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

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countries and none can be entirely without friction,
though, of course, our natural object is to reduce friction
to a minimum. I only wish I could make Mr. Bullard
realize the enormous amount of work and ingenuity
which our officials devote to the task of preventing
incidental injustices and appeasing injured suscepti-

The main methods are twofold: (1) We invite those
merchants and corporations in neutral countries who
are importing goods bona fide for their own country's
consumption, and not for reexport to our enemies, to
sign an agreement to that effect. In most countries
there is a large union or trust which has collectively
made such an undertaking, and which endeavours to
prevent breaches of the agreement by its members.
(2) We try to ascertain the bona-fide imports of each
country by taking the average imports of some ten
previous years, and allowing some extra amount —


varying in different cases — to replace such imports
from enemy countries as may have disappeared. If
these averages are greatly exceeded, — and they some-
tin ies have multiplied themselves by ten or twelve, —
we become suspicious, make further searches, and gen-
erally find some enterprising smugglers who have broken
their undertaking to us and are consequently added to a
black list. They are people who prefer to supply the
enemy; and we do not willingly, in war time, allow peo-
ple to supply the enemy, any more than the enemy,
when he can help it, allows them to supply us.

These two methods applied in conjunction are the
best instruments that we have discovered for carrying
out without undue friction our necessary, although
somewhat oppressive, task. The war does impose on
neutrals a considerable amount of hardship; there is
no use denying it. And the enormous opportunities for
money-making which it also affords to a good number
of traders in each country are only a poor excuse for the
general inconvenience. Still, I doubt if much improve-
ment is reasonably possible upon these measures which
u Great Britain in concert with all her Allies M has taken
to prevent trading with the enemy through our lines, so
long as neutral States meet us in a neutral and con-
ciliatory spirit. When they do not, of course there is
trouble. The absolute refusal of the Swedish Govern-
ment to sanction any agreement for the purpose of de-
termining what imports were going to the enemy and
what not, has led to much friction and mutual reprisals.
And similarly in Greece, the perpetual series of frauds
and secret hostilities which have followed the King's
unconstitutional dismissal of Venizelos, his trick upon
us at Salonica, and his breach of treaty with our ally


Serbia, have produced a policy of pressure on the part of
the Allies, which can be justified only as preferable to
actual war. For there is no doubt that from the original
breach of treaty onward the Greek Government has
provided us with abundant casus belli. But these painful
controversies are not the result of our trade policy: they
are incidents of natural friction with Germanizing courts
or governments. But Mr. Bullard is for some strange
reason speechless with horror over the first of our in-
struments. It seems to him a "humiliating surrender of
sovereignty " that the Dutch Government should sanc-
tion the existence of the Overseas Trust, which under-
takes, so far as overseas imports are concerned, to trade
only with one side in the war. I cannot see where
" sovereignty " comes in. It is a purely business arrange-
ment, by which certain firms who want for themselves
goods passing through the hands of one belligerent,
undertake, if they receive the goods, not to hand them
on to the other.

I pass to a real difficulty, where I do not feel at all sure
that our policy was wise, though on the whole the bal-
ance of well-informed opinion seems to approve of it.
I mean the so-called total " blockade' ' of Germany, in-
cluding the shutting-out of foodstuffs. The history of
this policy is as follows : —

On February 4, 1915, the Germans announced that
all the seas round Great Britain were a "war area" in
which they would sink without warning all ships what-
soever. (Neutrals might be spared on occasion, but could
not complain if they were sunk.) This was a proposed
blockade by submarine, which has hitherto proved to be
impracticable. If Germany had commanded the seas


she would, of course, have proclaimed a real blockade
and prevented any ship from reaching Great Britain.

Now, we made no objection to the enemy's wishing
to blockade us. We objected to the submarine blockade
on its own special demerits, because it could not be, or
at any rate was not, carried out with any respect for
humanity. A regular blockade may be compared with
putting a line of policemen across a street to turn back
intruders. The submarine blockade was as though a
man, having no police at his disposal, were to make oc-
casional dashes into the street with a revolver and shoot
passers-by. But this point need not be laboured, since
American opinion was quite in agreement with ours.
The point to consider is the retort that we made.

Up to February we had allowed, not only foodstuffs,
but important articles for munition-making, like cotton,
to proceed freely to Germany. On February 4 Germany
announced that no ship would be allowed to sail to or
from Great Britain, and that all our shipping, including
even fishing-boats, would be sunk at sea by submarines.
We replied on March 11 that, if they chose to put the
war on that footing, we took up the challenge. After a
certain date we would allow no ship to carry goods to or
from Germany, and, as for their murderous submarines,
our fishermen should have arms and fight them. The
submarine war has been at times extremely dangerous
to us, and may be so again ; but, so far as we can at pres-
ent judge, we have won it. By unheard-of efforts of dar-
ing and invention our seafaring men have baffled and
destroyed the submarines, and we have turned the tables
of the blockade completely against the enemy.

Our action, however, has been criticized on several
grounds. (1) On grounds of international law. Here I


must stand aside and leave the lawyers to speak. It is
no part of my case to argue that in all the innumerable
controversies produced by the war England has always
been technically in the right. But it seems pretty clear
that in this matter a condition has arisen which has no
precedent in previous wars and is not covered by any of
the existing rules. If our action is to be described as a
" blockade," there has certainly never been any blockade
like it before, either in vastness of scale or, I think, in
efficiency, or in the leniency with which it is exercised.
Neither has any Government of a belligerent nation be-
fore commandeered all foodstuffs for its own use, as Ger-
many has, and thus brought them under the category of
contraband. Nor again, so far as I know, has there been
a parallel to the curious position in the Baltic, where our
command of the sea suddenly ceases, not from any lack
of strength or vigilance on our part, but because the neu-
tral Powers who own the narrow entrances to the Baltic
have closed them to our warships. We seem here again
to be creating a precedent, but not, I think, a precedent
that is repugnant to the "essence of international law
properly applicable to questions at issue under present-
day conditions." Mr. Asquith seems to have accepted
some such view when he explained that our policy was
to exclude supplies from Germany, and at the same time
refused to use the term " blockade" in order "not to be
entangled in legal subtleties." The gravest objection to
the whole policy is, no doubt, the hardship which it in-
flicts on neutrals. All blockading, all stopping of contra-
band, all interference with shipping, inflicts hardship on
neutrals; and the immense scale of the Allied operations
in this world-war makes the total hardship inflicted very


I sometimes doubt whether the Allies would have
taken this drastic step had they not felt that, on the
main issue of the war, neutral feeling was so overwhelm-
ingly on our side that it would probably accept a good
deal of inconvenience in order to have the war finished
more rapidly and successfully. And I do think that the
general attitude of most neutral nations, and most es-
pecially of America, has shown a high standard of gen-
erosity and of what I may call "world-patriotism."

(2) Secondly, on grounds of humanity. We are said
to be "starving the women and children of Germany."
The answer is, first, that such a blockade is a normal
measure of war in all sieges and was practised, for ex-
ample, by the Germans in the siege of Paris. It has al-
ways been understood that the siege process would be
applied to Great Britain by any enemy who should com-
mand the sea. It was attempted by Napoleon, and it has
been applied already by Germany, though with com-
plete lack of success. We are doing to Germany what
they are trying to do to us. Secondly, while we are a na-
tion vitally dependent on sea-borne imports for our
food, Germany is almost completely self-supporting.
She can live for an indefinite time on her own produce;
and the most that our " blockade" can do is to make life
less comfortable and the supplying of the army vastly
more difficult. No human being in Germany need starve
because of our "blockade."

There is a further development of this argument which
causes many people, myself included, grave searchings
of heart. It is connected with the treatment of conquered
territories, such as Poland, Serbia, and, to a lesser degree,
Belgium. By every canon of law and humanity, as well
as by the express stipulations of the Hague Convention,


a nation which holds conquered territory assumes serious
responsibilities towards the inhabitants. All these the
German Government has repudiated. It appears certain
that the German Government has not only destroyed
during its military operations practically all the food-
supplies of Serbia, and much of the food-supplies of
Poland: it has further, during its occupation of those
territories, carried off into Germany, with or without
pretext, almost all the food that remained in them. It
has produced famine of a ghastly description, and ex-
cused itself by attributing all to the British blockade.

This is bad enough, but worse remains. Appeals were
made 'to us to do for Poland and Serbia what we did for
Belgium : to admit food for the starving natives and, of
course, also contribute to the food-fund ourselves. This
we were willing and anxious to do if we had the same
guarantee as in Belgium, that the Germans would not
take the food, native or imported, for their own use.
They were not to take the imported food themselves;
nor were they to sweep the country bare of all the na-
tive-grown crops and cattle, and leave us to support
entirely the whole population of their conquered prov-
inces. To the surprise of most people concerned, they
refused to give this guarantee. By starving these terri-
tories, it appeared, they gained two advantages. First,
they forced large numbers of Poles, and perhaps a few
Serbs, to seek work in Germany and set free so many
Germans for the fighting line. Secondly, they could use
the famine to stir up hatred against the British. Mr.
Bullard assures us that even in America the starvation
of Poland is generally attributed to our blockade, and if
writers of his tone have much influence I have no doubt
that what he says is true. As for the unfortunate Poles


themselves in their misery and isolation, who can tell
what they believe?

This is a hideous state of things, and if our blockade
is at all an effective element in causing it, I would be in
favour of dropping the blockade forthwith. But it does
not seem to be so. If Germany did not wish to starve
these people she need not do it. We are willing, both to
admit food and to send food, so long as she will promise
not to steal it. If it be argued that Germany cannot be
expected to look on at a crowd of conquered Poles and
Serbs enjoying themselves while good sound Germans
are short of pork and butter and bread, the answer is
that, even at the best, we should hardly be able to bring
the food-supply of two utterly ravaged and devitalized
countries, like Poland and Serbia, to a level approaching
that of Germany. Germany is living on her own re-
sources and those of her allies, true; but the territories
in question are both vast and fertile, and scarcely the
extreme fringe of them has been touched by the war.
On the whole, it does not look as if Poland or Serbia
would appreciably benefit by our admission of food to

The extension of the doctrine of " continuous voyage,"
and the prevention of all sea-borne trade to or from Ger-
many : those are the two main problems. The remainder
are smaller things, although in many ways interestiog
and important. In all of them, I think, the central fact
is that we have extended some existing doctrine of inter-
national law to meet the special situations produced by
this war. I do not say that in all cases we have decided
rightly. Sir Edward Grey has definitely offered to sub-
mit to a convention after the war the whole question of


what is called "The Freedom of the Seas," and such a
convention will probably settle some of these points in
our favour and some against us. At present there is no
convention either existing or possible. There is no fixed
code of the sea and never has been. We have to use our
own tribunals, which administer international law to the
best of their ability according to precedent. They have
on certain occasions decided that our Government has
done wrong and can be compelled to pay damages; they
have decided that certain Orders in Council were against
international law and have disallowed them. They have,
I may note in passing, declined to admit the plea of the
Crown that it was following an American precedent
which was afterwards embodied in an act of the United
States Congress, on the ground that the said precedent
and act were too oppressive. The United States claimed
that the Government could requisition any goods or
ships which had been captured by their fleet, without
previous trial. 1 When the convention comes to sit on
these questions which we have tried to settle, they will
probably, as I said before, decide some for and some
against us; but I am confident that they will not find
that our courts have acted with either levity or rapacity.
I mention summarily the chief remaining points. We
treat "bunker coal of enemy origin" as contraband; and
Mr. Bullard considers this as absolutely the very worst
thing we have done. He quotes ancient precedents to
show that "things needful for the working of the ship or
comfort of the crew " are not to be treated as contraband.
But the rulings in question all date from before the time
of steam and refer to sailing ships. Coal is admittedly in

1 Judicial Committee of Privy Council, in the Zamora case,
April 7, 1916.


a special position, and international law has not yet
pronounced upon it.

Thus far, then, our "very worst" offence is not so
serious. But perhaps it is our motive that is so infamous?
Our motive is simple. As explained above, we do not
allow traders to carry through our lines goods intended
for the enemy, and we ask all traders for an assurance
that they are not doing so. If they refuse to give this
assurance, and if further we find them buying enemy
coal, we treat them as if they had been buying any other
enemy goods. What does the enemy do to ships from
England or Russia in the Baltic? And do we ever think
of complaining?

We examine neutral mails. This seems a bad case. We
have actually a rule of the Hague Convention against us,
just as all the belligerents have — or have only just
missed having — in the matter of aeroplanes. The Con-
vention maintains the inviolability of all mail-bags, and
used to forbid all dropping of explosives from the air.
Yet I feel some confidence that any future conference
will recognize that both those rules are " unemployable,"
and will justify our action about the mails. The old
precedents do not apply at all. There has never been in
any previous war anything approaching the present net-
work of commercial and political correspondence across
the Atlantic. Suppose in the Civil War there had been
large settlements of Confederates in Mexico and in
Canada, who were engaged in plots against the United
States? Is it to be believed that President Lincoln
would have refrained from opening the captured mail-
bags passing between Canada and Mexico? A German
in Denmark or Sweden arranges for an Indian in San
Francisco to come to England with a false American


passport in order to murder Sir Edward Grey: is he to
have the right of sending and receiving letters, unhin-
dered under the eyes of the British fleet ? Plots about
contraband are, of course, much commoner. Are we to
be allowed to search ships for nickel and rubber, but for-
bidden to interfere with these plotters' mail-bags? The
rutes and the precedents of other wars are here against
us, but I must say that such a complete change in condi-
tions seems absolutely to demand a change of rules.

" The closing the Suez Canal to neutrals is a measure for
which no military necessity has been shown." Mr. Bullard
does not seem to question its legality, and I have not
tried to find out exactly what the rights of either Egypt
or Great Britain or the Suez Canal shareholders may be.
But as for the military necessity, surely a child can see it.
To block the Canal would be worth some millions of dol-
lars to the enemy. A much smaller sum would suffice to
induce a dozen Greek, or Swedish, or even unprejudiced
Dutch, skippers to play certain tricks which I need not
name, but which might make the Canal unusable for
several weeks.

Mr. Bullard ends with a number of vaguely prejudi-
cial statements, largely in the form of innuendo or paren-
thesis. He seems really unable to understand the condi-
tions produced by war. He says we regard it as "moral
for neutrals to help England but a deadly sin to trade
with Germany.' ' Of course it has nothing to do with sin.
We do not fire at German men-of-war because we think
them immoral, but because they are our enemies. We
do not confiscate cargoes of rubber consigned to Ger-
many because it is essentially immoral for Germans to
use rubber. We only say to every neutral trader, "If
you trade with Germany, we will not trade with you."


Or rather that is the extreme limit of what we say. The
opposite conduct was once considered possible, but seems
to us of the present generation a little dishonourable. It
makes us a little ashamed when we learn that Napoleon's
armies were often clad in cloth from Yorkshire and boots
made in Northampton. The view of the British Gov-
ernment at that time was that it was good business to
make money by supplying the enemy and use the pro-
ceeds for defeating him. It is a possible view, and ap-
parently is the view that appeals to Mr. Bullard. And
doubtless it would enable both ourselves and certain
neutrals to make more money. But — well, we do not
like it, and do not believe that in the end it pays.

And then the article tails off into vague horrors
about the British censorship and the Defence of the
Realm Act and the deplorable profits made by British
shippers, and the " party of Lord North which is installed
at the Foreign Office"!

Everybody knows that in war censorship is neces-
sary; every nation employs it, Great Britain rather more
leniently than the rest. It is a pure myth to suppose that
in England we are kept in the dark about important
sides of the war which are well known to neutrals. I have
been in four different neutral countries since the war
began, and have read their newspapers; so I speak with
confidence. But it is just the sort of myth that Mr. Bul-
lard accepts without question. As to the Defence of the
Realm Act : of course the act gives the Executive tremen-
dous powers and would, if continued in normal times, be
incompatible with civil liberty. But everybody knows
that some such special laws are necessary in war time;
there is no nation in Europe which attempts to do with-


out such laws, and Mr. Bullard makes no attempt to
show that any other nation applies them more leniently
than England does. As to the fortunes made by ship-
pers, why drag in the word "British"? With the Ger-
man merchant ships out of use, with Allied and neutral
ships sunk to the number of some hundreds by sub-
marines and extensively commandeered by the various
Governments for war purposes, there is an extreme
shortage of ships together with an immense demand.
Every tub that will float, of whatever nationality, is
bringing its owner fortune. And we dare not discourage
them, for we want every ship we can get. Mr. Bullard,
dropping for a moment his lofty idealism, complains
simply that the British are getting too large a share of
the swag, an unproved and to me extremely doubtful
statement. Naturally ships belonging to the Allied
Powers are less open to suspicion than neutrals are, and
consequently are less harassed by certain restrictions.
But the British, at any rate, are not only subjected to
enormous war-taxation, but have in addition fifty per
cent of their war-profits confiscated. And Lord North
at the Foreign Office! Really one smiles at Mr. Bul-
lard's innocence. " The visitor thought we were naughty,
papa; but of course he has never seen us when we are
really naughty ! " In every country engaged in war there
is somewhere below the surface a growling mass of pas-
sion, brutality, lawlessness, hatred of foreign nations,
contempt for reason and humanity. In Great Britain,
thank Heaven, the brute is kept cowed and well chained,
though at times his voice is heard in the more violent
newspapers. The brute knows the hands that hold him
down and hates almost all the present Cabinet, but
most of all, perhaps, he hates two men : the great and


moderate Liberal who presides over the Government,
the great and moderate Liberal who guides the Foreign
Office. — And Mr. Bullard, in his innocence, would like
to turn them out!

It is all rather pitiable. Nothing verified, nothing
exact, nothing impartially stated, not much that is even
approximately true. Mr. Bullard seems to mean well ; I
have no doubt that he means well. But his present tone
will not serve the ends of Liberalism. It will only serve
to foster prejudice, to make bad blood, to stir up that
evil old spirit of slander between nations, which every
decent Liberal and certainly every good internationalist
would like to see buried forever.

It is false to say that Great Britain has broken the
Declaration of London, because that Declaration was
never accepted as law. It is false to say that Great Brit-
ain is alone responsible for every unpopular act com-
mitted at sea by the Allied navies; she is acting in con-
cert with nearly all the great maritime Powers of the
world. It is idle to complain that Great Britain adminis-
ters international law by means of her own courts; that
is the only method ever followed by other belligerent na-
tions, the United States included, nor has any better
practical method, so far as I know, been even proposed
to her. And lastly, I believe it is profoundly false to say
that the British courts have acted in heat and passion
or at all fallen below the level of scrupulous care which
is expected from the best judicial bodies in the world.

It is not likely that their decisions are in every case
exactly right. It is to be hoped that after the war, if we
can get some fair security of future peace and establish
some permanent and effective international tribunal, we
may reach a definite code of international law which all


nations can agree to uphold. Whatever meaning there
is in the catch phrase "Freedom of the Seas" will then
come up for serious discussion, and Sir Edward Grey has
officially announced our willingness to take part in such
discussion. In the mean time the great group of Powers

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Online LibraryGilbert MurrayFaith, war, and policy; addresses and essays on the European War → online text (page 15 of 19)