Gilbert Murray.

Faith, war, and policy; addresses and essays on the European War online

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of this long war one becomes conscious of the struggle
towards expression of something lower, something mean,
angry, intemperate, hysterical, slanderous — the bar-
barian slaves, as Plato would put it, clamouring that the
city itself shall be governed by barbarian slaves.

I take one case, not mentioning names because I do
not wish to attack any individual, from the "Times"
of a few days back. The children of interned aliens are
fed by the Boards of Guardians on workhouse principles.
With the rise of prices an increased grant was necessary,
and was applied for by the Local Government Board.
(It remained considerably lower than the allowance for
the children of our own soldiers and sailors.) A certain


Member of Parliament asked Mr. McKenna if, before
sanctioning the grant, he would give due consideration
to the increasingly bad conditions under which British
civilians were now forced to live at Ruhleben.

Mr. McKenna: The proposals of the Local Government
Board have already been approved. In their treatment oi
prisoners and other enemy aliens in this country, His Majesty's
Government are guided by the dictates of humanity and the
principles of The Hague Convention.

Another honorable Member: Before the right honorable
gentleman sanctions the increase, will he ascertain what grants
are being given to the children of interned British prisoners in

Mr. McKenna: I do not think the two cases can be weighed
one against the other. No matter what other Governments
may do, this Government will continue to be actuated by the
principles of humanity.

The honorable Member : How does the right honorable
gentleman expect to get better treatment for British prisoners
in Ruhleben if he gives everything with both hands to the chil-
dren of interned Germans here?

Mr. McKenna: I do not think my honorable friend states the
case quite fairly. We believe ourselves bound by certain
principles — the rules of The Hague Convention. We have
acted honestly and fearlessly in conformity with those rules,
and I hope the House will support the Government in so doing.

I choosejihis incident, not from any wish to attack the
honorable Members involved, one of whom I know to be
a quite kindly person, but because it just illustrates my
argument. It shows a bad and foolish and un-English
impulse struggling to obtain power and being very prop-
erly crushed. No reasonable person really imagines that
cutting down the food of these children below what the
Guardians think necessary will help us in the faintest
degree to win the war; and, above all, that is not the way


in which Great Britain makes war, — or, please God,
ever will make war, — by starving a lot of little enemy
children whom we happen to have in our hands.

I wonder sometimes that people — especially people
who write letters to newspapers — seem to have so little
pride in their country. I suppose there is some psycho-
logical luxury in making vindictive suggestions of this
kind, or in spreading wild accusations against one's
leaders. But it is the sort of luxury that ought to be
strictly cut down in time of war. It is misleading to
other nations; and, with public servants as with others,
you do not get the best work by incessant scolding. For
my own part, I am more proud of Great Britain than
ever in my life before, and that largely because, in spite
of this froth or scum that sometimes floats on the surface,
she is fundamentally true to her great traditions, and
treads steadily underfoot those elements which, if they
had control, would depose us from being a nation of
" white men," of rulers, of gentlemen, and bring us to
the level of the enemy whom we denounce or the " lesser
breeds without the law."

Probably many of us have learned only through this
war how much we loved our country. That love de-
pends, of course, not mainly on pride, but on old habit
and familiarity, on neighbourliness and memories of
childhood. Yet, mingling with that love for our old
country, I do feel a profound pride. I am proud of our
response to the Empire's call, a response absolutely un-
exampled in history, five million men and more gathering
from the ends of the earth; subjects of the British Em-
pire coming to offer life and limb for the Empire, not be-
cause they were subjects, but because they were free and
willed to come. I am proud of our soldiers and our


sailors, our invincible sailors ! I am proud of the retreat
from Mons, the first and second battles of Ypres, the
storming of the heights of Gallipoli. No victory that the
future may bring can ever obliterate the glory of those
days of darkness and suffering, no tomb in Westminster
Abbey surpass the splendour of those violated and name-
less graves.

I am proud of our men in the workshop and the fac-
tory, proud of our men and almost more proud of our
women — working one and all day after day, with con-
stant overtime and practically no holidays, for the most
part demanding no trade safeguards and insisting on no
conditions, but giving freely to the common cause all
that they have to give.

I am proud of our political leaders and civil adminis-
trators, proud of their resource, their devotion, their
unshaken coolness, their magnanimity in the face of
intrigue and detraction, their magnificent interpreta-
tion of the nation's will. I do not seek to palliate mis-
takes or deprecate criticism, so long as it is honest and
helpful criticism. But, when almost every morning and
evening newspapers professing to be patriotic pour in
their attacks on these men who are bearing our burden,
— attacks which will wither away and vanish with our
first big victory, — I will venture to state one humble
citizen's opinion: that, whether you look at the Head of
the Government or whether you look at the great Secre-
taryships and Administrative Offices, from the begin-
ning of the war till now, I doubt if at any previous period
of English history you will find a nation guided by such
a combination of experience, high character, and com-
manding intellectual power.

A few days ago I was in France in the fire-zone. I had


been at a field dressing-station, which had just evacuated
its wounded and dead, and was expecting more; and, as
evening was falling, full of the uncanny strain of the
whole place and slightly deafened with the shells, I saw a
body of men in full kit plodding their way up the com-
munication trenches to take their place in the front line.
I I was just going back myself, well out of the range of
guns, to a comfortable tea and a peaceful evening; and
there, in trench after trench, along all the hundred miles
of our front, day after day, night after night, were men
moving heavily up to the firing-line, to pay their regular
toll of so many killed and so many wounded, while the
war drags on its weary length. I suddenly wondered in
my heart whether we or our cause or our country is
worth that sacrifice; and, with my mind full of its awful-
ness, I answered clearly, Yes. Because, while I am proud
of all the things I have mentioned about Great Britain,
I am most proud of the clean hands with which we came
into this contest, proud of the Cause for which with clear
vision we unsheathed our sword, and which we mean to
maintain unshaken to the bitter or the triumphant end.



I. The Dublin Insurrection

(June, 1916)

I write of this question as an English Liberal whose
father was an Irish Catholic and a friend of Daniel
O'Connell. I have all my life been a devoted Home
Ruler, a follower of Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Asquith, and
Mr. Redmond. All these leaders are loyal Britishers,
and believe that Home Rule is good both for Ireland and
for the whole British Empire.

What was the cause of the Dublin insurrection of
April last? The delay of Home Rule, causing widespread
disappointment and mistrust; the bad example of the
Ulster Party before the war, with their importation of
arms from Germany and their open threats of civil war
if Home Rule was passed; and lastly, the constant sedi-
tious propaganda of the avowed enemies of England,
whether old Fenians and "physical force men" or paid
tools of the Germans.

Why was Home Rule delayed? Because it was so dif-
ficult to carry. The Liberals proposed the first Home
Rule Bill in 1886, and were thrown out of office upon it.
They got it through the House of Commons in 1892, and
were defeated in the Lords. After a long period of defeat
they carried it three times through the House of Com-
mons between 1910 and 1914, and meantime passed the


"Parliament Act," overriding the veto of the House
of Lords. So at last in 1914 Home Rule was ready to
come into law. Then came the last ditch, the armed op-
position of almost all the Protestants of the Northeast
corner of Ireland. These Ulstermen, led by Sir Edward
Carson, refused to accept any compromise or amend-
ment, but merely declared that they would not accept
Home Rule, and, if it were passed, would declare a civil
war. They proceeded to drill and to import arms from

What was Mr. Asquith, then Prime Minister and
leader of the Liberal Party, to do? His object was to
pacify Ireland; and it appeared that four fifths of Ire-
land threatened permanent disaffection if Home Rule
was not granted, while one fifth threatened instant civil
war if it was granted. With immense patience and pub-
lic spirit he tried to bring both parties to accept some
compromise, but did not succeed until the war with
Germany broke out. Then, under the stress of a com-
mon and terrific danger, both sides accepted a com-
promise. The Home Rule Bill was passed into law, but
it was not to come into operation till after the war; and
before it came into operation an amending bill was to be
passed which should enable Ulster to stay outside the
bill. Home Rule was thus again postponed.

Next came the Coalition. Mr. Asquith thought the
country would be more united in the work of the
war if all parties joined in the Government. The new
Government was composed of Liberals, Tories, and La-
bour men in proportion to their numbers in the House.
Among the Tories in the new Government was Sir Ed-
ward Carson, who had declared that he would lead a
civil war rather than accept Home Rule. The Irish Na-


tionalists began to lose faith; it looked as if they would
never get Home Rule at all. True, Carson very soon
left the Government, but all the Tories had been pledged
against Home Rule; and though they declared, quite
honestly, that they would abide by the compromise of
1914, it was easy for mischief-makers in Ireland to sow
mistrust. These misGhief-makers, partly in German
pay, partly disaffected fanatics, kept up an underground
propaganda, saying that England would break all her
promises, that the English Liberals were frauds, that
the Irish Nationalists under Redmond were a stale old
crew of politicians, run by "the priest, the publican, the
'gombeen-man/ and the English M.P." Thus, all was
ready for treason, and treason came in a very abrupt and
bloody form.

There are three main parties in Ireland: (1) The
Constitutional Nationalists, under Redmond, loyal to
the British connection, but determined above all things
to win Home Rule by Parliamentary and legal meth-
ods. They generally work with the English Liberals.
(2) The Ulster Protestants led by Carson, including the
Orangemen and the few Protestants in the other parts
of Ireland, professing extreme loyalty and refusing to be
in any way separated from Great Britain, but ready to
fight against Great Britain rather than be made part
of a Home Rule Ireland. They are supported by most
of the English Conservatives. (3) Conspirators and
avowed enemies of England, including some Sinn Fein-
ers, some old Fenians, and some revolutionaries, who
were intriguing to help the Germans or any one else
who would injure the British Empire.

Now, it is obvious that ordinary loyal Britishers can
have no dealings with this third class, least of all at a


time when we are fighting for our lives, and thousands of
loyal Irishmen, both Catholic and Protestant, are giving
their lives for us in the trenches. And further it is obvi-
ous that, whenever the constitutional demand for Home
Rule seems to fail and the Irish begin to lose hope, this
third party of treason and violence will be strengthened.
It is to this third party that Casement and the Dublin
rebels belonged.

Roger Casement had been in the British consular serv-
ice all his life. He had done good work, received pro-
motion, been treated with confidence, been awarded a
knighthood, and had written a letter of almost excessive
gratitude for it to the Government. Just before the out-
break of the war he got away from England, crossed to
Germany, and gave the Germans all the information he
was able to give to help them in destroying us. In partic-
ular he was employed to seduce from their allegiance all
Irish soldiers who were prisoners in Germany. These
poor fellows were promised immediate freedom and high
pay if they would join the Germans and help to invade
Ireland ; they were fed with the most detailed and infa-
mous lies against England ; if they accepted Casement's
proposals their food allowance was increased; if they
refused his proposals, they were starved. To their in-
finite credit it must be said that only some forty or fifty
men out of several thousands gave way. On the con-
trary, Casement was more than once hooted out of the
camps and had on occasion to be protected from the in-
dignant prisoners by a German sergeant. On one oc-
casion, one of his associates offered, for a payment of
five thousand pounds, to betray Casement to the British
Government. The offer was, of course, accepted. What-
ever one may think of the man who offers to betray his


associates, no Government in the world would refuse
such an offer if it was made to them. The man, however,
did not carry out his plan.

At last all was ready. On April 20, Casement was
landed on the west coast of Ireland from a German
cruiser, laden with arms. The cruiser was caught by
British destroyers and sank itself to conceal something
that it contained; the crew was saved. Next day Case-
ment was arrested near the shore with a companion,
heavily armed and giving a false name. On the 24th a
bloody little rebellion broke out in Dublin. All police
and soldiers — even wounded soldiers from the hospitals
— were shot down at sight, and a great number of peace-
ful citizens killed or wounded. The dead amounted to
some hundreds. At the same time a German squadron
attempted a raid on the east coast of England, but was
routed by the local destroyers and small craft. There
was an unsuccessful rising at Enniscorthy which was put
down by the spontaneous action of the Irish Nationalist
Volunteers. There were attempts at risings in other parts
of Ireland and attempts against the railways in England.
It was not till May 1 that the whole rebel force surren-
dered unconditionally. During a whole week Dublin had
lived under a reign of terror. For the rising, though con-
taining a number of leading Sinn Feiners and sentimental
Irish enthusiasts, was chiefly carried out by wild Labour
men, who had been disowned by the trade-unions, and
by actual criminals. These men used explosive bullets
and committed some acts of great cruelty.

The German raid was defeated, Casement arrested,
the rebels in Ireland put down. What was to be done
next? Two answers were possible. "Punish the rebels,"
said the Ulstermen and the English Conservatives;


"annul the Heme Rule Bill; send forty thousand troops
to Ireland, and uphold the law. Let there be an end of
paltering with treason." "Grant Home Rule at once,"
said the Nationalists and the English Liberals; "re-
move all possible excuses for mistrust. And — guilty as
they are — give pardon to all the rebels you possibly
can." What was Mr. Asquith to do? His whole object
was to pacify Ireland, and that could be done only by
finding a course to which both parties would, however
reluctantly, agree. The course ultimately approved was
(1) to punish a small number of the rebels, who had per-
sonally been most deeply engaged in the bloodshed, and
so maintain the rule of the law. Sixteen men were thus
put to death. (2) To satisfy the national demand of
four fifths of Ireland by putting Home Rule into force
at once. All "loyalist" or Protestant Ireland had been
roused to fury by the Dublin insurrection, and it was
almost impossible to win their consent to this grant of
Home Rule. It was hard also k> persuade the Nation-
alists to make any concessions. However, Mr. Lloyd
George was set to the work of persuading both parties
m Ireland to agree to some settlement. If the rebels
had not been punished Ulster would not have listened
to him.

At last Lloyd George induced the Ulstermen to agree
to Home Rule for the rest of Ireland on condition that
Ulster should not be forced into the scheme without her
consent, and the Nationalists to agree to the exclusion
of Ulster provided the whole arrangement should be
reconsidered by an imperial conference after the war.
This was the basis of a compromise which had then to
be laid before the Cabinet, and which unfortunately came
out of the Cabinet in a slightly different form from that


with which it went in. A fierce dispute is now raging
about the changes in the scheme; but they seem to me
to be only points of detail and easily capable of arrange-
ment by sensible men. The main point that remains is
the question of Casement's fate.

He was tried for high treason in London in June. He
had a fair and even a generous trial. His advocate, Mr.
Sullivan, was allowed unusual latitude. A special ar-
rangement was made to allow a distinguished American
lawyer to come and take part in the defence. But of
course there was no real defence possible. If ever there
was a clear case of high treason, it was this, nor can one
discover any extenuating circumstances except possibly
the prisoner's previous services to the country he had
now betrayed. If you take the ground of open hostility
to England, and argue that any act of rebellion by an
Irishman is meritorious in itself, you can excuse Case-
ment. But that is not a ground that any English tribunal,
or any impartial tribunal, can be expected to take. On
grounds of justice there is no doubt whatever of Case-
ment's guilt, and no reason why he should not be put to
death, like any other traitor.

It is entirely a question of policy; entirely a question
of what will be the effect on Ireland. The Conservatives
argue — with much justice — that the law has too long
been despised and disobeyed in Ireland. The Govern-
ment must assert the law, and show they are not afraid.
Above all, they must not pardon the most guilty of all
the rebels after executing many of his dupes, just be-
cause he is a man of some wealth and position with a
title and a gallant past. The Liberals tend to retort that
an execution goes badly with an attempt at pacifica-
tion. Too much blood has already been shed in Ireland,


especially by the rebels themselves. An act of mercy
does little harm in any case, and Casement is less danger-
ous living and pardoned than dead and transformed into
a martyr.

For my part, I leave the question to Mr. Asquith.
Mr. Asquith has no vindictiveness in him and is never
swayed by passion. I know he will think of nothing but
the granting of Home Rule, the pacification of Ire-
land, and the reconciliation of the two warring parties.
Compared with those aims I care very little whether
Casement lives or dies; and, to do him justice, amid all
his treachery, I believe that he himself cares as little.

II. The Execution of Casement

(August 3, 1916)

I wrote the foregoing words in New York in July,
while Casement's fate was still in the balance. About
a week later he was hanged. The royal prerogative of
pardon was not exercised. For my own part, not having
attended the Cabinet council at which the final decision
was reached, I cannot tell how I should have voted had
I been there and heard the arguments; but I freely admit
that I should have gone to the discussion with the inten-
tion of voting for a pardon.

On what ground? It is somewhat hard to say. Cer-
tainly not on any ground of justice. There never was a
clearer case nor a fairer trial. Nor yet from that fine, if
somewhat unreasoning, sense of decency and chivalry
which makes the British Government spare the Countess
Markievitch and steadily refuse to execute female spies.
Not from the sort of personal pity which made Lord


Grey intervene on behalf of the American boy who was
caught acting as a German spy in England, and sent him
home to his parents. Not from that admiration for a
stout fighter and a brave enemy which made Captain
Muller of the Emden rather a hero in England, and which
has twice saved De Wet. Not because Casement was an
ignorant man seduced into evil courses, on which ground
the court acquitted his fellow prisoner, Bailey. Neither
could one plead for Casement's pardon on the ground
that he was deranged in mind like that other unhappy
Irishman, Lieutenant Coulthurst, who shot Mr. Sheehy-
Skeffington and two other prisoners because a voice
from Heaven so directed him, and who is now among the
criminal lunatics at Broadmoor. Alienists were sent to
examine Casement, but none could find any insanity in
him. Least of all would I seek to pardon him because
there were press campaigns on his behalf in neutral coun-
tries. I should be sorry to seem in any way discourteous
to my journalist friends on either side of the Atlantic,
but I do think it would be a bad day for justice if legal
sentences were to be reversed in America to please Eng-
lish newspapers, or in England to please American. It
is certainly not the Irishman in me that would have
pressed for his pardon. I regard Casement as one of the
worst and most cruelly reckless enemies that Ireland
has had for the last fifty years, and I believe that most
Nationalists agree with me. As the son of an Irishman
and a lifelong Home Ruler, I boil with indignation when
I think how Casement's crazy treason has deluged Dub-
lin with unforgettable blood and perhaps ruined for-
ever a cause that was almost won.

I should have voted for pardoning him because, with
the part of me that is English and Liberal, I feel still a


sense of ancient hereditary guilt towards Ireland, and
have an instinctive desire to seize every possible oppor-
tunity for magnanimity towards Irish rebels. In general
we British are good governors and even popular, so far
as governors are ever popular. A vast experience has
eventually taught us our lesson. But we went to Ireland
before we, or any other Power, had learned either to
govern or to assimilate dependencies oversea; we made
all the usual mistakes, committed the usual crimes, and
have left a state of permanently inflamed feeling which
it will take many generations of wisdom and sympathy
to live down. And every drop of Irish blood spilt by
English law, however justly, seems to rouse the sleeping
furies of all the Irishmen unjustly slain by England since
the days of Elizabeth and Cromwell.

On this ground I should have voted for pardoning

With these thoughts in my mind I happened to read
an article in the "New York Times" on Sunday, Au-
gust 13, by an Irishman whom I regard with every respect
and sympathy, Mr. John Quinn. Part of it is an impas-
sioned defence and eulogy of an old friend to whom Mr.
Quinn, in spite of a recent breach, remained deeply at-
tached. On all that part of the article I have nothing to
say. Casement's character is to me an enigma. The
evidence — even the pre-war evidence — about it is
violently conflicting; but it is greatly in his favour that
many of his oldest associates, who ought to know him,
feel towards him as generously as Mr. Quinn does. But
other parts of Mr. Quinn's statement seem to me to
illustrate what I said above: a drop of Irish blood spilt
by Englishmen rouses all the furies of the past.

Mr. Quinn's reason is pro-Ally, and I think I may even


say pro-British. The last paragraph of his article is an
eloquent appeal on behalf of the Allied cause. But the
tragic end of Casement has roused in him just that an-

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Online LibraryGilbert MurrayFaith, war, and policy; addresses and essays on the European War → online text (page 10 of 19)