May 13, 1901. House of Commons
Churchill reiterated his Liverpool speech in Oxford on 25 April, and in letters to The Times on 30 April and 2 May. On 13 May, in a crowded House of Commons, he delivered an assault on Brodrick which, as he later wrote, "marked a definitive divergence of thought and sympathy from all those who thronged the benches around me." The speech had been meticulously prepared and learned by heart, as Churchill had sent the text in advance to The Morning Post. It was a dangerous move, as there was no guarantee that he would be called by the Speaker.
—Sir Robert Rhodes James
I find myself differing on this occasion from the right Hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean [Sir Charles Dilke], and although we are on different sides of the House, I regret that I do not differ from him in the right way at all. He is very anxious to increase the cost of the Army.
[Sir Charles Dilke: No.]
I have put the words down. I understand he is anxious to increase the cost of the Army in some respects, and he has delivered a speech which is of very great weight, coming as it does from one who is justly entitled to be considered a military expert. I think that the right hon. Baronet is also a remarkable instance of a very peculiar phenomenon. I have always noticed that whenever a Radical takes to Imperialism he catches it in a very acute form. That, perhaps, explains the vigorous manner in which the right hon. Baronet has defended further military expenditure at this juncture.
I have no doubt the House has been powerfully impressed by the speech delivered on this side by my right hon. friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland. I think we may congratulate ourselves on the return of the Chief Secretary to the theatre of war, in which he had previously earned such a distinguished reputation. We have heard from him a very illuminating and comprehensive speech on the Army question, and I for one have always regarded it as rather unfair that my right hon. friend, who more than any other Minister was responsible for encouraging the nation to embark on this course of military expenditure, should escape into the secluded tranquility of the Irish Office and leave to the Secretary for War the duty of facing the storm that this expenditure has excited and is arousing.
But I cannot follow my right hon. friend on this occasion as I have followed him in the past, and as I hope to follow him in the future. I wish to complain very respectfully, but most urgently, that the Army Estimates involved by the scheme lately explained by the Secretary of State for War are much too high, and ought to be reduced, if not this year, certainly at the conclusion of the South African campaign.
I regard it as a grave mistake in Imperial policy to spend thirty millions a year on the Army. I hold that the continued increase in Army expenditure cannot be viewed by supporters of the Government without the greatest alarm and apprehension, and by Members who represent working class constituencies without extreme dislike. I desire to urge considerations of economy on His Majesty's Government, and as a practical step that the number of soldiers which they propose to keep ready for expeditionary purposes should be substantially reduced.
First of all I exclude altogether from this discussion the cost of the South African War. Once you are so unfortunate as to be drawn into a war, no price is too great to pay for an early and victorious peace. All economy of soldiers or supplies is the worst extravagance in war. I am concerned only with the Estimates for the ordinary service of the year, which are increasing at such a rate that it is impossible to view them without alarm. Does the House realise what British expenditure on armaments amounts to? See how our Army Estimates have grown—seventeen millions in 1894, eighteen in 1897, nineteen in 1899,twenty-four in 1900, and finally in the present year no less than twenty-nine millions eight hundred thousand. Indeed we are moving rapidly, but in what direction? Sir, I see in this accelerating increase the momentum of a falling body and a downward course. I do not wish to reproach the Secretary of State for War for the enormous sEstimates now presented. He is not to blame. The Secretary of State for War does not usually direct, or even powerfully influence, the policy of a Government. He is concerned with his own Department, and it is his business to get all he can for that Department. I must say the right hon. Gentleman appears to have done his work remarkably well. Indeed, if the capacity of a War Minister may be measured in anyway by the amount of money he can obtain from his colleagues for military purposes, the right hon. Gentleman will most certainly go down to history as the greatest War Minister this country has ever had. I think this House ought to take a wider view of our Imperial responsibilities than is perhaps possible from the windows of the War Office.
If I might be allowed to revive a half-forgotten episode—it is half-forgotten because it has passed into that period of twilight which intervenes between the bright glare of newspaper controversy and the calm rays of the lamp of history—I would recall that once on a time a Conservative and Unionist Administration came into power supported by a large majority, nearly as powerful, and much more cohesive, than that which now supports His Majesty's Government, and when the time came round to consider the Estimates the usual struggle took place between the great spending Departments and the Treasury. I say "usual"; at least it used to be so. I do not know whether it is so now.
The Government of the day threw their weight on the side of the great spending Departments, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer [Lord Randolph Churchill, WSC’s father] resigned. The controversy was bitter, the struggle uncertain, but in the end the Government triumphed, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer went down for ever, and with him, as it now seems, there fell also the cause of retrenchment and economy, so that the very memory thereof seems to have perished, and the words themselves have a curiously old-fashioned ring about them.
I suppose that was a lesson which Chancellors of the Exchequer were not likely to forget in a hurry. I should like, if I might be permitted, to read the passage, which appears extremely relevant to the question now before the House. Writing from the Carlton Club on the 22nd of December, 1886, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in resigning his office, wrote to Lord Salisbury, who had pointed out the desperate state of Europeand the possibilities of immediate war, very much in the same way as he has done recently. The Chancellor of the Exchequer replied as follows:
“The great question of public expenditure is not so technical or departmental as might be supposed by a superficial critic. Foreign policy and free expenditure upon armaments act and react upon one another.”
That has been said before in this debate, and it is what the Chief Secretary for Ireland called a hackneyed tag. I think, with as much reason, you might also call the Ten Commandments a hackneyed tag.
“A wise foreign policy [Lord Randolph Churchill continued] will extricate Englandfrom Continental struggles and keep her outside of German, Russian, French, or Austrian disputes. I have for some time observed a tendency in the Government attitude to pursue a different line of action, which I have not been able to modify or check. This tendency is certain to be accentuated if large Estimates are presented to and voted by Parliament. The possession of a very sharp sword offers a temptation which becomes irresistible to demonstrate the efficiency of the weapon in a practical manner. I remember the vulnerable and scattered character of the Empire, the universality of our commerce, the peaceful tendencies of our democratic electorate, the hard times, the pressure of competition, and the high taxation now imposed: and with these facts vividly before me I decline to be a party to encouraging the military and militant circle of the War Office and Admiralty to join in the high and desperate stakes which other nations seem to be forced to risk.”
Wise words, Sir, stand the test of time, and I am very glad the House has allowed me, after an interval of fifteen years, to lift again the tattered flag I found lying on a stricken field. [Other versions of this speech read “…tattered flag of retrenchment and economy.” Our version is from the official biography.]
But what was the amount of the annual Estimates on which this desperate battle was fought? It may be difficult for the House to realise it, though it is within the memory of so many hon. Members. "The Estimates for the year," said the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in resigning, "for the two services amount to no less than £31,000,000, and I cannot consent to that." What are the Estimates we are asked to vote now? We are now asked to vote, quite irrespective of the drain of a costly war still in progress, something more than fifty-nine millions for the ordinary service of the year.
This incident which I have been bringing to the mind of the House did not happen a century ago. It is quite recent history. The Leader of the House was already a famous Minister, the present Chancellor had already been Leader of the House, Lord Salisbury was already Prime Minister, when thirty-one millions was considered by theTreasury a demand which ought to be resisted tooth and nail. What has happened in the meanwhile to explain this astonishing increase? Has the wealth of the country doubled? Has the population of the Empire doubled? Have the armies of Europedoubled? Is the commercial competition of foreign nations so much reduced? Are we become the undisputed master in the markets of the world? Is there no poverty at home? Has the English Channeldried up, and are we no longer an island? Is the revenue so easily raised that we do not know how to spend it? Are the Treasury buildings pulled down, and all our financiers fled? What has happened to explain this extraordinary change? During the few weeks I have been a Member of this House I have heard hon. Members advocate many causes, but no voice is raised in the cause of economy. The Financial Secretary to the War Office, who above all should keep some eye on the purse strings, speaking the other night at some dinner, boasted that he was not animated by any niggardly spirit of economy. Not one voice is raised for reduced expenditure and lightening the public burden, if I may except, in order to be quite correct, the protests raised and the cries for economy from the Irish benches—economy of money, not economy of time—and even through the Irish protests for economy, I am sorry to say, there ran the melancholy dirge, "and how much is Irelandgoing to get out of it?"
How can this tendency to extravagant expenditure be checked? The Opposition can do nothing. Of course, we shall outvote them. The House has no control whatever over Supply. The Treasury can do nothing against the great spending Departments, and in view of the fate that befell the last Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was obdurate, can we wonder that the present distinguished occupant of that office has been compelled to bow before the storm? The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave an extraordinary reason for not objecting to, but supporting, this military expenditure. He said it had been demanded, that it was popular. Expenditure always is popular; the only unpopular part about it is the raising of the money to pay the expenditure. But if that is an extraordinary reason, it is nothing to that put forward by my right hon. friend to-night, who asked pathetically, "What are we to do with our generals?" When they come home from South Africa with no more worlds to conquer they must keep their hands in, and they must be provided with an army, even if it does cost thirty millions a year, to enable them to keep their hands in, and to save them from getting out of practice. I am, I know, a very young man, but I confess I never heard anything like that before. I had always been led to believe that the generals existed for the Army, and not the Army for the generals.
The phrase "happy-go-lucky self indulgence," which was used by my hon. friend, seems to me to come in very appropriately somewhere about here. My right hon. friend is content to arm me with a blunderbuss. Well, a blunderbuss is a traditional weapon with which the British householder defends himself from those who seek to plunder him. Though it is a very antiquated and obsolete weapon, yet at close quarters, at about the range at which my right hon. friend is sitting now, it has been found very effective.
I stand here to plead the cause of economy. I think it is about time that a voice was heard from this side of the House pleading that unpopular cause; that someone not on the bench opposite, but a Conservative by tradition, whose fortunes are linked indissolubly to the Tory party, who knows something of the majesty and power of Britain beyond the seas, upon whom rests no taint of cosmopolitanism, should stand forward and say what he can to protest against the policy of daily increasing the public burden. If such a one is to stand forward in such a cause, then, I say it humbly, but with I hope becoming pride, no one has a better right than I have, for this is a cause I have inherited, and a cause for which the late Lord Randolph Churchill made the greatest sacrifice of any Minister of modern times.
Now, bearing all that in mind, I come to the scheme of the Secretary of State. I do not propose to consider that scheme in detail, that would be an interminable labour. When the right hon. Gentleman introduced the scheme—in a speech of surpassing clearness—it looked genuine, but in the weeks that have passed since he disclosed it to the House it has been sadly knocked about, crushed in the press, and exploded in the magazines, and has excited nothing but doubt in the country. The number of Amendments on the Paper shows the feeling of the House, and I know what some of the soldiers say about it. I do not feel equal to repeating their expressions here-but I shall be delighted to inform any hon. Member desiring information privately. It is no good mincing matters.
This is not the best scheme that could be devised. I do not say that it does not contain any wise and ingenious provisions, nor that it will not give strength to the Army. Material strength is expected even in this country to follow great expenditure of money. But if the truth must be told, although this scheme involves an expenditure of nearly £30,000,000 a year, with further increases in prospect, it nevertheless leaves most of the great questions connected with Army reform almost entirely untouched. But what could be expected? The ordinary duties of a Minister are, I have always understood, sufficiently arduous.
The War Office is a particularly hard job even in peace time. But we are at war. Not only has the Secretary of State to defend in this House every act of military policy big or little, but he has also to see—I hope it will not escape his attention—that an Army of more than two hundred thousand men actively engaged with the enemy lacks nothing that wealth or science can produce. Now that ought to be enough for the energy even of the right hon. Gentleman. Why, Sir, the labours of Hercules are nothing to it.
But all this is not enough for the insatiable industry of the right hon. Gentleman. He must, forsooth, rearrange the internal mechanism of the War Office. He must take his engines to pieces while the ship is beating up under full steam against the gale. That is not all. No; in the few moments of leisure that fall to a public man in this country he must thoroughly reorganise and reform the whole system of the Army. Who can wonder that he has increased the quantity of his output only to the detriment of the quality, as happens to literary men? I had put down an Amendment, which it will not be in order now to move, which to my mind possesses advantages over that we are now discussing. In the first place, it removed the question from the party sphere in which it now lies, and in which it must now be decided. In the second place, it provided the Government with a means of retreat from the very uncomfortable position in which they have managed to get themselves. I do not expect hon. members on this side will agree with me, and I recognise that I am putting considerable strain upon their forbearance by the view I take of this matter, but I ask them for their indulgence while I state my view. My view is that we should have gone on with ordinary reforms which do not involve a large increase of expenditure, either of money or men, the better selection and promotion of officers, a question which the Secretary of State has shown himself willing to carry out with unflinching courage, the provision of better arms and the gradual adoption of new military material and weapons. What is called in The Times this morning the "grandiose"—that is the word for which I have been looking—the grandiose portion of the scheme should be postponed until such time as the South African war has assumed its true proportions in our eyes, and the men now in South Africa best qualified to do so have come home to give their attention to the reorganisation of the Army, and until those managing the War Office are relieved from the high pressure at which they are now working.
That is a tale that has not been unfolded, and this question is now before the House on party lines. I confess I am unable to support the resolution of the Government; but the Amendment of the Leader of the Opposition does not attract me any more. His differences are differences of detail, not of principle. My objections are objections of principle. I hold it is unwise to have no regard to the fact that in this reform we are diverting national resources from their proper channels of development. It may be argued that if other nations increase their armed force so must we. If you look into the tangled mass of figures on this subject you will find that while other nations during the last fifteen years have been increasing their navies we have been increasing our expenditure on our Army, which is not after all our most important weapon.
I am pleading the cause of economy first of all. But I have got two strings to my bow, or perhaps I should say two barrels to my blunderbuss. Failing economy, let us have wise expenditure. My contention is that we are spending too much money on armaments, and so may impair our industries; but that if the money has to be spent, then it would be better to spend it on the Fleet than on the Army.
Of course we must have an Army, not only as a training school for our garrisons abroad, but because it would be unhealthy, and even immoral, for the people of Great Britain to live sleek, timid, and secure, protected by a circle of ironclad ships. It would have been a pleasant task to examine some of the wise and ingenious provisions which the scheme of the Secretary of State for War contains.
But I have assumed a more melancholy duty to-night, one, perhaps, which would be more fittingly discharged by some hon. Member on the other side of the House. I contend that to spend thirty millions a year on the British Army is an unwise policy, against which the House must protest. Sir, at the last election I placarded "Army Reform" as large as anyone. I am pledged to the hilt to Army reform.
But what is Army reform? I take it to be one of two things. Either it means the same efficiency at a reduced cost, or increased efficiency for the same cost. Perhaps it might mean greatly increased efficiency for a slightly increased cost. But the one thing it certainly does not mean is a larger number of Regular soldiers. That is not Army reform, but Army increase.
In the last four years the present Ministers have added no fewer than fifty-seven thousand men to the Regular standing Army. A further increase—disguised in various ways—is contemplated in the present scheme. Sir, it is against this Army increase that I protest, first in the interests of economy, secondly in the interests of the Fleet. I complain of the increase in Regular soldiers, and particularly of the provision of the three army corps which are to be kept ready for expeditionary purposes. I contend that they ought to be reduced by two army corps, on the ground that one is quite enough to fight savages, and three are not enough even to begin to fight Europeans.
I hope the House will let me elaborate this. The enormous and varied frontiers of the Empire, and our many points of contact with barbarous peoples, will surely in the future, as in the past, draw us into frequent little wars. Our military system must therefore be adapted for dealing with these minor emergencies smoothly and conveniently. But we must not expect to meet the great civilized Powers in this easy fashion. We must not regard war with a modern Power as a kind of game in which we may take a hand, and with good luck and good management may play adroitly for an evening and come safe home with our winnings. It is not that, and I rejoice that it cannot be that. A European war cannot be anything but a cruel, heartrending struggle, which, if we are ever to enjoy the bitter fruits of victory, must demand, perhaps for several years, the whole manhood of the nation, the entire suspension of peaceful industries, and the concentrating to one end of every vital energy in the community.
I have frequently been astonished since I have been in this House to hear with what composure and how glibly Members, and even Ministers, talk of a European war. I will not expatiate on the horrors of war, but there has been a great change which the House should not omit to notice. In former days, when wars arose from individual causes, from the policy of a Minister or the passion of a King, when they were fought by small regular armies of professional soldiers, and when their course was retarded by the difficulties of communication and supply, and often suspended by the winter season, it was possible to limit the liabilities of the combatants. But now, when mighty populations are impelled on each other, each individual severally embittered and inflamed—when the resources of science and civilization sweep away everything that might mitigate their fury—a European war can only end in the ruin of the vanquished and the scarcely less fatal commercial dislocation and exhaustion of the conquerors.
Democracy is more vindictive than Cabinets. The wars of peoples will be more terrible than those of kings.
"Why, then," it may be said," surely we must neglect nothing to make ourselves secure. Let us vote this thirty millions without more ado." If this vast expenditure on the Army were going to make us absolutely secure? Much though I hate unproductive expenditure, I would not complain. But it will do no such thing. The Secretary for War knows—none better thanhe—that it will not make us secure, and that if we went to war with any great Power his three army corps would scarcely serve as a vanguard.
If we are hated, they will not make us loved. They are a broken reed to trust to. If we are in danger, they will not make us safe. They are enough to irritate; they are not enough to overawe. They cannot make us invulnerable, but they may very likely make us venturesome.
A prudent man insures his house against fire. We are often told this military expenditure is an insurance premium. Well, there is no doubt about the premium; we are paying that all right. But I would respectfully remind the House that the premium has been put up during the last five years, and is in fact so high now that, so far as I can calculate, in order to make our insurance policy a good bargain we should have to have a war equal to the Boer war every fifteen years. But do we get the insurance? In putting our trust in an army are we not investing in a shaky concern? In a firm that could not meet its obligations when called on?
It may be said that it is not a mere question of pounds, shillings, and pence, but that it is a question of the honour and security of the Empire. I do not agree. The honour and security of the British Empiredo not depend, and can never depend, on the British Army. The Admiralty is the only Office strong enough to insure the British Empire; and it can only be strong enough to do so because it has hitherto enjoyed the preferential monopoly of the sea.
Moreover, the provision of these three army corps, ready to embark and attack anybody anywhere, is undoubtedly most provocative to the other Powers. No other nation makes, or has ever made, such a provision. And what of its effect on us? It is quite true that foreign nations possess gigantic armies and have lived at peace for thirty years. Foreign nations know what war is. There is scarcely a capital in Europewhich has not been taken in the last one hundred years, and it is the lively realisation of the awful consequences of war which maintains the peace of Europe.
We do not know what war is. We have had a glimpse of it in South Africa. Even in miniature it is hideous and appalling; but, for all our experience, war to us does not mean what it means to the Frenchman, or the German, or the Austrian. Are we not arming ourselves with their weapons without being under their restraints? What I fear is that these three costly and beautiful army corps, which are to be kept ready—almost at a moment's notice—for foreign war will develop in the country, if they need developing, feelings of pride and power, which will not only be founded in actual military superiority, but only on the appearance of it. And in these days, when popular newspapers, appealing with authority to countless readers, are prepared almost every morning to urge us into war against one or other—and sometimes several—of the Great Powers of the earth, surely we ought not to make it seem so easy, and even attractive, to embark on such terrible enterprises, or to think that with the land forces at our disposal we may safely intermeddle in the European game?
What is our weapon, then? The only weapon with which we can expect to cope with great nations is the Navy. This is what the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant calls "trust to luck and the Navy" policy. I confess I do trust the Navy. This new distrust of the Navy, a kind of shrinking from our natural element, the blue water on which we have ruled so long, is the most painful symptom of the military hydrophobia with which we are afflicted. Without a supreme Navy, whatever military arrangements we may make, whether for foreign expeditions orhome defence, must be utterly vain and futile. With such a Navy we may hold any antagonist at arm's length and feed ourselves in the meantime, until, if we find it necessary, we can turn every city in the country into an arsenal, and the whole male population into an army. Sir, the superiority of the Navy is vital to our national existence. That has been said before. No one will deny that or thank me for repeating the obvious. Yet this tremendous Army expenditure directly challenges the principle, and those who advocate it are false to the principle they so loudly proclaim. For the main reason that enables us to maintain the finest Navy in the world is that whereas every European Power has to support a vast Army first of all, we in this fortunate, happy island, relieved by our insular position of a double burden, may turn our undivided efforts and attention to the Fleet.
Why should we sacrifice a game in which we are sure to win to play a game in which we are bound to lose? For the same rule most certainly has a converse application, and just as foreign Powers by reason of their pressing land responsibilities must be inferior to us at sea, so we, whatever our effort, whatever our expenditure, by reason of our paramount sea responsibilities must be inferior to them on land. And surely to adopt the double policy of equal effort both on Army and Navy, spending thirty millions on each, is to combine the disadvantages and dangers of all courses without the advantages or security of any, and to run the risk of crashing to the ground between two stools, with a Navy uselessly weak and a Army uselessly strong.
We are told we have "commitments"—not a very cheerful expression—in three continents, and that it is in consequence of these "commitments" that we must keep three army corps ready for immediate expeditionary purposes. On what principle are there to be three rather than two or eight? I had hoped that the formulation of some definite principle governing our military needs would be a prominent feature of any scheme of Army reform submitted to the nation. I suppose the principle on which the army corps have been selected is, one continent, one army corps. Well, Sir, I should like to look into that.
In the first place there is Asia. What is our danger there? Of course, it is an Anglo-Russian war on the frontier of India. But if anyone takes Lord Salisbury's advice—and sometimes he gives very good advice—to use large scale maps of Central Asia, they will see that any Russian enterprise against India would either have to be made with a small force, in which case our Indian Army would be sufficient to resist it, or else railways would have to be built, just as Lord Kitchener had to build a railway to Khartoum, to feed the great invading forces in the barren lands through which they must march, in which case we should have plenty of time to levy and train as many British troops as we might think fit.
Then we have a"commitment" in North America—a "commitment" which is growing more able to take care of itself every day—not a "commitment" about which we need feel much anxiety. Sir, we must not, however, shrink from the responsibility. Of course, the danger which might assail us in this quarter of the globe would only be a war with the great friendly commercial nation to the southward. Evil would be the counsellors, dark would be the day when we embarked on that most foolish, futile, and fatal of all wars—a war with the United States. But if such a fit of madness should attack the Anglo-Saxon family, then I say both nations, having long enjoyed a glorious immunity from the curse of militarism, would be similarly placed, and no decisive events could be looked for until the war had been in progress for a year or two and enormous armies had been raised by both sides, and in this war, as in any other war of this kind, your three army corps would be merely the first few drops of the thunder shower.
We shall be told "the lesson of the South African War must not be forgotten." "We must profit by our experience in South Africa, and be prepared next time for all eventualities." The present scheme of Army increase is justified mainly on the ground of our experience in South Africa. "We must be ready next time," says "the man in the street." Not for worlds woul I speak disrespectfully of "the man in the street"; but, Sir, in the first place, I cannot help hoping "next time" may be a long way off.
I trust the Government do not contemplate fighting these wars in South Africaseptennially. I trust they will finish this one in such a style that future recurrence will be utterly impossible, and that an end will be made once and for all of dangers from within that continent. Dangers from without can never exist in that quarter so long as we preserve our naval supremacy. Once that is lost, such dangers would be dwarfed by greater catastrophes at home. But I will not look only to the future.
I have no hesitation in asserting that even if this scheme had been carried into effect five years ago, and we had had our three expeditionary army corps ready for foreign service in October 1899, even then the course of the South African War would not have been materially different. You would have had your three army corps ready, but would the possession of those three army corps have told the Intelligence officers and the general staff, and the Committee of National Defence that more than one army corps was needed? And even if they had advised that three army corps should be sent forthwith, that would not have been enough, for, as we know to our cost, not three army corps were needed, but six. See what inadequate security this scheme provides—if we are to embark on land enterprises against civilised peoples. The Boers were the smallest of all civilized nations. Yet this precious Army scheme, in spite of the thirty millions a year it is to cost, does not provide half the troops needed to conquer them; and if the scheme were carried into effect—as many people think it cannot be carried into effect—and the South African War were to begin over again, you would again have to call on Volunteers, Yeomanry, and Militia to alter their original contract with the State and serve beyond the seas. Yes, against this, the smallest of all civilised nations, we should have to fall back in these emergencies on the power of unrestricted sea communication, the wealth of a commercial country, and the patriotic and warlike impulses of a people not wearied of the military yoke.
The armies of Europe are bigger than those of the Boers, and cheaper than our own. France, in this present year, for an expenditure of twenty-eight millions, can mobilise twenty army corps. Germany, for twenty-six millions, gets twenty-two army corps. Russia, for thirty-two millions, can set on foot, including twenty-three regular army corps, a total force estimated at over three millions of men. And what can Great Britain do? Taught by the experience of the South African War, rich in her commerce and the generosity of her people, guided by the unfailing instinct of the War Office, Great Britain would be defended, after this scheme has been carried into effect, by no fewer than three trained army corps and three partly trained army corps; and for this she must pay two millions a year more than France, four millions a year more than Germany, and within two millions of the total cost of the whole great Russian army.
But in spite of every explanatory circumstance, after every allowance has been made, one great truth glows and glares in our faces, veil it how we may: standing armies, which abound on the European continent, are not indigenous to the British soil; they do not flourish in our climate, they are not suited to our national character, and though with artificial care and at a huge and disproportionate cost we may cultivate and preserve them, they will after all only be poor, stunted, sickly plants of foreign origin.
The Empire which has grown up around these islands is essentially commercial and marine. The whole course of our history, the geography of the country, all the evidences of the present situation, proclaim beyond a doubt that our power and prosperity alike and together depend on the economic command of markets and the naval command of the sea; and from the highest sentimental reasons, not less than from the most ordinary practical considerations, we must avoid a servile imitation of the clanking military empires of the European continent, by which we cannot obtain the military predominance and security which is desired, but only impair and vitiate the natural sources of our strength and vigour.
There is a higher reason still. There is amoral force—the Divine foundation of earthly power—which, as the human race advances, will more and more strengthen and protect those who enjoy it; which would have protected the Boers better than all their cannon and brave commandos if instead of being ignorant, aggressive, and corrupt, they had enjoyed that high moral reputation which protected us in the dark days of the war from European interference—for, in spite of every calumny and lie uttered or printed, the truth comes to the top, and it is known alike by peoples and by rulers that on the whole British influence is healthy and kindly, and makes for the general happiness and welfare of mankind.
And we shall make a fatal bargain if we allow the moral force which this country has so long exerted, to become diminished, or perhaps even destroyed for the sake of the costly, trumpery, dangerous military playthings on which the Secretary of State for War has set his heart.