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'back, and I have not.' This consideration did not apparently enter into Sir Edward Grey's diplomacy. In 1912, when the Opposition in the House of Lords offered the Government cooperation in any effort they might make to bring our forces up to our commitments—so grievously strained in 1911–he allowed the project to be snuffed out by Lord Haldane from the Woolsack; and after all the boasting of strength increased by changing Volunteers into Territorials the Munitions Vote for 1913 and 1914 was actually brought down twenty-five per cent. below that of 1905, with the concurrence of Mr. Asquith's special henchman in the Ministry, Mr. McKenna.
Can anyone conceive Lord Palmerston or Lord Salisbury on the top of this unpreparedness continuing, as Sir Edward Grey did in 1914, to support the Home Rule agitation at a moment when, as we now know, the danger of civil war in Ireland was a considerable pawn in Prince Lichnowski's calculations that Great Britain need not be reckoned with ? The only possible defence is that the Government was not merely exhausted but distraught.
It is possible to weigh the want of purpose in Government foreign policy by a single illustration. Lord Kitchener came home from India in 1910 as vigorous as any man of sixty has ever been. He desired greatly to return as Viceroy, but this was not deemed advisable. There were three posts for which he was eminently qualified. He had held supreme commands in Africa and Asia but never in England. He might have been made Chief of the Staff at the War Office and begun the work which afterwards made him the protagonist of the war. The position both at Cairo and Constantinople was such that the Englishman whose prestige was highest in the Near East was marked out for service there if not more imperatively needed elsewhere. The Government gave Lord Kitchener the go-by, and Lord Haldane by the highest pressure forced on him an honorary command at Malta which the Duke of Connaught had just vacated because no soldier of his eminence could waste the public money by holding it. Lord Kitchener's subsequent withdrawal when he knew the facts, and the breakdown of Sir Eldon Gorst, relieved the Government from the obloquy of having shelved at a most critical moment in national history one of the few Englishmen who counted' abroad.
The outbreak of war set at rest all animus against the late
Government. They had one great recommendation to the country that there appeared to be no opposition capable of replacing them. The final phases of Mr. Balfour's Government had been inglorious ; Mr. Bonar Law, who replaced him as leader of the Unionist party, had no experience, and was quite at sea in any department except domestic policy. The country for the moment produced no outstanding personality, nor any group of individuals who could carry with them a preponderance of national feeling. On the other hand Sir Edward Grey was much trusted abroad, and the Cabinet, once their mind was made up to fight, showed a very firm front to the enemy.
When the trumpets sounded in 1914 Mr. Asquith and his Government did their best to cut their losses and face the new situation. The appointment of Lord Kitchener to the War Office; the despatch of the Expeditionary Force; the enrolment of the New Army ; the transfer of the Indian Army to France; the immense demands on the country for material and money, were vigorously and promptly made. It is due to Mr. Asquith's Government that we did not figure as another great power has recently done, and that Great Britain took her proper place in Europe, when flagrant breaches of treaty forced her to take a hand in a quarrel in which her interest was remote.
Mr. Asquith also had the foresight to engage the leaders of the Opposition to a party truce which should free the war from all political hindrance. Possibly most of us did not see then as clearly as now that this was not enough. The old cumbrous Cabinet was maintained ; defence measures filtered slowly through the ordinary channels ; departments ran on the ' business as usual' principle. Instead of a few ministers devoting the whole of their energies to the war and sacrifices being demanded from all classes without distinction, the war itself was carried on by an ill-defined War Council, and half the time of ministers was absorbed in making the conditions of a death-struggle palatable to the people who were not engaged in it. Wages must be kept up; employment found; aliens spared ; amusements encouraged ; recalcitrants cajoled. The Cabinet wasted much time in attempting to spoon-feed 46,000,000 human beings who had been among the most comfortable in the world. Thus to the Nemesis of unprepared
ness was added tardy awakening on the part of the nation; and no influence such as Napoleon exercised on France in 1803 or Lincoln on America in 1863 was ready to galvanise the chaotic atoms of Great Britain into a harmonious whole.
It is due to all these circumstances, and not to lack of effort or public spirit, that the Dardanelles Report reads like a chapter from the · Arabian Nights.'
Discarding all the nonsense which has been written about 'Unseen Hands' and pro-German sympathies, it is only patriotic to investigate the source of this breakdown. In war, personalities count more even than men or munitions. In this respect the cast of the War Council was ill set. Mr. Asquith, whose brain-power exceeded that of all his colleagues, had steered his Government through seven perilous years by occasional firmness and constant compromises. He carried these qualities into the war with some success. If, for instance, he had brought in conscription at the outset, he might have put back the clock. He may claim that he kept the country, as he helped to keep the Allies, together; he dealt pleasantly with foreign statesmen. But war cannot be made by shirking decisions, and it required a Prime Minister of more self-assertion to control the discordant elements by which he was surrounded, and of greater prevision as to the war to estimate the extent to which the personal equation governed the schemes between which he had to choose.
No conjunction of persons could have been less happy than the enforced partnership of Lord Kitchener and Mr. Churchill, by whom, as heads of the two services, the war was carried on in the early stages, with the Prime Minister in an undefined position between them. It is always a danger to link two people in national business who habitually disagree. Either they yield to natural impulses and there is friction, or they make concessions from ultra-fairness and the country is ill served. The bad feeling between Canning and Castlereagh was largely responsible for the Walcheren Expedition and other failures in 1809. In the Crimea, Lord Cardigan would never have led a hopeless charge at Balaclava, but for his old differences with Lord Lucan. More recently an una voidable association was made in South Africa between Sir Redvers Buller and Lord Roberts, who had never seen eye to eye on military topics. But in a study of opposites'
none of these cases were such poles apart as Mr. Asquith's Secretary for War and his First Lord.
Lord Kitchener had commanded a force at Omdurman in which Mr. Churchill was a subaltern, and had been chief of an army of 250,000 men in South Africa when Mr. Churchill was a newspaper correspondent. Though he had seen war before Mr. Churchill was born, and had organised it for a quarter of a century, he had written nothing and said little ; Mr. Churchill, who had rapidly absorbed meteoric impressions in several campaigns in which he fought gallantly, assumed his competence to lecture generals and admirals on their duties. Sir Stafford Northcote, speaking of Lord Randolph Churchill's friendliness in 1885, said ' that he forgot the difference between : being at the whip end and the handle end.' Mr. Churchill, who is not vindictive, has a similarly short memory. It did not tend to close confidence that among the sufferers from his public attacks had been Lord Kitchener, when he was not in a position to reply.
Before the war had been going many weeks it was apparent that the two men breathed different atmospheres. Mr. Churchill not only guaranteed the security of the Channel but was ready to hunt out the enemy's fleet 'like rats.' Lord Kitchener's respect for the German threat of invasion kept Sir John French short of his Sixth Division during his heroic retreat. Lord Kitchener, again holding that none but fully trained troops could be put in line, refused to send any of the 300,000 Territorials to France till November; Mr. Churchill bustled the newly raised and untrained Naval Brigade to Antwerp, to be captured. Mr. Churchill ordered immediate preparations for a certain combined attack in January 1915; Lord Kitchener left those on the spot to demonstrate its impossibility. Both were doing their best to serve the country, but the unfortunate Prime Minister must often have felt that, instead of resting securely on combined advice, he was mediating between two independent and not altogether friendly authorities.
When it came to the Dardanelles the divergence developed. Lord Kitchener, who had found the War Office somewhat denuded by the Expeditionary Force, consulted no one ; he knew that he could not properly spare troops; moreover, he held that in war to divide forces is fatal. In this respect he represented Sir John French's view as well as his own. Mr. VOL. 225. NO. 460.
Churchill similarly gave the go-by to his Council. Instead of restraining the ardour of a splendidly venturesome service already itching to get at an evasive enemy, he stimulated it with the impetuosity of a cavalry officer. He genuinely believed that the Dardanelles could be forced by the fleet alone; apparently he was not disturbed by the silence of his expert advisers at the War Council. When by some accident Lord Fisher was asked a vital question as to how many battleships would be lost in attempting to force the Dardanelles and replied 'Twelve,' he seems to have been treated like a Bishop who was defending Church revenues. Such scruples, however natural, must be got over.
Mr. Asquith's speech in the House of Commons on March 20 throws little light on his condition of mind in this dilemma. He seems not to have appreciated his own predominant power. He defended Lord Kitchener handsomely, and made it clear, which no one who knew him doubted, that he had laboured strenuously to bring all his colleagues into line and only wanted to arrive at truth. But if this were all that was needed, a man of far less calibre might have held the first post in the Government.
To put it clearly, it is admitted on all hands that the diversion was an attractive one. It assisted the Russians; it impressed the Balkan States; it relieved the muddy deadlock on the West Front; it gave the Navy a chance. The question was whether it could be carried out by the fleet alone; if not, were troops available in sufficient strength to support it ? if attempted, would the Government be prepared to persist or risk the loss of prestige by drawing off ?
These were the points on which the Prime Minister should have secured a clear decision. Apparently he drifted with the stream, and left the various eddies to prevail according to their respective momentum.
Yet he must have realised that all the forces around him were combining for different reasons to stake a precious array of ships, lives, prestige, and material on this gamble. The Foreign Secretary felt the new departure to be a trump card in diplomacy. Mr. Churchill was 'out for'a great coup and, with a considerable turn for military affairs, was irrepressibly sanguine. Lord Kitchener, if the overtaxed army could be spared, had a keen eye to the East. The heads of the two