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WHY ENGLAND SHOULD STOP THE WAR.
BY JEAN DE BLOCH,
On what reasonable grounds can England be asked to stop the war, now that its tide has turned in her favor? Would it be wise, or even moral, to leave open a question which might probably cause bloodshed again, and which can now be settled satisfactorily once for all? The present conflict was not of England's seeking. It took her ‘statesmen and generals completely by surprise; and, for several months after the first shot was fired, she sustained a series of checks so serious that many mistook them for disaster. To retire now from the struggle before paralyzing the forces which would fain renew it, would be at once to act contrary to the instinct of self-preservation and to violate the fundamental principles of ethics. Thousands of England's bravest sons have lost their lives on the parched battle-fields of South 'Africa; scores of thousands have undergone privations and sufferings of a heart-harrowing character; and, while holocausts were being offered up to Moloch, nearly all Europe looked on with positive delight, piously descrying the finger of a no longer inscrutable Providence in this condign chastisement of "selfish Albion.” Now, however, that the Boers are losing ground, England is asked to sheathe her sword and submit the future of her African Empire to the judgment of those very people who gloried in her fancied downfall. The idea is grotesque. But even were it only altruistic, why should England be called upon to take a step which is hurtful to her vital interests—to make a sacrifice from which every other Power would most certainly recoil ?
Those are the principal pleas for prosecuting the war to the bitter end which are urged by the Imperialist party in Great Britain; and their arguments are, I frankly admit, capable of being very effectively put. Indeed, so much may be truly and
tellingly said in favor of that view, that I should never dream of entering the lists to uphold the opposite one, were it not that I am so keenly conscious of the vast possibilities of the ethical side of the Anglo-Saxon character, from which have been drawn those wonder-working forces that alone could have built up the greatest Empire of history, the most perfect political fabric known to time and space. And it is to the ethical sentiment, so profound and so widespread among English-speaking peoples, that I chiefly appeal. For therein lies the strength of the race. England's best and most thriving colonies are held together and linked to the mother-country by purely moral ties, not by an army and a fleet. Canada could have seceded yesterday; Australia can separate tomorrow; yet they are to the full as loyal as the men of Kent or Northumberland. What other State has ever held colonies on this tenure ? And is it wise to make a new departure and to conquer future colonists with heavy artillery and quick-firing rifles ?
Even in matters of foreign policy, England stands on a higher level than any other great world Power, and for this reason much more is expected of her.
The heroic example of an appeal to arbitration under a set of conditions peculiarly galling to national self-love, and of dignified compliance with the terms of an award the details of which appeared to lend themselves to criticism, was first given by Great Britain. The occasion was the tension caused between that country and the United States of America, after the War of Secession, by the "Alabama” question. In that dispute England was assuredly in the wrong, as nations are from time to time. But she frankly owned it, which is more than any other State has ever yet done; and she consented to atone for the harm she had inflicted, which is a still more difficult feat. By this act, she informally inaugurated a system for the peaceful settlement of international disputes, which contains within it the promise of the only millennium attainable by the human race. None of the many and marvellous mechanical inventions which mark the progress of the nineteenth century will prove such a boon to civilization as this self-humiliation of an entire people in the higher interests of the whole world.
Another and much more arduous feat of political morality accomplished by Great Britain was the conclusion of peace with the Boers after the signal victory gained by the latter at Majuba
Hill. Nothing like it is known to history, nor can the heroism underlying the act be easily exaggerated. The English forces had been cut to pieces. The Boers were triumphant and hopeful. Great Britain was ready to wash out the "blot on her 'scutcheon” in the blood of the Boers. Reinforcements were on their way to the Cape. A chance presented itself of treading out the embers of hostility which might once more burst into flame. In a word, every consideration of "honor" and self-interest seemed to call for the carrying on of the war. But the English people, choosing the better part, made peace with the enemy and transformed the struggle into an honorable competition in the domain of civilization. Magnanimity of this kind in foreign politics is seldom gauged aright and is never appreciated; if displayed in war, it is absolutely certain to be misunderstood. The magnanimity which refuses to change defeat into victory must of necessity be mistaken for weakness; and weakness, even when only fancied, is always a political danger and sometimes a material loss. Yet England could afford to neglect all such considerations of worldly wisdom, and she did so after Majuba Hill. This event constitutes the high-water mark of political morality.
But all British civilization tends in the same direction. There may be —nay, there must be—back eddies; the present war movement is one of them; but none the less the main current of British civilization is set steadily toward peace. The admirable attitude of Lord Pauncefote at The Hague Conference is a convincing proof of this. No other Power was more thoroughly in earnest in this matter of turning swords into ploughshares than those of the English tongue; none was willing to go further than England and the United States in the direction of arbitration. The English-speaking peoples, looking all the consequences fully in the face, declared their readiness to do the right thing, come what might; and if the work of the Conference proved ultimately less complete than it might have been, the fault certainly is not theirs. Nor are these conclusions weakened by the present war. It was neither sought for nor foreseen by the British Government; and if the latter circumstance bespeaks a lack of foresight, the former is a proof of good intentions. Belief in the possibility of a pacific settlement prevailed to the last. When the negotiations grew stagnant, some British troops were despatched to the Cape for the purpose of showing the Boers that England was in
earnest, and with the hope of expediting an agreement. The Boers, however, taking time by the forelock, declared war.
And that is by no means all that impartial spectators find to say in explanation of a war which they refuse to justify. When hostilities broke out, few people in or out of England believed very firmly in the wisdom of submitting the issues between the two States to arbitration. England's relations to the Transvaal Republic (with the Orange Free State she had had no quarrel) were from an international point of view extremely vague. The lay mind set them down as those of a suzerain to a protected Power; the trained legal intellect polished away the differences or sharpened the distinctions, but none attempted to reason away the broad, governing fact that Great Britain was invested with a right to veto all treaties made by the Transvaal Government with foreign States. And this circumstance was generally held to place the Boer Republic in a position toward Great Britain which excluded arbitration as effectually as it would have been eliminated had a dispute arisen between France and Madagascar.
Moreover, even had it been otherwise—and later on the matter did appear in a very different light—The Hague Conference could not be confidently appealed to, because the resolutions passed by that assembly had not yet been formally ratified by Great Britain. And thus for a time hostilities between the two peoples assumed the form, not of a war en règle, but of a rising in rebellion of quasi-subjects. Color was imparted to this view on the one hand by a certain much-discussed passage in the Speech from the Throne of Her Majesty the Queen, and on the other by the length of time allowed to elapse before the British Government officially notified to the other Powers the fact that war had been declared, and thus implicitly admitted that the Boers were on a footing of complete equality as belligerents. This recognition ruined the legal argument against arbitration. And the ratification of the resolutions of The Hague Conference which has followed since then, has destroyed the plea of inopportunity. Now, therefore, the time has come to appeal to the people of England to advance one step further in the direction of political morality. It is an interesting fact that the material interests of a people run parallel with the lines of its moral obligations; but it very seldom happens that the connection between the two is quite so visible as in the present case. England cannot compass her aims
by means of arms. War was always a clumsy, expensive and cruel means of trying issues between States and peoples. But heretofore it has been, at least generally, an efficient means of cutting, if not undoing, many a Gordian knot. At present, it has ceased to be even this, and it has become merely the embodiment of cruelty of the worst kind-a cruelty which is bereft of such redeeming features as finality could impart. The result of wars can no longer be decisive, because the defense, however numerically weak, will enjoy such an initial advantage over the attack as to be practically equal to it. Therefore, the belligerents can bleed each other à blanc, to the very verge of complete collapse, but neither will be able to crush the other and itself escape without vital hurt. This fact, and I venture to think that I have proved it to be the main fact in all future wars, causes the line of England's moral duty visibly to coincide with that of her material interests. I say nothing now of the future necessity of the two races living side by side in South Africa on the principle of "give and take." I pass over in silence the powerful argument against the war which the comparative statistics of births and deaths in the Transvaal supply, whence it appears that the future is to the more prolific race of the Boers. I rely solely on the fact that, weak as the Boers are numerically, they are enabled by the most modern weapons to hold their own while defending their country against invasion, and they will do so with such results as to render the entire upshot of the war utterly indecisive. If that be true, do not the material interests of England, no less than the ethical mission which Great Britain is accomplishing in the world, point to the necessity of sheathing the sword ?
From the point of view of traditional politics, the present moment seems, I am well aware, extremely inopportune for an appeal to the people of England to forego the vast advantages which seem to await their army in South Africa, and to turn their thoughts peaceward. But it only seems inopportune. The surrender of General Cronje was undoubtedly a most important triumph in itself, and it also contained the promise of the very best throughout the war that British strategy can effect. But the
very best that strategy, British or foreign, can accomplish in guerilla warfare is relatively very little indeed, and it was attained when the British forces entered Bloemfontein. That success was the high-water mark of the spring tide. But from the moment