To defend or recover freedom men must be always ready for the appeal to arms. Here is a principle that has been vindicated through all history and needs vindication now. But in our time the question of rightful war has been crossed by the evil of militarism, and in our assertion of the principle, that in the last resort freemen must have recourse to the sword, we find ourselves crossed by the anti-militarist campaign. We must dispose of this confusing element before we can come to the ethics of war. Of the evil of militarism there can be no question, but a careful study of some anti-militaristic literature discloses very different motives for the campaign. I propose to lay some of the motives bare and let the reader judge whether there may not be an insidious plot on foot to make a deal between the big nations to crush the little ones. For this purpose I will consider two books on the question, one by Mr. Norman Angell, “The Great Illusion,” and one by M. Jacques Novikow, “War and Its Alleged Benefits.” In the work of Mr. Angell the reader will find the suggestion of the deal, while in the work of M. Novikow is given a clear and honest statement of the anti-militarist position, with which we can all heartily agree. Those of us who would assert our freedom should understand the right anti-militarist position, because in its exponents we shall find allies at many points. But with Mr. Angell’s book it is otherwise. These points emerge: the basis of morality is self-interest; the Great Powers have nothing to gain by destroying one another, they should agree to police and exploit the territory of the “backward races”; if the statesmen take a different view from the financiers, the financiers can bring pressure to bear on the statesmen by their international organisation; the capitalist has no country. Well, our comment is, the patriot has a country, and when he wakens to the new danger, he may spoil the capitalist dream, and this book of Mr. Angell’s may in a sense other than that the author intended be appropriately named “The Great Illusion.”
The limits of this essay do not admit of detailed examination of the book named. What I propose to do is make characteristic extracts sufficiently full to let the reader form judgment. As we are only concerned for the present with the danger I mention, I take particular notice of Mr. Angell’s book, and I refer the reader for further study to the original. But the charge of taking an accidental line from its context cannot be made here, as the extracts are numerous, the tendency of all alike, and more of the same nature can be found. I divide the extracts into three groups, which I name:
1. The Ethics of the Case.
2. The Power of Money.
3. The Deal.
Where italics are used they are mine.
1. THE ETHICS OF THE CASE.—”The real basis of Social Morality is self-interest.” (“The Great Illusion,” 3rd Ed., p. 66.) “Have we not abundant evidence, indeed, that the passion of patriotism, as divorced from material interest, is being modified by the pressure of material interest?” (p. 167.) “Piracy was magnificent, doubtless, but it was not business.” (Speaking of the old Vikings, p. 245.) “The pacifist propaganda has failed largely because it has not put (and proven) the plea of interest as distinct from the moral plea.” (p. 321.)
2. THE POWER OF MONEY.—”The complexity of modern finance makes New York dependent on London, London upon Paris, Paris upon Berlin, to a greater degree> than has ever yet been the case in history.” (p. 47.)
“It would be a miracle if already at this point the whole influence of British Finance were not thrown against the action of the British Government.” (On the assumed British capture of Hamburg, p. 53).
“The most absolute despots cannot command money.” (p. 226.)
“With reference to capital, it may almost be said that it is organised so naturally internationally that formal organisation is not necessary.” (p. 269.)
3. THE DEAL.—”France has benefited by the conquest of Algeria, England by that of India, because in each case the arms were employed not, properly speaking, for conquest at all, but for police purposes.” (p. 115.)
“While even the wildest Pan-German has never cast his eyes in the direction of Canada, he has cast them, and does cast them, in the direction of Asia Minor…. Germany may need to police Asia Minor.” (pp. 117, 118.)
“It is much more to our interest to have an orderly and organised Asia Minor under German tutelage than to have an unorganised and disorderly one which should be independent.” (p. 120.)
“Sir Harry Johnston, in the ‘Nineteenth Century’ for December, 1910, comes a great deal nearer to touching the real kernel of the problem…. He adds that the best informed Germans used this language to him: ‘You know that we ought to make common cause in our dealings with backward races of the world!'”
The quotations speak for themselves. Note the policing of the “backward races.” The Colonies are not in favour. Mr. Angell writes: “What in the name of common sense is the advantage of conquering them if the only policy is to let them do as they like?” (p. 92.) South Africa occasions bitter reflections: “The present Government of the Transvaal is in the hands of the Boer Party.” (p. 95.) And he warns Germany, that, supposing she wishes to conquer South Africa, “she would learn that the policy that Great Britain has adopted was not adopted by philanthropy, but in the hard school of bitter experience.” (p. 104.) We believe him, and we may have to teach a lesson or two in the same school. It may be noted in passing Mr. Angell gives Ireland the honour of a reference. In reply to a critic of the Morning Post, who wrote thus: “It is the sublime quality of human nature that every great nation has produced citizens ready to sacrifice themselves rather than submit to external force attempting to dictate to them a conception other than their own of what is right.” (p. 254.) Mr. Angell replied: “One is, of course, surprised to see the foregoing in the Morning Post; the concluding phrase would justify the present agitation in India, or in Egypt, or in Ireland against British, rule.” (p. 254.) Comment is needless. The reading and re-reading of this book forces the conclusion as to its sinister design. Once that design is exposed its danger recedes. There is one at least of the “backward races” that may not be sufficiently alive to self-interest, but may for all that upset the capitalist table and scatter the deal by what Ruskin described in another context as “the inconvenience of the reappearance of a soul.”
We must not fail to distinguish the worth of the best type of anti-militarist and to value the truth of his statement. It is curious to find Mr. Angell writing an introduction to M. Novikow’s book, for M. Novikow’s position is, in our point of view, quite different. He does not draw the fine distinction of policing the “backward races.” Rather, he defends the Bengalis. Suppose their rights had never been violated, he says: “They would have held their heads higher; they would have been proud and dignified, and perhaps might have taken for their motto, Dieu et mon droit.” (“War and Its Alleged Benefits,” p. 12.) He can be ironical and he can be warm. Later, he writes; “The French (and all other people) should vindicate their rights with their last drop of blood; so what I write does not refer to those who defend their rights, but to those who violate the rights of others.” (Note p. 70.) He does not put by the moral plea, but says: “Political servitude develops the greatest defects in the subjugated peoples.” (p. 79.) And he pays his tribute to those who die for a noble cause: “My warmest sympathy goes out to those noble victims who preferred death to disgrace.” (p. 82.) This is the true attitude and one to admire; and any writer worthy of esteem who writes for peace never fails to take the same stand. Emerson, in his essay on “War,” makes a fine appeal for peace, but he writes: “If peace is sought to be defended or preserved for the safety of the luxurious or the timid, it is a sham and the peace will be base. War is better, and the peace will be broken.” And elsewhere on “Politics,” he writes: “A nation of men unanimously bent on freedom or conquest can easily confound the arithmetic of the statists and achieve extravagant actions out of all proportions to their means.” Yes, and by our unanimity for freedom we mean to prove it true.