Gilbert Murray.

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

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definite lines of policy, without any reference to public
opinion or Parliament, the European situation would


have been clarified and Germany saved from the blunder
of trading too far upon our notorious indecision and
pacifism. I do not share this view; but I incline to think
that it is at least as plausible as Mr. Ponsonby's.

In the main, therefore, while believing that all Mr.
Ponsonby's recommendations deserve sympathetic con-
sideration, and some of them are almost beyond ques-
tion right, I am not convinced that they would lead to
any appreciable increase in the control exercised by the
nation at large over foreign politics, much less that, if
they had been put in practice ten years ago, they would
have had the faintest effect in saving Europe from its
present calamities. I do not wish to say that changes of
procedure are not important things. In many ways they
are. But the lack of effective democratic control over
foreign politics is surely due to larger and deeper causes
than these reforms can touch. The masses of the coun-
try, as Mr. Ponsonby repeatedly tells us, are not inter-
ested in foreign politics and do not want to hear about
them. The lack of interest depends on lack of knowledge,
and the lack of knowledge on lack of opportunity. The
people who are interested in remote places are normally
the few who happen to have travelled there, — a few
officials, a few traders, and a few rich men with the
taste for roaming. Even the countries nearest to us are
seldom visited, and their languages seldom spoken, ex-
cept by the leisured classes of society. It is hard to see
any way out of this; the leisured classes must continue
to have the interest and the knowledge, and therefore
the main control. The working-classes, I fully agree,
have every right to be suspicious and to appoint their
Parliamentary watch-dogs. They have not been in any
way betrayed, but they are quite right to take precau-


tions against being betrayed. I hardly see how they can
do more.

Except, indeed, in one way: the way frankly recom-
mended by Mr. Bertrand Russell in a little brochure pub-
lished by the Labour press. His remedy is deliberately
to make foreign policy a party question, and surround it
with that exciting and inflammatory atmosphere which
can be trusted to make the average voter attend. For
the dullest or most abstruse subject becomes interesting
as soon as our acquaintances begin fighting about it.

Of course, Mr. Russell has a theory which justifies his
gospel of strife — the theory that our recent policy " rep-
resents merely a closing-up of the ranks among the gov-
erning classes against their common enemy, the people"
(p. 70). But not being able to share that view, I confess
that this proposal repels me. If the party fight comes
about because of a real and grave difference of belief,
then by all means let it come. There are cases where
silence and acquiescence might be a greater evil than any
strife of parties. But a deliberate encouragement of
strife for the sake of attracting popular interest seems
to me a deplorable thing even in home matters, and
considerably worse in foreign. The inflammatory atmos-
phere may engender the necessary passion for over-
turning some obvious wrong; but it does not make for
truth or understanding or justice, or the other qualities
that are most needed in diplomacy. If the party in
power is engaged on a policy which the party out of
power considers really iniquitous, of course the latter is
bound to protest and oppose, and to announce that when
it gets into power its own policy will be different. But
the fact of so violent a divergence between parties is in
itself a misfortune. It drives both parties into dangerous


courses, and it clearly weakens the nation as a whole.
For a nation's enmity becomes less formidable, and her
friendship less attractive, when both are liable to be
reversed at the next general election.

As a matter of fact, the continuity of our foreign
policy since the South African War has been due, not to
the special desire of the two parties to be amiable with
one another, — they were singularly free from any such
weakness, — but simply to the facts of the situation.
After a difference which rent the nation in two, and
which was settled on definitely Liberal lines, there arose
a situation in Europe about which most well-informed
persons, whether Conservative or Liberal, took more or
less the same view. This is the fundamental fact which
has ruled our whole policy. No doubt each of the two
parties abandoned something of their special predilec-
tions. The imperialists accepted frankly the principle
that the Empire must not be increased; the Liberals
reluctantly agreed to enormous naval estimates. It is
quite possible, now that the disaster we dreaded has
come upon us, for each to imagine that if he had had his
complete way, things might have been better. Person-
ally I doubt it. And I think that, even if a slight twist
in one direction or the other would have been an ad-
vantage, that lost advantage was more than compen-
sated by the fact that our policy was known to be per-
manent and our word could be trusted by friend and

"Then you are content, are you?" a reader may say
to me. "The policy of our Foreign Office was ideally
right, and the end to which it has led us is quite un-
objectionable?" No; the end has been disaster. It has
been shipwreck. But not every wrecked ship was


wrecked by the fault of its captain. I imagine that since
August, 1914, almost every human being in Great
Britain has tried, with whatever knowledge he pos-
sessed, to think what differences in our policy would
have averted this war at some cost not greater than the
war itself. And, so far as I have been able to read, no
one has found a credible answer. Minor faults have
been pointed out, odd lacks of information or energy or
tact or initiative, such as are to be expected in a service
containing vast numbers of men and spread all over the
world; but no fundamental wrongness, no evil intent or
folly. The fact seems to be that, if, some years ago, an
angel had set himself to the task of saving Europe, he
would not have begun by altering British policy. He
would have begun by something quite else.


(March, 1016)

A few weeks ago I was giving a lecture to a certain
Scandinavian society, and was asked after the lecture to
sign my name in the society's book. As I looked through
the names of the previous lecturers who had signed, I
noticed the signature of Maximilian Harden. I inquired
about his lecture — it was given before the war, in 1913
— and heard that it had been splendid. It had, in the
first place, lasted two hours — a dangerous excellence —
and had dealt with Germany's Place in the Sun. The
lecturer had explained how Germany was the first of
nations in all matters that really count: first in things of
the intellect, in Wissenschaft, science, history, theology;
first socially and politically, inasmuch as her people were
at once the most enlightened and most contented, the
freest and best organized and most devotedly loyal; first
in military power and in material and commercial
progress; most of all first in her influence over the rest
of the world and the magic of her incomparable Kultur.
She needed to expand and was bound to expand, both
in Europe and beyond Europe. This could be achieved
without difficulty; for Europe was already half con-
quered, and England had been very obliging, in the
matter of colonies. So far the first hour and a half; then
came the climax. This expansion would be of little use

1 Address to the Fight for Right League.


if it were obtained by mere peaceful growth. Germany's
power needed a stronger foundation. It must be built on
a pedestal of war and "cemented with blood and iron."
This lecture, if it could be unearthed, would form a
curious comment on Harden's recent utterances in favour
of peace and good- will; but that is not what I wish to
dwell upon. I want merely to take this doctrine as a
sort of text, and carefully to consider its implications. I
do not say for a moment that it is, or ever was, the
doctrine of all Germany; but it is, I think, the doctrine
that has prevailed. It is the doctrine of Bernhardi — a
writer by no means so negligible as some critics have
tried to make out. It is the doctrine of that very remark-
able German Secret Paper which appears as No. 2 in the
French Yellow Book. It is the doctrine of the leading
German intellectuals represented by Rohrbach or by
Naumann. And, what is more significant, it seems to
me to be the doctrine generally held by pro-Germans in
neutral countries. Such pro-Germans seldom discuss the
negotiations of 1914 or the responsibility for the war.
They take the bold line that Germany is the finest nation
in the world, and has a right, by war or otherwise, to
seize the first place. They tacitly accept the doctrine of
Harden's last half-hour, except, of course, that where
Harden expected to achieve his end by one short and
triumphant war, they now with Dr. Rohrbach only ex-
pect to realize their full hopes "in this war, or the next,
or the next, or the next after that! "

Now, what is our answer, speaking — if we can — not
as indignant Britishers, but as thinking men who try to
be impartial — what is our answer to Harden's claim?
If Germany is really so superior to other nations, — and


she can make out, or could before the war, a rather
plausible case, — ought we to check her? Ought we to
strengthen a comparatively backward power, like Rus-
sia, against her?

Surely our reply is quite clear. If Germany is what
she claims to be, she will get her due place by normal
expansion and development. If she is growing in wealth,
in population, in material, intellectual, and spiritual
power, — no one will say she is hampered by undue
modesty or lack of advertisement, — she will inevitably
gain the influence she demands; she was already gaining
it. We do not stand in her way except as legitimate
rivals. We have not balked her colonial expansion; we
agreed with her about the Bagdad Railway. But if, to
make her claim firmer, she insists on war; if she seeks to
build her empire upon innocent blood, then, both as a
rival nation valuing our own rights and as civilized men
in the name of outraged humanity, we meet force with
force. We will show this empire which demands a
foundation of blood and iron, that blood at least is a
slippery foundation.

So much for the first question suggested by my text;
now for a second. How does the existence of this doc-
trine and the fact of its wide acceptance bear upon the
question of Peace? Have we blundered into this war,
through the folly of our Governments, with no funda-
mental quarrel? or are we confronted with a deliberate
policy — a policy backed by an army of ten to twelve
millions, which we cannot tolerate while we exist as a
free nation? It seems to me clear, and ever increasingly
clear, that the governing forces in Germany are fighting
in the spirit of Harden 's speech, to create a world-power


which shall be, in the first place, hostile to ourselves,
and, in the second place, based on principles which we
regard as evil.

The ideal has been most clearly expressed in Nau-
mann's remarkable book "Mitteleuropa," and in the
immense discussion to which that book has given rise.
Some German critics think that Naumann is too mod-
erate in the East, some that he unduly neglects the
colonies. But in general there emerges from the whole
discussion the clear ideal of a united empire reaching
from Antwerp to Bagdad, dominated, organized, perme-
ated, and trained for war by the German General Staff,
and developed economically by German trusts and
cartels. It is the ideal of Rohrbach and the Intellectuals
who write in Deutsche Politik. It is implicit in the old
speeches of the Kaiser and Prince von Bulow. It is im-
plicit equally in the recent speech of the present Chan-
cellor, insisting that "any possible peace" must be based
"on the war situation as every war map shows it to be."

The war situation on land already gives Germany her
empire of Mitteleuropa! Her armies reach now from
Antwerp to Bagdad, from Riga to the frontier of Egypt
— that frontier which Rohrbach describes as "the
throat of the British Empire," to be held always in Ger-
many's grip. The colonies are gone; true. But if Ger-
many is sufficiently strong in Europe, it is a maxim of
German policy that colonies can be recovered.

A critic may say, "But this implies annexation; and
the whole principle of annexation is being vigorously re-
pudiated in Germany." Quite true. It is being repu-
diated; and not only by the Socialists, but by many
bourgeois politicians and professors. There has been a
curious unanimity, these last weeks, in the repudiation


of the annexation policy. What is the explanation of a
phenomenon which seems so strangely, so suspiciously,

Remember Austria before the war! She was willing to
guarantee the territorial integrity of Serbia. She did not
wish to annex territory; no, she wanted a Vassal State.
That is the clue to the problem why Rohrbach and
Harden want no annexation, why even the Chancellor is
willing to consider a policy without annexations. Ger-
many has no need of annexations if she can end this war
as a conqueror, alone and supreme against a world in

The Chancellor has explained that he is content not
to annex Belgium, provided he can have guarantees that
Germany shall have her " due influence in Belgium.' 11 The
same "due influence," I presume, which she now pos-
sesses in Turkey and Bulgaria, neither of which countries
she has annexed. The same "due influence" which she
will inevitably have, if peace is made on the basis of the
present military situation, in Greece, in Rumania, in
Sweden. And who imagines, after that, that Denmark
or Holland can hold out? Peace on the basis of the
present military situation establishes at a blow the
empire of Mitteleuropa, and presents the professional
German war-mongers with another successful war.

Let us here consider another objection. " If Germany
is to gain this position by mere prestige, without any
annexation," it may be suggested, "does she not clearly
deserve it? Are we not wrong to object to it? " I answer,
No, she does not deserve it, and we have the right to
object. She claims that prestige on the ground that she
has won the war; and that, we maintain, is a false ground,


because she has not won the war. We mean to see whether
she can win. An interesting object lesson is now being
worked out before the eyes of the smaller nations, those
semi-civilized Balkan and Asiatic communities who
have had so little experience of honest politics and such
abundant experience of international scoundrelism. They
are waiting to see whether the last word of political
wisdom is to be found in the way in which Germany
treated Belgium, and Austria treated Serbia, and both
Powers treated the unhappy Balkan States at the time
of the last Balkan War. They are waiting to see whether
it is safe and wise to plot evil, to lie, to prepare, to spring
upon your prey; or whether the great mass of decent
human society is in the long run strong enough to
beat down any nation that plays the assassin against its

That is how the knowledge of this policy bears on the
question of Peace. A great Scandinavian shipbuilder the
other day told me that he had one word of advice, and
one only, to give us about the war. " Beat Germany this
time," he said, "for, if you do not, next time she will beat

I will ask you now to face with me a third question,
suggested not so much by Harden's actual speech as by
the tone of my own criticism of it. I think Harden's
programme wicked; I regard the political action and
the whole manner of thought of the German leaders
as both treacherous and cruel; I think and speak of it
with indignation, and so do you. Now, have we any
right to that tone?

I met in France lately an old friend of mine, who told
me in a genial way that all such indignation was hypoc-


risy, pure hypocrisy. "Germany was perfectly right in
all she had done, and if we had been clever enough to
think of it, we would have done the same. ,, And he
challenged me with certain quotations from English and
American writers, which I will put before you in a

Now, we all know that our indignation is not hypo-
critical. Whether warranted or not, it is perfectly sin-
cere. There is no question of that. But I wish, before
answering my friend in detail, to make one frank ad-
mission. Our moral indignation is not hypocritical ; but I
admit that it is a dangerous state of mind. As soon as
we begin to have that kind of feeling towards any na-
tional or personal enemy, a feeling of indignant scorn
for some one else coupled with a conviction of our own
great superiority, it is dangerous : we ought instantly to
collect ourselves and bear in mind, at the least, the possi-
bility that, "but for the grace of God, there go we and
there goes Great Britain."

"If we had been clever enough, we would have done
the same": let us see what, in this respect, Germany
did. She forced on Europe a war that could have been
easily avoided; she broke her treaty in a peculiarly
treacherous way; she trampled on international law; she
practised deliberate " frightf ulness " on the civil popula-
tion in Belgium and northern France; she twisted all the
rules of war towards less chivalry and greater brutal-
ity; she slew unarmed civilians wholesale with her sub-
marines and Zeppelins; and, if we are adding up her list
of crimes, we should not forget the most widespread and
ghastly of all, her deliberate starvation of Poland and her
complicity in the unspeakable horrors of Armenia.

Would we, could we, as a nation, ever have done these


things? No one who knows England will really argue
that we would actually have done them. But let us go
further. Do we habitually harbour principles and use
arguments which would justify our doing such things, if
circumstances tempted us that way! As a nation I am
clear that we do not ; but I must face some of my friend's

As for the general theory : well, our late Field Marshal,
Lord Roberts, was a great and chivalrous soldier, ad-
mired and loved by his fellow countrymen. Yet it seems
that in his "Message to the Nation" he definitely
praises and recommends for our imitation the doctrines
of General Bernhardi, and particularly admires the
German Government for pouring scorn on President
Taft's proposals for arbitration treaties (pp. 8, 9). Well,
I confess I wish Lord Roberts had not written thus. My
defence must be the rather speculative one, that I do
not believe he really accepted the doctrines that he
seemed to preach. At any rate, you will not find any-
where in his long military life that he practised them.

Again, when we speak of " scraps of paper," I find
that a certain English soldier, a member of my own clan,
too, has expressed his opinions about them even more
vigorous^ than Dr. Bethmann-Hollweg. He is speak-
ing of our seizure of the Danish Fleet in 1807. " Nothing
has ever been done by any other nation more utterly in
defiance of the conventionalities of so-called interna-
tional law. We considered it advisable and necessary
and expedient, and we had the power to do it ; therefore
we did it. Are we ashamed of it? No, certainly not.
We are proud of it." The writer is Major Stewart-
Murray in "The Future Peace of the Anglo-Saxons."
The history, of course, is incorrect, the language is


muddled; but the writer's general meaning is clear
enough. And it is certainly not for him to throw stones
at professed treaty-breakers.

My friend's next quotations are from Mr. Homer Lea.
Now, I do not feel myself responsible for Mr. Homer Lea,
because after all he is American, not English. But cer-
tainly, to judge by the quotations, his principles would
warm the hearts of Attila or Admiral von Tirpitz. They
would not, I think, have appealed to General Robert
Lee, and I am certain would have horrified Homer. Even
that most sinister sentence with which the horrors of
Belgium were justified — the maxim that an invading
army should " leave the women and children nothing but
their eyes to weep with" — even that was not the in-
vention of the Teuton. It was welcomed and carried into
practice by them; but its invention belongs to an
American general and it has been quoted with admira-
tion by certain English writers.

Lastly, let us take two statements of what I may call
the mystical creed of militarism. I want you to guess
which of the two is German and which English. "War
gives a biologically just decision, since its decisions arise
from the very nature of things." And, again: "War is
the divinely appointed means by which the environment
may be readjusted till 'ethically fittest' and 'best' be-
come synonymous." Which of those two is German?
Which is the more remote from good sense? which the
more characteristic in its mixture of piety and muddle-
headedness? Well, I don't know what your guesses are
but the first is from Bernhardi, and the second from
Colonel Maude, on "War and the World's Life."

In "Punch" last week there was a cartoon represent-
ing a blundering Teutonic giant with a spiked club, ad-


vancing under the motto, " WeUmacht oder Niedergang ! "
Naturally, when any person is kind enough to give the
rest of the world that choice, we all unanimously say,
"Niedergang, if you please." Yet I find in the book of a
well-known and kindly and learned English writer the
statement that "a choice is now given to England, a
choice between the first place among nations and the last ;
between the leadership of the human race and the loss of
empire and of all but the shadow of independence."

Of course, one sees more or less what he means; but
why exaggerate? Why insist on "leadership of the
human race" ? Why express the policy you advocate in
terms which must necessarily exasperate Russia, France,
the United States, and all the other great nations? Is
that the way to get allies among nations of whom each
one considers itself as good as you? Is it the spirit in
which to conduct decent diplomacy, the spirit in which
to deal fairly and reasonably with the other members
of the great fraternity of Europe?

What, then, is the answer to my friend's challenge? I
confess myself still unshaken by it. We must admit that
these militarists, these enthusiastic spurners of inter-
national law, these eloquent would-be torturers of civil
populations, these rejecters and despisers of arbitra-
tion and peace, do exist among us; they exist among
us, but, thank Heaven and our own common sense, they
do not control our Government. They are not England.
In Germany, they have controlled the Government.
And the world has seen the fruit of their principles when
carried into action, in all its horror and all its helpless

Plato always insisted — you will excuse a Greek


scholar for once referring to Plato — on the great com-
plexity of human character. It is never One; it is always
a mass of warring impulses; and his solution of the prob-
lem presented by that inward war was to maintain the
character as an "aristocracy," in which the best forces
should be uppermost and the lower ones beaten down.
The same rule should apply both to the individual and to
the State. I believe that — in Plato's sense of the word,
which is, of course, quite different from its ordinary
modern meaning — we do possess in Great Britain such
an " aristocracy." Our better natures on the whole rule
our public action; we give our national confidence to our
better men. We have behind us a very great tradition.
In peace we are the most liberal and the most merciful
of all great empires; in war we have Napoleon's famous
testimonial, calling us "the most consistent, the most
implacable, and the most generous of his enemies." It is
for us to keep up that tradition, and I believe that the
men who rule us do keep it up. The main effort of the
nation is high and noble, but in the strain and anxiety

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Online LibraryGilbert MurrayFaith, war, and policy; addresses and essays on the European War → online text (page 9 of 19)