05 JANUARY 1901
The British ‘Stop-the-War Committee’—an amiable body, which has sense enough to see that if the war be not stopped quickly the poor old Empire is doomed—has favoured me with a printed copy of a letter written by ‘An Officer in the Field.’ This is the second letter written by this candid and clever, but otherwise truly British officer. His first, published under the title of ‘Hell Let Loose,’ aroused the indignation of the warlike Britons who don’t do their fighting in the field. The second should placate them. My officer is firmly convinced that, ‘apart from any sentiments of humanity, the policy which is being pursued is so certain to bring difficulty, and perhaps in the end, ruin on the Empire that exposure has become a lesser evil than concealment.’ Hear ye, O Britons! No maudlin, puking sentimentalism, anent arson, rape, and murder is the impelling motive of you ‘Officer in the Field’s’ appeal to you, but concern for your Empire, his Empire, Mr. T. W. Rolleston’s Empire, Shylock and Satan’s Empire. Therefore, hearken to him respectfully when he tells you how in the early days of the war ‘there was no end to the humanitarian views expressed by officers of all ranks and also by the statesmen and Press of England.’ How humanitarian you were in those days, my dear Britons. You would not then have applied the torch to the widow’s roof nor emptied the baby-orphan from its cradle. And your hearts continued comparatively soft, until you got up on top of the Rand and hymned your gratitude to your high-god, Moloch, for preserving to you intact the red-gold mines. In those days ‘it was against the law of nations to destroy private property.’ But when your ‘private property’ on the White Waters’ Ridge, and the private property of other people which had become confusingly mixed up with your, was smiled down upon by the Flag—the Old Flag—the Flag that Braved a Thousand Years the Battle and the Breeze—it was only natural you should kindle a bonfire to celebrate your triumph, and that Lord Roberts—Bobs, humane, gallant Bobs—should furnish you ‘with orders to search every farm-house, and to burn any of those near which arms were found … the hiding of arms does not constitute a breach of the laws of war … but it was sufficient that arms were discovered … firewood was at once collected; the wife and little children, rid-ridden old men and women were ordered out without a moment’s respite, and the homestead burned before their eyes. It was mid-winter and the nights were indescribably cold; heavy frost lay on the ground, and in these thinly-peopled districts there were often no neighbours to give them shelter … farm-burning has become the daily business of the soldiers … pretexts are no longer required … General X. has recently burned the dwellinghouses in a whole tract of country twenty miles in extent, north-east of Pretoria for no reason whatever except that the men are said to be fighting against him. But house-burning is only part of the organised system of destruction. Since their husbands has been away the women have laboured on the farms. Sometimes with the help of Kaffirs—often with their own hands, they have raised crops, which are now ripe and ready for the sickle. General X. turned an army of blacks into the fields, and reaped where the women had laboured and sown; moreover, where he could not reap he turned cattle and horses into the cornfields till they were trampled and useless. Now he exultantly rejoices that no human being can live in the desert he has created … the policy of house-burning is generally approved; and when not approved it is always excused … For a long time I could not believe that Lord Roberts had personal cognisance of these atrocities … there can be no longer any doubt that he is well aware of what is going on, and his later proclamations, though they have been worded so as not to startle too much the conscience of Europe, all tend to the encouragement of these excesses. In fact they have formally authorised many of them.’ But is not Bobs, ‘our Bobs,’ and are not the pious Protestants and the aristocratic Catholics of Waterford going to restore the old French church—whatever it may be—in honour of the hero? Perhaps it might be better to fire the houses of the Waterford farmers on his arrival. He would understand and appreciate the delicate tribute to his prowess, courage, humanity and magnanimity. Or better still, supposing the pious admirers of arson and murder in Waterford fired their own houses, with the Protestant Bishop leading the way. Now if on the day of our gallant Bobs’ return Christ came to Waterford, it would be awkward for the pious people.
Our ‘Officer in the Field’ supplies us with the ‘secret instructions’ issued by the good Bobs in September last. I trust Frank and Hun will make a note of them:—
‘1. All stock, supplies, etc., of those on commando are to be taken and no receipts given.
2. In cases where several member of a family live on the same farm, and one of these, after laying down his arms, again goes on commando, all stock and supplies will be taken and no receipts given.’
Also—it may be useful hereafter—that England’s Bobs loosed on the women and children of the men who have kicked him back to England the vile Peruvians, the scum of Jewry, to seize and steal the food and crops. Out poured those unspeakable scoundrels, with the instruction and permits of this English Tamerlane, to steal, burn and destroy. ‘The crops become the property of her Majesty’s Government, and no purchases of produce will be allowed from the wives of men who are fighting,’ runs Lord Roberts’ order. ‘All available men, waggons, and tack gear within reach of your posts are to be collected from farms, leaving none whatever for farming or other purposes,’ orders Lord Kitchener. Did the readers of THE UNITED IRISHMAN ever see the beautiful picture depicting that paragon of royal virtue, Victoria, presenting the dusky but enquiring heathen with the secret of England’s greatness, the Bible? If not, let them send twelve stamps for a copy to Mr. Standish O’Grady.
‘The women,’ says our Officer, ‘in the absence of their husbands, whom they have not seen for months, and numbers of whom, indeed, are among the unrecorded dead, have toiled unremittingly in the fields; and, under the promised protection of her Majesty’s Government and Lord Roberts, have raised these crops to feed their children. The troops have stood by while the work progressed, and while the corn grew and ripened; and now, when all is ready for the harvest, Lord Roberts’ commissioners are busy robbing the helpless people of all they possess.’
Our Officer need not feel apprehensive of the effect on the little British army that goes a long way when the Boers are after it. The records of that illustrious army are lit up by the glare of burning homesteads in Four Continents and the glare hasn’t affected the morale of even on little British drummer boy. He is just as ready to steal as old Jack Churchill himself ever was. But our Officer tells us more about General X. who is indeed only a typical British General. ‘General X. having rendered these people homeless and destitute, allowed them to retain a week’s provisions, probably that he might be out of the district before their agonies began, and that his civilised ears might not be pestered by their cries and lamentations. When the food was exhausted, the starving people had the boldness and the impertinence to petition for help. This is the reply:—
‘“You were given a week’s supplies, at the end of which time you were informed that you would have to find your own food. Your men are still fighting, and if the women and children want food, they had better get it from the Boers, or make their relations surrender. You will not be given any sort by us.”
‘As they are in a district occupied by our troops, and have no communication with their men, who, when they are alive, are in many cases hundreds of miles off, beyond Lydenburg or Rustenburg, it is not easy to understand how they are either to get supplies or induce them to surrender.’
Reflecting on these things, an Officer in the Fields becomes very grave. ‘Imagine,’ he cries, ‘a French army landing in England and setting fire to Hatfield because Lord Salisbury’s son or grandson was serving in the English army; imagine an inquisition established at every dwelling, and where any man was accused of being absent in the defence of his country, a French officer ordering the women and children to be turned out on a December day, and their homestead burnt before their eyes. Imagine, also, thousands of the women of London and other towns collected in batches, and sent into the English camps, to Wales or Scotland, so as to embarrass the generals and terrify their husbands into surrender by the sight of their sufferings. That is what is being done all over the conquered territories in the name of English civilisation!’
The British training of our Officer in the Field shows out here. The uncomfortable reflection that the Frenchman or the Russian may light his road to London and deal with the tender khaki-loving Englishwomen according to Bobs weighs on his mind. In his own quiet way he has striven to stop the war. He has spoken to some burghers and asked them why they continues to wage ‘so hopeless a struggle.’ But it hasn’t induced them to lay down their arms. If our Officer in the Field would look up THE UNITED IRISHMAN of May, 1899, or thereabouts, he would find the explanation. That was five months before the war, and I then explained that if John Bull started to fight Jan Boer he would first have his eyes considerably opened and then closed up. In fact, knowing the Englishman to be what he is—a coward at heart, though a coward who had deceived himself into the belief that he was brave—I ventured to prophesy that he would be soundly whipped. Of course, all the Irish Press—a most intelligent Press—knew that my prophesy was absurd. The thing was quite simple: there were only a quarter of a million Boer men, women and children in this wicked world altogether and there were four hundred millions in the British Empire, with a superb fleet, a magnificent army, and a Flag. The Irish Press was sorry for the Boers. If they only knew as much about what terrible fellows these English were as the Irish Press did, they would have fallen on their knees and begged forgiveness for their insolent defiance of the Empire. Fortunately, the Boers were too ignorant and too uncivilised to read the Irish Press, and their grotesque sense of humour led them to laugh when they read in the English papers of how a British army of thirty thousand death-or-glory boys would sweep them off the face of the globe in six weeks’ time. The same causes are going to make them win the war and end the days of British dominion in Africa. I tender my sympathy to Officer in the Field.
‘If England ever finds herself engaged in a struggle for life and death with a foreign foe, the opportunity will arise for a terrible revenge,’ he writes, ‘and those whom she has now crushed under her heel may yet carry fire and sword from one end of her Colony to their other. Can we expect from them mercy or even humanity? The cries of women and children preclude such a hope. We have placed ourselves beyond the pale of civilisation.’
He is not a Jingo. He is a coolheaded man, who foresees disaster for the Empire, and would wish to avert it. He turns on the humanitarian tap, but while he denounces the army, which he helps to lead, he remains in it. Though they be assassins, ravishers, plunderers, and incendiaries, he cannot save himself by his plea of non-approval. Honour does not bind him. A soldier is a man-slayer, not a woman-destroyer, nor a house-burner. While the ‘Officer in the Field’ writes humanity he practises savagery. ’Twas ever thus with the Briton. Gladstone, out of power, denounced the annexation of the Transvaal. Gladstone, in power, sought to maintain that annexation by force. Gladstone, out of power, described the Soudanese as people rightly struggling to be free. Gladstone, in power, cut their throats. The ‘Stop-the-War’ people, I notice, are all English Liberals. They are out of office.