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

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cient, and, if I may say so, unreasoning, bitterness to-
wards England which otherwise had fallen asleep.

What are the reasons he urges to show that Casement
should have been spared? I do not wish to speak slight-
ingly of them, but really they form a curious collection.
And as you study them you see that they are none of
them reasons connected with justice or even with that
reasoned mercy which normally influences the Crown in
its prerogative of pardon. They are at worst based on
the hypothesis that any act committed by an Irishman
is pardonable so long as he commits it from hatred of
Bngland; at best they are the sort of arguments that
are, sometimes, in bad cases, submitted to a French jury
in defence of a crime passionne.

Casement did commit high treason against Great
Britain. But then "he regarded the British Govern-
ment as his country's permanent and irreconcilable
enemy." He did not love Germany. "No single action
of mine," he wrote, "has been an act for Germany " ; only
Germany happened to serve his hatred of England!
He acted from pure hatred. Is that any special reason
for not letting the law take its course? Similarly, when
he tried to seduce the Irish captives in Germany from
their allegiance, and was rejected and scorned by the
enormous majority of them, "it is an abominable false-
hood" to say that Casement got the recalcitrant pris-
oners' rations reduced, or, I suppose, got certain in-
dividuals among them shot. Casement was perfectly
innocent ! He merely walked away, protected by a Ger-
man sergeant, and it was the Germans who starved or


shot the disobedient prisoners! Not a very satisfying
defence, I think. And it seems regrettable that two of
these starved Irish prisoners, who were afterwards ex-
changed as incurable, continued to believe this "abom-
inable falsehood," and sent a message to the Prime Min-
ister that they regarded Casement as their murderer.

Again, Mr. Quinn quotes some edifying sentences in
which Casement explains that " loyalty rests on love,"
and that government should be based on love, not on
restraint. Such sentiments are almost common form
nowadays among the worst stirrers-up of fraud and
hatred! There is hardly a Nationalist in Ireland who
will not smile bitterly at this praise of "love" from one
who set himself savagely to prevent the growth, not
only of love, but even of decent peace and good feel-
ing between Irish and English. I wonder if the Irish
prisoners in Germany thought of him as an apostle of

The legality and the fairness of Casement's trial are
admitted — except apparently that even justice is un-
just if it comes from Englishmen — and Casement him-
self did not really deny his treason. Yet Mr. Quinn
repeats some half-hearted suggestions made by the pris-
oner's counsel. He admits that Casement did seduce
prisoners in Germany, with German help, from their
allegiance, and formed them into an Irish brigade which
was inspected and approved by German authorities.
But his intentions, it is pleaded, were quite harmless:
"he never intended them to help Germany"! Mr.
Quinn is a lawyer; does he know many juries who would
accept that statement?

Lastly, "in Casement's insurrection not a drop of
blood was shed." This is really a little brazen. Case-


ment landed from a German submarine on April 20,
intending to stir up a rebellion in the West; the rebellion
broke out in Dublin on the 24th; at the same time the
German fleet made an unsuccessful raid on the east
coast, and attempts were discovered to cut the English
railway lines. 1 And we are asked to believe that all
these events had nothing to do with one another and
that Casement has no responsibility for the three hun-
dred men and women killed and more than a thousand
wounded in Dublin !

No. I would myself have been disposed to pardon
Casement, but I oannot see the ghost of a doubt about
his guilt, nor yet about the fairness of his trial. I cannot
see any extenuating circumstances in the case of Case-
ment, beyond those that can be pleaded for all political
criminals from Guy Fawkes to Booth. My only reason
would be that reluctance ever, if one can possibly help
it, to put any Irishman to death for offences against
England, that anxiety to atone for the harshness of the
past by extreme tenderness in the present, which moves
most liberal Englishmen in their feeling towards Ireland.
I accept Mr. Quinn's parallels from Germany and Aus-
tria. I do not for a moment think that the English Gov-
ernment of Ireland for the last century has been at all
like that of Germany among her Poles or of Austria
among her Slavs. But a century earlier it was so, and I
accept the parallel. I do not in the least blame the Aus-
trian Government for executing the assassins of the
Archduke, provided she gave them a fair trial first, and
only punished those really guilty. The most I should
dream of asking from that Austrian tribunal would be
a certain leniency to the very young or misguided, and

1 I myself was one of a party called out to guard the Great Western.


extreme care in every case where there was a shadow of

"But at least," Mr. Quinn may retort, "you would
have admired or praised the criminals, who were rightly
striving to be free?" Not exactly. I would judge them
far less harshly than ordinary private murderers, just as
I do Casement ; because, however wrongly, they thought
they were working for their country and had suffered
gross oppression. The rest would depend on a multitude
of questions. How far were they disinterested ; how much
were they really oppressed; how brave or cruel, devoted
or treacherous, was their action ; what reasonable chance
was there of its leading to any good result? I will, and
do, weigh all those questions on behalf of Sir Roger Case-
ment. I am sure he was brave and in a sense disinter-
ested; but I do not think he was at all seriously "op-
pressed," 1 I do not think his plot had any reasonable
chance of doing good, and I cannot acquit him of some
cruelty and treachery.

Mr. Quinn foretells that he will be a popular hero in
Ireland, his faults forgotten, his virtues and good looks
idealized. That is very likely, indeed. It would remain
likely if Casement had been the greatest scoundrel in
Christendom, and all that his enemies said of him were
proved true. Mr. Quinn knows enough history to realize
the freakishness of popular fame in these matters. One
cannot acquit or pardon a guilty man because he would
make a good hero for a novel.

1 The act of oppression about which he seems to have felt most
bitterly was the decision that the Atlantic mail steamers should cease
to call at Queenstown. I do not know the merits of this question, nor
whether the initiative came from the steamship companies, or the Gov-
ernment. But it is not the sort of "oppression " that can be wiped out
only by blood.


No. I can find no ground for pardon, except that one
ground which I have mentioned. I even doubt whether,
if the Government had spared Casement on the mere
cynical ground of trying to please Irish opinion, they
would have got the price of their weakness. Our op-
ponents were ready for either event. Since he is hanged,
he is to be a stainless martyr; had he been spared, he
would have been an English spy, who had got up the
rising to give the English a chance of massacring Irish-
men. At the best, he would have been let off because
of his social position and his Protestantism. I heard the
subject discussed myself, and know that these lines were
to be taken.

But what of American opinion? American opinion,
on the whole pro-Ally and not by any means anti-Brit-
ish, would certainly have welcomed Casement's pardon.
Yes, and so should I. But I think that American opin-
ion in these grave matters suffers from one very serious
weakness. To us the war is a reality; to neutrals it is
largely a spectacle. To American onlookers an Irish
rising is a romantic episode; to us, in our long death-
grapple, it is a cruel stab in the back, all the more cruel
because it was provoked by no oppression, only by our
supposed dangers ; because it was stirred up by deliber-
ate hatred after Home Rule was already passed and on
the statute book; because the man who meant to lead it
was one whom we had taken into our political counsels,
trusted and treated with honour.

Our business is a very serious one; we have to do the
right thing, the wise thing, not the thing that will be
most applauded in the gallery. American opinion is gen-
erous, generally disinterested, rather romantic. Its gal-
lery is well situated, but rather distant from the real


stage. It likes fine gestures and brilliant stunts. It likes
to see the little chap hit the big one, and tends to boo
the big one if he hits back. It only makes matters worse
if the big chap had beforehand the name of being a gen-
erous sort of fellow ; the gallery will boo him whenever he
does not fully live up to his name. His enemies, fortu-
nately for them, have no reputation left. They need not
live up to anything.

After all, the big chap has got to use his full strength
and means to do so. He has big enemies as well as little
ones. And, big as he is, he has no such vast store of super-
fluous muscle. Blame him by all means if he cheats or
bullies; but it is hard to blame him very much because
in a great danger he does not always spare his enemies.

III. The Future of Ireland
(March 18, 1917)

So all is well as regards Ireland? I am content, am
I? with the record of British statesmanship in that is-

No. I consider the state of Ireland utterly disastrous,
a disgrace to British statesmanship, a mockery to our
high professions, and an extreme peril to the Empire.

All that I assert strongly in our defence is that the
Irish Question is not a question between two nations;
it is an internal question. It is not the case that Eng-
land is refusing self-government to Ireland. Almost all
England, converted slowly and by bitter experience to
the old Liberal policy, would give Ireland self-govern-
ment to-morrow and be thankful. The trouble is that
the strongest and most prosperous corner of Ireland still


threatens civil war if Irish self-government is granted,
while all the rest of Ireland is seething with disaffection
because it is not granted.

The situation is not in the least like that between Aus-
tria and Bosnia, Austria and Bohemia, Germany and
Lorraine, Russia and Poland. It is not England coercing
Ireland; it is one part of Ireland, recklessly backed by a
small reactionary party in England, blocking the will of
the rest.

Nearly all the leading English Unionists have pub-
licly admitted their conversion. Mr. Bonar Law him-
self, once the leader of the pro-Ulster irreconcilables, is
plaintively begging the Irish to say what sort of Home
Rule they can agree upon. Mr. Garvin, perhaps the
best and most respected of Tory journalists, tells the
Government that it is disgraced if it cannot solve the
Irish Question, and produces a very good Home Rule
scheme of his own. The versatile Lord Northcliffe, whose
journals simply wallowed in bloody insurrection in 1914,
now makes Home Rule speeches at an Irish dinner. They
are all Home Rulers, if only the Irish will agree among
themselves what sort of Home Rule they will be so
obliging as to accept.

I do not wish to excuse the English Tories, much as I
respect many individuals among them. They prevented
the settlement of the Irish Question till disaster oc-
curred, and their change of heart comes a little late. But
our business is with the future, not with the past. Why
is it that an Irish settlement is so difficult?

The fault does not lie with the Irish Members. Mr.
Redmond and his followers have behaved with a broad-
minded patriotism which is rare in political history.


They have sunk their personal feelings, they have sub-
mitted to strange insults and humiliations, they have
imperilled their whole position as leaders of Irish opin-
ion, in order to serve unreservedly the cause of the Allies.
Those of military age, and some who were well be-
yond it, have voluntarily enlisted or taken commissions.
Some have been killed. The speeches of one or two of
these Irish soldier M.P.s, such as Major W. Redmond
and Captain Stephen Gwynne, have wrung the hearts of
every decent Englishman in the House. Meantime the
Irish regiments have fought in the cause of the British
Empire with a desperate valour which ought surely to
have earned a hundred times over the freedom of their
own little nation.

In the opposite scale there is nothing to be set except
a few outbreaks of bitter speech, seldom unjustified,
from Mr. Dillon and others; a certain fractiousness
among the Irish free-lances, like Mr. Ginnell; and now,
at last, after thirty months of continued disappoint-
ment, the formal protest of the whole party against the

"We could trust the Irish party," some Tories may
say, "but we cannot give the Government of Ireland to
the Sinn Fein. And we are told that Redmond has lost
his influence, since the Dublin rebellion."

There is something in this argument. During the last
few years a new party or rather a great new stream of
thought has silently grown to importance in Ireland.
The regular Nationalist Party had begun to suffer from
its own success, as well as from its failure. Its success
made it all-powerful in Ireland, leaving Ulster aside.
Consequently, critics aver, its morale deteriorated. The


jobbers and time-servers who used once to persecute the
Nationalists when they were weak, now joined them and
got offices among them. The saloon-keepers — a ter-
ribly powerful class in Ireland — all rushed into the
National League and were apt to be local chairmen and
committeemen. The great agitators grew elderly and
stiff in the joints, and began to think more about re-
taining their power than of leading their people to the
light. In Ireland, as in all nations where the govern-
ment comes in a foreign guise, there is a very low stand-
ard of honesty in dealing with public money. Public
service is apt to present itself rather in the light of fat
jobs to collar or distribute, and the best way to secure
the jobs was to belong to the National League. It is im-
possible for a stranger to judge how much of this de-
scription is true; it is certainly in the air in Ireland.

Ireland has never been poor in idealists, especially in
those of the unpractical sort. The more impulsive young
men and women, idealist, cranky, rebellious, malcontent,
disappointed, or whatever they were, began to turn away
from the National League and the Parliamentary Party
and what seemed to them the narrow-minded tyranny of
the priests. Their energies found outlet in different chan-
nels. There was a great revival of the Irish language.
There was a great study of Irish antiquities, a revival of
idealized Irish history. Hundreds of young clerks and
shop-assistants after a hard day's work would gather at
night to study these severe subjects and to attune their
minds to the supposed purity and unworldliness of that
Ancient Ireland which formed the antithesis of the
sordid modern world. All that was modern and sordid
they called " English" and associated with the English
connection: prosiness, money-bags, Dublin Castle and


its police, dirty publicans and gombeen-men, fat, cor-
rupt aldermen prating of Nationalism, stupid priests
and the "Freeman's Journal" and snubby elderly
gentlemen and time-servers in general. That was all
English, and the opposite of it was true Irish, the mark
of that Ireland that had once been in the idealized past
and must surely be born again if they only remained
true to themselves. Let their motto be Sinn Fein, " We
Ourselves" and their rule of life be to reject all the com-
promises and temptations and pollutions of the great,
ugly, English-ridden world.

There was much absurdity, of course, in this move-
ment. I have known enthusiasts for the revival of the
ancient Irish language who could not, for the life of
them, manage to learn it. They could just learn to write
their names in it, to look well on posters when they
addressed popular meetings. Others, who really could
speak Irish, used to get into quaint situations by refus-
ing to speak English. I myself was once cursed by a
branch of the Gaelic League. The curse was in Irish, but
the Secretary was obliging enough to enclose a French
translation of it, explaining that he would not demean
himself by using the English dialect. He came to dinner
a few days later and was extremely agreeable. The last
I heard of him, he was fined two pounds for refusing to
answer a policeman in any language but Irish.

There was also, besides the idealism and besides the
absurdity, an element of extreme danger. To reject
compromise is all very well if you are absolutely right;
but it becomes deadly dangerous if you are, like most
other human beings since the creation of the world, a
little wrong in your foundations. It is so easy to think
you are heroically striking down triumphant Evil and


then find that you have only murdered a good-natured
policeman, with several children, while he was lighting
his pipe.

The great mischief wrought by Sinn Fein has been to
destroy the hopes of the constitutional Home Rule
movement. The quarrels which are the bane of Irish
politics began soon to affect it. The Sinn Feiners di-
rected their special hatred towards the Irish Parliamen-
tary Party. It was contemptible to go trafficking with
England about Ireland's liberties. No true Irishman
ought to enter the doors of a British Parliament. Home
Rule would be worthless if they got it. It would still
leave them dependent on England. Complete separa-
tion was the goal, and the method was simply to ignore
England's existence. Let their elected M.P.'s stay in
Ireland and form a separate body; let them all refuse to
pay British taxes or obey British laws, and oppose a
passive resistance to all England's attempts to exert
authority. As for the Nationalist Members, no doubt it
was a pleasant enough job for them, to draw four hun-
dred pounds a year and have a good time in London,
hobnobbing with English Liberals and pretending to
work for a Home Rule that never came and never would
come. The true way to serve Ireland was to die for Ire-
land. Let the Nationalists do that, and Ireland would
follow them!

The taunt was essentially foolish, and all the more
unfair, since at the time thousands of brave Irishmen
were really fighting and dying in the common cause, con-
vinced that in saving France and England they would
save Ireland too. But the state of mind which pro-
duced it was a dangerous one.

When the rising in Dublin came, one of the things


that surprised many observers was the ferocity shown
by various boys and young women. Young women com-
mitted unprovoked murders, lads shot wounded soldiers
in their hospital clothes, boys of fourteen refused to sur-
render and fought to the death. Such is the effect on
crude and unbalanced minds of a gospel of hatred em-
bittered by small irritations and persecutions. It ex-
plains how a small section of the Sinn Fein, educated and
in some ways high-minded men, allowed themselves to be
dragged into a mad and criminal enterprise, which was
certain to recoil heavily against their country. A few
old, embittered Fenians, some gangs of Dublin roughs,
and a number of the malcontents left behind by some
desperate strikes in 1914 account for the rest of the

The rising took a week to put down, and at the end of
it sixteen men were executed. It was not a large num-
ber. There can have been very few cases in history
where so serious an outbreak has been followed by so
few executions. But Ireland is a great sounding-board,
and the sixteen executions have reechoed through the
world. Austria, I believe, has executed over ten thou-
sand Bohemians since the war began.

But no Government sheds blood in Ireland with im-
punity. The sixteen are now martyrs, and the mov-
ing details of their deaths have become household

In considering the Irish Question a man finds himself
continually saying, "It would be all right if only so-and-
so had not happened!" If only Carson had not been
allowed to preach civil war ; or if only there had not been
the Dublin rising; or, even after the rising, if there had


not been the executions; or, even after the executions,
if only there had not been wholesale imprisonments of
suspects till the jails were crowded! And now people
say, since most of the suspects were fairly soon released,
if only there had not been the deportations of Sinn
Feiners without trial ! (Some people add, if only Dublin
Castle and the British War Office were gifted with tact
and sympathy when dealing with individuals whom they
do not like: but the people who expect that, live in

Deportation is a harsh and exasperating form of
governmental precaution. A man is living peacefully
with his wife and family in some Irish town, earning his
living by serving in a shop or by writing for a suspect
newspaper. Suddenly the police ring the bell, produce
an order from a military authority, and tell him he is to
live till further orders in Birmingham or Oxford or some
other place where he is a stranger. No harm is done to
him; he is not even a prisoner. But meantime he loses
his livelihood, his house is left on his hands, he probably
finds it difficult to get any paid work in his new place of
residence, and his family, whether they follow him or
stay behind, are left in a very awkward position.

And yet, what else is an unfortunate Government to
do? I was talking a few days ago to a deporte, an agree-
able and well-read man of much intellectual distinc-
tion, for whom I was trying to get some work. He
was complaining bitterly that no charge had been made
against him; he was an absolutely innocent man. I ven-
tured to ask him: " Suppose a German submarine had
come, laden with arms, to the bay where you lived, and
asked you to distribute them through the district, what
would you have done?"


He hesitated a moment. "The bay is too rocky; they
could not bring a submarine there. . . . Well, if they
had, I don't know what I'd have done. . . . Yes, I'd
have distributed them."

It was candid of him to speak so frankly. But, after
all, can you much blame a Government if, in the midst of
a long and very terrible war, it refuses to allow people
who would help the Germans if they could to live in
places where their help would be effective? For my part
I cannot.

There is no use in reproaches. Everybody can make
them, and everybody has deserved them. There is no
use in recalling the wrongs and just resentments of the
past. Nothing will help in the Irish Question but abso-
lute mutual forgiveness and absolute concentration on
the future.

As an intellectual problem the Irish Question is not
very difficult; nothing like as difficult as the Federation
of South Africa, for instance. The only difficulty lies
in faults of human nature, in self-deception, vindictive-
ness, rooted suspicion, the devotion of the soul to party
hatreds and the fostering of age-long feuds.

The next move must come from Ulster. Ulster has
beaten the rest of Ireland. She has beaten England,
Scotland, and Wales. She can afford to yield a little.
The one strong defence to be made for the inclusion of
Sir Edward Carson in the British Government, against
which he was lately conspiring, is that a Carson Gov-
ernment can do what no other Government can, in the
way of appeasing Ireland. Let the present Government
grant, in any reasonable form, some sort of Home Rule
to Ireland, and the Ulster Covenanters can surely not


feel injured or humiliated. They can smile a grim smile,
and feel that, since they have clearly shown their
Catholic fellow countrymen who was master, they do
not so much mind admitting that they are all Irish-



(August, 1916)

It is dangerous to comment too freely on the psy-
chology of foreign nations. I knew a man who held
the opinion that Americans cared for only three things
in the world: comfort, money, and safety — objects
which notoriously inspire aversion in the normal Briton.
And he explained this view at some length to two young

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Online LibraryGilbert MurrayFaith, war, and policy; addresses and essays on the European War → online text (page 11 of 19)