obligation, he said: "Let every man look into his own
heart, and his own feelings, and construe the extent of the
obligation for himself." . . . "The House individually
and collectively may judge for itself. I speak my personal
view, and I have given the House niy own feelings in the
matter."

"The French fleet is now in the Mediterranean, and
the northern and western coasts of France are absolutely
undefended. The French fleet being concentrated in the
Mediterranean, the situation is very different from what it
used to be, because the friendship which has grown up
between the two countries has given them a sense of
security that there was nothing to be feared from us.

"The French coasts are absolutely undefended. The
French fleet is in the Mediterranean, and has for some
years been concentrated there because of the feeling of
confidence and friendship which has existed between the
two countries. My own feeling is that if a foreign fleet,
engaged in a war which France had not sought, and in
which she had not been the aggressor, came down the
English Channel and bombarded and battered the unde-
fended coasts of France, we could not stand aside, and see



160 The Great War

this going on practically within sight of our eyes, with our
arms folded, looking on dispassionately, doing nothing. I
believe that would be the feeling of this country. There
are times when one feels that if these circumstances actually
did arise, it would be a feeling which would spread with
irresistible force throughout the land."

The speaker went on to show that material as well as
sentimental considerations were involved in the situation
in regard to France. For the partial withdrawal of the
French naval forces from the Mediterranean might event-
ually endanger British vital interests. In view of the urgent
position of affairs for the French government, he informed
his hearers that he had, on the previous afternoon, given
the French ambassador assurance, subject to the approval
of parliament, that if the German fleet should come down
the North Sea or through the Channel to attack the French
coasts or shipping, the British fleet would "give all the
protection in its power."

"I understand," continued Sir Edward Grey, "that the
German government would be prepared, if we would
pledge ourselves to neutrality, to agree that its fleet would
not attack the northern coast of France. I have only heard
that shortly before I came to the House, but it is far too
narrow an engagement for us. And, Sir, there is the more
serious consideration — becoming more serious every hour
— there is the question of the neutrality of Belgium."

Sir Edward Grey proceeded to review the history of
Belgian neutraHty, and to define the attitude of the British
government towards it. He submitted the replies of the
French, German, and Belgian governments to the com-
munications of the British government on the present
occasion regarding the preservation of Belgian neutrality
as guaranteed by treaty. The following reply came from
France :



v<




o




^


X




-^


2




■S


<u






^




^






"3





u




V


C


<^


>


rt




s


u


"S










r^


"i




•^


.!>


iT


::&


'^



•s: ^ ^



CO


*-




Ho >


c


e^ s


o


'h ?



« »■



^
■^




2 o






•2 ^



Moral Impulses in the United Kingdom 161

"The PVench government is resolved to respect the
neutrality of Belgium, and it would only be in the event
of some other power violating that neutrality that France
might find herself luider the necessity, in order to assure
the defense of her security, to act otherwise. This assur-
ance has been given several times. The President of the
Republic spoke of it to the King of the Belgians, and the
French minister at Brussels has spontaneously renewed
the assurance to the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs
to-day."

From the German government the reply was :

"The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs could not
possibly give an answer before consulting the Emperor
and the Imperial Chancellor." Later Herr von Jagow inti-
mated that Germany could not give any answer at all, "as
any reply they might give could not fail, in the event of
war, to have the undesirable effect of disclosing, to a cer-
tain extent, part of their plan of campaign."

The Belgian reply was contained in a telegram from Sir
Francis Villiers, British Minister in Brussels:

"Belgium expects and desires that other powers will
observe and uphold her neutrality, which she intends to
maintain to the utmost of her power. In so informing
me, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said that, in the event
of the violation of the neutrality of their territory, they
believed that they were in a position to defend themselves
against intrusion. The relations between Belgium and her
neighbors were excellent, and there was no reason to sus-
pect their intentions ; but he thought it well, nevertheless,
to be prepared against emergencies."

Sir Edward Grey informed the House that information
had just arrived indicating that Germany had sent an ulti-
matum to the Belgian government offering friendly rela-
tions on condition that the Belgian government would



162 The Great War

facilitate the passage of German troops through Belgium.
Just before he reached the House, Sir Edward Grey had
heard of the receipt of an appeal for diplomatic interven-
tion sent by the King of the Belgians to King George.
He reminded the members of the House that Great Britain
had already intervened diplomatically, but apparently to no
purpose. If the territory of one of the smaller states should
be violated in this war, its independence would be prac-
tically destroyed, whatever the destiny of its integrity might
be. The independence of Holland and Denmark would
eventually follow that of Belgium.

Sir Edward Grey pointed out that it would be very
doubtful whether, if Great Britain stood aside, and hus-
banded her resources, she would be able to use her material
force decisively for putting things right at the termination
of the war, after her moral prestige had been diminished
by shirking manifest obligations. On the other hand.
Great Britain would inevitably suffer great material losses
during the war, alike as neutral or belligerent, in conse-
quence of the curtailment of international trade. At the
close of the war it would be too late for Great Britain "to
prevent the whole of the West of Europe opposite falling
under the domination of a single power, if that had been
the result of hostilities."

He assured his hearers that the government had as yet
taken no engagement binding them to send an expedi-
tionary force out of the country. But the fleet was already
mobilized, and the army was in process of mobilization.

Continuing he made the encouraging observation, that
"the one bright spot in the whole of this terrible situation
is Ireland. The general feeling throughout Ireland — and
I would like this to be clearly understood abroad — does
not make the Irish question a consideration which we feel
we have now to take into account."



Moral Impulses in the United Kingdom 163

It followed from the speaker's statement thus far, that
the commitment to France and the consideration of Bel-
gium rendered impossible a policy of unconditional neutral-
ity. Such bein^: the case, the country had to be prepared
to take its part in the war at any time. "The most awful
responsibility is restintr upon the government," he declared,
"in deciding what to advise the House of Commons to
do." . . . "The situation has developed so rapidly, that
technically, as regards the condition of the war, it is most
difficult to describe what has actually happened. I wanted
to bring out the underlying issues which would affect our
own conduct, and our policy, and to put it clearly. I have
now put the vital facts before the House, and if, as seems
not improbable, we are forced, and rapidly forced, to take
our stand upon those issues, then I believe, when the
country realizes what is at stake, what the real issues are,
the magnitude of the impending dangers in the West of
Europe, which I have endeavored to describe to the
House, we shall be supported throughout, not only by
the House of Commons, but by the determination, the
resolution, the courage, and the endurance of the whole
country."

When Sir Edward Grey had finished speaking, Mr. Bonar
Law rose to his feet to respond as parliamentary leader of
the opposition. He said that he did not believe that any
member doubted that the government had done every-
thing in its power to maintain peace, and that if any other
course was taken, it would be because they had no alterna-
tive. He continued:

"The government already knows, but I give them now
the assurance on behalf of the party of which I am leader
in this House, that in whatever steps they think it neces-
sary to take for the honor and security of this country, they
can rely on the unhesitating support of the opposition."



164 The Great War

Mr. John Redmond, leader of the Irish Nationalist party
begged the indulgence of the House to intervene with a
few remarks. In order to appreciate the electric effect of
Mr. Redmond's words it is necessary to remember how in
bygone years the Irish Nationalist benches in the House
had been associated with the spirit of bitter opposition and
the most exasperating obstructionist proceedings; that the
Home Rule agitation had led to a division of Ireland into
two armed camps; that the conference for conciliation
summoned by the king had turned out to be an ignomin-
ious failure only ten days before; that there had been
bloodshed in Dublin in consequence of partisan violence
eight days before; and, above all, that the leaders in Ger-
many regarded an outbreak of civil war in distracted Ireland
as practically inevitable, and were doubtless encouraged in
their attitude by this conviction.

Mr. Redmond alluded to the foreign secretary's declara-
tion "that the one bright spot in the situation was the
changed feeling in Ireland." He admitted that in crises in
the past the sympathy of Irish Nationalists had not been
with Great Britain. But the altered views of the British
democracy had brought about a great change, so that now
the democracy of Ireland would "turn with the utmost
anxiety and sympathy to this country in every trial and
every danger that may overtake it." Then he showed how
history might repeat itself in the case of Ireland. For
when Ireland was threatened with invasion in the darkest
days of the American War, in 1778, "a body of 100,000
Irish volunteers sprang into existence for defending her
shores." "To-day," he said, "there are in Ireland two large
bodies of volunteers. One of them sprang into existence in
the North. Another has sprung into existence in the South.
I say to the government that they may to-morrow with-
draw every one of their troops from Ireland. I say that



Moral Impulses in the United Kingdom 165

the coast of Ireland will he defended from foreign invasion



Online LibraryGeorge Henry AllenThe Great war .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 40)