James Bryce Bryce.

The attitude of Great Britain in the present war online

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hot oj " Th4 Holy Roman Empire," " Tit ' tic.

Formerly Ambassador to the United States.


Price One Penny.

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We in Britain who respect and value the
opinion of the free neutral peoples of Europe
and America cannot hut desire that those
peoples should be duly informed of the way in
which \w regard the circumstances and possible
results of the present conflict. I have written
wh;it follows in compliance with a request from
the Editor of a Leading journal in one of those
free countries, Switzerland, bul what lias heen
set down to be read by its people may equally well
be addressed to other neut rals. I speak in these
pages with no more authority than is possessed
by any private citizen of my country who lias
had a loner experience of public affairs, and T
desire only to express what 1 believe to he its

aeral sentiments. other writers would
doubtle tvey those sentiments in somewhal

different language, bul I think they would do
i to much the Bame general effect, for the
British Nation is at this crisis nnited in its
views and purp to an extent almost unpre
oedented in our histor

f li.ill nol enter into the circumstances which
brought about the w&t for these have been often


stated officially and can be readily understood
from documents already published. The evi-
dence contained in those documents appears to
me to be quite convincing to any impartial mind.
All that need be said here is that the British
nation did most assuredly neither desire nor
contemplate war. There was no hostility to
Germany except among a very few persons who
thought she was already planning to attack us.
The notion which has been assiduously propa-
gated by the German Government, that England
desired to bring about war because she feared
the commercial competition of Germany and
hoped to destroy German productive industry and
mercantile prosperity, is absolutely untrue and
without the slightest foundation. It is indeed
an absurd suggestion, for every man of sense
knew that German trade had brought more
advantage to our trading classes than any
damage German competition had been doing
to them. England had far more to lose
than to gain by war. Germany was her best
foreign customer, taking more goods from ner
than did any other foreign country. It was
evident that a war would involve England in
pecuniary losses which must far exceed, and
have already far exceeded, any pecuniary gain
her traders could possibly have made by the
crippling of German trade for many a year to
come. One of the reasons why many English-


men thought that there was no likelihood of a
war between the two countries was because they
believed that both countries knew what frightful
losses to each the war would bring. Moreover,
the fact that England had not prepared herself
for a land war shows how little she expected it.

e had an army very small in comparison with
those of the Continental powers, and no store
of guns or shell comparable to theirs; so, when
the war broke out, she found herself suddenly
obliged to raise a large force by voluntary en-
listment at short notice. Few supposed that
the response of the people would have been so
general and so hearty. The response came
because the nation was united as it had never
been united before in support of any war. That
which united it was the invasion of Belgium;
and that which has done most to keep it united
and to stimulate it to exertions hitherto un-
dreamt of has been popular indignation at the
methods by which the German Government ha-'
conduct I'd hostilities by land and by sea.

The German Government has alleged that the

Britisl ! leet had hern mobilised with a viev
to war-. Thai is absolutely untrue. What hap
pened was this. The Fleet had been going
through it usual summer manoeuvres. Aus\ as
i hese i m .- 1 r i m • 1 1 \ res v ere coming i<> an end, a
threateni] c cloud unexpectedly arose out of

a blur Mo I natural!;, , the ships which


would in the usual course have been dispersed
to their accustomed peace stations were com-
manded not to disperse until further orders were
received. There was in this no evidence of any
purpose to embark in war, for to keep the Fleet
together was in the circumstances the obvious

Now let me try to state what are the prin-
ciples which animate the British people, making
them believe thev have a righteous cause, and
inducing them, because they so believe, to prose-
cute the war with their utmost energy.

There is a familiar expression which we use
in England to sum up the position and aims of
a nation. It is '' What does the nation ' stand
for ' ? ' What are the principles and the
interests which prescribe its course? What are
the ends, over and above its own welfare, which
it seeks to promote ? What is the nature of the
mission with which it feels itself charged?
What are the ideals which it would like to see
prevailing throughout the world ?

There are five of these principles or aims or
ideals which I will here set forth, because they
stand out conspicuously in the present crisis,
though they are all more or less parts of the
settled policy of Britain.

I. The first of these five is Liberty.

England and Switzerland have been the two
modern countries in which Liberty first took
tangible form in laws and institutions. Holland


followed, ami the three peoples of the Scan-
dinavian North, kindred to us in blood, have
followed likewise.

In England Liberty appeared from early da ys
in a recognition of the right of the citizen to
be protected against arbitrary power and to
bear his share in the work of governing his ow n
community. It is from Great Britain that other
European countries whose political condition
had, from the end of the middle ages down to
the end of the eighteenth century, been un-
favourable to freedom, drew, in that and the fol-
lowing century, their examples of a Government
which could be united and efficient and yet
popular, strong to defend itself against attack,
and yet respectful of the rights of its own mem-
bers. The British Constitution has been the
model whence most of the countries that have
within recent tunes adopted constitutional
Government have drawn their institutions.
Britain has herself during the last eighty
years made her constitution more and more truly
popular. It is now as democratic as that of
any other Kuropean country, and in their deal-
ing- with <»ther countries, the British people
have shows a constant sympathy with freedom.
I hey showed it early in the nineteenth century
to Spanish constitutional reformers and to
Greek insurgents againsl Turkish tyranny.
Thej showed it to Switzerland when they foiled


(in 1847) the attempt of Metternich to interfere
with her independence. They have shown it
markedly within recent years. Britain has
given free Governments to all those of her
Colonies in which there is a population of
European origin capable of using them, and
this has confirmed the attachment to herself
of those Colonies. Only seven years ago,
after a war with the two Dutch Republics of
South Africa which ended by a treaty making
them parts of the British dominions, she
restored self-government to the Transvaal
and the Orange Free State, and they soon
afterwards became members of the new auto-
nomous Confederation called the Union of
South Africa, side by side with the old
British Colonies of the Cape and Natal.
The first Prime Minister of that Union was
General Louis Botha, who had been Com-
mander-in-Chief of the Boer Forces in their war

• with Britain. What has been the result?
When the present war broke out, the German
Government, which had long been planning to
induce the Transvaal and the Orange Free State

to break away from Britain, found to their
astonishment that the vast majority of the
South , African Boers stood heartily by her.
General Botha took command of the Union
armies, and defeated the German forces in
the German Colony of South West Africa with-
out any assistance from British troops.


There had lone been troubles and eontrover-


sies connected with the state of Ireland, for
although she was fully represented in the
British Parliament, the majority of the popu-
lation expressed a desire, which excited much
opposition, to have autonomous institutions
granted to them. It had been found hard to
find an acceptable solution of this question,
eh icily because a considerable element in the
Irish population did not wish for those insti-
tutions. But the question was settled in 1914
by the passing of an Act giving to Ireland
(subject to certain safeguards and provisions
not yet settled in detail) a local Parliament
a satisfaction to national sentiment and to
the desire of a majority for that kind of
autonomy which they had asked for through
their representatives in Parliament. There,
ajain, what has been the result \ Ireland, on
whose disaffection to the United Kingdom the
German Government had been counting, lias
shown herself when the war broke out to
thoroughly 'oval. Protestants and Roman
itholics have Tied with one another in volun-
teering into flic new armies which l!;i\<' been
raised during the las! twelve months. Some of
the nm>~i powerful peeches made iii defence of
tli. come from the leaders of flic I rish

V;t iona Some of i In- lines! deed • of \ alour

bave been done by [rish regiments. These arc


the fruits of Liberty as Britain has understood
it and practised it.

II. Britain stands for the principle of
Nationality. She has always given her sym-
pathy to the efforts of a people restless under a
foreign dominion to deliver themselves from the
stranger and to be ruled by a Government of
their own. The efforts of Greece from 1820
till her liberation from the Turks, the efforts
of Italy to shake off the hated yoke of Austria
and attain national unity under an Italian
King, found their warmest support in England.
English Liberals gave their sympathy to
national movements in Hungary and Poland.
They gave that sympathy also to the German
movement for national unity from 1848 to
1870, for in those days that movement was led
by German Liberals of lofty aims who did not
desire, as the recent rulers of Germany have
desired, to make their national strength a
menace to the peace and security of their neigh-
bours. In India, England has long ceased to
absorb into her dominions the native States, and
has been seeking only to guide the rulers of those
States into the paths of just and humane admin-
istration, while leaving their internal affairs to
their own native Governments. Representa-
tive institutions like those of England herself
cannot be extended to the numerous races that
compose the Indian population, because they are


Hot yet fit for such institutions. A firm and im-
partial hand is indeed mvded to keep the peace
among them. But the British Government in
India regards, and has long r< garded, its power
as a trust to be used for the benefit of the people
and in recent years efforts have been made to
associate the people more and more with the
work of the higher branches of administration
and legislation. Native judges sit beside Euro
pean judges in the highest Courts, while the
vast mas- of local administration is conducted.
by native officials and native judges. No tri-
bute or revenue of any kind is drawn by England
from India <>r from any of those Colonies which
the Heme Government controls. The happy
suite of this policy have been seen in the
steady increase of the < mifidence and goodwill
of the Dative rulers and aristocracy of India to
British Government, so that when the
present war broke out all those rulers at once
offered military aid. Large Indian forces
gladlj came to fight, and foughl most gallantly,
side t he Din ish forces in I ram e
I do no! claim thai these successes attained

British ideas and methods are due to any

innate and peculiar meril of British character.
'I hey may he largely ascribed to the fact that
the insular position and the political and social
conditions of England enabled her earlier than
most other peoples, both to attain constitutional
liberty and t<. learn to love n and trust it. She


has had long experience and has profited by
experience. She has had cause to see how much
better it is to govern by justice and in a fair
and generous spirit than to rely entirely on
brute force. Once in her history, 140 years ago,
she lost the North American Colonies because,
in days when British freedom was less firmly
established than it is now, a narrow-minded and
obstinate King induced his Government to treat
those Colonies with unwise harshness. She has
never forgotten that lesson, and has more and
more come to see that freedom and nationality
are a surer basis for contentment and loyalty
than is the application of force. Compare with
the happy results that have followed the in-
stances I have mentioned of respect for liberty
and national sentiment in the cases of South
Africa and Ireland and India, as well as in the
self-governing Colonies, the results in North
Sleswig, in Posen, in Alsace-Lorraine, of the
opposite policy of force sternly applied by
Prussian statesmen and soldiers.

III. England stands for the maintenance of
treaty obligations and of those rights of the
smaller nations which rest upon such obliga-
tions. The circumstances of the present war,
which saw Belgium suddenly attacked by a
Power that had itself solemnly guaranteed the
neutrality of Belgian territory, summoned Eng-
land to stand up for the defence of those rights


and obligations. Her people feel that the good
faith of treaties is the only foundation on which
peace between nations can rest, and, especially,
is the only guarantee for the security of those
which do not maintain large armies. We recog-
nise the value of the smaller states, knowing
what they have done for the progress of mankind,
grateful for the examples set by many of them
of national heroism and of achievements in
science, literature and art. So far from desir-
ing to see the smaller peoples absorbed into the
larger, as German theorists appear to wish, we
believe that the world would profit if there were
in it a greater number of small peoples, each
developing its own type of character and its
own forms of thought and art.

Both these principles — the observance of
treaties and the rights of the smaller neutral
States — have been raised in the sharpest form

- the unprovoked invasion of Belgium only
two days after the German Minister at Brussels
had lulled the uneasiness of the Belgian < i-overn-
nient by his pacific assurances. Such conduct

b threat to every neutral nation Tl
which befell Belgium might have befallen
. land or I [olland had ( rermany decid

.it it wa her interests to attack either of
them for the curing a pa i for 1

annii agland wa ed to come to

Belgium's support and fulfil the obligation she


had herself contracted to defend the neutrality
of the country unrighteously attacked. It would
be superfluous to say, if the German Govern-
ment had not endeavoured to deceive its own
subjects and other nations by a gross misrepre-
sentation of the facts, that England never had
the least intention of entering Belgium, except
to protect it should its territory be violated.
The conversations which took place between
British officers and Belgian authorities some
time beforehand, referred, as the published text
clearly proves, only to the case of an invasion of
Belgium by Germany, and were intended merely
to provide for that contingency, which was
deemed possible, though we hoped that it never
would arise. The charge made by the German
Government that England had planned with
Belgian Ministers to attack Germany through

Belgium is therefore absolutely baseless. When
the German armies suddenly crossed the Bel-
gian frontier, carrying slaughter and destruc-
tion in their train, an issue of transcendent

importance was raised. Can treaties be violated
with impunity? Is a nation which, trusting to
the protection of international justice and
treaty obligations, has not so armed itself as to
be able to repel invasion, obliged helplessly to
submit to see its territory overrun and its towns
destroyed ? If such violence prevails, what sense
of security can any small nation enjoy ? Will it


rot be the helpless prey of some stronger Power,
whenever that Power finds an interest in pounc-
ing upon it ! What becomes of the whole fabric
of international law and international justice?
This issue was plainly stated by the Chancellor
of the German Empire when he said in the
Reichstag that the entrance of German troops
upon Belgian soil was " contrary tothe rules of
international law," and spoke of 'the wrong
that we art 1 committing.' 3 Belgium was bound
by honour to resist invasion, because she had
solemnly pledged herself to the other Powers to
maintain neutrality. It was the condition of
her creation and her existence. And England,
obliged by honour to succour Belgium, has thus
become the champion of international right and
"i' the security of tin 1 -mailer nations. There is
Qothing she more earnestly desires to obtain as
i result of this war than that the smaller States
should be placed for the future in a position of
ifety, in which the guarantees for their inde-
pendence and peace slmll be stronger than
before, because I he sanction of the law of nat ions
v. ill have breii made more effed ive.

I V. England stands for the regulat ion of the
methods of warfare in i he interests of humanity,
and especially \'<>v the exempt lod of Hon com

batants from the Bufferings and horrors which

war brings. I [ere i another issue raised by the
present crisis, anothei conflict of opposing


principles. In the ancient world, and among
semi-civilised peoples in more recent times, non-
combatant civilians as well as the fighting forces
had to bear those sufferings. The men were
killed, combatants and non-combatants alike;
the women and children, if spared, were reduced
to slavery. That is what the Turkish Govern-
ment — I say " the Government " because some
good Muslims disapprove — have been doing
during the last few months in Asia Minor and
Armenia, on a far larger scale than even the
massacres perpetrated by Abdul Hamid in
1895-6. They are doing it systematically.
They are slaughtering the men, they are en-
slaving some of the women by selling them
in open market or seizing them for the
harem, and driving the rest, with the children,
out into deserts to perish from hunger. In
Trebizond, a few months ago, they seized most
of the Armenian population of the city, of both
sexes, put them into sailing vessels, carried
them out to sea, and drowned them all. They
are deliberately exterminating the whole Chris-
tian population, and avow this to be their policy,
although the Christians had not risen against
them or given any offence. The Turkish
Government is, of course, a thoroughly bar-
barous Government. But in civilised Europe
Christian nations have during the last few cen-
turies softened the conduct of war by agreeing


to respect the lives and property of innocent
non-combatants, and thus, although the scale
of modern wars has been greater, less misery
has been inflicted on inhabitants of invaded
territories. Their sufferings were less in the
18th century than in the 17th, and less in the
19th than in the 18th. In the war of 1870-71
the German troops behaved better in France
than an invading force had usually behaved in
similar circumstances. Now, however, in this,
present war, the German military and naval
commanders have taken a long step back-
wards towards barbarism. Innocent non-
combatants have been slaughtered by thousands
in Belgium and in France, and the only
• use offered (for the facts of the slaughter
are practically admitted) is that German troops
have sometimes been fired at by civilians. Now
it is true that any civili;m who takes up arms
without observing the rules prescribed for
civilian resistance is Liable to] t. The nil
of wiir permit that. But it is contrary to the
ml . as well as to common justice and

humanity, to kill a civilian who has not himself

eight i<> harm an Invading foro The fad

that -nine other civilian belonging t<> the Bame

Mi may have fired on the invaders does not

justify the killing of an innocent person. To

ent inhabitants, call them " host

for I he d behai iour of their tow n.


and shoot them if the invaders are molested by
persons whose actions these so-called ' host-
ages " cannot control, is murder and nothing
else. Yet this is what the German commanders
have done upon a great scale.

German air-war has been conducted with
equal inhumanity. Bombs are being dropped
upon undefended towns and quiet country
villages, in places where there are no troops, no
Avar factories, no stores of ammunition. Hardly
a combatant has suffered, and the women and
children killed have been far more numerous
than the male non-combatants. No military
advantage has been gained by these crimes.
They have not even frightened the people
generally. They have only aroused indignation
at their purposeless cruelty, and this indigna-
tion has in England stimulated recruiting and
strengthened the determination to pursue the
war to the end. The killing of non-combatants
by this sort of warfare has been a blunder as
well as a crime.

The same retrogression towards barbarism is
seen in the German conduct of war at sea. It
had long been the rule and practice of civilised
nations that when a merchant vessel is destroyed
by a ship of war because it is impossible to carry
the merchant vessel into the port of the captor,
the crew and the passengers of the vessel should
be taken off and their lives saved, before the


vessel is sunk. Common humanity prescribes

this, but the German submarines have been sink-
ing unarmed merchant vessels and drowning
their passengers and crews \\ ithout giving them
even the opportunity to surrender. They did
this m the case of the Lusitania, drowning 1,100
Innocent non-combatants, man} of them citizens
of neutral States, and they have since repeatedly
perpetrated the same crime. The same thing
was done quite recently (apparently by Austria)
in the case of the Italian passenger ship
.1 ncona. This is not war, but murder.

These facts raise an issue in which the in-
terests oi* all mankind are involved. The Ger-
man Government claims the right to kill the
innocent because it suits their military interests.
England denies this right, as all countries ought
to deny it. She is contending in this war for
humanity against cruelty, and she appeals to
the conscience of all the neutral peoples to give
her their moral support in this contention.
Peoples that are now neutral may suffer in
mi me just as those innocent persons I have
referred to ar< suffering now. by these acts of
unprecedented barbarity .

\ England stands for .1 Pacific as opposed
to a \I ilitary type of civilisation. Ber regular
army had always been small in proportion to
her population, and very small in comparison
with the armies of great Continental nations.


Although she recognises that there are some
countries in which universal service may-
be necessary, and times at which it may be
necessary in any country, she has preferred
to leave her people free to follow their
civil pursuits, and had raised her army by
voluntary enlistment. Military and naval
officers have never, as in Germany, formed a
class by themselves, have never been a political
power, or exercised political influence. The
Cabinet Ministers placed in charge of these two
services have always been civilian statesmen —
not Generals or Admirals— until the outbreak


Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceThe attitude of Great Britain in the present war → online text (page 1 of 2)