07 JUNE 1902
Nearly three years ago the British people, filled with the lust of blood and gold, set out to the conquest of two little pastoral communities, numbering less able-bodies men than dwell in any third-rate city of the British Empire. The conquest was to consume in money less than ten millions sterling, in lives less than a thousand of the British mercenaries, in time six weeks. The six weeks have spun out to one hundred and thirty-seven, the lives lost on the British side admittedly total up to nearly 30,000, the money spent amounts to £230,000,000 and the beaten British people have now purchased peace on terms no Great Power would have entertained. Their Press may shriek of victory, they may maffick in their streets with hysterical joy that the cowardly war they provoked for the vilest motives a people can be actuated by, has ended, and left their Empire for a little while longer hanging together. But seek to disguise it how they may, the British are beaten, and the years of their Empire are numbered. Before this war broke out I told my readers that England could never conquer the Boers, though she strove for years, and spilled her blood in streams and her treasure in shiploads. At the time I wrote thus, every paper in Ireland and in England was assuming regretfully or joyfully that the Boers could not stand, at the outside, three months against the power of Britain. That was the limit accorded them by the Freeman’s Journal and the other Irish journals which for a generation had been impressing the Irish people with the idea that the British Empire was an almighty thing, invincible to armed force, vulnerable to rhetoric. When Lord Roberts crossed the Vaal, and in the insolent spirit of a Suwarrow summoned the Boers to surrender unconditionally, hand over their arms, and deliver up their leaders, the Press of this country sighed ‘Finis,’ and the Press of England howled in joy ‘Vae Victis.’ I stood alone again in June, 1900, in asserting in these columns that the Boers would and could fight on—and fight on for years. The prophecies have been fulfilled; but I made then and I make now no claim to inspiration; I prophesied because I knew—knew both the Boer and the Englishman. To-day the same Press is writing about the ‘surrender’ of the Boers, when the beaten British have entered into a signed treaty with the men whom two years ago they declared banditti, and ordered under the penalties attaching to rebellion to deliver up their arms.
It is not with rebels acting in the ‘Orange River Colony,’ or with banditti in the ‘Transvaal Colony,’ the British Empire has made peace. It is with ‘the Government of the Orange Free State,’ and ‘the Government of the South African Republic.’ I quote the words from the official terms of agreement. In consideration of the cessation of warfare and the nominal recognition of King Edward VII. as their overlord—a vital necessity for the Empire’s face-preservation—the British Government undertakes to (1) restore the burghers their arms when they have, in pursuance of the ‘saving-the-face’ process, nominally laid them down; (2) to teach the Dutch language in the schools, and officially recognise it in the law courts; (3) to consent to self-government; (4) to leave the native question to the Boers; (5) to bring back at its expense and restore to their property all prisoners of war; (6) to impose no taxation in connection with the war; (7) to pay £3,000,000 in discharge of the debts incurred by the Boers in conducting the war against the British, and in indemnification of the Boers for losses suffered in their property by the war operations of the English; (8) they undertake to lend the burghers money for two years free of interest; and (9) to pardon the rebellious British subjects in Cape Colony and Natal. These are not the terms of a victorious army—they are the terms of a beaten one. ‘We rely,’ said President Kruger, years ago, ‘not upon the generosity of the English, but upon the man with the gun.’ England has lost irrevocably her prestige and her place amongst the Powers; her army has been shattered, her bubble-reputation burst. £230,000,000 in treasure and £800,000,000 in trade have disappeared from her coffers, her doom is written for all to see, and the man with the gun stands on the blood-soddened veldt on guard until the rising of the sun of the Afrikander Republic.