« ElőzőTovább »
In the NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW for last March appeared an article headed “The Responsibility of Cecil Rhodes," and signed “A British Officer.” This signature might have been avoided with advantage, unless it was used as a further proof of the incapacity of certain British officers, who, whilst absolutely ignorant of the various details of the South African question, seem to take a certain amount of pride in parading their want of knowledge, and opposing it to the experience of people who, having lived in the country all their lives, know its roads and its kopjes, as well as the character of its inhabitants and the intricacies of its politics.
Mr. Rhodes has just left England; he left it under a sort of a cloud, and it is the fashion just now to abuse him and his conduct during the war. It was the military authorities (previous to Lord Roberts's arrival in South Africa) who started this attack, in the hope of thus screening their own mistakes. But an attack, if it is to be successful, must be substantiated by some kind of facts, or else it misses its aim and becomes a libel.
Of such a nature is the article the responsibility of which is assumed by "a British Officer.” In the first place, it accuses Mr. Rhodes of having deliberately and wilfully misled the British nation by his solemn assurance that there would be no war. But, even admitting that this were true, was Mr. Rhodes the only source of information which the British nation had ? More than that, how could the assurances of a private individual affect the decision of the nation? It was not his place to do anything but express his ideas and conviction, and they were based on his confidence in the strength of the British army. There were other people who knew the great extent of the armaments of the Boers,
or, at least, who ought to have known it, and whose business it was to know it. Mr. Rhodes was neither the High Commissioner nor an Intelligence Officer; he was the head of one of the largest financial concerns in the world, and it was his duty not to create a panic amongst his shareholders. When he said he thought there would be no war, he was not speaking to the Government; in fact, he had no authority to speak to the Government, who, we have for it Mr. Chamberlain's own words, had kept systematically aloof from him since the Jameson raid and never consulted him in anything concerning South Africa. How can one, in face of such facts, say that it was the words of Mr. Rhodes which misled the nation! The nation, I repeat it again, had other sources of information, besides Mr. Rhodes's words, on which to base its judgments and opinions. It had responsible people in South Africa, whose duty it was to warn it of what was going on in the Transvaal. Why does the British Officer, who treats Mr. Rhodes as if he were the only authority in South Africa, not speak of the intelligence officers, who, under false names, and in very badly made clothes, bought in Cape Town, went up to the Transvaal in the firm conviction that the Boers would not know them under their disguises, and came back, after having seen just what the Boers chose to show them, imbued with the conviction that the war would be a simple walkover? Why does he forget that Sir Alfred Milner refused to listen to those who told him that the Transvaal Government was arming, and was not even aware of the amount of ammunition imported by them through the Cape Colony until his attention was called to it by the Progressive party, of which Mr. Rhodes is not the official but the real leader? Mr. Rhodes could not mislead the Government, because he had neither the authority nor the right to speak to the Government. If he had had such a right as is asserted by his accusers, there would not have been the necessity of having either a High Commissioner or an Intelligence Department in the Colony.
As for the argument that the Boers could not have declared war earlier, on account of the impossibility of their moving in their country during the winter months, it only shows that the writer has never been in that country, where fresh grass grows after each rainfall all through the winter, if not abundantly, at least in sufficient quantity to feed the hardened and long-suffering Boer ponies.
The second charge that the British Officer brings against Mr. Rhodes is that he interfered disastrously with the general conduct of the war. This is a very grave charge to bring against a man, and I wonder how it can be made in such a frivolous way. Mr. Rhodes went to Kimberley, not for reasons "at present unknown," but because not only his own but especially his shareholders' interests lay in Kimberley, because he was responsible to these shareholders, because it was only due to his energy and that of the other directors of De Beers that the town was able to defend itself. The correspondence between the Mayor of Kimberley and Mr. Schreiner, recently published, proves with what obstinacy the Cape Government refused to help the Diamond City, or even to recognize that it was in danger. It was De Beers who armed the town, who laid in provisions and ammunition. It was Mr. Rhodes who raised a mounted corps, who helped Colonel Harris, another director of De Beers, to organize his volunteers; it was Mr. Rhodes who opened soup kitchens, who helped with his purse the poor who could not find work, and with his words of encouragement those who were employed in the defense of the place. It was Mr. Rhodes who, later on, when the shells of the 100-pounder gun worked destruction in the town, opened his mines to the women and children who had not been able to get away before the beginning of the siege. Without Mr. Rhodes, Kimberley would have fallen, if only because it would not have been provided with sufficient ammunition or food. And it is this man who is accused of having disastrously interfered with the conduct of the war! But Mr. Rhodes has had nothing to do with the conduct of the war beyond defending his own property and that of his shareholders, or expressing his opinion as to Colonel Kekewich's peculiarities. Besides, it does not argue in favor of General Buller's independence or love for his country to affirm, as a British Officer does, that he abandoned the "only sound plan of campaign” at Mr. Rhodes's bidding. It gives to the latter an importance far greater than he admits himself to have, and to the former a want of firmness and judgment not only unworthy of, but even dangerous in, a Commander in Chief.
The fact is that the military authorities have one aim only, that of screening the mistakes of their subordinates. They bring monstrous charges against Mr. Rhodes in order to prevent the public from judging their own errors. It is to be hoped that the
public will not base its opinion on such one-sided articles as that which emanates from a “British Officer," but will look further ahead, and ask why Colonel Kekewich did not communicate to the population of Kimberley Cronje's offer to let the women and children go out of the town; why again, later on, he launched against Mr. Rhodes the accusation of having wished to surrender —an accusation which, when asked to do so, he could substantiate only by saying that, as Mr. Rhodes had called together a meeting of the civil defenders of the town, he (Colonel Kekewich) had concluded it was to propose to them to surrender to the Boers.
Mr. Rhodes has always had enemies. He would not be the great man he is if it were not so, and indeed some of them but add to his fame. However, one can be a man's enemy and yet prove just to him; it is justice which the friends of Mr. Rhodes claim for him, and in doing so they serve the interests of their country, because England has got nothing greater in South Africa than the “Colossus," as he is familiarly called; and, in defending him, she defends her own interests in the land of the Southern Cross.
It is all very well now for the Jingoes to scream over the prey they have not yet got, to vow vengeance and destruction against the Boers, and to hurl stones at Mr. Rhodes. It is all very well for earnest people who look at the war with all the sentimentality inherent in John Bull, and the narrow-mindedness of Nonconformist consciences, to preach magnanimity and indulgence. But those who have not been influenced by Jingoism, or who know that religion has got nothing to do with politics, are very well aware that, when matters come to a settlement, that settlement must be founded on strict imperial lines, without either sentimental magnanimity or harsh measures of retaliation such as some Colonials clamor for. Firmness and the pursuit of a line of policy tending to affirm England's supremacy over the whole of South Africa is the aim the Government ought to have in view and the principle from which it ought never to swerve, or else the present trouble will begin over again in ten years, and England cannot afford to incur such a risk. In this task of pacifying the country and at the same time imbuing the Dutch population with the conviction that England's supremacy must never be disputed again, the Government have not got a more powerful auxiliary than Mr. Rhodes, who was the first to start the imperial idea in
South Africa, who gave the Empire a kingdom, and in destroying whom one would destroy English prestige, which, whatever his enemies may say, is embodied in him. Governors come and go; the claims of the mother country, though recognized, are often not admitted; and, rightly or wrongly, since Majuba a strong feeling of distrust against the Government at home exists amongst a certain class of Colonials. Mr. Rhodes alone is always there. It is he who changed the gloomy wilderness of the past into a settled country, who opened it to the life of people and, it may be said, created South Africa. He worked these mines over the possession of two nations which are fighting now; he joined the country to the civilized world by means of railways and telegraphs; he felled forests, drained swamps, built factories, founded villages and settlements, brought in colonists, put down robbers, defended settlers against Matabele or Basuto raids, maintained the peace necessary for the welfare of the vast territory he had conquered, and introduced the rule of law and justice into it. It is through him that South Africa has lived, grown and flourished; and whatever some people in England may say or do, they will never wipe out the memory of these great deeds, they will never succeed in effacing that man's name from the annals of the land which he has brought before the notice of the world and given to his own country. It is very easy for a “British Officer" to say, or rather to insinuate, that he put the safety of Kimberley before everything else; but Kimberley, for Mr. Rhodes, represented the thousands, aye, the millions, of people who had believed in him and his genius; who had trusted him with their fortunes, and whom he felt called upon to protect and to defend, because he knew nobody else would do it. Whatever one may say of him, one cannot accuse Mr. Rhodes of not having realized what the fall of Kimberley or the collapse of De Beers would have meant to the whole of the civilized world; the ruin it would have involved, the hearts it would have broken, the lives it would have destroyed; and it is no wonder that he refused to assume this stupendous responsibility and preferred to run the risk of offending Colonel Kekewich.
I have spoken of the immense position Mr. Rhodes has made for himself in South Africa. I will now go further and say that, in spite of the animosity displayed by the Bond against him, he is still the favorite of a certain class of peaceful Dutch farmers,