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superiority on the field of battle. Nobody believed, for example, that a landing could be effected in Cuba, where there was an army of more than a hundred thousand seasoned men bronzed by the tropical sun.
It turned out differently, and events soon showed the forecasts that seemed so well founded to be erroneous. I am not now speaking of the capture of Manila and the conquest of the Philippines, which were due to the American navy, but of the loss of the Island of Cuba, the loss of the Antilles which immediately followed the decisive battle of Santiago, surrendered by General Toral to the troops landed by Admiral Sampson.
These prodigious events are not yet entirely cleared up, but their principal significance lies in their moral effect.
The Spaniards had long had public opinion against them, the feeling of the people was openly hostile to them, and the valor of their army could not overcome the destructive effects of an oppressive and tyrannical government.
The true cause of the Transvaal war is iniquitous and immoral. It is iniquitous, because of the lying pretext under which England proposed to seize a country to which she had no right. It is immoral, because no honorable Government wages war for the purpose of forcibly taking possession of the wealth of a State which it covets.
To the disloyal act committed by the English Government must be added a very aggravating circumstance which is now abundantly proved and established, namely, that it was an accomplice in the filibustering expedition attempted three years ago by Dr. Jameson and the English Commissioner, Cecil Rhodes. No,
, "accomplice” is not the right word; I should say “promoter.” It was Mr. Chamberlain who conceived this act of veritable piracy, which, fortunately, called President Krüger's attention to the machinations of the English Government, and enabled him secretly and with rare skill to take the precautions that his limited means permitted. The problem, then, was to resist an aggression which was foreseen and whose danger was not underestimated.
But what was he to do? Not to parry the blow by which the Transvaal was threatened; for President Krüger knew very
well that that was impossible and that the unsatisfied covetousness of England must be glutted at all hazards—but to make greedy and insatiable England pay dearly for her unjustifiable aggression.
Prince Bismarck once said that President Krüger was one of the most skilful and remarkable statesmen he had ever met. The really extraordinary skill displayed under these ever-memorable circumstances by the respected chief of the Boer nation proves that the great German Chancellor was not mistaken when he recognized in him the most precious qualities, not merely of a statesman, but of a chief. He had nothing, and his hours for making preparations for war in the greatest secrecy were limited. He had to conceal these preparations carefully, in the first place, from the ever-watchful attention of England; for, if she should but suspect his secret, she would at once throw aside her mask and attack him suddenly; she would surprise him without defense, and then his dear country would be certain to lose its independence.
The Transvaal had no budget; she had not even a war fund. The first measure to be taken was to procure money, but how could that be done without subjecting his unfortunate people to heavy taxation? He conceived a heroic expedient, but one which might reflect on his honesty. He did not hesitate. For the good of his country he carried his devotion to the point of risking his reputation. The gold fever had extended to the Transvaal, and he daily received numerous requests for concessions from foreign mining prospectors. These he found to be a source of considerable profit. For every such concession he stipulated, as an absolute condition, that a sum of money, which he fixed at a very high figure, should be handed to him personally. With this kind of special tax, levied solely on foreigners who flocked to the Transvaal, he created what may be called a war fund, by means of which he was enabled hastily to complete his armament.
He bought the most modern and improved Creusot and Krupp guns. He engaged skilful and experienced mechanics and instructors of artillery and infantry, wherever he could find them, particularly in France and Germany. But it was not enough to make sure of the co-operation of useful auxiliaries, and to buy in Europe improved guns and abundant ammunition; the main problem was to get them all to Johannesburg or Pretoria.
England herself transported them without knowing it. The instructors and mechanics embarked under the title of professors of agriculture, as merchants, or even as miners. The guns, guncarriages and ammunition wagons were carefully taken apart, and each piece, packed separately, was transported by British
ships as agricultural and other machinery, thus hoodwinking the unsuspecting agents of England. On its arrival, all this material was quickly put together again by the skilful mechanics who had been engaged for service in the Transvaal.
This explains the relative situations of the belligerents at the outbreak of the war. The English arrived under the impression that they would have to do only with poor, unarmed peasants, incapable of offering serious resistance. They found instead an admirable people burning with noble enthusiasm, strong in their most sacred religious faith, and resolved to carry out the famous maxim, “Conquer or die." I firmly believe that such a people, who trust God in all things, is invincible, and that the English, who now confess that it will take 250,000 men to win, will never succeed.
Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that the world, which generally does not go to the bottom of things, but judges by appearances that are often deceitful, was greatly surprised on hearing of the first successes won by the Boers over troops belonging to an army famous for its bravery and commanded by skilful generals. In trying to explain the causes, people have wondered whether so abnormal a fact was the fault of the English generals, and whether they were unskilful or careless in applying the essential rules of the great art of war. I believe that this is an error, and that viewing the matter in this way is to grasp but a small portion of it.
Some military writers have imagined that they have discovered a science which reduces war to fixed rules, and, in a measure, to geometrical calculations. This, in my opinion, is school pedantry, which is very dangerous in its applications. There are no invariable rules in war. Everything depends on the circumstances, and the talent of the general-in-chief lies in grasping their import and in taking advantage of them.
The generals have done their best in a country with which they were somewhat unfamiliar, and in which they encountered difficulties of all kinds that they were far from expecting. I should, therefore, incline to the belief that the explanation of their failures is to be found in causes solely moral.
The English army is the only one in Europe, at the present day, that is composed only of mercenaries, recruited anywhere, but certainly not from the upper strata of society. It therefore
lacks homogeneity in the first place, and perhaps also what I would call the national spirit. It is a kind of contract which binds the men individually to the service, a two-sided contract binding both parties equally, and if one of the two breaks his agreement the other may consider himself absolved from his. The English soldier's devotion to duty, which is always preserved by an inflexible discipline, cannot therefore be compared to that of the Boer soldier, which is entirely spontaneous and inspired by ardent patriotism. The English officers, on the contrary, belong as a body to the upper classes of society. They are a closed circle which can never be entered by a man from the ranks. They are, as it were, set over the troops, with whom they never mingle. An officer has no relations with a common soldier. With the details of military service he does not concern himself, leaving them to the non-commissioned officers. But, on the day of battle, the officer places himself at the head of his command, and sets the example of admirable personal bravery. He, too, has the pride of his race, and is anxious to keep unstained the ancient reputation which English officers have acquired on the battle-fields of Europe; and, since the beginning of the war, he has already shed much noble blood on the free soil of the Transvaal.
This is all well enough; but does it suffice for fulfilling all the conditions required for the proper constitution of an army? What makes an army solid and powerful is the legitimate ascendency of the officers, the daily exchange of mutual devotion, the conviction that each is useful to all, and that the chiefs are the most useful of all. In order to raise the army to the highest degree of efficiency, its component elements must possess the most essential innate or acquired warlike qualities, such as a special genius for war, solid military instruction, courage, perseverance, great power of resisting fatigue and enduring accidental privations, and finally passive obedience established by the confidence of the subordinates in their commanders. I am far from denying that the English Army possesses these essential qualities, but I firmly believe that the Boers possess them in the highest degree.
The following is an actual picture of a Boer camp, which admirably depicts the profoundly religious character of this deserving people. I find it in a letter from Colonel Villebois Mareuil, who is at the seat of war in the Transvaal:
“A Boer laager offers a contrast to a French camp in the silence and
calm of the Boer men, as compared with the rather noisy vivacity of our French soldiers, There are no bells, the service is in successive little groups from sunset to nightfall. The tent of the general, the major, or the field-cornet is used as a clubroom by any that choose to do so. The life of these commanders is to me a mystery of physical and mental endurance in the midst of continual disturbance. There are neither punishments, nor altercations, nor coercion. Everything is done freely at the required time from a sense of duty. No constraint, yet not a single reprehensible act. To understand it, we must go deeper, abandon the technical standpoint and examine the underlying moral idea.
"These laagers have a telegraph and a postal service like our modern armies, electric searchlights, improved ambulances, a commissary station which works as regularly as may be, considering the too free transportation of goods. These laagers are, above all, interesting by reason of the spirit which pervades them. They have a very high religious atmosphere, everything being referred to God, the fate of the Transvaal as well as the defence of liberty and the rights of an oppressed people. If a general is complimented, he replies: 'God has permitted it.' When a Boer is encouraged in his secret aspirations, he turns toward Heaven with eyes full of trust. And, more imperious than human passions, stronger than war, the power of prayer poured out in psalms by their victorious voices fills them with faith and hope. Their pastors are among them, living their life, helping the dying, and simple in their demeanor, although treated with peculiar respect. Around these men the world has moved on; they have remained what their fathers were two hundred years ago when they brought to this African cape their household gods and their faith. Noble, or of good descent, for the most part, they lived on their farms as in castles of former times, free and isolated, hunters and cavaliers, soldiers by inheritance, noblemen chivalrous by nature, in a manner worthy of their ancestry. It is like a restoration of the days of yore to see these quaint people stepping out into the broad light of to-day to challenge our decadent civilization. They have thrown down the gauntlet to the nation which is the most absorbed in selfish contemplation of practical materialism; and, whatever may be the outcome, they have humiliated, vanquished, outwitted her. Let Europe understand that to allow this green branch of our old and already impoverished trunk to be stripped, would be to cut off a means for her own regeneration, and to offer a new and more complete homage of servility to England and her incorrigible pretentions, who is already giving signs of her impotence and who, after her crisis of imperialism, will have to be content with more modest aims."
That is indeed the main point of the question: Will Europe allow a nation of one hundred and fifty millions of inhabitants to crush by force of arms a little people whose entire number, counting men, women and children, is hardly equal to that of the army sent to coerce them by the most improved means of destruction? Will she stand by while so inhuman and odious a national crime is being perpetrated, without raising a cry of