World War I Collection
World War I Pamphlets Collection
The attitude of Great Britain in the present war
Bryce, James Bryce, Viscount, 1838-1922,
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Bryce, James Bryce, Viscount, 1838-1922
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Macmillan and Co.
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28 p. 21 cm
by James Bryce (Viscount Bryce) ..
World War, 1914-1918 -- Great Britain
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D517 .B75 1916
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THE ATTITUDE OF GREAT BRITAIN IN THE PRESENT WAR JAMES BRYCE (VISCOUNT BRYCE) Author o] " The Holy Roman Empire" " The American Commonwealth" etc. Formerly Ambassador to the United States. MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON 1916 Price One Penny. THE ATTITUDE OF GREAT BRITAIN IN THE PRESENT WAR. We in Britain who respect and value the opinion of the free neutral peoples of Europe and America cannot but desire that those peoples should be duly informed of the way in which we regard the circumstances and possible results of the present conflict. I have written what follows in compliance with a request from the Editor of a leading journal in one of those free countries, Switzerland, but what has been set down to be read by its people may equally well be addressed to other neutrals. I speak in these pages with no more authority than is possessed by any private citizen of my country who has had a long experience of public affairs, and I desire only to express what I believe to be its general sentiments. Other writers" would doubtless convey those sentiments in somewhat different language, but I think they would do so to much the same general effect, for the British Nation is at this crisis united in its views and purposes to an extent almost unpre- cedented in our history. I shall not enter into the circumstances which brought about the war, for these have been often 2 THE ATTITUDE OF GREAT BRITAIN 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 Jier 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- IN THE PRESENT WAR. 3 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. She 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 has conducted hostilities by land and by sea. The German Government has alleged that the British Fleet had been mobilised with a view to war. That is absolutely untrue. What hap- pened was this. The Fleet had been going through its usual summer manoeuvres. Just as these manoeuvres were coming to an end, a threatening war cloud unexpectedly arose out of a blue sky. Most naturally, the ships which 4 THE ATTITUDE OF GREAT BRITAIN 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 course. Now let me try to state what are the prin- ciples which animate the British people, making them believe they 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 IN THE PRESENT WAR. 5 followed, and the three peoples of the Scan- dinavian North, kindred to us in blood, have followed likewise. In England Liberty appeared from early days 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 own 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 times 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 European country, and in their deal- ings with other countries, the British people have shown a constant sympathy with freedom. They showed it early in the nineteenth century to Spanish constitutional reformers and to Greek insurgents against Turkish tyranny. They showed it to Switzerland when they foiled 6 THE ATTITUDE OF GREAT BRITAIN (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 yeaTfc ago, after a war with the two Dutch Eepublics 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. IN THE PRESENT WAR. 7 \ There had long been troubles and controver- 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, chiefly 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 as 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, again, what has been the result? Ireland, on whose disaffection to the United Kingdom the German Grovernment had been counting, has shown herself when the war broke out to be thoroughly loyal. Protestants and Eoman Catholics have vied with one another in volun- teering into the new armies which have been raised during the last twelve months. Some of the most powerful speeches made in defence of the war have come from the leaders of the Irish Nationalists. Some of the finest deeds of valour have been done by Irish regiments. These are 8 THE ATTITUDE OF GREAT BRITAIN 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. Eepresenta- tive institutions like those of England herself cannot be extended to the numerous races that compose the Indian population, because they are IN THE PRESENT WAR. 9 not yet fit for such institutions. A firm and im- partial hand is indeed needed to keep the peace among them. But the British Government in India regards, and has long regarded, 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 mass 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 or from any of those Colonies which the Home Government controls. The happy results of this policy have bfeen seen in the steady increase of the confidence and goodwill of the native rulers and aristocracy of India to the British Government, so that when the present war broke out all those rulers at once offered military aid. Large Indian forces gladly came to fight, and fought most gallantly, beside the British forces in France. I do not claim that these successes attained by British ideas and methods are c^ue to any innate and peculiar merits of British character. They may be 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 to learn to love it and trust it. She 10 THE ATTITUDE OF GREAT BRITAIN 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 IN THE PRESENT WAR. 11 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 principlesthe observance of treaties and the rights of the smaller neutral Stateshave been raised in the sharpest form by the unprovoked invasion of Belgium only two days after the German Minister at Brussels had lulled the uneasiness of the Belgian Govern- ment by his pacific assurances. Such conduct was a threat to every neutral nation. That which befell Belgium might have befallen Switzerland or Holland had Germany decided that it was to her interests to attapk either of them for the sake of securing a passage for her armies. England was obliged to come to Belgium's support and fulfil the obligation she 12 THE ATTITUDE OF GREAT BRITAIN 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 w&s 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 IN THE PRESENT WAR. 13 not be the helpless prey of some stronger Power, whenever that Power finds an interest in pounc- ing upon it ? Wliat 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 are committing.5' 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 of the security of the smaller nations. There is nothing she more earnestly desires to oBtain as a result of this war than that the smaller States should be placed for the future in a position of safety, in which the guarantees for their inde- pendence and peace shall be stronger than before, because the sanction of the law of nations will have been made more effective. IV. England stands for the regulation of the methods of warfare in the interests of humanity, and especially for the exemption of non-com- batants from the sufferings and horrors which war brings. Here is another issue raised by the present crisis, another conflict of opposing 14 THE ATTITUDE OF GBBAT BRITAIN 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 weire killed, combatants and non-combatants alike; the women and children, if spared, were reduced to slavery. That is what the Turkish Govertt- mentI say " the Government" because some good Muslims disapprovehave been doing f 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 IN THE PRESENT WAR. 15 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 * excuse 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 civilian who takes up arms without observing the rules- prescribed for civilian resistance is liable to be shot.